Susan Bordson knows how to get her point across. She's an award-winning video producer, creative director, and message strategist who works with national and international nonprofits on high-stakes projects.
Case in point: she created this stunning video for live-audience presentation at a fundraiser for the Minnesota-based nonprofit Children's HeartLink:
Makes you want to go to their website and donate, no? Go ahead. We'll be here when you get back.
But you should come back: We recently had the chance to talk to Susan about the much-discussed "pivot to video," which we've watched with interest (like everyone with a foot in the world of digital content). With so many media companies putting all their eggs into the video basket—sometimes even reorganizing their companies wholesale—many are convinced that video is the future of digital media. And while skeptics abound, the trend shows no signs of slowing.
Susan has decades of experience and accolades—and an eagle eye for what works and what doesn't, both within any given video and in the pivot to video writ large.
"It's such a paradox that video is becoming such a commodity,” she says, “because good video is so hard to create. In a way, it's the least commodifiable medium."
As viewers, we know what she means. Too much of the video out there just seems to get in the way, popping up unavoidably when we're least interested. But as content creators, we also know that the omnipresent pressure to stay relevant makes it hard to ignore video’s potential reach.
Of course, as Susan points out, that reach depends on integrated decisions that use the best tools to craft the most persuasive message for the most receptive audience.
That's a lot harder than it looks, particularly in light of the accessibility of video technology. Sometimes, Susan says, that smartphone video app is a great tool. "If you're a relief organization, and you've got workers in the field, they might be able to get some really authentic, moving video on their phones.” Then later, “we can create a piece that we would never have gotten if we had done it all professionally."
But moving smartphone footage is not enough: "It's how you take that [footage] and put it together into a coherent message—that's the expertise that's often missing."
An expert knows how to manage the tools of production, from visual elements, to music, to narrator tone of voice and accent. "It's layer upon layer of all of these subjective calls,” says Susan. And each call matters because together they powerfully (and often immediately) affect a video’s message. "Even if the message is sincere,” says Susan, “if the production value makes it feel like a commercial, then we immediately look for the x [to exit the video]."
The best production decisions, Susan argues, follow from an overarching goal and "a really drilled-down objective.” To guide such decisions, you have to ask yourself whether you “are trying to educate, or move peoples' hearts." It's simply impossible to do both.
Susan’s HeartLink video, for example, clearly falls on the emotional end of the spectrum, focusing almost exclusively on anecdotal information about the organization while really drawing the audience in emotionally.
On the other end of the spectrum, a marketing spot that Susan produced for a product re-launch, designed to reach current and potential users via email and at trade shows, is just as effective—in a totally different way.
Here, Susan uses entertaining, easy-to-understand graphics, text, and narration to provide clear information about a complex product.
Regardless of where a video falls on this spectrum, the difference between making a video that's compelling enough to share, and making one that's imminently scroll-past-able, lies in crafting “the right message for the right audience,” says Susan.
Those that miss the mark usually use what Susan calls the "megaphone" approach: it’s a video that screams "I have a story to tell! Here's the message I’m sending out! I just want to pitch myself and sell myself to anyone within range!"
The opposite of a megaphone? The magnet: "If you think about being a magnet, that means you have to know your audience and know what's going to be compelling to them and draw them in … Our culture tends to reward megaphones—but it's the magnets who get things done."
For Susan, being a magnet means really understanding the tools necessary for communicating a message that reaches your audience. It also means getting up close and personal with your audience and really understanding what you want to achieve with them.
In our next post, we'll take a closer look at Susan’s videos to determine what makes them—and her—so magnetic.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mama to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mama to three troublemakers.