Corporate videos and the craft of listening

Yeah, this is the author's ear.Just like shooting or editing, listening is a craft.

I know because I had to learn the hard way.

It wasn’t until I’d been in the television end of the biz for many years that I first jumped into the corporate end. And I hadn’t yet learned to listen—really listen.

Thumbnail pic from "Oil Rigs" Nat Geo TV showYou see, when you’re producing a TV show, it’s crucial to make sure as much of your vision survives into the final program as possible. If necessary, you rassle with the executive producer—maybe even hide a few things from him or her—because it’s you who know the territory best. (Of course, sometimes the EP does have a valid point or two that will enhance your vision!)

At the end of a long run mostly working at TV stations, I took the freelance plunge and soon landed a corporate gig. I understood the assignment (or thought I did) and as usual, promoted my concepts in everything I was writing.

Somehow, the client wasn’t getting it. My glorious vision wasn’t selling. Not long after, I found myself holding my terminal paycheck and looking for another gig. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had been the one who wasn’t getting it. I hadn’t heard what the client wanted … because I hadn’t been listening.

But hey, I’m nothing if not educable, and once I learned the craft of listening, the world of corporate video was much more welcoming. The learning curve wasn’t steep—it was mostly a shift in attitude.

Now I take notes. Like crazy. At client meetings I type away without looking at the keyboard. Typos be damned—the important thing is to stay engaged in the conversation. I try to catch the nuances of what the client wants. If clients don’t yet know what they want, I take down every relevant thing they say and later help them figure it out. Naturally, I don’t just listen passively. I ask for clarifications. I make suggestions (and pay close attention to how they’re received).

After many a non-broadcast project, I can say definitively that listening works. Clients—no surprise—like it. And the path to an approved script or a finished project is much, much smoother.

GreenShield logoThis long preamble brings me to a recent project, a short video for JN Phillips Auto Glass. It’s a company with more than 40 locations, and a very good reputation. I was invited to write and produce the video by Dick Weisberg of B/R Creative, JN Phillips’ agency. Dick and I have collaborated happily before, notably on a circus video. The purpose of this video was to let people know about GreenShield, the company’s windshield recycling program. (I always enjoy projects that have an environmental or socially redeeming purpose, and this was to prove no exception.)

Handwritten notesTyped notesFrom the first phone conversation with Dick I took notes. Ditto at meetings and on conference calls. Notes are a solid foundation on which to organize a project, because you can look at them and know what facts, messages and people are important to include.

Close-up of script page

You know how frustrating it is when you feel someone isn’t listening to you. Clients are just like you. But if you incorporate as many of the client’s wishes as possible into every draft of an outline,  treatment or script, the client will feel listened to. As you’re writing a draft, you’ll see when a client’s desires (like wanting seven minutes of content squeezed into a three minute web video) won’t enhance the video. Since you’re the one with production experience, and the client knows you’re not fighting their ideas, chances are they’ll go along with most of your suggestions.

On the GreenShield project, a writer who knows the JN Phillips brand inside and out did some rewrites on my prose, to make sure it was 100% aligned with their messages. Then I took her version and cut it down, because web videos lose a huge percentage of viewers if they’re too long. In any case, everyone on the project—client, agency and production people—got along really well, and JN Phillips is very happy with the result.

See for yourself. As you watch, pay attention to the video’s host, Josh Rosenfield. He’s not professional talent—he’s the guy who’s actually in charge of the GreenShield program. Awesome job by a first-timer!