This year's Media That Matters conference, "Change for Good," hosted by American University's Center for Social Media, featured conversations about how independent social change filmmakers can execute integrated campaigns that are strategic, action-oriented, and have enduring impact.
"Awareness is critical, it's where we start," said Meredith Blake, founder and CEO of Cause & Affect, at last Friday evening's keynote address. "You've got to move beyond a movie theater or dinner conversation and turn sympathizers into leaders in the movement."
She explained this spectrum of engagement as ranging from awareness to action. In order to shift paradigms, she said, you have to inspire, empower and activate communities.
Blake's strategy consulting and management firm, based in Los Angeles, helps mediamakers achieve high-impact social change. She emphasized that the "social change" movement is getting increasingly crowded, trendy and consumerist. To effectively achieve positive impact requires hard work, community and the recognition that the conditions are long-term and ever-changing.
Media-driven social action campaigns are highly effective in bringing a certain topic to public consciousness. "But without going beyond, there is a really missed opportunity for deep impact," she said.
CASE STUDY: THIS EMOTIONAL LIFE
Blake walked the audience through a case study of "This Emotional Life," an award-winning television series and multi-platform educational campaign that explores mental health and happiness, with a special focus on ways to improve well-being for military families and new parents.
The documentary exceeded expectations on nearly all traditional metrics. It reached 10 milion viewers, attracted 1.7 million visitors to its website, and generated a 251% return on investment. More than 259,000 toolkits were distributed to military families , and 86,000 toolkits were distributed to new parents and caregivers. Even more impressive than the numbers were the anecdotes and testimonials from individuals, service providers and entire communities, who were positively affected by the series.
To get to these outcomes, there were three essential core phases to the filmmaking and outreach process:
- Research: the filmmakers built a team to conduct six months of rigorous, fact-based research on the film's issue areas, in order to get the documentary series scientifically vetted, and therefore, accepted by viewers.
- Strategy: this "fundamental part of campaign architecture" asks the tough questions about outreach, partnerships and overall goals.
- Management: The day-to-day campaign is critical to inform best practices and mobilize people to get involved. "A campaign is not just about the launch, it's about the days, weeks and months after," Blake said.
She stressed the importance of thinking beyond the launch and "managing a large group of stakeholders and vendors—web designers, graphic designers, communications teams—to make sure all the messages are aligned."
The goal throughout the process was to drive audiences to the series, but also to give them the smart, vetted tools and resources they needed. The point was "not just to build buzz," Blake said, "but to drive audiences back over time to experience the programming."
MERGING STORYTELLERS AND CHANGEMAKERS
The three-part TV series was accompanied by an educational website, with blog posts, articles and videos.
"It was important for us to go beyond the discussions and create tangible offline resources," including custom toolkits, Blake said. "The science behind it supported the content, and the content was supported by additional storytelling."
Two years post-broadcast, the campaign is still going strong, thanks to several key partnerships. The filmmakers partnered with University of Phoenix to distribute toolkits to military servicemen and women enrolled in the school, which in turn, boosted the school's corporate social responsibility profile. The federal government paid for shipping and fulfillment, essentially acting as an expense-saving postal service. Philanthropic partners translated some of the toolkits into Spanish. hHighly trafficked websites, like BabyCenter.com, delivered content online.
"When we talk about media that matters," Blake said, "I hope we also talk about change that matters."