The challenge is creating content that doesn’t just become noise

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The digital revolution has brought information to everyone’s fingertips. Reel Creative founder Phil Slatter knows that to grab precious seconds of people’s time his video films have to be relevant and attention-grabbing. Emily Moore reports.

HOW long is it since you last looked at a screen? Are you, perhaps, reading this article on a computer or mobile phone?

Whether for work or leisure, time spent in front of at least one screen is unavoidable for the majority of people and, while this can present its own challenges, it also creates a wealth of opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers. But, as the founder of one of the Island’s newest video production companies explains, making that connection is not as easy as it may sound.

‘Society now is built in such a way that we cannot escape a screen and, while this isn’t necessarily a good thing, we cannot ignore that people are consuming huge amounts of information through computers and other devices,’ said Reel Creative founder Phil Slatter.

‘Even at home, people will often be watching a programme on television, while simultaneously scrolling through their social-media feeds or checking something on their mobile phone.’

With attention thus focused on the audiovisual world, it is hardly surprising that companies and charities are increasingly turning to video to convey their messages.

‘It is important to remember, though, that while video can be a very powerful tool, audiences are too smart to buy into pure advertising and sales messages,’ said Phil, who set up Reel Creative last year. ‘To succeed with video, you need to capture people’s attention with something that really jumps out and excites your viewer. Not only are you competing against other brands but you are competing for people’s time. If people don’t think that your video is worth another second, they will quickly move on.’

Having moved to the Island from Norwich when he was 18, Phil quickly turned an early love of video and animation into a career, working initially at the cinema before joining Channel Television.

‘I had just left college and, while a lot of my friends were going travelling or to university, I didn’t have an urge to follow either of those routes,’ he reflected. ‘My parents were moving to Jersey so I decided to come with them and gain some life experience in a new place.

‘The job at Channel Television was brilliant, as not only did that give me my first exposure to live broadcasting but it gave me the chance to learn so much. Having started at an assistant admissions controller, I was soon able to do some switching of some of the smaller bulletins which were broadcast at the time. That included counting down the programme, managing the sound and graphics, checking the turning order and making sure that we were running to time.

‘While each programme was very short, you knew that people across the Channel Islands were watching and would see instantly if you messed it up. For someone fresh out of college, that was a great experience of going in at the deep end and gaining that real-life experience I was looking for.’

It was also, as Phil acknowledges, a ‘great foundation’ for the livestreaming which is now so prevalent.

But while learning some valuable skills, it was not long before Phil realised that his future lay away from the newsroom.

‘After four or five years with CTV, my wife and I decided to spend six months in New Zealand where I worked in the creative department of Life.Church. It took me a while to get out of the habit of shooting and editing everything in a news style but, as soon as that clicked, I knew that I wanted to stay in a more creative environment.’

And it was this ambition which influenced Phil’s decision, 12 years ago, to join the team setting up Freedom Media.

‘We spent 11 years working on a variety of brilliant campaigns, many of which won national marketing awards but last year we decided to disband the business and focus on our own areas,’ Phil explained. ‘That presented a really exciting opportunity to start a business which wasn’t a full-service agency but which really focused on video content, helping people to stand out and engage with their audiences.’

Not only did this approach enable the father of three boys to spend his time working with his favourite medium but it also, as he says with refreshing candour, allowed him to ‘do what I do well’.

‘I don’t want to pretend that I can do more than I can. From my GCSE days, the moving image was the medium which engaged and motivated me,’ he said. ‘Not only did I want to go out and create more imagery but, as clichéd as it may sound, I loved telling stories and taking someone on a journey emotionally, building excitement and making people feel something.’

And, from the ‘emotionally draining’ campaigns on which he has worked for organisations such as the States of Jersey Police to corporate campaigns designed to unite global teams, Paul has certainly told plenty of stories over the past decade or so.

‘Although working on campaigns which drew attention to issues such as domestic violence and child sexual exploitation could be quite draining, they were also very motivating as, once you get over the initial shock, you can see how the video can make a positive impact on the community,’ he said.

‘Equally, I find it really exciting to work with businesses which have challenges communicating with staff around the world, as you have to build a solution which resonates with different cultures and which is interesting, funny and engaging so that people not only want to watch it all the way through but come away having fully understood the message.’

Micah de Gruchy of Reel Creative, 4 Brittania place Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (35007097)

‘From my GCSE days, the moving image was the medium which engaged and motivated me,’ he said. ‘Not only did I want to go out and create more imagery but, as clichéd as it may sound, I loved telling stories and taking someone on a journey emotionally, building excitement and making people feel something.’

Describing video as ‘second only to a face-to-face conversation’, Phil says that the medium can ‘entertain or provide information in a way which other media cannot’. But, despite that, he cautions against shooting any film before understanding the purpose and rationale of the campaign.

‘When a business says that it needs some video, my first response is: “Cool. Now park that thought and think about what the challenge is and whether video will actually help to solve it.” We need to understand what the business is trying to achieve, its current marketing activity and how video would fit into that overall mix. Once the goal is established, we need to make sure that we create content which is suitable for the audience, relatable and positioned in the right place so that the right people will see it.

‘With such a crowded marketplace, we are competing for people’s time so video has to be seen as a value exchange. If a customer or potential customer is going to give you some of their time to watch your video, you have to give them something worth watching and relevant in return.’

Taking projects from strategy and ideation all the way through to production and roll-out, Phil describes the Reel Creative team as ‘content creators’. One form of increasingly popular content is the podcast but, as with any form of video, Phil says targeting and relevance are essential to a successful result.

‘People will not listen to a 30-minute podcast about a product,’ he said. ‘You need to know who you are talking to and create content for them. With the right content, a podcast is great as you not only get the long-form audio and video but you have all the different answers which can be cut up and used as soundbites on social media, turned into Instagram captions or Tweets or even transcribed into an article.

‘They are also powerful lead-generation tools as, not only do you go up the algorithms if you post regular content but you also broaden your audience and keep yourself front of mind.’

Having worked with a number of local and UK-based companies, Phil is just about to start shooting a campaign for an American software-as-a-service provider.

‘This is a massive project, which we are really excited about, having won the pitch after going up against UK and US agencies,’ he said. ‘The company is on a huge growth trajectory and this is its first video campaign so to have won the contract is fantastic. We will be shooting the campaign in the UK, creating sets and casting seven or eight people and using prosthetics to turn them into animals. This is the biggest project I’ve ever worked on and to be landing clients and contracts like this just seven months after hitting the scene is really exciting.’

And having secured this contract, Phil is optimistic about the future.

‘These are not projects I can deliver on my own but, by building the right team, I am confident that we can compete for the best projects and pitch for household brands,’ he said. ‘People understand the importance of video so I feel that I am in the right industry at the moment. The challenge isn’t persuading people to use video; it’s making sure that you create content that cuts through and doesn’t just become more noise.’

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