— Ben Carmichael

Courtesy of Wistia

Courtesy of Wistia

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Wistia — a Cambridge-based video hosting company that’s doing awesome work. And so I was flattered when they asked me if they could interview me, and feature the work we’re doing at Concord Academy. Check out this link for the full interview!

 

 

 

 

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I’m fortunate to be at Concord Academy as we plan for the institution’s centennial — and to be planning for it with some incredibly talented, visionary colleagues. In my role, with my team, we were tasked with launching the plan publicly. We did that through a threefold effort: a microsite, a special issue of the CA magazine, and a beautiful video done by the guys at Windy Films. I’m really proud of all three. See below.

Website:
www.concord100.org
Design Partner: Might & Main, Portland, Maine.

 

Video:
Creative Partner: Windy Films

Special Issue of the CA Magazine
Interactive PDF Here
Design Partner: Might & Main, Portland, Maine.

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I’ve been teaching myself how to shoot and edit video lately, as it’s such an important (and expensive!) part of any marketing or communications efforts. In working for nonprofits, I’d like to be able to internalize some of these costs so I set out, with the help of my friends at Wistia, to teach myself. Here’s my first serious effort that I’m proud of, with the text from the original post to go with it.

My dad’s bamboo fly rod shop was always there, just out back. Some of my first memories are of the shop — the sounds of the compressor and the lathe, the smells of metal shavings and wood, the light angling in through the windows. As I grew older, I came to understand it had a time, and a provenance, all its own; it was from another age, and from the hands of two exceedingly talented bamboo fly rod makers: Everett Garrison and my dad, Hoagy B. Carmichael.

This past fall, my father gave the shop to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum. It was generous of him, and very much like him: he cares about the history, and about the craft. He wants both to reach as many people as possible. I support this. But I also felt a sense of loss at not having the shop out back any more. I could sense he did too. (For past posts about the shop, read here and here.)

Before it was gone, I wanted to capture it, and its history. Over Thanksgiving, I shot a bunch of video of my dad talking about the shop, and have spent the past few months editing that video down to what you can see below. In my own way, it was my way of saying both how proud I am of my dad’s work, and of trying to help him fulfill his goal of making sure as many people as possible share an understanding of our beloved sport.

This one’s for you, Pops. For all that you’ve done: thank you.

Outtakes: Hoagy Carmichael Bamboo Rod Shop Interview

Photos of the Carmichael & Garrison bamboo fly rod shop before it was moved to CCFFCM.

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In looking to students for content, we found inspiration in a talk given by a senior about the differences in the stereotypes of a geek versus a nerd. He was, himself, a self-professed nerd — and proud of it. In designing this infographic, we worked with Rodrigo Calderon, a really talented designer I had worked with before, to create a beautiful infographic / illustration. The idea was to help students, and people, own their labels, not be ashamed by them. From the reception this piece has received, I’m confident in the results.

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I’ve written before about how video is king. More and more that’s true. But for many — especially in non-profits — it’s also intimidating.

For one, nonprofits often don’t have the in-house expertise to concept, shoot, and edit video. They also often operate from a belief that they don’t have the budget. Prior to my arrival at Concord Academy, that certainly was the case: video had only been used sparingly, and without much success.

I’m a big believer in the engaging power of video. After some experimenting, some video projects at my old gig with CLF, and after watching a bunch of the video produced by Wistia (an awesome company if you don’t know it already!), I’ve either made or overseen the production of a few videos that have performed well.

This is true of the videos we produced for this admissions season at Concord Academy. Our thinking was simple: once we’ve admitted students, we want to convert them as quickly as possible into enrolled students, so we decided on sending them two videos: 1) an in-house upbeat video montage of people from CA congratulating them on their acceptance and 2) a higher end profile of the values and spirit of the school. Here are those videos.

Congratulations video:

Welcome to Concord Academy

 

“This is the Place” CA promotional video:

CA: This Is the Place

When we released these videos, I was proud of the work. I also knew we were sharing content with them at an important moment in their lives: which high school to attend is a big decision for a lot of students and parents. But we were sharing with them the right kind of content? This was my first year through the process; I didn’t know.

And so I was eager to see the engagement stats. They were better than I expected: the first video performed at about an 84% engagement rate, and the other at about 87%. That was much higher than any other video I had produced to date. I was stoked!

“Congratulations” video stats:

Welcome.video.3.25.14“This is the Place” video stats:

CA.ThisisthePlace.3.25.14

 

In the end, I think we hit them with the right kind of content at the right moment. They were emotionally primed to receive this message, this way.

I have to thank Wistia, for all of their awesome Learning Center videos, and Michelle Mizner of Field Work Media, for making the awesome “This is the Place” video.

I’m attending a conference at Wistia later this year, and am looking forward to learning a lot, as we plan to do a lot more video here at CA. Stay tuned for more!

 

 

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While I was at CLF, I worked on this infographic showing the decline of atlantic cod stocks. The problem with declining marine fish stocks is that they’re out of sight, out of mind — even more so than freshwater fish. I was proud of this piece, and happy it came together.

 

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One of the themes of working in communications at an environmental nonprofit is the need to make visible what is otherwise hidden: climate change, species decline and, in this case, natural gas leaks.

Below is the infographic I developed for CLF’s energy team about natural gas leaks. I knew nothing about the subject beforehand, but was amazed by the amount of gas lost through old, leaky pipes.

 

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I am so pleased to be returning to Concord Academy to serve on their senior administrative team as the Director of Marketing and Communications. Attending CA was a transformational experience for me. It was a truly incredible education — surpassing, at times, both Brown and Oxford in its rigor — and a truly wonderful community. I am truly delighted to be back.

 

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Anyone who knows me knows I am a big advocate of saying “Thank you.”

I say it to bus drivers. I say it to friends. I say it in cards, in words, in texts and status updates. I say it compulsively — but I also say it with a purpose.

When it comes to nonprofit organizations, my conviction is simple: the competition for people’s donations is larger than simply other people in your narrow field. Environmental organizations are not just competing against other environmental organizations, but against all other mission-driven organizations. This is true in tough times and in bad: people could easily go out to dinner, subscribe to a new magazine, or buy a new toy for their dog, instead of giving to your organization. You can’t take any donation for granted. And, more to the point, you shouldn’t.

It seems to simple to me, and yet so many organizations fail to say “thank you” at the right time and in the right way. Many send letters, days or weeks after your gift was made. A few display beautiful thank you pages after an online donation. Fewer still send “thank   you” emails. And fewer still reach out and immediately say “Thank you” in a way that is personal, direct and sincere.

This was the idea behind this video I made for CLF. It features our President, John Kassel, and is presented to every donor after every gift that is made online. There’s no way around it: we’re going to thank our donors, and thank them quickly.

And while we’re on it, thanks for reading this post. While you could have been reading that ever-growing stack of New Yorkers next to your bed, you chose to read my writing instead. I sincerely appreciate it.

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Content, as the saying goes, is king. But these days, it might be more accurate to say that video is king. Google has promoted it in their search results. Stats show that people engage with and share video widely. Meanwhile, it seems like almost every company, organization or devoted hobbyist is producing video, hoping for that content moonshot: a truly viral video. If your grandparents can make a great video, why can’t you?

In my current role at CLF, I am tasked with one challenge: how can we achieve our goals with content marketing? The goal may be fundraising for an appeal cycle, or it may be an advocacy goal around a specific issue. I try to think of engaging solutions across platforms, in a way that would engage people but also be an efficient and effective use of resources.

Most recently, the issue at hand was Atlantic cod. Due to decades overfishing and habitat destruction, they’re in collapse. The collapse of this fish — so iconic to New England’s way of life — threatens coastal towns, economies and people. It’s a simple, tragic story. But the question presented to me was: how to tell this story?

One of the solutions we agreed to was to do a video. It was a simple idea, and one I had been advocating for a long time. Why? Because if you approach it with discipline, and with creativity, video is a great way to translate otherwise wonky, complex issues into simple, compelling content. When it comes to cod at CLF, we had the right advocate, and the right issue. So we set to it.

We jerry-rigged a lighting set up, following Wistia’s great advice. We filmed it ourselves on a terrible camera in a small conference room. And we edited it in a rush, fixing issues along the way.

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The results? Fantastic. It’s been picked up organically by a few places — including my favorite fly fishing blog! — and has been shared widely. In the end, the advocacy push yielded hundreds and hundreds of letters to John Bullard at NOAA. It was, I’m pleased to say, one of the most successful advocacy alerts we’ve ever implemented.

What were the ingredients to this success? This is speculative, of course, but I would point to three things:

Keep it simple. Maggie Williams’s fantastic drawing of the cod in decline is both compelling — how can you not love that cod drawing? — and simple. It’s my belief that people appreciate and seek out simple guides to complex issues.

Use charisma. There’s no doubt that Peter Shelley is a compelling advocate. He’s a seasoned pro: Peter filed the first lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, and has been an ocean advocate for decades. Putting personality front and center in these sorts of videos is essential. In establishing a connection, the messenger is as important as a message.

Be creative. I’ve already touched on this, but people have loved Maggie’s drawings — and rightly so. They’re great. She’s done a bunch of fantastic work for Bowdoin on sustainability and for their alumni office. These sorts of creative approaches are fun, are visually engaging, and totally unique to each video. They sustain attention by maintaining a focus not just on the issue, but on the art, without sacrificing the message. In fact, by reaching a broader audience, the engaging drawings broadcast your message further than the issue alone would have carried it.

Buikding on the success of this video, we’ll be producing more video soon. I look forward to it: it’s a product that delivers results, and a product that everyone enjoys produces.

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