“If you can help it, don’t be a creator. Be the exploiter. They get rich.” That’s the advice of Keith Giffen as told to the New York Times. He’s an artist and author who co-created with Bill Mantlo the Marvel comic character Rocket Raccoon now featured in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film that grossed $172 million in its first four days of release. Neither creator was notified that the movie was in production, let alone given a piece of the revenue pie. (And only due to the efforts of fans, his brother and his attorney has Mantlo now received any financial benefit.)
Like comic book artists and writers and a vast majority of my fellow content creators—artists, writers, filmmakers, graphic designers—I often work under contract in work-for-hire arrangements that don’t include residuals for the use of our creations in the future. In the 1970’s, when Giffen and Mantlo created Rocket Raccoon, the only downstream uses for those characters might have been TV or movies. Today, content can appear on dozens of platforms in social media, apps, e-Books, and online videos, to name just a few distribution outlets. And “television” itself has diversified beyond the networks to include Netflix and Hulu to Amazon Prime, alongside myriad cable channels. If you can exploit these distribution channels for content, then yes, there’s a big up-side financially. (And as any investor in a film or book property can tell you, there’s also risk.)
Where I disagree with Giffen is his implicit suggestion that content creators can’t also be the same people who exploit their works. Sure, it’s hard to make such a deal when you’re just getting started. But I know many experienced content creators who’ve developed what I’d call hybrid deals. For example, I work with a composer who is often in a work-for-hire arrangement. For a reduction in fee, we can agree that he may re-work any melodic themes created for my project for one of his future compositions. Depending on the distribution of my show, we might create a “waiting period” before he can do this. So he can exploit his composition more than once, in effect. Another hybrid example is my own content. I develop workshops, then sometimes get paid a fee to teach a customized version of them at conferences or retreats. I then might rework that content again for publication with a royalty arrangement, such as in my recent course on The Art of the Video Interview for Lynda.com. I am essentially exploiting my own original content for multiple distribution platforms and audiences.
In a multi-platform, multi-media world, we content producers have to become more saavy about exploiting the value of our own creations, talking Raccoons and beyond.
Some of Amy’s work-for-hire and original content can be seen on Vimeo.
After 5 college tours in 3 days, I can tell you a lot about the best and worst of college marketing. We took our oldest on his first round of tours, and as a video and multimedia producer, I was particularly intrigued by the use (or lack) of audio-visual storytelling. One school got high marks for its all-visuals slide show supporting a dynamic speaker. He knew his material well, had gone to the school himself, and delivered lots of insightful anecdotes. He gave us some stats, too, but understood that those are easily found on websites and print materials, so he focused on painting a vivid picture of the undergraduate student experience.
At another elite school—which shall remain nameless—the presentation couldn’t have been more different. The speaker said “uh” every other word. He held on a single slide for more than 3 minutes at a time–deadly! And each slide contained text in a poor layout so that while it was very large, it was still hard to read. Of the two videos he showed, one was a fun “trying to be viral” piece focused entirely on one athlete in one very popular (nationally recognized team) sport. It was cute. But the fact that it was 50% of the content shown conveyed the message that this particular team is central to the college culture, and maybe that was the intent. The other video we saw was supposed to be more all-encompassing about the university, but clearly had no script other than “get a bunch of students to talk to the camera and edit it all together as quickly as you can.” This video was filled with poor quality shots–blown out lighting, sound you couldn’t hear– along with a terrible “corporate” repetitive music bed that made it hard to follow. The editing was poor quality, too, and a last freeze frame was on the wrong field, resulting in a weird blur on a student’s face. What this show conveyed was “we’re such a great place that we don’t really have to invest in this video because you’ll probably want to come here anyway.” Mission accomplished.
The school that impressed my son the most likely did so in part because of its emotional, effective and high quality admissions video:
The #Elon video is effective for many reasons—I won’t bore you with a film lecture—but one of them is the original music being performed by students and the thoughtful edit sequences and camera setups. This is not just a mash-up blizzard of images of the school, but a story well told, and it had its intended effect on one prospective applicant. What it told his mom is this: we respect the story enough to approach filmmaking (and its various crafts of writing, directing, editing, music composition, etc.) with creativity and professionalism, just like any other academic discipline.
A school we didn’t see, but might on our next jog north, could be University of Rochester, which took a very different but equally compelling approach to an original music composition, with this well-made admissions rap video:
My take away from this experience is this: if you are marketing yourself, whether to prospective students, customers or donors, how you tell your story matters. A well-planned and executed project—whether a speech with slides, a rap video or a documentary-style piece—will convey your passion. A poor one undermines your message.
Inside the Beltway, everyone thinks this is the first upset of its kind. Maybe in the annals of politics. But this kind of stuff happens every day to consumer brands. It happened when Tropicana tried to roll out a new look, and outraged its base consumers. It happened when New Coke forgot what Old Coke had done for the world. On the successful side of brands expanding their base, Miley Cyrus has been doing a pretty good job of transitioning from Disney Good Girl into a grown-up singer, MTV Awards twerking and all. Not that I would recommend this approach to Members of Congress.
So what lessons can a brand draw?
- Know who your “grassroots” supporters are. Even when you have dreams of national expansion, or a re-brand, be sure you are not straying too far from your core competencies.
- It’s OK to try to shift your niche or broaden your appeal, but then you have to be sure your core constituencies—whether they are voters or stockholders or parents of a school or donors and volunteers of a nonprofit—will come along for the ride. OR, that you can do without them.
- And don’t attend a big-ticket fundraiser while your volunteers and supporters are sweating in the trenches, as Eric Cantor did on election day. Your rank and file supporters/volunteers/consumers are actually part of your brand, so don’t diss them.
Amy DeLouise is a digital media producer and brand strategist.
It all starts in the field. Making sure that you have a good workflow for editing–and for managing multiple content outputs–is always a challenge. Here’s a presentation I gave at NAB with my colleague Rich Harrington that includes some of our top strategies and tools for edit prep.