Podcast #15 – Erik Duda and Mitch Powers (UVA)

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by on March 18, 2016 Podcast

If you’re like me, you probably assume that your university has a clearly defined video strategy. But after hearing from the University of Virginia video team, I came to realize that only a handful of schools seem to operate under comprehensive production and performance goals. Unless your job title has “Director” or “Strategist” in it, don’t stress. You’re not responsible for articulating and achieving desired outcomes (like admissions submissions, donations, or basketball season ticket sales). Quality is your measure of success. Your expertise is in visual storytelling, not marketing.

I was surprised to learn that Erik Duda and Mitch Powers have a project quota at UVA (note my delayed reaction on the podcast). Speaking of delays, since we recorded our conversation back in February, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on this approach. I have to say that I’m decidedly in favor of being held to more explicit expectations.

It’s not like they’re given marching orders (in this case it’s 17-25 “short, cinematic docs” per year) and left to their own devices. Most assignments are based on reliable market research and come from people who spend their 9 to 5s thinking of platforms, mediums, and messages that connect. For example, over the next few years, UVA will lose 60% of their faculty to retirement. It’s not the video department’s job to know that stat. Nor is it the Communications/Marketing Director’s job to know where to set lights for an interview.

Start Here sprang from a need to improve the Admissions yield rate. I’m quite sure Mitch and Erik had no idea what that number was before taking on this project. Would you know how many students accepted your university’s enrollment offer compared to those who go elsewhere? Me neither.

Surprisingly, the Start Here project request didn’t come from UVA’s Admissions Department. Someone from Central Marketing with access to relevant data was the “prime motivator.”

A team of Marketing Department creatives spent an entire day around the table until they came up with a concept and plan: a video-heavy website targeted at high school juniors in the top 10% of their class. It’s a window into life at UVA. The view from that window: current students providing unscripted insight on what it’s like to live and study in Charlottesville. The 12 stories within each of the 4 themes came from market research on what 16 and 17-year-olds want to know about a prospective college. Though Mitch and Erik used that information to help shape the video concepts, their real work began after those messaging buckets had been defined. (Listen to Mitch’s strategy for the first step of “story mining” – finding student subjects via LinkedIn.)

Here’s an example of their efforts, which features director’s commentary from Erik:


With all this talk of hitting numbers, it should be said that Erik and Mitch have creative freedom to find and tell stories that interest them. If they do enough background research and the subject aligns with a university need or goal, they get an abundance of support from team leadership. Here are some examples of self-driven work. Mitch narrates the following embedded video:

UVA Architecture Students Learn from China’s Massive Urbanization
Monitoring the Health of Virginia’s Mountain Streams
Meadows Under the Sea – Seagrass Restoration Efforts Paying Off

(Check out more of Mitch’s work on his personal portfolio page.)

The Surgery That Gave A Boy Thumbs
Cammie Genda Alum profile
UVA in Ecuador

Mitch and Erik, awesome show, great job!

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