5 questions with Jackson Pellow of Australian National Maritime Museum

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The 2012 Communicating the Museum Conference is starting in 3 days (28 June), but some of the speakers are already around (can’t blame them – NYC is gorgeous).

I managed to talk with one of them, Jackson Pellow, from the Australian National Maritime Museum. We talked about how to conquer the international museum audiences with quirky videos.

Find out more about him, how he project-managed the first Australian user-generated documentary sourced entirely on YouTube and what he does for the Australian National Maritime Museum:

Jackson is an expert in the digital delivery of marketing campaigns, he is new to the museum sector having worked for 15 years in Film & Television. At the National Maritime Museum in Sydney Jackson overseas exhibition campaign strategy for major traveling and in-house exhibitions. One of his key goals this year is to develop a social video strategy and transform the Museum’s YouTube channel into a dynamic content-rich hub that reaches international audiences.

1. Audiences don’t read, they watch. This is the title of your presentation for #ctm12 and the key message you want to pass. How do you create interesting video content?

The way people engage with content has fundamentally changed over the past few years.

Of course, we’re still reading but we now ‘read’ in new ways. This is particularly true in relation to online news and social media content. We are multitasking, we seek content rich information and we demand a broader two-way experience which social video can offer over text.

I think nowadays, as we own more and more screens each, people like to read but love to watch.

Museum’s will probably need to dedicate more resources into producing engaging ‘behind-the-scenes’ style video and feed that through to visitors on modern handheld devices.

In my experience the most engaging video content usually starts with a strong idea that is executed in the most engaging way possible. For social video the key points are:

  • keep it short  – 30 secs to 3 mins, any longer and you’ll lose the mobile device and office hours market;
  • keep it quirky – viewers are more likely to share content that is unusual or unique;
  • keep it accessible – humour, wit and a light touch can really effect how many people watch until the end;
  • keep it rolling – create a ‘series’ of short videos on a particular theme over one-offs so you can build up a following.

At the conference I’ll be introducing our YouTube ‘How To’ Project which is one of the ways our Museum is adapting to the modern challenge of creating content-rich information over text based blogs. A sneak peak of our brand new ‘how to’ content is available here.

2. You project managed the 2011 national initiative Map My Summer , which resulted in the first Australian user-generated documentary sourced entirely on YouTube (We Were Here). What does it take to realize a project of this scale? Can you tell us more about the organisation behind the project and the cooperation with Google and YouTube?

The project was conceived very quickly between Google and Screen Australia* when we realized we had shared goals in promoting young Australian filmmakers and exposing their talents to YouTube audiences.

YouTube has ‘eyeballs’, Screen Australia has ‘talent’ so the collaboration was a powerful and exciting one for us. In fact the 2011 summer was well underway before the ink was dry on the co-marketing contract so we needed the buy-in of the whole agency (legal, executive, communications, production and marketing) as well as the full Australia/NZ YouTube team to get the project off the ground.

We took a calculated risk with the Map My Summer project but were comforted knowing Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald had gone before us with the wonderful Life in a Day – we were following in their footsteps in a way and inspired to create a localized and much shorter Australian version of their international feature.

We needed to capture the imagination of Australians so they would make the effort to upload their content to YouTube. It took money, sponsors, an endorsement from famous director George Miller (Babe, Mad Max, Happy Feet), a premiere hook from the Sydney Film Festival, three especially created ‘inspiration’ films, regular video blog posts as well as Google’s impressive digital reach to get the word out there.

In the end it was a great example (albeit with a lot of sweat and sleepless nights along the way) of how the private sector and a Government agency can work collaboratively to achieve common goals.

*Screen Australia is the key Federal Government direct funding body for the Australian screen production industry

3. This movie wouldn’t have been possible without the Australian online community. How did you use the different social media platforms to activate them?

We were lucky in that because Google/YouTube has such an enormous reach that the word got out pretty quickly. When you work with a global media giant like Google people and the media really take notice of their announcements.

The combined facebook, twitter and YouTube followers of YouTube are in the millions so Google kicked it off with some clever blogging and the word spread.

Critical to the success of the Google/YouTube blogs was a catalogue of carefully crafted video content we produced to support the project. These included: three ‘inspiration’ videos by young Aussie filmmakers; numerous promo videos; behind the scenes video blogs; a summer archive footage mash-up; the final film trailer and a series of video call-outs from George Miller, the Sydney Film Festival and well-known bloggers.

All up we created around 25 videos that we strategically released throughout the 6 months of the project (most of video blogs we created sit here in this playlist). This allowed us to have a dialogue with the audience right through until the premiere of the final film We Were Here at the Sydney Film Festival in Winter 2011 and the film’s simultaneous release on YouTube.

We also combined the digital push with traditional marketing communications such as media releases, press conferences, created flyers, billboards, e-newsletters etc.

But I think the most exciting and possibly most effective digital strategy was the ‘Yoodle’. On Australia Day 2011 (26 January and the peak of the Aussie summer) YouTube re-designed and replaced the YouTube logo with the Map My Summer icon graphic. Basically whenever anyone in Australia was on YouTube that day, they would see Map My Summer branding and if they clicked the logo they would come through directly to the Map My Summer channel. Within a few days we had over 500,000 page views and around 400 subscribers.

We Were Here is a user generated documentary that took bits and pieces from over 300 or so finalist videos that were uploaded to the YouTube summer ‘map’ – literally a video map of Australia that geographically locates the content.

Check it out here.

4. The Map My Summer initiative started with the open question “What does an Australian summer look like?” As the movie paints a darkly poetic portrait of the 2011 Australian Summer, do you think it achieves to answer the question?

Amy Gebhardt’s We Were Here certainly had an edgy tone to it and explored the darker side of the Australian psyche and society. To the project team it was a surprising creative decision especially given that many of the submitted videos explored the fun, playful side of summer. I think the audience were curious why that directorial approach was taken.

In talking with project mentor George Miller (Babe, Mad Max, Happy Feet) he was quick to point out that Amy’s approach offers a unique path through the content and tells a different story which is probably more memorable and affective than if the final film were told in a straighter way.

The summer of 2011 certainly had it’s fair share of darker moments that were captured by YouTube users and submitted to the project – Queensland was swamped by devastating floods and the Northern Territory withstood a severe tropical cyclone so summer was notorious from a natural disaster point of view. Amy’s film picks up on that.

I think the film achieves the answer to the question in that it is one filmmakers view of the Australian summer based on the footage submitted. Looking back I really like the mesmerizing, poetic nature of the film and the way the visuals wash over you to the music – it is a strong, unique and visionary film that seems to capture an image of Australia not seen before.

5. This May you have launched the ‘How To’ campaign for the Australian National Maritime Museum again co-operating with Google and YouTube. Can you tell us more about the ‘How To’ campaign and what you expect from it?

We have a range of goals and aims for the Maritime Museum’s ‘How To’ project.

Prior to this the majority of content we produced for YouTube was essentially promotional style videos. Promo videos are important but there is a limit to how far you can go with these – they are less likely to be shared and less likely that people will engage and respond.

The key idea behind our ‘How To’ project is essentially to engage with people who might not necessarily see themselves as ‘museum-goers’ but are nonetheless searching for practical maritime-related information that might be useful for them.

We want to ‘own’ the maritime/ocean ‘How To’ space on YouTube and engage a new demographic of virtual visitors who hopefully will share our content and come and visit our museum one day. It is a broad tactical marketing initiative that taps into one of the fastest growing content strands on YouTube right now – ‘How To’ videos.

At #ctm12 I’ll be going into detail about the project and why we threw considerable resources and time behind this.

Our first 6 ‘How To’ videos are available to watch now on the Australian National Maritime Museum’s YouTube channel in the ‘How To’ playlist.

Contact Jackson at jpellow@anmm.gov.au

For Twitter updates from #ctm12 follow @agendaparis or me @ellie_zheleva – I’ll be tweeting the most relevant social media topics, but most importantly I’ll try to catch a few VIPs for interviews behind the stage.

Elina Zheleva is working for the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne. She just finished an EMBA in Marketing and Communications. Interested in a million things other than airplanes like tech startups, art festivals and alternative museums.

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