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School Ties: How to Prepare for and Produce Online Promo Video for Schools

DigiNovations Executive Producer Whit Wales discusses how to prepare for and produce videos for academic clients that capture the mission and message of the school, and to build a single-video project into a comprehensive video program that effectively promotes and positions the school.

Years before I got involved with digital video, online video, or video magazines and websites, I took a job as Coordinator of Publications and Public Relations at Middlesex School, a small and highly regarded boarding school about 20 miles outside of Boston. If I started a job like that today, the first thing I’d do to promote the school would be to shoot some video and get it online, but this was 1992, and video wasn’t on my radar or that of anyone else at the school. 

The school itself was eminently videogenic; just a few months before my arrival, director Robert Mandel had chosen it as the location for School Ties, a period drama about anti-Semitism at a fictional New England boarding school that helped launch the careers of Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon. (One of my first jobs as school PR guy was to figure out how to leverage Middlesex’s exposure in School Ties while disassociating the school from the bigotry the film portrays.)

What I liked about the job was the chance to re-design the school’s dowdy quarterly alumni magazine, and bring some vitality to it through readable articles and still images that actually tried to convey the excitement of life at the school, and eschew the “line ‘em up on the steps and shoot ‘em” photos and reprinted commencement speeches that had filled the magazine’s pages for years.

But the much bigger part of the job was the daily PR and promotional tasks that, having no experience with PR, boarding schools, or the competitive landscape of New England prep schools, I really didn’t have a clue about. And just about the time I was realizing that boarding schools weren’t really my scene, I made the parallel discovery that making the school my scene, and fully internalizing its mission, its philosophy of educating and raising the teenagers who lived there, and the way it aimed to distinguish itself from other, similar schools, was the heart of the job. And my heart wasn’t in it.

So I didn't stay long.

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But it still sparked my interest a few months back when Whit Wales, executive producer at DigiNovations, a leading New England video production company specializing in work for corporations, schools and universities, and other non-profits, sent me a clip he’d recently produced for Middlesex, and told me he’d be making more. I’d seen Wales' and DigiNovations’ work before, particularly their work for academic institutions, and knew what a tremendous understanding they had of how to capture and convey the institutional mission, draw out the best in their interviewees, and weave seamless stories from the material they get.

And, of course, I was fascinated with the idea of taking, essentially, the same project I’d attempted briefly in the early ’90s--conveying the vitality of the school through words and pictures--and bringing it into the online video era. I was particularly fascinated with the arc of DigiNovations’ Middlesex project as it evolved from a single video to a second, and then a third, and as Wales became more engaged with his contacts at the school and their evolving efforts to tell the school’s story in all its dimensions through the series of online video pieces he was producing.

I saw a second story emerging there: a video studio working closely with a client to translate their positioning ideas into video, and extending and expanding a single video project into a cohesive, video-driven promotional/positioning program. At this writing, DigiNovations and Middlesex aren’t quite there yet, in terms of putting a comprehensive video series plan into action.

But as I discovered in my interview with Whit Wales at the DigiNovations studio in Massachusetts--which we’ll document here in a two-part series--the dialogue continues to progress in that direction, with Wales serving as both videographer and all-around media consultant as the project moves forward. This puts DigiNovations exactly where an accomplished production studio should be: not simply producing videos piecemeal, on-demand/as needed, but lending their expertise on where video fits in an institution’s overarching promotional and positioning efforts and how it can advance and shape them.

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In the conclusion of this two-part series on producing online video for schools, examined through the lens of DigiNovations' ongoing work with Middlesex School, we'll look at strategies and measures you can take to build and advance both your relationship with the school, and develop the project into a diversified and more nuanced promotional and positioning program than a single video can provide.