Video services: Vision thing

Alex Blyth

Jane Stephenson, who headed up the project at the Media Trust said: "Working with the charities, we developed some really innovative approaches. For instance UK Youth wanted to move away from its rather traditional image as an organisation that runs youth clubs, so together we created and filmed a specially written rap explaining what it does.

"With Whizz-Kidz , the charity that provides mobility equipment for disabled young people, we came up with an idea of using comedy to show an able-bodied young girl chained to her Mum and Dad. The point was to bring home how important independence is to all young people."

The winner was due to be announced last week, but the judges were so taken with the quality of the entries that they need more time to decide on a winner.


1. Drug and alcohol treatment charity, Addaction, won IVCA's prestigious Grand Prix award in 2004 for a cutting-edge video that was made in conjunction with insurance company Marsh. Frank interviews with former drug takers highlighted Addaction's work.

2. The Alzeimer's Society was awarded the same distinction in 2002 for its moving film entitled When's Dad coming home?, which was produced by The Edge Picture Company.

3. In July 1999, Robbie Williams made his debut TV advertisement to raise awareness of testicular cancer and the Everyman campaign. He paraded around Paradise Cove in Malibu with false breasts for a half-day shoot.

With production costs falling, video has become a far more affordable medium for charities keen to create real impact with their message.

Talking to 16-year-old boys about testicular cancer is not an easy task, according to Colin Osborne, founder and president of the Orchid Cancer Appeal. "Which is probably why no one told me at that age to start looking for abnormal lumps," he says. "But they really should have done because men are most at risk from testicular cancer between the ages of 18 and 40."

Having resolved to tackle the issue, Osborne soon realised that he needed to take an innovative approach. "Rather than have a GP stand in a room full of embarrassed kids, we decided to use role models that young men could identify with and put the message across with some humour," he recalls.

So he used every contact he had ever made and managed to enlist the support of celebrities such as Jonathan Ross, Steve Davis and Pat Cash, and persuaded them to be in a video that could be shown in schools. Once he had got them on board, the video came together at a relatively low cost: "Steve Davis recorded his section using the cameras that were at a snooker tournament he was playing in. Phil Jupitus did it at the end of a programme he was in. The BBC gave us some free football footage. In fact, we saved so much that we were able to spend four days interviewing patients and doctors and include some good graphics."

The campaign has been a resounding success. "Since the campaign's launch, the size of recorded tumours has fallen," says Osborne. "Because they are smaller, it indicates that we are picking them up earlier and for a disease that is curable in 95 per cent of cases when detected early, that is good news."

Orchid Cancer Appeal is not the only charity to have realised the potential of video. It used to be just the large charities that would have the finances to invest in a video campaign, but that is changing.

For many people, hearing information from a friend or even reading it in a newspaper is not enough. They only really believe it when they see it on a screen. As Simon Gallimore, production director at the Media Trust, a charity that works with other charities on their communications, including video, says: "We made a film for Cafod, about its projects in Africa. When it's shown to Cafod supporters in the UK it really brings it to life for them, and shows, almost as if for the first time, what their donations are being used for."

Video is effective for campaigning and fundraising because it allows a charity to tell a story, to transport the audience to another reality and to engage that audience emotionally. It is also useful for training because it is an effective way of showing viewers how to do something, rather than the prescriptive approach of telling them how to do it.

Video is also particularly relevant to charities that deal with sensitive issues, because actors can stand in and give voice to people's stories, such as those who were abused as children, for example.

On the downside, video is not effective at conveying large amounts of complex information. However, Jane Stephenson, creative director, production, at the Media Trust, offers a way around that. "We did a video for Breast Cancer Care that depicted the experience and conveyed the emotion, but there were also lots of facts and figures to get across, so we inserted a booklet into the packaging. With DVD it's even possible to include it as an extra feature on the disc itself."

Falling costs

Video is now becoming a more cost-effective solution, partly because celebrities and film crews are willing to work for charities at a reduced rate, but also because production costs have fallen dramatically.

As Stephenson explains: "There used to be four to five people on every shoot. Now you'll have a director who can also shoot the film. You'll probably have one other person, but already you've more than halved the cost. Cameras have become more affordable and even editing is no longer as expensive as it used to be."

According to most estimates, an acceptable video can now be produced for around £3,000, while one of broadcast quality costs upwards of £20,000.

Some charities are even investing in their own equipment and training staff or beneficiaries to shoot their own footage.

Video has become an option for most charities and as a result there are now many production companies specialising solely in charity videos. Even some of the established commercial production companies have dedicated charity divisions.

New formats

Technology has also helped to lower costs. An obvious way has been to move from video to CD-Rom and DVD. They are considerably cheaper not only to produce, but also to post. The only caveat is to ensure that the intended audience will have the appropriate hardware to play the finished product.

The internet promises to allow video distribution to become even cheaper.

A growing trend is for film crews to shoot much more footage than will be needed for the traditional three to 12-minute film, so that the charity can use the extra footage for short clips on its website.

Adam Robertson, video producer at Save the Children, has found this extremely effective. "We've been putting some footage of our work in refugee camps in Lebanon online, and have found that visitors to the site tend to stay for longer. Although it does really need broadband at the other end, we're not far off full broadband take-up in the UK."

Robertson is equally enthusiastic about the potential of email. "During the recent HIV/Aids conference in Bangkok, we ran a viral campaign. The email contained a video of a seven-year-old Ethiopian boy talking about how he had been affected by the death of his parents. It contributed to a redrafting of policy to give greater emphasis to the plight of children."

But using email to deliver video is not problem-free, as Sarah Platt, account director at streaming-media specialists Groovy Gecko, points out.

"The sender's carefully crafted message could be compromised because the recipient does not have the right set-up to view the video. Charities should always test the message in different types of email accounts. Hotmail and Yahoo, for instance, won't accept a Java download, so the recipient will just get an error message."

Greg Hirst, business development director at online video technology company Forbidden Technologies, is already looking for the next technological wave. "Corporates are beginning to use mobile phones to deliver video marketing messages and this could be the next step for charities too," he says.

Partnership gains

Working together is also a good way to lower costs, says Cynthia Merrilees, head of media at Barnardo's. "Often, other agencies come into partnership to offset costs. Drawing on the assistance of local production companies, or college video studios, Barnardo's service users often help in the scripting, filming and editing process. One project in Scotland used animated models to portray the lives of young people abused through prostitution."

However, she adds: "To make broadcast-quality tapes for distribution is a far more expensive operation." As a result, she is cautious about investing in video. "If we're going to spend upwards of £3,000, we want to get a return or we want to be sure that it will be used extensively."

When Barnardo's was chosen as Tesco's charity of the year, Merrilees wanted to do something to enthuse the retail giant's staff about the charity, so she hired a production company to make a broadcast-quality film. The film won the International Visual Communication Association's Gold Award in 2003, and Tesco staff went on to raise £2.5m for Barnardo's.

Of course, the central partnership in any video campaign is with the production company. Many will offer a discount to charity clients, some will even do it for free, but many warn against selecting partners solely on cost criteria.

Over the past 22 years, Peter Barry at Magnetic Pictures has filmed in places like Afghanistan and Angola for charities including Sightsavers and Tearfund. In his view, the cheapest are not necessarily the best value.

"You should choose one that has a real empathy with the aims of your charity and the needs of your beneficiaries," he says. "When filming, some situations are sensitive and potentially dangerous, and the film crew are your charity's representatives there. So you need to make sure that they are aware of the way you work, and of local customs and so on."

Fresh thinking

Perhaps the most significant change in recent years has been to the films themselves. Once they were staid affairs, often featuring a stilted chief executive introducing sombre depictions of social, environmental or medical problems.

Now, they have much more in common with TV programmes, as the Media Trust's Stephenson explains: "Many of the best directors want to work on charity films because they are passionate about the issue. This leads to the cross-pollination of ideas, and means that charity films have an ever greater resonance and impact with the audience."

So video is becoming ever more popular among charities, but as Gallimore concludes: "You must be clear about why you want to make a video and not just do it for the sake of it. Know what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and, crucially, what you want to achieve. If you know all that, then video, DVD and CD-Roms can be highly effective tools to help you achieve it. After all, why should MTV have all the best videos?"


Viewers of the Community Channel had their chance to judge 10 charity videos in mid-July, when the judges of Sky's Make It Big initiative asked for input from the public before selecting Sky's charity partner.

The charities were Barretstown, Chicken Shed Theatre, I Can, the National Autistic Society/Aspire, NCH, the Prince's Trust, Shelter, UK Youth, Whizz-Kidz and Youthnet UK. Each one worked with the Media Trust to produce a video in an attempt to persuade the judges to choose them as Sky's charity partner, a position expected to be worth at least £1m over the next few years.

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