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Learning from the Department of Finance #epicfail - how it could have been a success.

In my time in content production I've seen a lot of rubbish videos released online. And, in all fairness I've made my share of mistakes - learning from each and every one. However, I have never seen anything quite as bad as the recent Department of Finance recruitment video. If I was Trump, I'd be running my little fingers across the keypad to tweet 'finance video - just sad' right now.

If for some reason you haven't seen it yet, here's a link:

Now I don't mean to play on the misfortune of those involved in the production. Having worked with agencies and for production companies for many years there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that we don't see in the finished product. For starters, I can almost guarantee that this script was written by, or at least strictly vetted by, a team within the department. And, although the budget was a relatively healthy $37K, I'm also going to go out on a limb and suggest that if the agency did suggest actors, this was shot down due to budget restrictions.

So, now that I've given at least some level of understanding to the people behind this video, let's talk about what went wrong and how it could have been turned around.

To start with, having real people in real situations isn't a bad thing, in fact it's usually great and I'd always suggest this over actors. I see where they're going; they wanted to give an insight into the excitement, camaraderie and transition that happens within their department. The problem is, scripting real interactions and then using non actors to try and portray them with any sense of authenticity is a recipe for disaster. This is essentially drama, and drama scripting and acting is a skill in itself. If you decide that drama is the right approach for your content, commit to it and use real actors.

So, what can be done in this situation to get a better result? Firstly they could have used an interview voiceover base with a number of graduates and used b-roll footage to add visualisation. So, when the interviewee says 'it was really amazing how quickly I became trusted as part of the team', show footage of their team getting a presentation ready and getting nods and praise from their managers. This is a well used formula, but one that consistently gets results. The great thing about this process is that it would have taken less time to film, meaning more budget on the important things like developing the message and employing the right director.

Alternatively, if they wanted to show real interactions and have their people doing the talking, the video should have been designed to reflect this. Instead of smooth jib shots and tracking cameras, the movement should have been handheld, close up and fast paced. Remove the horrible pregnant pauses between scenes, take away the script and get people having real conversations through the sections. Pretending is never a good approach - people will see right through it. Start the video by saying 'we followed new graduates for a day in their lives, this is their story, made by them'. This way the reduced production values actually improve the outcome, keeping it real and authentic.

But apart from understanding technically what could have been changed, it's even more important to consider what went on before hand. How did the brief get it so wrong, and how did this even get signed off in script format before that money was spent on filming?

I'll be direct - either the client wrote this brief and demanded that it was made this way, or the agency passed the buck to a contractor and had no real input on the development and just shot it. There's even a small chance that they wanted this to go viral, but I strongly doubt it. Both options mean that the client blew $40K and created a huge amount of damage to their brand. In reality, this project should have been canned by someone who knew what they were talking about as soon as script V.1. was circulated. But it wasn't, and that leaves us with our final take home message.

Content doesn't have to be expensive, but it has to be planned well and developed by someone who knows your audience and how they'll react. The options open to you are hiring an agency to develop all of your plans (making sure they don't just palm the work off to a 3rd party), hire an internal content manager or bring in someone like me who has been around for hundreds (if not thousands of productions), understands how content engages (and doesn't) and knows the pitfalls to avoid. I'm biased, but in my experience having a trusted content consultant on your team when you need it is cheaper, gets you access to lower cost content and is the closest thing to having a content team in house.

If you'd like to develop a content plan and avoid ending up on the front page of the news for all the wrong reasons, maybe we should chat.