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Posted by on Apr 19, 2015 in | 0 comments

Explainer Videos – A new tool for local governments

Constituents have limited time, but regularly need to interact with government. Whether they face new voter registration requirements, a multi-step building permit, or changing stormwater regulations, residents and businesses that know the steps will likely need fewer agency resources to get it right.

In the digital marketing world, a new type of short (<2 minute) videos helps explain a product, processes, procedures, requirements and trouble-shooting.  While Fact Sheets and infographics are helpful, video delivers content in an efficient, memorable way.

There are several types of explainer videos:

Live Action -in live action video, actors shoot a script describing the content. These actors add a human touch, but can be expensive.

Animated – animated videos are fun and less costly to produce. There are several types.  2-D or flat animation is less costly than 3-D animation.

Whiteboard – whiteboard explainers are popular because they can be created for low cost. Typically, an artist sits at a whiteboard and begins drawing the introduction to a story. A videographer takes stop action video (turning the camera on and off at intervals to shorten the time needed to complete drawings).  The video then has a voice over narrating the story.  This video, Urban Planning 101, is a good example of a whiteboard explainer.

Hybrid – Some explainers include a mix, like this public service video from Canada:

What do I need to know?

  1. What Problem are we trying to solve?  Look at processes that garner the most complaints or the most phone calls. In general, activities that involve tiered requirements, multiple deadlines, numerous Department approvals and several steps are good candidates. In addition, new websites or processes are also good candidates. Some of these activities may be explained through better charts or infographics at less cost, so test these outreach materials first.
  2. Audiences – What kinds of customers are having the most difficult experiences?  For building permits, it could be residents or contractors or both.  This will influence how much background and detail to include. Walk through the problematic process in your constituents’ shoes to determine the key elements to be explained.
  3. Budget – Explainers can be expensive; they can run from $2000 to five figures. Cost drivers include the length of the video and type chosen (live action versus whiteboard). Check with your Communications Department to see if they have a budget for movies, as well as guidelines for content and branding.  Your city/county may even want to develop an explainer video strategy to include budgets, style, metrics and distribution.
  4. Storyboard & Scripts – Videos are short movies, so movie-making skills come into play. Before shooting video, test the storyboard with audiences to make sure your content effectively addresses the problem. As a ballpark, one minute of video is approximately 150 words.
  5. Working with other Departments – New communications tools can be exciting – and threatening – to your colleagues across departments. Change is hard and “improving communications” implies current efforts are sub-par. Make sure you document the nature and extent of the communications problem from customers, as well as the benefits to their operations.


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