Saturday, March 13, 2010

Prudential Real Estate Rolls Out New Media Center Communications Tool at National Sales Convention.

Prudential Real Estate, a leading North American real estate company, introduced their new Prudential Real Estate Media Center at their 2010 Sales Convention in Austin, TX. The new software is based on the RoqLogic Media Center online communication platform, but re-tooled specifically for the real estate market. It provides an effective way for members of the Prudential Real Estate network to access and publish rich media content over the Internet.

The Prudential Real Estate Media Center is a one-of-a-kind tool for the real estate industry. It establishes a powerful online community that allows network members -- including corporate staff, brokers, affiliates, offices and realtors -- to access a robust library of online presentations, video, audio, photography, graphics and documents and share them with prospects, clients and colleagues.

The real power of the software is that it links this robust pool of assets to a building and publishing environment where distributors can create, customize, personalize, email, share and track high-quality online presentations. The Prudential Media Center puts the power of rich media assets and presentations into the hands of Prudential Real Estate corporate staff, brokers, realtors and their organizations. It allows network members to leverage a wide range of assets for building their businesses. The RoqLogic platform is a natural fit for the real estate network model.

Monday, August 10, 2009

So now you have a script and a plan. How do you shoot a good video? Part Three

Not everybody can afford to hire a crack television production company to produce their video (actually, most folks can’t). But let not your heart be troubled. There’s a bunch of things you can do to create effective results for your online efforts.

The Hardware:

First, let’s talk equipment. Ideally, you would get the best results using a decent camcorder. Next best is something called the Flip Camera. And then there’s the webcam. Most laptops have them. But be wary, sometimes they can be very confounding. Let’s take a look at each:

Video cameras/camcorders: You can spend tens of thousands of dollars for a professional camera. Or you can spend hundreds. Usually for online stuff, you can get by with a decent consumer-quality camcorder. They can run from a couple hundred to several thousand. Generally, you’re paying for features when you pay for the upper end of that range. If you’re smart about how and what you shoot, you can get totally acceptable results from a $200-$400 camcorder. I would stay with a DV format model. Be sure the output of the camera is compatible with your computer—either Firewire (i.Link on PCs, sometimes called IEEE1394) or USB 2.0. Also consider getting a tripod for your camcorder. It will make your scenes much smoother.

Flip Camera: The Flip Video camera is an amazing product. It works just like your point-and-shoot still camera, only with video. It retails for about $150. There’s even an HD version for a little more money, but that increased resolution is wasted when producing for the Internet. All you do is point the Flip at your subject and begin recording. Then simply plug its built-in USB connector into your computer (either PC or Mac) and transfer the files. Here’s a great video on using the Flip:

Webcam: In a pinch, you can use your computer’s webcam to record personal messages you want to send to friends and colleagues. But that’s about the extent of its effectiveness. It makes no sense to aim your computer at a subject to record your videos.


Decent sound can make all the difference in your video. While you don’t have many options with the Flip or your webcam, you do have them with your camcorder. If you plan on using the camcorder’s built-in microphone, try to keep the camcorder as close to the subject as possible. Shooting from across the room will result in a lot of room sound mixed in with your audio. And a lot of echo. This is especially important when using the Flip. Stay close.

For camcorders, a separate microphone can make a very big difference. You should be able to find one for well under a hundred dollars. Try Radio Shack or Best Buy.

If you are using a standard handheld mic, you might want to consider an inexpensive mic stand and position the microphone just out of the frame as close as possible to the subject.

If you do a lot of “talking head” interviews, you might want to consider a lavaliere microphone. They can be inconspicuously clipped on the subject’s coat, shirt or blouse. This will give you high quality audio that minimizes ambient noise.

Also, it’s a good idea to wear headphones while videotaping. That way you can be sure the audio levels and quality are what you want.

The art, science and common sense of lighting.

Lighting can be incredibly complex, or very simple. I might suggest the latter. I just finished producing a video where we shot a dozen locations in two days. Ask any professional producer about that and they’ll tell you that’s an amazing feat. What we did was bring a small handheld, battery powered light and a four foot square hunk of white foamcore. In most cases we used the foamcore to “bounce” light from the sun to illuminate the dark shadows on our subject’s face. We used the battery powered light to fill in when we were shooting indoors. In either case, we let the natural ambient light do the heavy lifting.

When shooting outdoors, direct sunlight results in bright illumination and really dark shadows—not much in between. You want to add light to those shadows so you can bring out the details. You can usually do that with a single “bounce card.” Just angle it so the sun’s reflection “bounces” onto your subject. It’s a natural way to open up shadows and bring out that detail.

Another tip? Don’t position your subject in front of a bright light source. If you shoot someone with the sun behind them, you’ll only end up with a nice bright sky and a silhouette of your subject. Same for shooting indoors. Don’t position your subject in front of a bright window. You’ll end up with a nice bright window and your subject will be a really dark silhouette. Not good. Instead, use that bright window to your advantage as a beneficial light source. Move your subject and your camera so that the bright incoming light becomes your key light (which means slightly in front of and to the side of your subject. Then a bounce card can be used to open up the shadow on the non-light side of the subject. How easy is that? No lights. Just a 4x4 piece of foamcore!

One more little tip. If your subject is having a tough time keeping his or her eyes open when shooting in bright sunlight, have them close their eyes and look up in the direction of the sun for a few moments before you start shooting. That way, when the look towards the camera and open their eyes, the brightness level will be less dramatic. Try it. It really works!

“Three-point” lighting

When lighting people, there are several light sources you should consider. They’re called the key light, fill light and back light.

Key light: This is the main source of illumination for your subject. It’s the primary light for the face. Place it in front of your subject at approximately 45 degrees from center.

Fill light: This is a less powerful light to slightly illuminate the opposite side of the face. Place it in front of your subject at approximately 45 degrees off center on the opposite side of the key light. Don’t have another light? Simply use a white “bounce card” on the opposite side of the subject from the key light so it reflects its light back onto the opposite side of the subject.

Back light: This is sometimes called a rim light. While this isn’t imperative, it does add a nice touch. It’s a small light positioned high and behind the subject. It actually creates a narrow “rim” of illumination on the subject’s hair and shoulders. It creates a subtle separation between the subject and the background. But if budget and extra lights are slim, it’s not that big of a deal. You can still create a very nice look with only a key and fill.

Here’s a great tutorial video on lighting:

Shooting interviews

Definitely use a tripod to steady the camera. Position your interviewer to one side of the camera or the other. Frame the subject slightly off center and looking into the shot. Leave a little headroom at the top of the frame.

Vary your shots between medium waist-up framings and close-ups. However, use these variances sparingly. There’s nothing worse than an edit that constantly pops back and forth. Technically speaking there are four notations for describing the framing of a shot:

  • Wide Shot (WS): Head-to-toe
  • Medium Shot (MS): Approximately head-to-waist
  • Close Up (CU): Head and shoulders
  • Extreme Close Up (ECU): Facial shot

And be sure to capture a lot of what’s called “B-roll.” These are shots of the interviewee going about their daily routine. Treat your viewers to him/her at their desk, working in the garden or playing with the dog. During editing you can intercut these shots during the interview. It adds tremendous visual interest to your story.

General shooting tips

Consider your finished video as a patchwork of many shorter segments. Long, single scenes can be boring and hard to watch. If you are showing a baseball game for example, avoid a single locked-down, wide angle view of the entire field. Not only are the players tiny in the scene, it’s hard to see details of the game. Capture close-ups of the batter. Or shots of the fans. Focus on the dugout activities. During editing, you can intercut these detail shots to create a nice textural quality and pacing.

  • Keep shots short (10 to 15 seconds each).
  • Be sure to start rolling the tape for about 10 seconds before prompting your talent to begin (and let it continue for about 10 seconds after they’re done).
  • A little hint when shooting video that will end up online: Avoid a lot of camera movement. When your video is compressed, it doesn’t like a constantly changing image. It can’t compress it efficiently. The less the background changes, the better your video will look when compressed.
  • You don’t need to always have your subject matter centered in the screen. Feel free to move them off-center, using the “negative space” to your advantage.
  • Shoot a lot for every scene. Tape is cheap. When you come to editing, the more options you provide for yourself, the better your final result. That means shoot closeups, medium shots, wide shots, B-roll, etc. Then mix them up when editing.

Take heed of these tips and suggestions. Creating a stellar production can be achieved if you know what you’re doing. The real secret? Keep it simple!

I'm sure there are a lot of you out there that have some personal experiences that can help the readers. I encourage you to post your comments.

The next installment will explore the process of editing—that is, assembling your shooting efforts into a cohesive, illustrative production. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How To Attract New Distributors And Energize Existing Ones

As a result of new communications technologies, work life in America has changed dramatically in recent years. And shaped by an unprecedented revolution in technology, a new generation has joined the workforce.

These Millennial or Generation Next, are a group of young adults who have grown up with personal computers, cell phones and the Internet, are now taking their place in the workforce. They have used technology and the Internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways throughout their lives and are bringing that communications methodology into the workplace as well.

A strong majority of the general workforce believes email and other new ways of communicating have done more to help American workers than hurt them. According to Pew Research, young adults are the most enthusiastic about this trend. It is stated that among young adults, 88% say the use of Internet communication have helped workers, compared with 79% of Gen Xers, 67% of Boomers and 47% of seniors.

What’s important to note is the high acceptance of the Internet as a method of communication. They focus on how efficiency, flexibility and practicality help control and manage their media-driven experiences. This is significant in that it reinforces the idea that business communications via the Internet has become an acceptable norm for working Americans – no matter the generation.

Technology has traditionally measured performance by speed and features. No more. Convenience, control and connection are the new standards being factored into day-to-day business thinking.

Appealing to a New Generation of Distributors

Direct-selling companies understand that continued growth and overall success is directly related to maintaining and motivating their existing network population as well as bolstering recruiting of new distributors. The available pool for new recruits is trending younger and younger.

Totaling 42 million, leading-edge Millennials or Generation Next are 20 – 30 years of age in 2009. According to a PricewaterhouseCooper’s survey conducted in 2008 and published in Workforce Management in December 2008, 21% expect to work outside of a regular office environment.

This is a generation that has a “do-it-yourself” attitude. According to a study published by the Direct Selling Association, 21% of people involved in direct selling are between the ages of 18 – 34. This gives a strong indication that this age segment represents a significant opportunity for growth in the direct-selling marketplace.

So what is it that will pique the interest of this new generation? Simply put, the effective application of technology. Successful use of technology is defined by getting more out of less through simplification, self-sufficiency and empowerment.

This new generation of potential distributors is connected through technology. They expect an effective tool to enhance that connection—and thus improve their business building opportunities. They expect flexibility, efficiency and productivity in whatever business building tool they choose.

And What About the Other Generation?

It’s often surmised that the “older” generation is turned off by technology. That’s not necessarily the case. Certainly, they are not typically as well versed in the deep workings of it. But they can and do use technology as part of their everyday work experience.

What is needed are powerful tools that are easy to use and don’t require a lot of training to get up and running. And that is beginning to happen. Software developers are keenly aware of that fact. User interfaces are becoming much more intuitive utilizing advanced point-and-click and drag-and-drop methodologies. “User-Friendly” is actually beginning be just that.

The Right Tool for the Right Job.

Direct-selling companies understand that providing the proper business tools for their distributors is critical. While there are many tools currently in the marketplace, there are few that allow them to not only capitalize on their significant investment in multimedia assets, but leverage their brand image as well.

Productivity can only be achieved by providing access to materials on a timely, cost-effective basis. Technology has increased the speed and immediacy in the business world and has forced companies to rethink their communications models. The expense and time associated with producing, distributing and updating materials are no longer acceptable in today’s environment.

Online Video Beyond YouTube - Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that will explore the wacky world of online video. Let’s investigate how to create and utilize online video to effectively promote your message. There are some critical steps that must be taken when undertaking a video project.

Way before you press the record button on your camcorder, you need to consider a few things:

1. Think about what and to whom you’re trying to communicate

Generally, when we are attempting to communicate, we are actually trying to influence someone else. Buy my product. Support my cause. Agree with me.

How do we do that? According to Robert Cialdini in his thought-provoking book, “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion,” the art of influencing others can be broken down into six basic tenets:

  • Reciprocation – Offer information and value before you request it from others
  • Commitment/consistency – You will be more successful if you expect something from someone with an existing commitment along the lines of your expectations
  • Social validation – People are more likely to be swayed in your direction if they see evidence of others doing so
  • Likeability – We are all attracted to someone who we deem likeable (rarely do we move in the direction of someone we dislike)
  • Authority – If you come off as an authority on your subject, people are more open to what you have to say
  • Scarcity – If someone feels that your “offer” is rare or dwindling in availability, they are more likely to give it more credence

Apply these qualities to your video production and you stand a much greater chance of getting your point across more effectively.

2. Produce Within Your Means

I can’t stress this point enough. Consider your budget and resources. And be realistic about it. Don’t try to serve caviar on a peanut butter budget.

Granted, YouTube has lowered expectations as far as video production quality is concerned. Capitalize on that if you don’t have a Spielberg-sized wallet. The home-brewed look can be very effective. It’s real and very accessible to a wide viewing audience.

Spend your time, energy and money on a solid concept and a quality script. That will go a lot further than a lousy, overproduced script.

3. Planning, planning, planning

Organization is king when approaching any video project. This is true whether you are creating a Hollywood blockbuster or a simple, home-brewed production. Consider your key points and how you might effectively communicate and support them. This process usually manifests itself in the form of a script.

There are two aspects to any script:

  1. What you are saying
  2. What you are showing

So how do you create a good script? It’s a process. I have found my best work comes when I follow a certain workflow:

Create an outline: I always start out by generating an outline of the content. This helps me organize my thoughts and how I intend to flesh out the details. Outlining allows me to identify the important from the unimportant and to prioritize my information.

Create the script: I typically use a three column table format for my scripts. The leftmost column is for scene numbers. This helps keep things organized when creating content for the video. The second column is for visuals, and the right column is for dialog. I always start by creating the dialog.

Dialog – Follow the flow of your outline. It provides a great roadmap for you to lay down your thoughts. It’s a stream of consciousness thing. Just type away. You can always come back and edit, shorten, re-explain and re-order later. When you’re done, read it aloud to yourself. Several times. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue when you do, go back and streamline where possible.

Visuals – When you’re satisfied with what’s being said, go back to the beginning and start to visualize your thoughts. Break the dialog up into shorter chunks and think about the best ways to illustrate your points. Don’t have a single, static visual support 3, 4 or more sentences of dialog. Trust me, it will die on the screen.

Support your thoughts with graphics, text or metaphorical imagery/photos. A great, affordable source for both still images and video is iStockphoto. Simply type in the concept of a particular scene into the iStock search field and you will be presented with a myriad of photos, graphics and videos that support your idea. I highly recommend them.

4. Keep it short

The secret to effective online video is brevity. Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, once wrote a letter to a colleague with this apology (rough translation): "The present letter is a very long one, simply because I didn't have enough time to make it shorter." He's right. Making your point in less space is very difficult. But it's worth it.Nobody is going to sit at their computer for 15 minutes to hear your message.

According to YouTube, the average viewing time is about 2 minutes 45 seconds. That's really hard to do. Sometimes you have to exceed that optimum length. Go ahead, if your content is worthwhile, it can push that limit. Generally, a good rule of thumb for your video should be about 4 to 5 minutes. Any longer and you risk tune-out.

5. Plan your production

If your project includes shooting, make a shot list and organize your efforts.

Shot list – You don’t want to shoot your video in the order the scenes appear in your script. Group your shots according to similar setups and locations. In other words, if a scene at the beginning of the script is similar to one at the end of the script, group those two shots together and shoot them out of order. It makes no sense to set a shot for the first scene, then break it down and reset it later for the scene at the end of the script.

When shooting out of order, I highly recommend that you be cognizant of the scenes directly before and after the one you are shooting. When you edit them together, you want to be sure they will flow smoothly.

Slate your shots – Use a small piece of white plexiglass and a dry marker to create a slate. Simply write the scene number (from the script) on the slate and hold it in front of the camera before shooting a scene. This will be invaluable when going through the footage during editing.

In the next installment I will explore ways to improve the quality of your video production. Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger budget. There are simple things you can do to improve the quality your work – even if you are producing on a shoestring budget.

Let me know what you think. I invite you to post your comments below.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Online Video Beyond YouTube - Part One

This series will explore how online video has changed our world. This first installment will take a look at just how far online video has come. I can remember a time in the not too distant past where posting video on the Internet was rare indeed. Since then, we’ve seen incredible advancements in compression technologies and dramatic increases in bandwidth available to us all. Today, online video is an everyday deal.

How YouTube has changed the landscape

Yikes! Users now upload 20 hours of video per minute to YouTube. That’s 33 minutes of video every second, or 28,800 hours every day. Comscore has reported that YouTube has reached 100 million viewers. And that’s 14.8 billion videos being watched in January of 2009 alone.

Anyone with a camera, Flip Video, or webcam can be a star on YouTube. The holy grail is to “go viral.” It’s that one video in a thousand that captures the imagination of millions of viewers. Take a look at this hilarious video that scored nearly three quarters of a million views:

Or take a look at this up-and-coming NBA star:

However, a real turning point for YouTube has been its adoption by corporate America. One of the early adopters of viral video as a corporate marketing strategy is BMW. They created an intriguing series of dramas by top directors to promote BMW as a “hip” ride. This one called “Hostage” was directed by John Woo:

Companies are now creating YouTube channels to formally bring laser focus to their online video efforts. A great example of this is Coldwell Banker’s sophisticated On Location YouTube channel.

What exactly is a YouTube video?

A YouTube video can be anything from a silly webcam production by a high school freshman, to a crazy home video, to a start-up business presentation, to a full-blown, high-quality corporate video. Simply put, people are communicating with people. The beauty of it all is it takes the “gatekey” away from the mainstream media and puts it into the hands of you and me. How cool.

The downside? Well, there’s a lot of junk on YouTube. Thankfully, they do their best to strip out the really obscene and outright pornographic. But there’s no filter for stupidity. The wild, wild west of the Internet invites contributions of all stripes. It’s our responsibility to monitor what we want our families and ourselves to view. Not big brother’s.

We’re a nation of free individuals. We’re free to make choices (even bad ones). And that’s where it should reside. No need for government interaction or some goofy form of institutional censorship. This is my point of view and I feel strongly about it. I definitely invite opposing views on this. Feel free to comment (hopefully, in a civil manner).

Lowering the bar: A bad thing

YouTube has inadvertently done something else for the proliferation of online video. They’ve lowered the bar as far as what is acceptable in terms of video production value. So what, you say?

For more than a decade, my business has produced hundreds of videos for major corporate clients. We had relatively large budgets for producing them. It wasn’t uncommon to have six figures to produce a 15 or 20 minute video. Those days are no more. Everyone wants it faster, better, longer and cheaper. It takes a production company with smarts and ingenuity to meet the needs of their clients.

Lowering the bar: A good thing

Anybody can take their camcorder, point it at something and make a video that ends up on YouTube. We’re used to seeing lower quality video with bad audio and really poor editing on the net. I guess we’ve been desensitized. Or you could look at it differently. If the content communicates, the production quality is “good enough.” Think about it. We’ve universally accepted the inferior audio quality of mp3 audio clips. Apple has built an empire around it.

And frankly, I’d rather have 2,000 of my favorite songs on my iPod than the “audiophile” quality of only 14 tracks on my very un-portable vinyl discs. It’s plenty “good enough.”

Stay tuned

In subsequent posts, we’ll explore a wide range of topics on the subject of online video. I invite you to keep an eye on this blog in the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Prospecting is Step One. Follow-up is Step Two!

Finding prospects is critical. It's someone you met at Starbucks. It's the parent of your son's pal. It's the result of some intense exploration and due diligence. But now you've made a connection... someone who reciprocated! So how do you nurture that relationship without being a pest? That's the dance.

FInd your voice.
Let them know you're still there. You're still interested. Offer help or advice without asking for something in return. But don't be afraid to tout your wares. It may take 4 or 5 times (or more) before you make any headway. The Internet allows you to do that in very sophisticated ways (if you're smart about it). Don't misuse the medium by overstepping your bounds. Use it to lay out your message in a friendly, non-obtrusive manner.

Use appropriate tools.
There are countless tools available to the direct marketer. It can be as simple as your email application. Or your website. There are more elegant solutions such as Constant Contact that allows you to send personalized eCards. There are other tools that are adopted by your company to really personalize and customize your efforts... and take advantage of the wealth of rich media assets. Here's where I toot my own horn. Our Media Center tool opens a very wide door to that capability. It could be considered Constant Contact on steroids (with all due respect to Constant Contact). Check us out. If your company does not offer the Media Center, let them know about it. It's a sweet deal for both the company and its distributors.

For more information, check out our website:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Give Out Loud: A unique way to support your favorite cause

Everyone has their own reason to give - what's yours? Now thanks to a new cause-based social networking solution, you can do it with a few clicks of the mouse. It's called Give Out Loud

With Give Out Loud, you create your own social networking page where you choose the causes you wish to support. Whether raising money for a local run or walk, supporting a national drive, helping in a major relief effort or any reason at all, having your GOL site is the web tool to make it happen! Brand your site with your name, pictures, videos track your impact; stay connected to the GOL community and much more!

There are several "levels" at which you can participate:
  • Individuals: That's you. You will have your own personal website that will allow you to network with friends and family to help your favorite charity
  • Small Business Owners: Your business has its own Give Out Loud branded website that connects you with your colleagues, employees and customers and share your social values
  • Corporations: Larger companies can use Give Out Loud to increase their community awareness while contributing to charities and philanthropic organizations
  • Charity/Foundations: Provides a platform that can reduce administration costs, increase contributions and increase their reach
Give Out Loud not only helps facilitate the functionality of giving, it also provides a way for your giving to multiply for good.