Monday, 27 July 2015

Why Working for a Small Media Company Is Awesome

I've been working for SWAGGER Media in Houston for a little more than a year now and, in that short time, I have had so many opportunities to try new things. From preproduction to marketing, I have stuck my hand in ALL of the honey pots and have discovered a slew of things I like to do. At SWAGGER Media, we are a relatively small company but that doesn't stop us from doing just about anything you can think of when it comes to marketing or video production. This wide array of services allows the SWAGGER employees to try anything they want to. Here are some of the things I've been able to try in my 422 days of Swagger!

Let's start with what I was hired to do; social media! When I first began, I was in charge of creating original content for our clients' and our own social media accounts. This included writing all Facebook content, creating images, writing tweets, writing blogs, and social media ad development. As I got more comfortable with the copywriting side of things, I had more leeway to try new approaches, like social media marketing videos. (This is where things start to really heat up!)

The social media marketing videos opened up a whole new side of things for me. I was challenged to prep in pre-production, be on set and direct the video production and, once back in the office, begin the video editing. I had studied video editing in college, so that wasn't so much of a challenge as it was a fun project but the pre-production and actual filming of the video was all new territory. I had to go location scouting for the right spot, write up the "scripts" (really questions), and keep things moving and grooving when the camera was rolling. Here's just one of the many final products:

Lucky for me, when the social video project ended, my participation in these different departments only grew. Exhibit A: Our work with Neighbors Emergency Center.

This was one of my favorite projects here at SWAGGER because I got to help with casting. Casting is not something I thought I would've liked but ended up LOVING it! It was great working with these talented actors and sitting in on all of the auditions. After this commercial was cast and the scripts written, we hit the streets to start filming. I was on-set every day that we were filming these commercials and couldn't have had a better time. I think what was most exciting about it is that I had never worked on any project that would end up on broadcast television. We had such a professional and knowledgeable crew on-set that everything went smoothly. Then, once back at headquarters, I got to see every part of the post-production process including the rough cuts, revisions, color correcting, motion graphics, and animations. Here's one of the 2 commercials we did for them:

All the while, the company was growing and growing every day. My coworkers and I began taking on more responsibilities to keep up with the company's growth and the days started to really fly by. (Ya know, time flies when you're having fun!) I started really growing into my role in the social media department and, around September of 2015, a few of us decided we were going to host our own film festival called, SwaggerFest.

We wanted to really get our name out there not just for potential clients, but for potential future employees of SWAGGER Media. This was a way for us to boost our social media, reach out to the amateur filmmakers of Houston, and have a ton of fun in the process. We gained sponsors, worked with local universities and created a website dedicated to all things SwaggerFest. This project was a huge success in our eyes. It was such a blast that we've launched SwaggerFest 2016! (Spread the word!)

Two of our SwaggerFest 2015 winners helping out on set.

Whew! So let's recap. In one year I have co-hosted a film festival, developed more than a year's worth of social media content, participated in web development, help launch ad campaigns, been on set to help produce TV commercials for broadcast, edited a series of videos, worked with both 2D and 3D animators, been a photography assistant, recorded a voiceover, directed video production, written scripts, participated in casting of commercials, and became a digital marketing mastermind. Well, maybe not mastermind but I sure have improved!

What started as a position for social media management has grown into a role that makes every day a new challenge. Now I think that if I were to work on the same things everyday I would go crazy! Even after all of this there are still things to try, like drone photography (that's right, we have a drone), 3D animation, portrait photography, and so much more.

I never thought that I would end up working for such a rapidly growing company with such an amazing group of talented co-workers, especially in Houston. What can I say? I guess I'm just lucky.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Our Work: About the Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas

Client Overview:

The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas is a group composed of highly trained hand specialists who are focused on performing minimally invasive procedures to relieve a series of hand and wrist problems.

Project Challenge:

The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas needed a video to demonstrate their knowledge as hand specialists, while encompassing the vast number of procedures they're capable of handling. They also wanted to emphasize their dedication to their patients and how they focus to ensure each patient receives the best care for their issue.

Action Taken:

SWAGGER Media visited the Houston location and interviewed some of their key members, including nurses, surgeons, and office administrators. We spoke to them about what sets them apart from other hand specialists in the area and how their techniques have made them the best in Texas. We also spoke about their minimally invasive approach and why it's their go-to method of choice. Finally, we shadowed the doctors during some of their appointments with patients and gathered a series of b-roll shots from around the office. We then cut together the footage and layered on some graphics to help identify each speaker. Finally, we added an underlying song and an animated version of their logo for their ending graphic.


Monday, 20 July 2015

3 Savvy Marketing Tips for All You Small Business Owners

At SWAGGER Media, we love to create marketing campaigns for small business. Of course, not every small business has the budget right off the back for professional marketing services and that’s ok. But that doesn’t mean you should forego marketing all together, you just need to find a few DIY methods to get it going! Lack the skills to navigate your way around softwares like Photoshop? No need to worry! There are several easy-to-use tools that can help your business look professional and stylish without compromising your budget. Here are 3 of my favorites:

If you are looking to create an infographic that will blow your consumers’ socks off, this is the place to create it! offers thousands of templates and design objects that users can add, remove, edit and reconfigure with a few clicks of the mouse. Adding icons, drawing shapes, and embedding charts are all free and easy features with 

Haiku Deck  
Bored with your average power point presentations? Haiku Deck allows you to build presentations with little time, little know-how & a lot of artistic flair! In addition to ease, it offers gorgeous stock photos that are free to use in your presentation. For your next business presentation, start with Haiku Deck- it will surely impress your business partners or potential clients. 

Want to try your hand at creating a new Facebook cover photo or Twitter header image? Canva has design templates for these graphics and more, including presentations, business cards and the perfect dimensions for posts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

It’s free to use; you pay $1 for premium images only if and when you download them. It is my absolute favorite tool! And, if you are a business nerd like me, you’ll enjoy knowing that Guy Kawasaki leads Canva’s tech innovation team. 

So there you have it! You can still create visually appealing, professional-looking graphics to add an edge to your campaign with these 3 tools. As a small business, this method is worth a shot. But when you’re ready to take your marketing campaign to the next level, the Pros at SWAGGER Media can help you out!

What design tools do you use? How do you create professional looking business presentations? What’s your favorite marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments below or tweet to us @Swagger_Media!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Our Work: An Overview of Chinquapin

Client Overview: 

Chinquapin Preparatory School is a private, non-profit college preparatory boarding school dedicated to providing quality education to motivated youths from low-income families across Houston.

Project Challenge:

The leaders of Chinquapin wanted a video that would expand on the history of the preparatory school and how it drives their mission today. The video needed to incorporate graphics, interviews, old photos, and footage of the campus.

Action Taken:

Our first step was to interview a handful of leaders and students of Chinquapin and gather footage of the campus. Then we edited the interviews to form a clear story and arranged them with a series of b-roll shots from around campus. From there, we layered on a series of lower third graphics, statistical graphics, and full-screen animations. Our final steps were perfecting the audio, adding underlying music tracks, and color correcting the footage.


Monday, 13 July 2015

My Luncheon with the Houston iMA

Last Thursday, I attended a luncheon hosted by the Houston iMA on Brand Narrative Architecture. The speakers were Daniel Cohen and Michele Price, both avid story tellers and marketing strategists. I attended this luncheon hoping I would learn something that would help me with my day-to-day copywriting struggles. Lucky for me, I learned a lot! Equally lucky for you, I'm going to share some of what they taught me!

Their presentation, "The Story on Stories", started with a brief run-through of a few people who got the ball rolling on storytelling and how humans tell stories both with language and symbols. The first was Sir Richard Paget, a man who was interested in the science and origin of speech. Mr. Cohen had everyone say aloud a series of words like:




He then posed the question, "What happens to your mouth when you make the 'st' sound?" I looked around and saw everyone, myself included, repeating the sound quietly to themselves with a quizzical look on their faces. We realized that as we made those sounds, our teeth touched and our lips pursed out, elongated the shape of our mouths. Mr. Cohen pointed out that our mouths stretched to become longer, much like the words we were saying. Stream, strike, stride, they all meant something long. For example, to stride means to take a bigger step; physically the action is longer, just as your mouth's action to produce the word. He then pointed out that much of the English language works this way. Words tend to represent the sounds it takes to make them. (A rather interesting idea if you ask me!)

We moved from here to talking about the 3 barriers of communication:

Language as reality 

Language as hierarchy 

Language as perfection

Which all boiled down to the human's constant struggle to find the right words to convey a message. As any copywriter knows, this can be rather frustrating. So then, how do we tell a story that will convey our message? Well, there are a few tools to help. There's the "Dramatistic Pentad", which is just a fancier way of breaking down your who, what, when, where, and why.

I would go into more detail about this but I want to get to the meat of this story and that story's arches, which no one could explain better than Kurt Vonnegut.

Many of you have probably seen this at least once, but sometimes a refresher course is necessary. Vonnegut has such a great, simple way of explaining exactly what people are looking for in a story.

At this point in the presentation, we began analyzing major ads that were complete busts and why. We compared each of the flop commercials to where they lay on Vonnegut's 'Shapes of Stories' chart and how strong their call to action was.

First Study: Nissan 

As far as the story arch goes, it's not terrible. He starts off in a tough(ish) situation, gets a cool car, picks up a girl, and rides off into the sunset. Sounds like a pretty great day, right? The main reason this ad was not successful is because of the lack of call to action. The company's logo is only presented once for almost 3 seconds at the very end. There was ample opportunity throughout the :60 commercial to include it in at least one other place (see below) but, for some unknown reason, Nissan thought it best to just throw it in there at the end. This commercial was so unsuccessful that all of their competitors saw a rise in market share and Nissan saw a fall.

Second Study: BMW 

This commercial showed a serious lack in storytelling. If you refer to the chart, the driver started out in the good fortune and wealth area and, by the end, had only seen a slight increase in happiness thanks to his fresh cup of coffee. Essentially, there was no story here. The call to action wasn't all that impressive either. Though their storytelling hasn't improved much, BMW has at least started adding a little humor to their ads. 

So what can we take from this? No matter how much time you have to tell your story in, at least tell on! Map it out in advance, determine your plot lines, and make sure that by the end of it, something has changed (bigger than your character getting a cup of coffee). Finally, make sure that your story has calls to action in the right places, not just thrown in at the end like an afterthought. Here are some commercials I think did a really great job at both telling a story and sending a message:

 Let's break this down real quick. Story arch: Normal, yet attractive, man is just about to shower when all of a sudden he's on a fancy boat, holding concert tickets, then flush with diamonds mounted on a white steed. Whew! That's quite a jump from where we started. BRB, buying Old Spice.

This commercial is just flat out hilarious. First, we see our character and we have no idea where this commercial is going. Is the commercial for Viagra? Gelato? Perfume? No. It's a commercial for the new pumped up Fiat. In my opinion, the call to action is so perfectly timed, it couldn't have been done better. 

The story here is clearly perfect; in one minute, we see an entire journey! But the call to action? That's a little more subtle. Budweiser has been employing a "Best Buds" theme in their marketing efforts for some time now.  Though we don't see the Budweiser logo anywhere else in the commercial, the theme is represented by the horse and puppy duo. Because of its intriguing story, the logo or product name doesn't have to show up every 10 seconds, ultimately giving it a stronger call to action.  

So, what do you think about all of this? What's your favorite story arch to use? What challenges do you face as a copywriter? Tell me in the comments below or tweet them to us @Swagger_Media! 

P.S. I happened to be the lucky winner of a ticket to the HiMA Interactive Strategies Conference in August, so be expecting a nice juicy blog post after that as well! 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Our Work: Flex Planning Product Demo from Altius

Client Overview:

Altius works to provide companies with tactical solutions to their business' problems so they can be successful. They've created a series of products to help business owners organize and manage their company's data and finances.

Project Challenge: 

Altius created a script that would cover some of the main features of their Flex Planning product. They needed us to create a visual animation that would take the viewer through the product's features while keeping them engaged.

Action Taken:

Our first step was to break down the client's script to better determine what all we would need to animate. Then, we hired and recorded a voice over artist to narrate the video. From there, we recreated the design of the software so that we could animate. We also designed our characters and began compiling all of the animated scenes. Finally, we found an audio track to score the animation.


Monday, 6 July 2015

Cutting Women: 4 Classic Films Spliced by Females

Although the film industry may now be known as a Man's World, women have been asserting themselves through the male-dominated Hollywood ranks over the past few years. But boy how the times have changed! In the early days, women were hired to edit because it was considered menial labor, "something like sewing."

Film editing has become a highly respected and better understood craft in the last decade and it’s still not uncommon to find a woman in the cutting room. So, you can imagine my delight, as a female video editor, to know that women have edited some of my favorite films. You too may be surprised by these following ‘chick- edited’ flicks!

Jaws: Verna Fields

JAWS is first on my list because I was just a kid when I first laid (or covered) my eyes on this film. I’ll never forget the tagline, “When beaches open this summer, you will be taken by Jaws”. I was simultaneously horrified and delighted by this great white that was a menace to society. In my later years, I truly grew to appreciate all that Jaws brought to the movie industry.

It was all in the hands of a first time director (Steven Spielberg anyone?) and a veteran editor, Verna Fields. A former USC professor , nicknamed "Mother Cutter" for her maternal style, Fields helped salvage a film that seemed almost impossible to make. With the unpredictable New England weather and malfunctioning mechanical sharks, Spielberg was even quoted saying, “Jaws should never have been made—it was an impossible effort.” And that’s no exaggeration! Don’t forget that at this time in filmmaking, all editing had to be hand cut, frame by frame, to perfection.

Yet, with the use of long intense shots, and dramatic build-up of tension within the scenes, paired with a memorable soundtrack, Jaws proved successful. Fields was in fact worthy of later becoming Vice President of Universal Pictures, a position she held until her death in 1982.

Goodfellas: Thelma Schoonmaker

The second film on my list made it’s way into a college thesis of mine because of it’s unique editing. In a film like GOODFELLAS, where the story of Henry Hill's life in the mob is being narrated, freeze frames served as a strong narrative function. They delivered a visual punch that I was thrilled to see as an editing style.

Schoonmaker met Martin Scorsese during an NYU summer course in 1963. She helped salvage one of his student films and has been his right hand ‘Woman’ ever since. Although it’s hard to understand what Scorsese’s style is, or Schoonmaker’s, the fact remains that she does the nitty gritty work, and does it well.

In terms of male vs. female editors, Schoonmaker has been quoted as saying, “I’m not a person who believes in the great difference between women and men as editors. But I do think that quality is key. We’re good at organizing and discipline and patience, and patience is 50 percent of editing. You have to keep banging away at something until you get it to work. I think women are maybe better at that.”

Pulp Fiction: Sally Menke

I can thank my sister for introducing me to PULP FICTION years ago. It was the first time I had really seen such a twisted tale of violence and redemption. The script was on point, and so was the editing.

Which brings me to another well known woman editor, Sally Menke. She is credited with editing more than 20 feature films, and having a long time collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. She interviewed with him when he was looking for a cheap editor, and got the job on his film ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Menke has referred to editors as the quiet heroes of movies that have very private relationships with their directors, most often conducted in very dark rooms.

Unfortunately, Menke passed in 2010, having made her final film for Tarantino, ‘Inglorious Basterds’, which was nominated for an academy award for best editing.

Tarantino has stated that “he adored Menke and never felt his ‘babies’ were safer than in her motherly hands.”

Mad Max:Fury Road: Margaret Sixel

I chose to include MAD MAX:FURY ROAD last on the list, because it was the most recent film I saw in theaters. I wasn’t sure that I would like this film, in fact I didn’t even want to see it, but from that first frame with Tom Hardy, I was sold. (Not just because of Tom Hardy.)

Upon reading reviews of the film, I discovered the film was edited by the director George Miller’s wife, Margaret Sixel. I also discovered a new technique out there in terms of editing style.

“One of the many reasons MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is so successful as an action film is the editing style. By using “Eye Trace” and “Crosshair Framing” techniques during the shooting, the editor could keep the important visual information vital in one spot…the Center of the Frame.”

What fascinated me most in regards to the editing, is that Sixel didn’t want to do it. Miller insisted that it had to be her, so that it wouldn’t look like “every other action film”. Wise choice indeed!

So there you have it! Were you surprised by the list? What are some of your favorite movies edited by a woman? What are some movies you just love because of the editing? Man or woman, Happy Editing!!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Our Work: Texas Furniture Hut

Client Overview:

The Texas Furniture Hut specializes in outfitting homes all across Texas with luxury furniture and mattresses. They carry the top mattress brands and designer home decor for living rooms, media rooms, bedrooms, and even home offices.

Project Challenge:

The Texas Furniture Hut wanted a commercial that would get the word out about their 4th of July special. The goal was to promote this seasonal sale, which includes 20%-40% off through Independence Day.

Action Taken:

In association with Spry Creative Group, we created a commercial for Texas Furniture Hut that displayed pieces of their furniture, accompanied by eye-catching, dynamic text and transitions. This project was built around a patriotic theme to celebrate America's birthday. We picked an upbeat, mellow background track to accompany the voice-over and keep the commercial moving. To keep the furniture itself as the focus of this, Spry used clean cut design elements with non-distracting colors. We also included the Texas Furniture Hut logo at the beginning and end of the video.