Creating Promotional Video: HarperCollins executives talk about the publisher’s new in-house studio
Last month, HarperCollins announced the creation of an in-house Internet broadcast studio to create author videos for sales, marketing and promotional opportunities. Five-hundred promotional videos featuring authors from the publisher’s roster are expected to be produced each year. Using HarperCollins’ fellow News Corp. sibling The Wall Street Journal as a model for the venture, the studio was developed with a newsroom environment in mind, according to HarperCollins representatives.
Marisa Benedetto, who was formerly a multimedia producer at the Journal, joined HarperCollins to serve as executive producer of the new venture. Benedetto reports to Ana Maria Allessi, vice president and publisher of HarperMedia.
Both Benedetto and Allessi spoke with Book Business Extra about the creation of the new studio, and the growing importance of video as a marketing tool for book publishers.
Book Business Extra: What types of personal connections are you hoping will transpire between readers and the authors who step in front of a camera?
Marisa Benedetto: The simplest way to describe it is that it’s a casual conversation. The author and reader are spending a few minutes in each other’s company. The reader will be able to get something that they weren’t able to in the book. I think that readers will feel that they’re sharing something with the author in an informal scenario. The author will come in. Most of the time, the author will answer the questions of someone off-camera. … If there is art from the book, we’ll show that. I’ll think about what kind of music to use for the piece. [The videos] are about two to three minutes long. We’ve [filmed] about 23 authors in a month.
Extra: What types of video content have you found work best for authors to connect with an audience? What hasn’t worked as well?
Benedetto: What works best is if the author answers a few well-thought-out questions that were specifically written to their book or personality. Even if they talk about one topic that is important to them, that’s great. What doesn’t work is if you go in, and they’re answering many questions. … I think we’ve worked very hard to make [authors] feel comfortable when they come in. We’re trying to make it warm. We’re trying to make them not feel like deer in the headlights. I haven’t had anyone come in [and] be shy and have stage fright.
Extra: What is the creative process of developing and shooting each author’s video?
Benedetto: [HarperCollins’ public relations and marketing departments] send over 10 questions. We’ll let the author read the questions. If the author wants to add something, they can. We really don’t talk about … the look of the video. I think it’s a learning curve. … We turn around a video in a couple of hours.
Extra: What were the first few steps that were taken to pull this in-house studio initiative together?
Ana Maria Allessi: [HarperCollins new President and Chief Executive Officer] Brian Murray had seen The Wall Street Journal studio down at the Journal offices. He asked me, because I run the audio studio, to go down and see if it made sense to do something similar. Two former offices here have been turned into the studio. We mimic [the Journal] very closely …. It was really an interesting experience for me because it involved a lot of different departments—from IT [and] building management, to the electricians, I worked with all our office coordinators. The most challenging thing was relocating the offices. …Brian had me on a tight deadline. He asked them to do it in four months. It was a big push to make an April 1 deadline.
Extra: Why was video so important to HarperCollins?
Allessi: … Consumers crave video. All the observation supports that. [Brian] thought that this is something we’re going to need. Harper is pretty good with figuring it out themselves and not outsourcing. … It was, “Let’s create a lot more video.” Another huge motivation is that we know how frequently authors are in the building. … If authors find themselves in New York City, we can very conveniently and in a timely, efficient way ask them to be part of our effort.
Extra: From a publicity and marketing standpoint, how will the video content created in the studio be used on the Web?
Allessi: We actually believe in turning the video back over to the marketing and publicity and our online teams. They know the author and the book the best. … Marisa is going to extract the most interesting and intimate answers from the authors. I’m going to make sure that this runs smoothly and efficiently. Marisa passes it to the online group. The marketing team will put it wherever they want to.
Extra: Marisa, what were some successful strategies that you used at The Wall Street Journal that may carry over to this effort? How does the newsroom feel of the studio lend itself to the format of the videos?
Benedetto: … Sometimes we have to turn things around really quickly. I had that experience at the Journal. At the Journal, being around journalists … you have to [be] very clear and concise. You have to tell the story quickly and effectively. You have to live up to the brand. You can’t put something out that has the Harper name on it that is not packaged well. If people are going to spend two to three minutes with us, it has to have quality to it. …