Thursday, December 20, 2012

A very European Christmas

To get us all in the holiday mood, here is Christmas sequel to the successful video 'A Very European Break Up'. She is Germaine, he is Greco and they are going through a very rough time! Your aim is to spot as many references to the current Euro Crisis as you possibly can... (from the icing on the cupcake to everyone catching Greco's cold). Keep on looking because you will discover new ones each time!



Happy Christmas (or should I be more politically correct? Me? No!) to everyone! And a visual 2013, at least!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The institution that should not make you yawn...

Of the many institutions and agencies of the European Union, there are a couple that have always stood out as the ones that nobody really knows much about, don't seem particularly useful, and still receive big budgets. I know it might be an unfair description, but I am not questioning whether they actually do something useful, I am only arguing that what is done is not perceived as useful that is not saying the same thing. But as 'perception is reality', the difference becomes slightly blurred. Anyway, all this long introduction to say that, just to mention two that popped into my mind, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee clearly fall under this category.

Let's leave the Committee of Regions to one side for the moment (or maybe forever..).

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is - as you all know, right? - 'a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe's socio-occupational interest groups, and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the larger institutions - the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. It thus has a key role to play in the Union's decision-making process'. I am not so sure about this last sentence actually, but if you look at its role - in this current anti-European climate - it seems an incredibly important body. It might have started as the liaison office between the Trade Unions, Employers Federations and the EU, but it has now a wider remit. It aspires to be the channel European citizens use to reach the larger institutions and the way for the EU to communicate and open a dialogue with European civil society. Is this not key at the moment? It is for me but, nonetheless, there isn't much talk about the initiatives the Committee is carrying out and the communication it does on such initiatives is not generating enough interest, if one excludes the people and the organisations that are directly linked to EESC projects. But, at least from a visual perspective, they are doing some pretty good things (yes, I did say it, so you see I am not always being negative?). A couple of examples.

This week the Committee has awarded the Civil Society prize, a prize that aims to 'reward excellence in civil society initiatives' in Europe; the three winners (from the UK, Portugal and Sweden) were captured in a video (6 minute-long) that described very well what the organisations do and hopefully can inspire others to start similar projects in their countries.

Here it is (and don't get put off by the still image of the EESC president!):



Another initiative that from my 'visual' angle is great is the Europe Past Forward video competition: amateur video producers are asked to send in a 2 minute video on what it means to be a citizen of the EU.

Here is the animated trailer for the 2013 submissions (56 seconds): original, good animations and, how can I put it, non-EU?



And finally, to give you an idea of the kind of videos that are sent in for the competition, here is the 2012 Belgian winner: simple, effective idea.



Are these not great ways to connect to European civil society? Maybe the theory is that the less power you have in the EU, the more creative you can be (discuss). Still, ten points for trying to be daring! Why then, when you mention the EESC (and of course if one uses the acronym it's even worse!), you get yawns in return?  

Friday, December 7, 2012

The EU and the Nobel Peace Prize: enough celebration?

Next Monday, a good number of European leaders and the heads of the three European institutions will be in Oslo the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, awarded this year to the European Union. (Little parenthesis: the UK Prime Minister has made it very clear he does not want to go and will not go. Fine, but can someone please remind me - and them actually - why they joined in the first place?).
One might question the timing of such decision and, as for most Peace Prizes awarded in past years, agree or not with the reasons behind it. In this case, and not surprisingly, the debate has been tougher than usual. Just do a quick Google search and you will find a sea of comments of all types, well, really of all types?

And here is why I am talking about it: I was very happy with the decision. Not ideal perhaps in terms of timing - this year of all years?- but certainly I agreed with the motivation ("for over six decades the EU contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe"). But, by looking online, it looks like I am pretty much the only one - ok exaggeration for effect! But I did a search on YouTube (EU and Nobel Peace Prize) and the results were dire. A lot of news items from different TV channels, most of which had interviews with people deeply critical of the decision; individuals - and a lot of North Americans puzzlingly- just filming themselves arguing against it; videos with scenes of riots in Athens and Madrid coupled with Nazi Germany shots with the European anthem (Ode to Joy) as the soundtrack; videos proposing alternative winners and videos making fun of the Nobel Committee; do I need to go on? I wanted to put the link to some of these videos but frankly, some of them do not really deserve to have more views, so go and look for them yourself!

I remember seeing the remarks of Barroso, Van Rompuy and the European Parliament President Schultz when they first heard the news and it took me quite some time to find those clips again. But anyway, talking heads with quite predictable comments. Where could I find the EU really making something of this prize for its own image, history, reputation and future? I did not want to give up; and eventually on the EUTube channel (couldn't it come up with a regular YouTube search?), I found this video - produced by the European Council:

  

A good video; a bit too long maybe, but surely something that shows the intentions and real motives behind the European idea using the voices -  at times quite moving - of the main protagonists, starting with Winston Churchill (yes, a Brit!) and the people of today. This is what needs to be communicated and showed over and over again!

There is one more initiative that I think deserves to be mentioned in relation to the EU, the Nobel Peace Prize and good use of communication tools : the Youth Contest "Peace, Europe, Future", a drawing and writing contest for 8-24 year olds (answering the question: what does peace in Europe mean for you?) organised by the EU institutions, in partnership with the European Youth Forum. The four winners - three selected by a jury and the last by a Facebook vote- will be part of the official delegation travelling to Oslo - and probably more deservedly than some of the hundreds going! 5400 young Europeans have taken part. Has it been advertised in schools? Maybe there would have been more participants. Anyway, looking at what the winners - and not only them -  have written and drawn, the striking thing is how peace in Europe is considered yes, a given, but "like air", something you cannot see but can't live without either. Call me an idealist, but I am longing for this view to be shared by the majority of young people across Europe. And I do love the 'mechanical' drawing of the 12 year old winner!



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ok, it will never be Gangnam style, but still...

I have been posting quite a number of videos produced by the EU on this blog; some better than others; some longer than others; some more controversial than others. But they all have one caracteristic in common: you need to look for them. I mean, the European Union spends a lot of money producing video material, some of which actually not very good. And it produces a huge number of videos: the EuTube channel, (yes, it is the right spelling!) has around 400 videos. And this is only the channel of the Commission, so no Parliament, no Council, nor any of the agencies.

The channel has more than 16 thousand subscribers and had around 20 million and five hundred thousand views since its birth in 2006. That sounds impressive? Well, not really, if you think that the most viewed video of all times, one single video, Gangnam style by Korean singer Psy, has been viewed more than 800 million times in only 4 months (actually, I am very puzzled about that one too, but that is for another time! Have a look at it anyway).



Maybe an unfair comparison but, more to the point, what is the distribution strategy for all the EU's video material? Wouldn't it be better to produce a bit less and use the saved money to distribute the rest a bit more? Why nobody - and please contradict me if you have - has ever seen one of the good videos - for example the one on women on boards that I uploaded last week - on a national television? Is it that difficult or that expensive? Have the people in charge for these videos in the Commission ever tried to get some special deals with member states broadcasters or with cinemas across the EU? I know that we are in the internet age so that's where all videos should be, and I am very pleased that the video I just mentioned is on the homepage of the website of Commissioner Reding. But let's be honest, how many people will voluntarily go to that website? The fact that this material has been produced and posted online does not mean the job is done if nobody watches it; it's just a waste of money and of a great opportunity.

Everybody working in the institutions here in Brussels complains that Europe is misunderstood and that European citizens are not really aware of all the good things the EU does for them. Then would it not be a good idea to start showing what it does for them and promote this kind of material in member states? Just a thought.

PS: In case you were interested, here is the most popular video on the EuTube channel (and I am sure that the fact that it's a sex scene has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is the most viewed!)


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Love me gender, force me through..


Back to Europe and my favourite subject: how to communicate - and possibly visually - what matters to European citizens. A topic that has come up lately in the news and not only here in Brussels is that of women and work related matters; both in terms of the existing salary gap between men and women and in terms of the under-representation of women in boards of companies. On this last issue, the feisty commissioner Viviane Reding - responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship - has made a controversial proposal for a Directive that sets an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex (better be safe, just in case someone were to find a women-only board and starts complaining!) among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. The Commission has approved the proposal last week. It remains to be seen whether it will ever make it to through the Council and the Parliament and how watered down it might end up becoming, but nonetheless the idea has sparked a big debate, with men and women on both sides of the argument.

The ECB governing council- spot the woman if you can!
I have always had my doubts on quotas (a friend of mine said she does not like the idea because quotas apply to milk and not to human beings! Maybe it applies also to milk-producing human beings?), not because I don't believe that there should be more women in company board (and mind you, not just the ones listed in the stock exchange - have a look at the lovely family photo of the European Central Bank governing council!) but because I felt that imposing percentages would inevitably create resentment and it could have the perverse effect of proving that women are not as good as men, if some companies were to hire the wrong person for a job only on the grounds of gender.

But then I changed my mind.

I went some time ago to an interesting conference that was called 'The State of the Union - Revitalising the European Dream - a corporate view' and was completely struck - and not only me by the way- by the absence of women, the majority of company representatives at the conference being old-ish men in grey suits. Revitalising the European Dream? Who are we kidding? The shrimps on the buffet tables looked more fit for purpose! Did the organisers simply not care to have a slightly more balanced list of speakers or did they not manage? Then I found a very revealing quote by management guru Richard Pascale: “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.”

Now, my view can be summed up like this: 'I don't like them, but they work!'
And talking of something that works, I found two videos produced by the Commission on women and work issues. Great videos, clear messages, effective delivery and attention to details (look at the way the woman in the gender pay gap one, who gets treated so badly, acts as if it were sad but normal, a really nice touch). So it is possible you see? Another proof that visual communications can be effective while at the same time remaining pretty simple. A bit like...quotas, actually.

Here they are:


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The BBC and Newsnight: a very personal view.


You will have to allow me a little digression this week. I have spent ten years working for the BBC, seven of which for Newsnight. My editor on that programme was, for a lot of my time there, George Entwistle, now ex-BBC Director General. George has resigned and both the BBC and Newsnight are facing a huge storm (I have inserted the link to a ...yes, a BBC website, with all  the details, here and also below); I just wonder what might happen in the coming months. If I look at the state of most public broadcasters across Europe, the quality of their journalism and how they have bowed to political and commercial pressure, I want to cry. Is the BBC heading in that direction?

There are three reasons why what is happening in these weeks at the BBC fills me with sadness but also with anger.

A BBC STORY?

What was a terrible story on child abuse (whose ramifications would have anyway involved the BBC as the accused abuser was the BBC star Jimmy Savile) has become a BBC story; this is partly normal as the Corporation has always attracted a lot of attention and it is correctly under huge public scrutiny. But in the last decade this scrutiny has been coupled with a very clear agenda: anti BBC media - without naming names- have been actively campaigning to reduce the credibility of BBC with the final aim of taking away what they feel is an unfair advantage ie the fact that the BBC receives public money.  I strongly believe in television and radio as public services, hence publicly financed. The idea is that the quality of its production is partly linked to the fact that the BBC has to provide services to all and to justify its existence - and its expenses. This latest crisis is the perfect opportunity to push the anti-BBC campaign further, to prove that the money is not well spent because the BBC has lost the trust of its public. If this campaign were to succeed then it would be the end of the BBC as we know it and have grown to love. Having said this, mistakes have been made and big ones too. But please let's not forget what this is all about and what the risks are.

HACKS AND SUITS.

Still, the management structure at the BBC is far from perfect and in need of reform; plus, there has always been (like in any other news broadcasters, actually) a strong tension between "hacks (journalists) and suits (management)": the BBC inadeguate answer has been to maintain the independence and the integrity of the news by creating a wall between what is news and of public interest and what is the Corporation and its interests . This tension and this separation become, as we have seen, a bombshell when something goes wrong. This wall was the one that led to the 'lack of curiosity' that has been attributed to the now former Director General George Entwistle; as a former journalist himself, he did not want to be seen as putting pressure on the editorial decisions of the news teams. He must be spending his time asking himself 'why the hell did I not ask the Head of News- when she told me Newsnight was investigating Jimmy Savile- what the investigation was about?' and wondering how Newsnight could have made such a cock-up, airing a report that wrongly accused (even if his name was not mentioned) a former Tory politician of being a paedophile. We will all be wondering what kind of Director General he could have been since he did not have the time to do much. I was personally very sad to see George going; I understand why he had to go;  I really respected him as a journalist then (always pushing for strong and insightful journalism) as I do respect him now that he has taken the decision to resign. Would he have tried to tackle the hack-suit issue and reform the management system while increasing further the standards and the independence of its journalists? Or am I kidding myself? Truth be told, what was always said at the BBC was that a good journalist is not necessarily a good manager; in fact the opposite might be true. Interesting times ahead: who (a hack or a suit) will be chosen as new permanent Director General? and will the BBC Trust suggest a separation (yet more managers though?) between the Editor in Chief and the CEO? Fingers crossed.

THE END OF NEWSNIGHT AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM?

What are the consequences of this crisis likely to mean for investigative journalism and for Newsnight in particular? As I write, there are talks of disciplinary actions against the journalists that authorised the Newsnight report to go on air. And the new acting editor of Newsnight has already been told to stop investigations. The programme itself might be cancelled or renamed. I can see the reasons behind all this, but all the same I fear that there will be deeper implications: will a journalist now be much more fearful of investigating a story, of criticising companies, celebrities or politicians? Will the BBC hesitate before allowing a report to be transmitted or - in the attempt to safeguard itself -soften the content? Will it spend more money on controlling rather than reporting? I sincerely hope not.

Newsnight (click on the name for the link to the history of the programme and if you, unlike me, manage to see it properly do watch the Newsnight at 20 film) has been doing some amazing journalism, not only investigative by the way, for more than 30 years; maybe a breath of fresh air is a good thing for the BBC as a whole, but let's make sure that this new air is not in reality a Trojan horse- good and useful on the outside but filled with enemies of true journalism inside. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dirty Truth

Who said that international organisations cannot make great, strong viral videos? (Click on the link below -not the picture -  and do allow your webcam to be on if you have one!!)


http://www.nowwatchyourhands.com/

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frightening the audience..

I have recently come across two very short preview videos: one for a live interview - with questions from the public - with Commission President Barroso and the other for the live webcast of the European Development Days 2012, focussing on the private sector and its ability to drive development progress.

Here is one:



and here is the other:



Did you spot what they have in common? THEY SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU! And it is all because of the incredibly menacing music they have used (come to think of it, also the still picture on the Barroso one is quite disturbing). I know we are living in difficult and dangerous times and that the EU wants to be taken seriously; but frightening unaware European viewers is not necessarily the best way to keep them watching, never mind interested. It does keep them awake though, which I guess is already something....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A very European Break Up?

Let's see if you spot all the references....Well done and quite funny! Actually one should probably cry, but still....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Science: it's a girl thing...Pulled videos: a Commission thing?

I had posted, some time ago, a video on European enlargement, produced for the European Commission, that was accused of being racist.... I thought it was a clumsy attempt to capture young audiences, but that it did not strike me as racist; especially, I really did not want to be too negative as the Commission had started producing more daring - hence prone to criticism - videos.

That was then. Now, a couple of friends have separately sent me the YouTube link to a new Commission video that in theory should push young women to study science. Well, frankly I am speechless. Have a look:


Do I need to comment?

What bothers me though is:
A) that the European Commission spent probably a large sum of money to get the video done;
B) that no doubt they must have brainstormed and decided that this approach was not sexist or stereotypical but an effective way to communicate to young women (surely there must have been young women in the room, right?); C) that the producers went ahead and finished the beauty but then, when they started being criticised - exactly as it has happened with the video on the benefits of enlargement that I mentioned above- the Commission decided to pull the video from the website.

This means that:
A) Commission people don't really believe in what they do;
B) they are scared of being cricised so in fact they are not daring at all;
C) all the money spent is wasted as the video is not shown any longer.

One tricky thought: the link above has probably more views than many - if not all- videos the Commission has produced until now. So, let me get this right: I produce a video that I know will be criticised and for this reason it will be watched a lot; as soon as I get negative comments, I pull it from my site - people can still find it on YouTube - but I can say I am not showing it; and in fact, since people talk about it, it is probably money well spent even if they talk about it because it is bad..is this a new Commission audio-visual communication strategy? Oh dear, way too perverse....don't think so.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Size (actually length!) matters, but good and long is fine by me! (Oh dear, that sounds weird!)

Ok, I have been thinking quite a lot about the length of videos lately: a couple of people told me that the video on the Council Summit, shown in the last post, is maybe nicely done but it is definitely too long. True. Well, maybe.

This actually got me thinking: is it really always the case that short is better? Aren't we just contributing to the trend of the ever decreasing attention span of people, mainly young, who are not able to concentrate for more than 5 minutes before getting bored? Should we make a distinction between what has viral potential and what is interesting, informative and well done?

I guess part of the answer to these questions lies in what is the prime objective of the film maker: to reach the biggest audience? To explain something in more detail? To produce a beautiful film? Can and should one aim to achieve all of these objectives with a carefully crafted 5 minute video?

Blaise Pascal once wrote on the top of a 17 pages long letter: "I have made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter". So, in theory, with time and effort, it should be possible to condense a long thought into a much shorter one and that should surely also apply to videos. Certainly this is not done enough. But sometimes it is not the issue: if after watching the first two minutes of a long video you would rather shoot yourself than watch the rest, then it is simply not a good video, never mind the length!

On the other hand, there are amazing hours-long documentaries that are shown - unfortunately less and less - on television, then posted on Youtube: they grip you from the first seconds; they are very well done; they give you insights that you had no idea of and, most importantly, they leave you with something to think about and remember. To be fair, they are incredibly expensive and time consuming to produce, but the quality is truly outstanding. And it is sad that public broadcasters have dramatically reduced investing in these types of programmes because - they say - the audience is no longer interested in such lengthy and detailed films. True? Don't know really, probably yes.

Frankly though, if you asked me to chose between this:


(the second episode of a four part series on Putin, Russia and his relationship with the West) I am afraid this is no longer available due to BBC copyright!


...and this:

(more than 100 million views for....well have a look!)

...I know which one I would go for (all right, maybe I am very biased and it is an unfair comparison but this is where length, quality and virality clash...or do they? Guess what is considered the most viral video of all times?: the 30-minute long 'Kony 2012'!)

Friday, June 1, 2012

So, Herman and Janez, ready for the Oscar?

I promised myself that if I saw well produced (if not necessarily viral!) EU videos I would post them on my blog, not to be accused of always being too critical or polemical...  well, here are two examples. The first video was produced recently by the Council (main protagonist: Herman van Rompuy, but don't let this scare you!), describing the frantic preparations ahead of and during a European Council Summit in Brussels (brief positive parenthesis: the fact that the video talks about the March Council summit and that it has been posted on Youtube at the beginning of May is not bad; well, coming from television news, it seems an eternity but for a documentary, not bad at all). The other comes out of the Commission (main, and only protagonist - if you exclude some ducks-: Janez Poto─Źnik, but same as above!)and it was the opening video at this year's Green Week conference on water issues. Well done (a bit too long the Summit one, but with a good pace), clear message, relatively
entertaining (and I say relatively as a disclaimer, as they are obviously not made for entertainment but for information purposes). They both convey the importance of what is being described but in a light way, light in terms of visuals (Green week),or in term of script (Summit). I was told one evening that the Commission has been trying to assess the number of videos that it has produced over the years and they are still counting.  Well, maybe fewer but good ones such as these would be a responsible and effective strategy from now on.

Here they are:




Tuesday, April 24, 2012

KONY 2012: a success? Actually...

So, April 20th has passed and when we all woke up the following morning, the world was not covered in posters of Kony, as predicted by the campaigners.

Just a couple of headlines to sum up the 'event': "Kony 2012 “Cover The Night” Event Is A Gigantic, Pathetic Flop", "Kony 2012's 'Cover the Night' continues despite controversy", "Kony 2012 Cover the Night fails to move from the internet to the streets".

Yet, for the organisers, it was a success.

Well,  the whole thing makes me now quite sad.

- Sad because even if it is not really clear how many people participated in the event worldwide, it looks like the move from digital to direct action has not happened. 
- Sad that the campaigners refuse to acknowledge that the results were not what they expected (see new video on what's next below).
- Sad that the criticisms of the campaign, of its founder, of its success - or lack thereof- might either be true or incredibly damaging if they are not.
- And sad because, I did watch the video, although admittedly did not pledge to participate, but still, I did not go out and started sticking posters everywhere.

But putting emotions aside for a minute: why have I not done so? And what are the key lessons to learn from this failure - or very limited success?

First, I don't want to believe that people simply do not care. I fear that the problem resides in what the supporters have been asked to do: there is too big a jump between 'watch the video', 'give your support', 'share on your Facebook page' and 'spend the night out and do something relatively dangerous, possibly illegal- even if you have done a good deed just before it!'. Maybe I am just lazy, but there has to be an in between step.

Second, the organisers should have not been scared in admitting a partial defeat: building an 'active support network' takes not only time but most importantly trust. And there lies, in my opinion the other main lesson: it is true that jealous criticism is almost in the DNA of big surprising successes; but if you see reports on the founder being arrested for allegedly masturbating in public, you hear rumours that Kony is actually dead already and that campaign funds have not been properly spent, then, even as an initially loyal supporter, you might want to get your facts right before being actively associated with this campaign and cover your city with posters.

If Kony 2012 had really nothing to hide, which I have no reason or evidence to doubt, it would have been a sensible thing to simply say 'ok, this was not great but we move on' instead of saying 'we have succeeded and we move on' that sounds really quite odd. Anyway, will keep you posted, because, no matter what,  I would really like to publish one day THE good news of Kony's arrest.




Monday, April 16, 2012

KONY 2012: what is right, not what is possible.

A new video on the Kony 2012 campaign has been recently released.



Fascinating. The original video has been viewed more than 100 million times (in just over a month). As with every big hit, it was also heavily criticised: too superficial, too white, too sentimental. Maybe, maybe and maybe but so what? Is the idea to try to do something about what we find wrong, or just to create a perfect product?

The second video tries to respond indirectly to some of the criticisms (more details, more blacks, more to the point) and highlights the impact so far. Actually, while the first had all the ingredients for virality, (a part from a key one, length: who would have imagined that a 30 minutes video would go viral? Will need to update my virality recipe!) this second one is, well... a second one, so, by definitition, it will not be as successful. But there is a bigger point to make at this stage: the campaign wants to move from being mainly 'digital' to 'physical'. Specifically, on the 20th of April they are asking their supporters to write to their local or national politician, and, when the sun sets, go out and carpet bomb with flyers their city - or do any other noticeable legal activity that will put pressure on their government and make Kony known and eventually tracked down.

If they manage to convince enough people to do it, it will be a big first, I think: from 'clicktivism'- very easy from the comfort of your desk - to real action. If then Kony is found and arrested, it will be an unbelievable
success. We will all need to think twice before coming up with the classical excuse for not doing something (i.e. 'It will never work. It's impossible'); but politicians, above all, will need to take notice and maybe, just maybe, start doing what is right on top of what is possible, what is realistically achieveable, never mind what is 'in our national interest'.

But what if they don't manage...will this whole campaign be remembered as a great stunt, great use of social media and worthwhile effort but ultimately a failed campaign?

I wait with anticipation and in the meanwhile...am drafting a couple of letters!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Is this racist? Well, clumsy maybe but...

The European Commission decides to produce 'daring' videos and, for once, I will not be the one criticising... you be the judge.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's the people, stupid!

Like everyone else I guess, I have been watching the news on the Greek crisis. In the past months I have seen reports on street protests in Athens, news pieces on helpless - or hopeless?- Greek politicians trying (we are hoping) to find a way out of the mess. More recently however, all I seem to see when talking about Greece are the worried faces of Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy.

Then I read about a project and a great documentary on the Greek crisis and it opened my eyes - or maybe it just lifted some of the European fog- or should I say snow? -that was preventing me from seeing properly.

Here is the trailer:


Krisis - Trailer - The Prism GR2011 from niko on Vimeo.

The documentary - that will be released later this year - is one of the features in "The PrismGR2011" ("In January 2010, Greece was hit by an unprecedented economic crisis. The arrival of the IMF marked the beginning of a series of revelations, forcing all those connected to Greece to go through a process of self-reflection... The Prism is a collective documentation by some of the country's rising photojournalists, who bring to the project their experience as well as their own perspective" from the homepage).

It is a beautiful project and well worth sharing: it shows just how powerful images and words can be. But especially it has reminded me - stuck inside the Brussels bubble - that in the end we are talking about real people and how they are effected, more than hand shakes, spreads and press conferences.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Update on Case Study: the video has changed!!!!

I realised this morning that the link to the long EIB video, I had uploaded on my previous post, did not seem to work anymore. It had actually been removed from YouTube... and it has been replaced...by the 5 minute one! Fantastic news! Well done!

Here it is!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A case study: the European Investment Bank...yes, you read correctly!

During my research of websites of European institutions and their use of visual communications, I was on a mission: looking for a homepage with a good video that explains in a simple and interesting way what the institution does and how.

The European Council homepage has a video (but you need to install a particular Microsoft programme to watch it! Ok...so now what?) and a Newsroom mainly aimed at journalists, as are aimed at journalists (desperate times call for desperate measures ops, sorry, just came out!) the rather dusty audiovisual services of the Commission (EbS). And of course, there is the European Parliament's EuroparlTV (a rather unappealing name but hey..). Plenty to see though, if you want to: news, interviews, plenary sessions etc...

But what I was looking for is not a TV channel nor an archive of video clips, so I kept on searching. And I finally found one.

You might be surprised but the one is......the European Investment Bank! Not to be confused with the European Central Bank. Little digression: I am fully aware that Mario Draghi and his team are pretty busy these days, but at some point in the future the ECB website will need to be redesigned because as it stands now it is ...unwatchable. But ok, not now....prioritise, I say. End of digression.

So, as I was saying, the European Investment Bank. Check out their homepage. A five minute video, called "EIB: who benefits?', on who they are, how they invest their money and who benefits, as the title says, with real examples, interviews and a nice music. Well, I was impressed. I actually understood what the EIB does. In five minutes. But then here is the problem: I wanted to share the video and post it here.

But how? I saw that on the top-left side of the screen there was a small writing: 'The DVD can be obtained free of charge by filling out the following order form'. So in practice, I would need to fill out a form, send it, wait to receive a DVD, download it on my computer and then share it. It's a joke, right? I know that there might be all sorts of copyright and other types of issues, but still. What is the point of spending a substantial amount of time and money to produce a video that no one can share? I truly believe that in today's world, visual communication can be an extremely effective tool. But the whole point is to 'communicate', i.e. sharing with others. If you have produced something that is worth watching, then you need to make sure that as many people as possible actually watch it!!

And there is another interesting side to my 'case study': since I did not want to give up on the idea of finding a way of posting the video, I made a search on YouTube to see if, by any chance, the video appeared there - and prove me wrong: and it did! But it is not the same video! Oh no! The five minute one has been 'transformed' into two separate videos of ten minutes each: the extra length is due to a long interview with the Director General that appears throughout the videos... And guess what? The views for part 1 are 327 and the views for part 2 are...81. What happened to the nice 5 minute one? Well, that is sad.
Here it is by the way, but I would rather go and check out the shorter version on their website (now I get it! That is the strategy! Yeah, right!)


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bark Side!

No EU today! Just...well...fun.
Back to the ingredients for 'virality' for a minute: remember animals and familiar tunes? Well VW has done it again! 2.5 million views in one day!



Enjoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 27 European Commissioners: the visual bunch?

Whether you like it or not, politics today is more and more about people and less about policies. A politician can be called successful, and hence reelectable, if s/he has the ability to convince voters of the importance of his/her policy decisions, not the ability to make those important decisions in the first place; to do this s/he (am I starting to be boringly PC here?) will need to be personally appealing, persuasive and understandable. Ultimately s/he (last one, I promise!) needs to be...a good communicator, because if you don't say what you do, others will do it for you and not with the same intent!

And all of the above is even more true for politicians that are NOT elected. As they cannot be kicked out at the next elections, frustrated voters will simply stop caring for - or worse become hostile to - the institutions they represent. Guess who I am talking about?

Yes, the lovely European Commission. So now, time for some Commission visual maths. Ready?

Of the 27 Commissioners, 9 have some sort of a video on their homepage.

Of those 9 videos:
3 (Barroso, Vassiliou, Geoghegan-Quinn) are, can I say it?, incredibly tedious speeches or even more tedious press conferences in some institution or another. Is it possible that the Commissioner (Vassiliou) that deals with education and youth cannot think of a better way to show the advantages of 'Erasmus for All' than a press conference about it?

1 (Kroes) shows the Commissioner sitting at a desk - with a beautiful European flag backdrop, original, don't you find? -and talks to camera on the digital agenda; 4 different videos, different lengths but she is always there, talking to the camera, nothing more, nothing less. Ok. Couldn't the Commissioner in charge of the EU's Digital Agenda try to be slightly more....ehm...digital?

2 (Rehn, De Gucht) have clips of interviews they gave to journalists, appearing in the news section of the homepage. Not super exciting but at least they are answering some difficult questions.

1 (Potocnik) has what I think is a video - possibly amazing- in the centre of the page but I could not open it for the love of God, so cannot speculate (although, not very effective if is unopenable!). Can someone who manages to open it, tell me if it's any good?

and 2, yes 2 (Andor, Hedegaard) have videos that show in an appealing way what they do, or at least part of it! Andor is (ok, I will tell you as I doubt you remember), Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion; his homepage has a nice simple video that launches the 'European Year for Active Ageing'. I am pretty sure that the video was commissioned for the campaign and not for the website but they had the smart idea to put it also on the website in a prominent position.

Connie Hedegaard's video section wins hands down. There are nine different ones, all visually interesting. The first - that is generally the one that people would watch, and continue to the others if they liked that one - is an interview with the Commissioner, a very good talker, with good pictures and great music. A passionate plea for climate action. Nothing too fancy, or expensive, just effective visual communication.

A couple of thoughts on some of the other 16 (some of them will have to get a special post!): Dalli has a home page that is slightly different from the standard Commission one (and actually so do Kroes and Potocnik): one can tell that some thinking and effort went into it. A prominent media corner and a simpler structure.
And Piebalgs' one does not have a video and is very wordy, but it has a great interactive map of 'Development in Action'. So you see that I am not obsessed with videos?

Of course, if you start going beyond homepages and into the websites of each individual policy area, provided you manage and survive, you can find videos and some of them are better than the ones posted on the homepage. How effective is that?

And for those that will say: 'What did you expect? European Commission, exciting? Forget it!' I leave you with a video, sent by my friend Daphne, produced for the Commission: viral, not sure, but still, quite funny...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Europe, or making an offer we don't understand. (Updated)

An African diplomat, that will remain anonymous, once said: 'Some countries make us offers we can't refuse, Europe makes us offers we do not understand'.
There. I think it says it all. Why everything coming out of the institutions needs to be so complicated, unfathomable - used difficult word on purpose!- and ultimately...boring? Read the acronyms, the press releases, the titles of legislation, and watch the websites and the videos. I realise that is a big generalisation but pretty close to the truth....Why, I ask?

A couple of possible answers:

IGNORANCE. The European institutions do not care much about communications and do not know how to do it, because many of the people working in communications do not have the expertise. (Ah, as you have been so effective as an expert on competition policy, how about working in communications for a while?)

ARROGANCE. The European institutions actually do not want to be understood; a 'keep them guessing' or 'it's complicated' attitude. The idea is that making things simpler and understandable means diminishing their importance, devaluing the serious work being carried out by its officials.

While there is something to be said for both answers, especially the first one, I think that there is another, more subtle one, that is probably at the root of the problem:

GENETICS. The European Union's DNA does not allow directness and simplicity: the history of the EU is full of grey compromises that cannot be totally clear; a careful desire not to offend anybody and a lowest common denominator way of making decisions and communicating them.

There are countless examples of this make-up, if you have the strength to go through the material.

Some time ago I had a look at the webcasts portal of the European Commission to check out the latest podcast. On the left here, the screen shot I took then: would it make any sense to anyone that does not work here in Brussels? Gosh, I am really upset to have missed the.. CALL FP7-SME-2012 - Evaluators' one! You will say, it is not fair to go and pick only on the difficult acronyms, incomprehensible wordings and so on. And maybe you are right. There has been some improvement: for starters, those webcast titles seem to have gone - maybe they read my post? - and the whole of the European Union website (.europa.eu) has been trimmed and it looks much better than it used to; the words and sections are easy enough to understand; but it is SO full of words and only words that after 2 minutes one switches off.

And ask anybody who has actually been trying to find something specific, well, good luck, you probably won't be able to talk to them as they are still busy looking! And I am told that EU officials themselves use Google to find EU documents in the Europa website. If you enter the main newsroom site of the EU and you want to have a look at the latest videos, the first one appearing is called: "Adoption of the A items, Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, (audio) 999999999999 - Council of the EU and European Council": not a great title, you will agree, but then again, we are not in the entertainment business; you decide nonetheless to click on it, what pictures will you see? Well, one: a still picture (the title did say it was an audio piece - but then why under the 'Videos' section?); and what will you hear, if you are still keen to continue? You will hear - for roughly 8 minutes - the voice of a translator starting to talk about phosphates and household detergents (sorry, is it just me not understanding the connection with the beautiful title?). Of course, maybe one needs to hear the whole thing and something will start making sense...but will anyone have the will to do it? Need I say more? Sometimes I despair.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A compelling story (part 2)

What is a compelling story? A story that sparks interest, attention, or admiration. A story that is hard to refute (and this is key in videos made for organisations, companies, institutions who rely on credibility). A story that inspires you and makes you want to know more and do something - even if you end up doing nothing most of the times (sorry the cynical side of me just comes out like this, can't help it)!

It is easy to look at NGOs campaigns - at least some of them - and take them as the examples of compelling story-telling. Their preferred technique - and they might not like the military reference - is 'shock and awe': "Let's show things that will scare people, make them cry, make them feel angry with others and bad about themselves; then we will have them in our hands and they will be compelled into action".

Here is an example from, you've guessed it, Greenpeace (do I need to put a disclaimer for disturbing content here?):



Apart from the fact that it is quite disgusting, this video is pretty powerful no? Yes, it is. But I also find it simplistic (simple is good, simplistic isn't) and somewhat patronising: it is assuming that people simply do not understand and do not care, hence you need to force them to, by shocking them.

Now, look at this other Greepeace video. You will see that, yes, it had fewer views but it manages to tackle a difficult subject, with a fun idea. It tries to explain the issue and proposes solutions (whether you agree with them or not). Is this compelling? Well, in its own way, yes.



And there are ways of being powerful without being shocking: it is just that is requires a bit more thought.

Here is a video on biodiversity in cities that was produced for the European Commission (I will get into the Brussels scene and the 'beauties' coming out of the institutions in my next posts, as, after all, my main focus is still Europe...) and surprisingly (yes I said it, surprisingly) I find it a beautiful, moving, strong video. You might disagree and please feel free to do so. But for me this is a good example of a video with a compelling, if somewhat mysterious story, that's well told.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Compelling story

Now, the tricky bit: quality. There is a general assumption that quality means expensive. Just look at the big advertising video campaigns: surely they must have cost millions! That is why people are so impressed with viral videos: they are mostly home-made, hence cheap, and yet they can reach the same amount of people of a costly TV ad. Well, while of course I would not say that it is cheap to produce a good video, it doesn't need to be super expensive either.

In my opinion, a good quality video can be described in one simple sentence:

A COMPELLING STORY, WELL TOLD, PREFERABLY IN A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME.

I say preferably (and I will come back to the rest of the sentence later) but not necessarily. One example: TED (www.ted.com). The reason TED is so successfull is because you are listening to great story tellers that inspire you or at least make you think. Some of the most viewed talks on TED are around 20 minutes long and that is a LONG time for an online video. But frankly who cares? On top of this, you are actually watching a video of someone talking, that is it, no visual effects. But still, a compelling story, well told in as many minutes it takes!

Let me give you a couple of my favourites:










So, well told, compelling stories. The question now is to decide what is a story, way before assessing whether it is compelling. When I was working in a PR agency, we were often asked by clients to generate media coverage. Reasonable enough request. So, the obvious question: what is your story? You would be surprised to hear some of the answers (never mind the fact that to generate media you need to have a story that is NEWS, but that is a whole other problem!). There was also the assumption that we, as a PR agency, would have to be the ones 'creating' the story for the client. Well, no. You see, my idea is that you tell me your story and we can make it compelling and well told, pitch it - and generate coverage. If you don't know the story you want to tell, maybe there is no story to tell...then forget a good video.
What compelling and well told mean for a video....coming up next!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The recipe (or why 'virality' and 'quality' are not the same thing...)

So, now, if you want to be viral, here is a list of ingredients you will need to pick from, in no particular order, and mix together. All of the below have been watched by tens of millions of people:

Children (I have chosen this one as an example because I am so bored with the 'Charlie bit me' one!)



Animals



Extraordinary people



Animations/Graphics



A little digression. Can someone tell me why this animation has got 58 million views? Thanks.



Funny



Moving



Shocking (the quality of this one is not great but frankly...just as well...)



A successful mix (children, moving and funny) with a couple of useful extra ingredients such as a very well-known music and a famous film reference...



But before you pick and mix, exactly like you would do before you start cooking, you will need to decide..... which dish you are going to prepare: i.e. you need to figure out whether you really want your video to be a viral video or a good video to post on your website or elsewhere. Ok, it might seem a silly decision - who would not want to be viral? (Have I just written this? It sounds awful!)- but it is not silly at all. And after having seen some of the viral videos above you might NOT want to be viral at all!

And I can tell you why: in a viral video, content, i.e. what you actually say, does not matter much. Honestly, the thought of content not being important was incredibly scary for someone who has spent 10 years at the BBC, where we liked to believe that content was king...but online 'virality' is something else, so...I got over it.

On the other hand, if you want to produce a good, informative video that will be viewed only by the people you care about - and then passed on to other people you care about- then what you say has to be really relevant. Mind you, also your 'informative' video needs to be..ehm.. watchable! So stay tuned for the rules on 'watchability', ie quality.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why the blog?

New Year, new resolutions....

Sharing and expand my love, interest and -why not?- expertise in visual communications.

Everyone is so busy these days; the attention span - especially of young people - is becoming shorter; yet we all spend hours and hours behind a computer screen. What does this mean? It means that visual online communications has become the most powerful and effective way of shaping the way people think, feel and act.

As a European living in Brussels, I also want to give a European feel to this blog: why most of the fun, viral, effective videos come out of the US? Why can't we have good quality videos coming out of the, wait to hear this, European institutions? You hear constantly here in Brussels: why do Europeans citizens not understand the amazing things we do for them? Have a look at this:



Are you surprised that only 441 people watched it so far, and who knows how many of those 441 watched it until the end? And this is actually not the worse video of the lot...and it tackles a really important subject....

And why are so many private companies shy - to say the least - of using such an effective tool?

Trying to answer and address these questions is not going to be easy but ...as I said, New Year, new (and tough) resolutions....

And just to leave you with a graphic video that I really like (because graphics don't need to be tedious!). More than 900.000 views, by the way...


Talking of 'virality'....

Well, not very European but I could not start this blog without posting an amazing viral music video that in a couple of days has got more than 6.6 million hits. Ok, it's a great song and ok it is pretty incredible (5 people playing on 1 guitar)...but still...it gives you the idea of the potential....had anybody actually heard of  'Walk off the Earth' before? Enjoy, and great ingredients for viral videos coming up soon...