One of my discoveries thanks to the Canadian Online Publishing Awards was the website of Truck News, a publication I very likely wouldn’t have come across any other way and which won the best video award in the trade category. To get a closer look at how they do video, I got in touch with managing editor Adam Ledlow. Here’s what he had to say.
What is your position and how are you involved in the creation of these videos?
I am managing editor of the Transportation Media Group which encompasses Truck News, Truck West, Motortruck Fleet Executive, and Canadian Transportation & Logistics magazines. I am one of three “hosts” for the show – the other two being editorial director Lou Smyrlis and executive editor James Menzies – however, since I have a marginal background in video, I often shoot my own pieces as well. While I don’t do the actual editing, I certainly assist on selecting cuts to be used and the general tone and content of each episode.
What is the purpose of the video series? What magazine(s) are they tied to?
The purpose of our videos, at least according to our media kit, is to ”combine humour, information and insightfulness to provide a thought-provoking and entertaining addition to our print product.” And though that pretty well sums it up, I would add that video gives us the ability to cover stories in a different way.
There are limitations to what still pictures and words can convey. Sometimes video is the best way to tell a story. I’ll give you an example of a past story which appeared in print where I wish we had been using video at the time. I once profiled a guy who moonlighted as a pro wrestler in addition to working in the trucking industry. And I don’t mean pro wrestler as in he went to the Olympics or something. I’m talking Macho Man Randy Savage sort of wrestling. I took a bunch of pictures of the guy, and though they were visually appealing (and amusing), they didn’t quite get the point across. Had we been using video at the time, how awesome would it have been for us to get in the ring and have a match or something? So we’re certainly mindful of that when we’re choosing where we bring our video equipment.
The show itself is actually two shows, technically. They’re both called the same thing but are tailored to different audiences. One version of Transportation Matters appears on trucknews.com and is for the Truck News, Truck West, and Motortruck readers; a second version appears on ctl.ca for the Canadian Transportation and Logistics crowd. Since we’re all part of the same group, we have the luxury of having some crossover episodes which are applicable to both groups.
When, why and how did the series begin?
Transportation Media is owned by Business Information Group, a large Canadian publisher of numerous trade magazines, and usually when there’s a new project that needs a guinea pig, we volunteer. That was essentially the case when it came to video. We started toying around with video in early 2007 without a clear vision of what it was we wanted. We just knew that video sharing sites like YouTube were getting a heckuva lot of attention and we wanted a piece of that pie. We taped a couple of interviews that were just God-awful by our current standards. No tripod, no mics, no lighting, low-quality cameras. I shudder when I think about them. But once we hired on a full-time video staffer, things started falling into place. We shot a roundtable and an artsy promotional video for a “green” conference with his help, but didn’t start the actual show until September 2007. At that point it was a monthly show. We made the move to a weekly show May 1, 2008 for the Truck News version and Sept. 19, 2008 for the CT&L version.
How often do new videos come out? Why?
As I said in the previous question, Transportation Matters is currently a weekly show for both versions and has been for more than a year. We decided to make the change to weekly for a couple reasons. For one, when we were a monthly show, each show’s line-up included a cold opening, opening titles, and three segments before the closing credits. This made the average episode nearly 10 minutes, far too long for web video. We conducted a survey in early 2009 and found that more than half of our viewers watch video at work. Most people don’t have 10 minutes to just sit there and watch a video when they’re at work. So when we went weekly, we chopped it up so that we aired one segment per week instead of three in one clump. Now our average video length sits around three minutes, which is much more palatable, we think.
Second, airing our show weekly gives us the luxury of broadcasting newsy items in a more timely fashion. If you have a great breaking story and you happen to have your video camera with you, but you’ve just run that month’s episode, you’ve got to wait another four weeks to go live with it. By that point, the story has likely lost its urgency. So while we aren’t able to go live with the 6 o’clock news every night, we still try to get those newsworthy stories up as quickly as possible and are usually able to do so in a weekly format.
Where does your video budget come from? Who does the planning, execution, editing, etc?
Since we operate under the B.I.G. umbrella, the majority of video expenditures are covered by our parent company, including purchase of all video equipment and related accessories. The video department essentially has its own independent budget, separate from the individual magazines that use its services.
The planning and execution portions of video production vary from project to project. Some projects require extensive planning from a variety of parties. For example, our annual roundtable pieces include securing the venue, organizing the schedules of eight to 10 participants, organizing a crew of three to four for video/sound/lighting, etc. In that case, it’s not only editors but also publishers and other support staff that get involved. However, I’ve had instances where I hear about a story, run out and shoot it myself and am back at my desk all within the span of two hours. A good example of that would be the DriveTest strike I shot in Toronto in September. In that case, it’s just a matter of taking the initiative myself to get out there and get the story done. Editing is always completed by our video production manager, Brad Ling.
Who from the magazine staff participates in the videos? Did you/they get any training, or did you just learn as you went along?
As mentioned above, James, Lou and I are the only actual magazine staff that participate in the videos. We’ve basically just learned as we’ve gone along, though, as I also mentioned before, I did have some past experience behind the camera, but that was more of just a hobby in high school than actual training. The key to our success in front of the camera, however, was to recognize the strengths of each member.
Lou is big on research and gives speeches almost on a weekly basis, and has also been in the industry for nearly 20 years, so he has a lot of big name contacts. So his strengths are obviously dishing on numbers and statistics and conducting interviews with the big wigs. James is more of a gearhead and really knows his stuff when it comes to equipment and the technical aspect of the industry, so he’s done a lot of episodes focusing on new products and technology. As for myself, I’m kind of a goofball who likes to have fun, so I end up doing one-on-one interviews or features where I just say whatever pops into my head, joke around and improvise on the spot. So that’s how we’ve divided things up usually in terms of who tackles what assignment. There has been some crossover where we’ve strayed from our comfort zone a bit, but for the most part, we like to play our strengths. Makes the end product more genuine, rather than having me pretend like I know how an engine works or having Lou crack jokes and act ridiculous. Though we did put him in a chicken suit last year, so he’s making progress.
What has reader/viewer response been?
The response to the videos has been overwhelmingly positive. Before we came along, a video outlet for this industry really didn’t exist, so when we came in and showed that we could put together something with decent production values that could also be informative and entertaining, the response was almost immediate. We now regularly get requests not to simply cover events for the print magazine, but to come equipped to shoot because they have something video-specific they want to show us. It’s nice that we have enough respect from the industry that we’re a desirable presence at events. I hate using the term value-add, but it having video certainly places Transportation Media a cut above the competition, since we’re able to continue to create a great print product in addition to a weekly WebTV show.
How do people find your videos?
We let people know about our videos in a variety of ways. We have print ads for TMTV running in all four publications. We send a newsletter twice weekly which includes our latest videos and a separate e-blast once weekly that highlights all the web-based extras, i.e., video, blogs, a link to our message board, etc. If you do a video search via Google, you’ll find video content both from our two websites and our YouTube channel. We’ll mention related videos in both print stories and our Headline News section online. We also mention our latest videos via Twitter, so we’re fairly well-versed in the social media scene. But word of mouth in this industry is a big thing. People see us at events and ask about us. We’ve let our industry friends know what we’re up to. So that’s certainly been a factor in our popularity as well.
What value have you found in your YouTube channel?
Our YouTube channel is a way to reach viewers that might not otherwise happen across our website, but still have an interest in our industry. Does that mean everyone who stumbles across our YouTube videos is destined to become a loyal viewer? Likely not, but it’s important to cast your net out there as far as possible. I’ve conducted at least one interview from a lead I received via YouTube, so there’s certainly value to be had if you look for it. The gentleman I interviewed is a trucker and bit of a YouTube star in his own right, with millions of views to his credit, so we’ve certainly earned a few fans for TMTV through his support and influence.
What, in your opinion, are your most and least successful videos? Why?
I guess it depends on how you want to measure success. If we’re talking about sheer numbers, for the Truck News crowd, they seem to like stories about unique trucks or interviews with truckers themselves rather than a focus on the business aspect of things. The CTL crowd, at least in recent weeks, seems to have a thing for statistics, numbers and news, which isn’t surprising given the current state of the economy and the fact that many CTL readers are executives. So you need to be mindful of these things when you’re producing new episodes.
However, there are always surprises. We’ve had videos that I’ve been certain would get a tonne of views, or conversely, would bomb, and the numbers end up being the exact opposite. So it can be a bit of a guessing game. For example, last year we produced our first year-end bloopers episode and we all thought it was hilarious and would garner huge numbers, but we were disappointed when we tallied the numbers after a month and they weren’t even half what we’d expected. We expected a repeat performance when we aired our second annual bloopers episode in December, but the numbers more than tripled. So how do you explain that? Word of mouth from last year’s episode or a coincidence? Hard to say.
For me, I guess the most successful episodes are those that combine aspects of information, humour, and great visuals into one package. Those would be videos like the Challenger simulator video, the Alfy Meyer workout video, the golf tournament wrap-up, the Fergus Truck Show wrap-up, etc. If every episode could be like these, I’d be happy. But obviously they can’t, so some of our videos are definitely straight-up information. The “talking head” videos (ie. presentations or one-on-one interviews) may not be visually compelling or funny, but they’ve got great info which is important for our viewers. Some people don’t want to be entertained, I’m sure, they just want the goods on what’s happening in the industry. We try to do both if we can.
Where will you take your videos in the future?
I guess it depends on how vague the Emmys decide to make their nomination criteria. First the COPAs, now the world.
Now that the show is becoming more well-known in our industry, hopefully we’ll continue to be sought out by more and more interesting subjects. It’s going to be steady as she goes for 2010, I would imagine, in terms of the show’s look and format, but we’re always open to new ideas and new technologies as they present themselves. Right now the key is simply increasing our viewership as much as we can, rather than making any drastic changes to the show format. The way I look at it is, if the current format allows me to stuff my boss into a chicken suit every now and again, I must be doing something right. Why mess with a good thing?