At Manley Films & Media, we don’t throw the word “perfect” around lightly. Especially when it comes to creating one of the most powerful video types around – one that demands authenticity of story, strong interviewing and editing skills, and a commitment to honesty. The client testimonial is the mothership of business videos. Get this one wrong, and you could sink the entire fleet.
The testimonial video hands the microphone to someone outside of an organization. This someone is trusted to deliver a powerful message, one that the business approves yet must also appear to regard objectively. The delivery of a customer testimony should demonstrate they are an insider who can aptly relay a positive experience with the business, while remaining very much a member of the customer universe.
Authenticity is critical to storytelling of any kind. It’s the underlying tone of the entire piece – conveyed not only with precise language but with facial expressions, gestures, pauses, deep breathing, and other subtle cues that tell a viewer, “This is a real human being retelling a real experience that impacted them.” As the most complex part of a testimonial, authenticity demands careful interviewing of a subject about their experience to elicit a retelling of the client experience in language that potential clients will find meaningful. We love the way this student expresses, in his own words, how it felt to realize he was “throwing his life away” and what happened when he made a change. The story he tells is his own and speaks to his own personal values, but it is a story that would not have been possible without the schooling he received at UEI College:
Expert interviewing is an undersold skill in video production. The best interviews are conducted by directors, like our own Jim Manley who has a journalism background, 28 Emmy Awards and 2 New York Film Festival medals. Jim and the entire Manley team understand how to elicit small, poignant details from oftentimes reluctant interviewees. We frequently interview people who want to tell their stories because they have a genuine appreciation for the business that helped them. However, on set, with lights and cameras, makeup and witnesses, it can be an overwhelming and unnerving experience that makes it difficult to find the right words. That’s where the director really shines by creating a rapport from the moment the interviewee arrives on set, chatting them up in an informal way, and easing them into the interview. The best interviews are all about the banter, not rehearsed lines or scripts, but casual conversation that slowly unveils the real story with emotion and clarity. Here are a few examples:
Like interviewing, the editing of a testimonial is the part that our clients won’t see except in the final result, where it will be readily apparent if handled hastily or without regard for authenticity. The footage may be a goldmine of positivity, but poorly edited footage can underwhelm a viewer and devalue the interviewee’s enthusiasm. In the hands of a skilled editor, like our DP Rich Beissel, even the toughest interviews with the most reluctant of interviewees can be edited to relay a truly valuable story. Rich also knows when to cut to b-roll that helps build the story, such as shots of the interviewee and the business owner working together, or footage of the business performing their work. A less than perfect interview, with the right editing, can deliver authenticity that tells the viewer “No matter how much I am struggling to say these words, I truly believe it’s important that I say them.”
You can’t make a client testimonial without addressing the topic of honesty. Clearly, we don’t go seeking unhappy clients to interview. Every business is going to have its raving fans and its harsh critics. We look for those who have had a positive experience with the business to the extent that they feel compelled to share it with others. Getting to the real truth, the gold nugget of an individual’s experience, is the capstone moment in the interview. The reason that it works best to have a skilled interviewer conducting is that they know how to probe for these nuggets, a statement that will surprise, delight and validate. Honesty in testimonials happens when the interviewer removes his own pre-conceived ideas, asks non-leading questions, and opens the door for the most reluctant of subjects to feel comfortable revealing personal details in their own words. It’s the moment that gives the story life and while it can be hard to get there, once the word are spoken, everyone on set recognizes it.
The best interviews are all about the banter, not rehearsed lines or scripts, but casual conversation that slowly unveils the real story with emotion and clarity.
So what happens when the person delivering the testimonial is a seasoned public speaker who is perfectly at ease on camera? I wish I could tell you it’s the easiest interview ever, but it’s not always so. The “celebrity” endorsement can be at risk for a lack of authenticity just as an unknown person can. Who do you trust more: a famous spokesperson who has a reputation to uphold, or an unknown, humble human who had to muster the courage to speak? Both can be credible; it all depends on the delivery.
There is no doubt that a well-known and respected individual can add credibility, but a seasoned production team knows the difference between working with a person of popularity and the lesser known individual. In both scenarios, we work to put the person at ease – in the case of a celebrity, assuring them that we respect their position in the world and are responsible to help them uphold their reputation. For the unknown person, it’s assuring them that we respect their position in the world, and that we won’t exploit them for personal gain. In all cases, we push for that authenticating moment of connection that humanizes the person — famous or not — like this mother who was given back her vision at Southwestern Eye Center:
We’re all merely human beings at the core. We all tell our stories in our own words, and hope people listen and understand. As storytellers, we have an obligation to probe for truth. The perfect testimonial is one that presents a human face and affirms a core belief of business: that the loyalty of a customer is the best testament of all. The perfect testimonial leaves no doubt that a business has the spirit and soul of the people it serves. Long live the testimonial and the brave people who make it possible, and may it never lose its revered place in the world of business.
View our favorite testimonial of all time:
I remember the first time I missed a deadline in my professional life. I was working for NBC in Phoenix and I had just returned from shooting a beautiful story. Back then, I thought everything I did was extraordinary, because I really thought I was something. Long story short: I sat down to edit this masterpiece. The clock ticks away. I miss getting my story on the 10 p.m. news.
Now, I only missed it by two minutes, but that meant everything, because it didn’t make it into the newscast.
One of the seasoned photojournalists walked into the edit bay right afterwards and said, “Hey, what’s up, Manley?”
I said, “Man, I just edited this beautiful masterpiece and I missed my deadline. But, take a look, it’s great.”
Uninterested, he walked towards the door, looked at me, and said in an old sage’s tone, “It ain’t great if nobody saw it.” Then he walked out.
That was over twenty years ago and I’ve taken that experience to heart almost every day. When I started Manley Films more than ten years ago, I made meeting and beating deadlines one of the cornerstones of our customer service experience. But, to meet deadlines, you have to have a few other organizational procedures in place. Here are five ways we work with our clients to ensure that deadlines are met and the outcome exceeds their expectations.
Before we even begin a project, we ask a lot of questions so everyone is on the same page. What is the most powerful impact possible from this video? Who is the audience? What ROI are we expecting? How can we maximize the footage we’re gathering and editing? These are just a few of the many questions we ask to achieve the clarity everyone craves.
No matter how big or small the project, we work very closely with our video clients to create a solid production calendar. This calendar contains dates for pre-production, script writing/storyboards, client feedback and changes, shooting the video, editing the video, more client feedback and changes, and dates for the final deliverables.
Bi-weekly Equipment Checks
One thing that can derail a good plan is a curveball like equipment failure on a shoot. So, at least once a week, we take an hour or so to test and clean our cameras, cables, batteries, tripods, monitors, and anything else we feel needs to be tested and cleaned.
As I sit here writing this, I’m listening to two Manley Filmers going over the project checklist for an upcoming commercial we’re shooting in Miami. Again, no matter how big or small the project, we go through the exact same process and the exact same checklist every single time. Things like: are there insurance considerations? Do we need hair and makeup, talent releases, props? Still photography, social media opportunities (for our client and for us)? Water, food, craft services, food allergies? These are all very important things which need to be addressed well before we shoot or edit video.
The Manley Films & Media Protocols
We’re sticklers for protocol. On shoots, we have a dress code, a neatness code, a “no cursing” policy, a “be nice and always use good manners” policy and a “don’t freak out” code. Most importantly, we have a “take tremendous care of our clients” code. These are not made-up things. We have them, we live by them, and we take them seriously.
The bottom line is this: what we do is fun. It’s also very important to our clients, to their bosses (if they’re not already the boss), and to their companies. And that makes it extremely important to us. So, all of these preparations, protocols, and systems are put in place to ensure that our video production clients get the most powerful impact possible from the video content we produce for them. Therefore, we must we deliver exactly what they need when they need it: on time, as promised, and in keeping with our personal code.
Want to experience a light-hearted look at how we communicate with our clients? Watch Episode 5 of the Manley Films & Media Vlog: Client Relations.
Something totally awesome happened in 1984.
It blew me away and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with my life.
“Where’s the beef?” cawed Clara Peller. That was it. That did it.
First, I thought to myself, the person or people who came up with that commercial had to be mad creative geniuses.
Second, I pictured the scene in the corporate boardroom when “Where’s the Beef?” was pitched. I mean, can you imagine the look on the faces of the client when the creative madmen said, “Ok, here’s what we’re gonna do…since your target audience is 18-45 year olds, let’s get a 4 foot 11 inch, 81 year-old manicurist with no acting experience and a crow-like voice to be the spokesperson for your product in this new round of commercials. She’ll say 3 words and we believe those 3 words will take your product to the next level.”
After that, there had to be blank stares, hands on foreheads, and perhaps some curse words from the client. But, the madmen believed in their idea. They did their research, they accessed the competition, they dug deep into their years of experience, and they stood by their pitch, eventually gaining the buy-in from their valued client.
In two short years, Wendy’s sales jumped 31 percent worldwide. Wendy’s SVP of Communications, Denny Lynch, stated at the time, “With Clara we accomplished as much in five weeks as we did in 14½ years.” The offbeat campaign succeeded in part due to the simplicity of the idea. From Clara Peller’s squawk came one of the most recognizable slogans, still known today. Now, that’s endurance.
Thirty-two years later, here I am, in my twenty-third year of pitching ideas. The Manley team and I have seen those blank stares, hands on foreheads, and we’ve even been cursed at a few times. And you know what, that’s okay. No, it’s better than okay. It’s great.
Decisions driving revenue and decisions driving your company’s success should be scrutinized, explored and questioned. There is no room for ego. Yes, we may want to pitch a “where’s the beef” to you and we hope that you’ll consider it. But, when it comes down to it, we’re in a partnership with you. A giant sales jump sounds just as awesome to us as it sounds to you.
So, because of Clara, the mad creative geniuses, and Wendy’s corporate, I’m living a dream life. I get to partner with some of the finest companies in the world to help create memorable moments. And you know what? If you decide you’d like to sit in a conference room with me and my team, I would consider it an honor. But, please remember, if you feel like our ideas are too soft, you know what to say.
“Where’s the beef, Manley?”