Susan Davis Gryder 2013-04-03 13:23:30
Lights, Camera… Lunch! The stars of tomorrow hit the lunchroom today in an infectious video celebrating healthy school meals Promote school meals and the innovations, initiatives and activities of your school nutrition operation. You hear that advice over and over again as an essential strategy in fighting negative stereotypes and misconceptions. And so you do. You organize activities. You send regular newsletters and flyers home in student backpacks. You’ve gone beyond posting menus to your district’s school nutrition department web pages and have a regularly updated colorful, informative onsite presence. You’re even venturing into social media, posting tweets and photos and updates. Is it enough? In a world where we have an overabundance of information at our fingertips, how do you stand out? The successful marketing of your program might mean pushing to entirely new creative heights! One Midwest school nutrition director leveraged her staff’s passion for healthy school meals and partnered with local talent to reach out to students in dramatic, 21st-century fashion: producing a 2.5-minute ear- and eye-catching video. Check it out at www.masonohioschools.com/videos.cfm?vID=10525 and then read about how it all came together. Have Message, Need Media? Flash back about a year. It was almost time to start implementing significant menu changes. In Mason City (Ohio) School District, Child Nutrition Supervisor Tamara Earl, SNS, was worried. Although her team had been serving plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains for years with great success, with the realities of a low free/reduced-eligibility ratio and considerable competition outside the cafeteria, she knew that the new mandate likely would be met with some initial resistance. “Whenever you tell someone they have to do something, that can carry ramifications,” Earl notes. She considered different ways to reach out to students. One priority for her communications campaign was ensuring that nutrition lessons didn’t stay in the cafeteria. “I wanted kids to see their lunches as part of MyPlate and be able to transfer that to [eating] decisions they are making outside of school,” Earl declares. “As part of that, I wanted whatever communication I had with the kids to touch on all the food groups.” In one of her regular meetings with a stakeholder group that discusses wellness and nutrition issues, a principal shared his success in communicating with parents by sending an e-mail with a link to an informational video. Earl recalls, “He talked about how, in this day of technology, people prefer to click and watch something, rather than read about it.” Earl took the principal’s observation as a challenge: “I needed to make this happen.” Back in her office, she and her team started thinking about ways to produce a video. Soon, creative ideas were flying. Documentary style? Infomercial? Music video? Some combination of all of the above? They determined that it should be something fun if it would have any chance of really capturing attention—and maybe going viral! One person mentioned the little ditty that sometimes plays during the previews of movies, enticing patrons to visit the concessions stand. Earl went to the Internet to find the complete lyrics to “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” and started adapting the chorus and verses: “Let’s all go to the lunchroom…to make MyPlate complete.” Student Musical Talent Sets the Tone Earl turned to the high school choir director, Elaine Santos, who shared her enthusiasm for the idea but first offered some critical advice: Make sure the song is in the public domain! After more research, Earl confirmed that the song, originally written in the 19th century, was not copyright- protected and thus could be adapted for the video. Santos assembled a group of 10 talented freshmen and sophomores who had an eagerness to participate. She also connected Earl with a local video production company, Moonbeam Studios LLC, to supply professional recording equipment. After several rehearsals, the student singers recorded “Let’s All Go to the Lunchroom!,” with verses focused on each of the food groups found in the MyPlate guidelines (“Delicious things to eat/The True Moo can’t be beat/It’s full of calcium, fat-free/Makes my bones healthy/So, let’s all go to the lunchroom….”). The song concludes with a verse about how healthy meals provide fuel for activity and achievement. Stars Are Born Next, Earl started thinking about the visuals. She planned three days of video recording with Moonbeam Studios visiting one of the district’s elementary schools. She selected the site because the school already had parental permissions for children to be filmed for various media purposes. Earl partnered with a music teacher to teach one of the 1st-grade classes the song. The kids were filmed filing out of their classroom, marching in time to the music and heading to the lunchroom. “They picked it up so quickly and were so enthusiastic!” Earl recounts. The children are seen passing through the serving line, selecting healthy options, drinking their milk and providing happy, smiling close-ups. Earl and the camera operators worked in a few staged shots to correspond with specific verses about milk, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and so on. Cafeteria signage and MyPlate graphics also were incorporated into the piece. Making It Studio-Perfect Once the school scenes were videotaped, it was time to go into the studio for close-up beauty shots of individual menu items. “I worked for a day preparing entrées with one of my staff members, and we transported the food down to the studio, where we did shots of food being put on and taken off the trays,” Earl recounts, explaining that it was easier to control the quality of the close-ups in the studio, rather than at the school. It was in the studio where Earl faced her “toughest” challenge: the voiceover. She understood how important it was for the narration to “draw them in.” And her voice on the video clearly is both warm and enthusiastic. Nonetheless, “On a personal level, it’s hard for me to hear my own voice!” she says, with a laugh. “Even now I’m a bit uncomfortable listening to it!” Next, Moonbeam Studios cut a version of the video for Earl and her staff to view. “We wanted the video not only to explain the components of lunch but also to help the youngest kids learn how to go through the lunch lines,” she explains. Janelle Brunswick, child nutrition assistant supervisor, was charged with ensuring the final cut followed the lunch process sequentially. Earl stands by the decision to use the services of a professional video production company to do the filming, audio recording and editing. It was essential, she says, to ensure a high-quality result. The editing process was particularly eye-opening, as she learned how precisely timed such a video needs to be to make certain that each image is in sync with the audio. “We had to get things down to the second,” Earl reports, noting that this process alone took about two weeks to complete. She estimates that the project cost $5,000, which included the development and production of the video; the entire process took about two months. But Earl remains confident that the video will pay for itself. “This video replaces the 1st-grade mailing we did every year, at an annual cost of $3,000 for printing and mailing, and it can be used again in future years,” she explains. Multiple Positive Outcomes Once the video was complete, Earl introduced it via an e-mail blast with a link to the video, which was distributed to all 1st- through 6th-grade families in the district. She followed up with presentations to parents at school open houses held in August, prior to the start of school. The video also has opened the door for discussions with registered dietitians and other child nutrition experts in her community. This, in turn, led to nutrition education sessions held at two schools, with more in the works. Earl also showed the video to classes on the first day of school, as part of an orientation process for the cafeteria. She intends to repeat this in the years to come. Other future plans? Earl says she would like to get more recognition for the talented students who recorded the audio track, and, at press time, she intended to present copies to her congressional representatives during SNA’s 41st annual Legislative Action Conference. “I want people to know how seriously we’re taking this!” she insists. When asked to look back and offer retrospective advice, Earl concedes that “the process was much harder than I thought it would be! It really took me out of my comfort zone.” One of the biggest challenges was script development: Getting everything she wanted to convey packed into less than three minutes. Other lessons learned can be found in the box on page 20. But among the most important positive takeaways? “There are resources within your district to make this happen,” Earl declares. “From the choir to the younger students… they were the keys to the success of the video!” Notes From the Set Mason City (Ohio) School District Child Nutrition Supervisor Tamara Earl, SNS, offers some suggestions from her experience producing a professional promotional video showcasing her school nutrition program. • If your district doesn’t have its own video production department, you will have to find an outside production company to make sure your video looks professional. But don’t overlook using homegrown talent to personalize your video! Music and drama teachers can be great resources for identifying talented students. • The process likely will take longer than you expect, especially if you need to use school buildings to shoot some of the scenes and need to accommodate the busy schedules of student performers. • Don’t be dismayed by production costs. Be sure to factor in possible offsets, such as printing/mailing costs that might be eliminated if you use the video to replace snail-mail distribution. • Edit, edit, edit! Your script will need to be brutally concise to get your point across quickly. Viewers’ attention spans are short, so your video must not seem to drag on, no matter how cute and clever it may be. • Ensure that music and graphics are in the public domain. If not, request permission to use, excerpt or adapt. You don’t want to run afoul of copyright restrictions. • Take photos of the rehearsals and behind the scenes of both the audio and video recording process. This gives you a great record of how you accomplished the production of the video—and might lend itself to additional promotional uses! Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md.
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