Media that Matters is an annual conference hosted by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. The event lasts two days and includes workshops, networking time, and panel speakers. Day one consisted of two workshops: "Dangerous Docs: How to Lower Your Risk Making High-Impact Documentary" and "Measuring the Impact of Social Cause Advertising.” Later in the day, media experts participated in a quick-fire showcase for the audience, and afterwards the audience was able to meet with the showcase presenters to gather information and make connections.
In addition to these workshops and the showcase, a unique event commenced in the 2nd floor theater in the McKinley building. In December, PBS moved their two documentary programs out of the primetime slot. It caused an outrage among independent filmmakers. In response, PBS returned the documentaries to their primetime slot and embarked on a listening tour to hear what the public had to say. A never-ending line of opinions were aired out to the listening panel, ranging from the value of the time slot to filmmakers and their career and the impact those films have because of the time of day they are aired.
On day two, the conference hosted expert panels and talks: “Engaging Hearts, Minds and Actions: Exploring the Foundation & Future of Storytelling for Social Change,” “Impact Design: From Production to Measurement,” “Fair Use Transformation,” “Stories of Impact,” and “Media Impact as a Fundraising Tool."
The conference’s value lies in the application of these topics to media content producers. The media producers must often utilize digital grassroots methodologies to promote their films. As the conference title suggests, the importance of this media content is its social impact on the world: creating media that matters to cultures, economies, countries, etc.
Besides introducing the audience to numerous organizations and foundations that are seeking to fund social impact media projects, the panels provided the audience with valuable evaluation strategies for promoting their projects.
Wendy Melillo, a professor at American University who was part of day one’s workshop about measuring social cause impact, pointed to using a pre/post study strategy to measure impact. This strategy involves creating a survey to study attitudes before and after exposure to the media content.
One particularly interesting showcase about Harvis spoke about how A Fourth Act, a creative collective, has created a way to get immediate audience impressions while viewing a film on a smartphone platform. It’s like Tinder for movie moments. This particular product goes along with a new popular topic among media makers: impact measurement. The idea is to systematically and quantitatively measure the impact your particular media project has made on your target audience and even what the splash effect may have been (affecting audiences that were not your original targets).
The majority of both days were focused on doing the right research on your target audience: how to address an issue in the right way to achieve the intended impact, knowing your allies, even cutting a single film project differently to tailor it to different audiences. The more emotionally invested your audience is in the story, the more receptive they are to the ideas and themes you are using. The goal is "narrative transportation;" show how your campaign/film/media has proximity to your audience's daily life and evoke their sense of empathy. Often, comedy can be used when addressing difficult issues, hot topics, or even global problems. There is a sleeper effect with comedy (mainly stand-up) which means the audience may reject the ideas when they are first received, but they may come around to them in an even stronger way later on. The comedy has allowed them to be more receptive to the idea so it stays with them longer and allows them to process it over time.
As for project assessment, the key is cost. Production for a film may cost $10,000, but the assessment may cost $100,000. That is a major factor when considering any type of project budget. Without using some type of assessment, you may never know if your project even reached your target audience or if they received it in the way you intended. This can be applied to any media project, not only film: any strategic communication campaign, any media-related project whether it be film, photography, or audio (such as a radio show or a podcast).
Fair use was also a common theme. Fair use is very important for any media content creator, especially if they intend to analyze or evaluate another's work. Fair use allows a content creator to use another person's work within their own project for specific purposes. Journalists are often the most frequent users of this law exemption, but it can be very useful for anyone. Its importance is often overlooked; without this allowance, the government would be infringing on the right to free speech. However, before borrowing another's work, make sure your use falls within the fair use law. Otherwise, you can be plagiarizing.
And lastly, crowd funding. The last panel of the conference was specifically speaking about ways to get funding, whether that be from a foundation, an organization, or online crowd funding. Most importantly, they talked about the best way to present your project on a crowd funding site. To gain the audience's trust, establish your credibility. Why are you more qualified than others to produce this project? Do you have special skills or knowledge in this area? Bring the audience on a journey - create a short video, write a narrative about your journey, photograph the process of your creation. Give the audience a tangible product to help fund - editing a film, production of a film or campaign, promotion for a product/campaign/film (this is better than just asking an audience to fund "the film" or "the campaign"). Show the impact of the project by using the research you've conducted on your target audience. Show the audience the tangible things that will happen because of the project they are funding. And lastly, explain to your audience why this particular project is important and should be shared. A project does nothing for an audience if it is never shared.
These two days left me with a good sense of the gravity of my, or anyone else's, audience. The audience is one of, if not the most, important aspect of any project and should always be considered with great importance. And finally, using another's work within your own is actually a good thing, as long as it is used for the right reasons. Make use of the fair use laws.