Thursday, April 29, 2010

Survivor's guide for the short-staffed

It's a good thing that my institution's mascot is the Hatter, as I'm wearing many, many hats this week. The boss is out on a family emergency, our Web editor is on a much-deserved vacation, and our office manager is out with a sick child. All this, and we have one of our biggest annual events this weekend, plus a board meeting, plus graduation in two weeks, plus the thousand other tasks that make up our regular job descriptions.

Here's how I'm keeping sane*:
  • Prioritizing early and often. On days like this, a to-do list with true deadlines is essential.
  • Cut off the distractions. No Twitter. No e-mail notification sounds. Check e-mail a few times daily so that the limited hours you have are more productive.
  • Delegate what you can. Spread the urgent priorities among the remaining staff, and request help from other departments if necessary.
  • Postpone the less important tasks. When you're short-staffed for reasons beyond your control, the relationships you've built with other department heads and campus colleagues will pay off by way of understanding.
  • Make sure the missing staff turned on the out-of-office messages. There's no bending on this rule in my office. Regardless of the reason for being out, this is the one thing that will guarantee a call on personal time.
  • Call in your clone, if you have one. Unfortunately, my Web developer is way behind deadline on building our cloning machine. If those of you at research institutions have access to one, let me know!
* For the moment.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Law school video shoot trivia

I'm pretty spent from two full days of a campus video shoot, so I'll return to my campus photography series next week. But I did learn a few interesting things I thought I'd share...
  • Law students like to participate in video shoots more than still photo shoots. When I typically ask students to feature them in our marketing efforts through interviews and still portraits, I'll get a 50-60% positive response rate. With that in mind, I asked about twice as many students to participate in our video interviews. Response rate: 95%. Enough said.

  • The traditional movie clapboard (pictured above) is called a slate. We didn't actually use the one that our cinematographer had with him, but he explained that the slate helps for synchronizing video and audio, as the sound of the clap can be matched to the visual of the slate hitting.

  • Not counting broadcast talent, law students and lawyers are the second-most natural group of professionals on camera. The most natural group according to our seasoned cinematographer: funeral home directors.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maximizing Your Photo Budget, Part 2: Avoiding the Cover Photo Curse

You have found the perfect cover picture. It has interesting composition, beautiful lighting, and blends nicely with your approved design. The publication is on its way to the printer, and then it happens.

The student quits school, and your dean wants the photo replaced.

You've just been struck by the cover photo curse. It happens to the best of publications (see also Sports Illustrated), and can wreak havoc on the nerves of editors and designers alike. There are often reasonable arguments for keeping the cursed photos, as most external audiences would never know the stories of the photo subjects in our stock images. Depending on the stage of production, changing the photo can be costly as well. However if it's not too late to replace such photos, we'll usually be expected to do so.

So how can higher ed communicators avoid the photo jinx?
  • For featured students, get high-level approvals before getting their portrait. I love to get recommendations for "poster students" from faculty and administrators, as many of the professors who are hesitant about responding to other marketing/media inquiries will go out of their way to promote their favorite students. But before I move forward, I always run the names past our dean, student life director, registrar and honor court adviser. The e-mail typically goes like this: "If there is any reason—and I don't need to know why—this student shouldn't be prominently featured in our marketing, let me know."

  • For favorite candid shots, share them early with your dean. If you're using a photojournalistic style of photography, by definition you're not staging the shots in advance. Instead, share your favorite new shots with the leadership before you get too attached.

  • Plan your shots with high-achieving students, if you can. Certain groups of students, such as competitive teams, honors classes or admissions/alumni ambassadors, go through a screening process to become a part of the group. While this approach is far from foolproof, your chances of photographing someone who might get into trouble are decreased.

  • Aim for more seasoned students. Students in their first semester or first year of classes (depending on the duration of the degree program) may still be learning the ropes of graduate school and may choose another path. I once featured a first-year law student who was at the top of his class on a full-tuition scholarship, but left to pursue a career in film production.
In the end, there is sometimes nothing you can do to avoid the photo curse. Superstitions aside, life happens to all of us, and the graduate school years are often a time of transition. But with a little planning, we can mitigate our risks.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maximizing Your Photo Budget, Part 1: Selecting Your Photographer

The old adage is true: in higher ed marketing, a picture is worth a thousand words. There are few things that can impact your design and brand messaging more than the photography you use, and without a good selection of photography, your ability to communicate is severely limited.

But in an age of shrinking budgets, how can you get the most bang for your photography buck? By being resourceful and planning well, there are many things university communicators can do to maximize their dollars in this important area.
  • Consider your style. When I started working for my law school eight years ago, a corporate photographer was hired annually to do a two-day shoot with staged, perfectly lit shots. He and his assistant would spend an hour lighting a small area, then we would fill in a few students and a professor to interact. The result? About 15-20 of the most beautiful, phony marketing images that made our prospective student focus groups cringe.
    Ever since that discovery, we have used a more journalistic style of photography to show a truer, more authentic view of our campus life. But the rewards of this change extend far beyond messaging and impact; we also get a much higher yield of shots. Instead of getting 8-10 different images in a day, we can get dozens (if not hundreds), so the cost per shot is drastically reduced.

  • Finding the photographer (assuming you don't have a professional on staff). Professional photographer rates can vary widely, ranging from less than $100 an hour to $4,800 for a day. The key is to know what you're looking for and do your homework. Local newspaper editors can refer freelance photographers in your area, or you can also check with marketing peers at other institutions or agencies. The CASE College/University Editors Photographers List is also a good resource for photographer recommendations from around the United States. Once you have a few names, be sure to look at their portfolios and check references with their other clients. Rates do not necessarily correlate with ability, and you don't want to waste time, effort and budget on work that doesn't fit your needs. Ask the photographer about your project, including their expectations for setup needs, whether they use an assistant, their approach to photo editing, and other issues.
    Also, don't automatically dismiss photographers who are outside your area. Some who specialize in higher education may coordinate shoots with several universities in a geographic area for reduced rates, and others may charge an affordable rate with limited travel costs. If you can offer on-campus accommodations and cafeteria vouchers, you may even be able to negotiate on the travel fees.
Check back next week for part two of this series: Avoiding the Curse of the Cover Photo.