On the fifth floor of a converted industrial building along Northwest Naito Parkway, there's a little TV studio that is helping redefine the nature of video.
With a close-up view of the red Broadway Bridge from one window and a vista up the Willamette River as far as Daimler America's new glassy tower, the studio at Brand Definition would not have existed five years ago. With three cameras, some LED lights and a portable mixing board or switcher, staff can produce a show on the fly — so long as everyone has done their homework and knows how to do post production.
"Ten years ago this studio would have cost a million dollars; five years ago, half a million, now, probably $100,000," declares Daniel O'Connell, managing director of Brand Definition, a communications agency that deals mainly with the consumer electronics industry. As a side project, Brand Definition launched Output PDX, an irregular video show that taps the mind of interesting Portlanders in the fields of technology, entertainment and creativity. That side project is blowing up.
Of the 35 episodes that have been shot, recent ones have featured Jennifer Davis, CMO of Planar Systems; Chris Murphy, director of brand communications and digital marketing at Adidas; and Paul Reynolds of Torch.
The cameras are trained on a plain table at which guests converse with real time Portland going on in the background. O'Donnell preaches video literacy for the eight staff in Portland and the nine in their other office in Chelsea, New York. Everybody is supposed to be able to set up the cameras and microphones and start rolling. He admits though that it takes journalistic skills to create usable, storytelling footage.
"I think Melvyn Bragg's podcast In Our Time is brilliant, just brilliant, and the reason he's so good is he gets out of the way and lets them tell the story. When the cameras roll I go to the other side of the building," he says with a grin. "It's in your veins when you're a marketing guy, you want to dictate the message. I have to get out of the way."
O'Donnell, his director of digital media Chris Hertzog and account coordinator Deej Savage, have two main reasons for recording, editing and distributing Output PDX. (It doesn't bring in income, but it doesn't have much overhead either.)
One is to market the agency itself. The second is to make video a reflex because that's the direction the Internet is going.
On the first point, OutputPDX is a networking tool, a video calling card.
"We'd been in Portland for years (since 2011) and weren't really integrated into the community," says Hertzog. "We view Output as a way to meet local people in the tech scene."
Making the show has become a way of tapping into the Portland creative spirit. They have met videographers, writers, designers and other brand-focused workers to collaborate with on their bread and butter work, which is getting the message across for companies such as JVC USA, Hitachi and SunbriteTV.
Brand Definition was founded in New York but O'Connell — with the encouragement of his wife who is from Corvallis and wanted to live in Oregon again — set up the Portland office, thinking he wouldn't stay long. He says he has found the quality of the audio visual talent here way above average. Portland's intimate nature helps.
"You couldn't do this in New York, a show about technology, entertainment and creativity, it'd be a cluster. New York is so broad."
They are working on a New York interview show called Parker, after the great wit Dorothy Parker, featuring women in technology. The style is conversational. O'Connell is a native of Cork, Ireland and his accent is fully intact. He has the gift of the gab but he avoids the stage, preferring telegenic hired hands.
"The Portland attitude makes it: we're different and we're proud to be different," says O'Connell. "Part of it is our willingness to help one another, that's unique to Portland. We do a lot of work in New York and Los Angeles, and I haven't seen that (level of cooperation) anywhere else in North America."
Brand Definition is also starting a show about craft brewing later in May called Beer Buzz. They were going to use a green screen — the switcher software has all sorts of virtual studio tricks that can make guests look like they are on a boat, or anywhere. But O'Connell bought a wooden bar to wheel in for shows, which will consist of pouring pints and talking. Again it's an attempt to turn local talent into content.
The electronics can also patch in Skype calls, which were once unreliable but are now a broadcast staple. Microsoft, which owns Skype, has its name on a Newtalk Talkshow box which allows real-time mixing of Skype interviews.
This reminds O'Connell of a recent near miss with viral video. His team loved the clip of Professor Robert Kelly in Seoul being interrupted by his toddlers in the middle of a live home office Skype interview with the BBC.
"We saw an opportunity to capitalize on it," he says, getting excited at the memory. "We had a client whose product was related, we said 'We can insert them into the story..." They were about to hijack the global meme with a parody video. But logistically couldn't pull it together: the people they needed were all travelling or in meetings. The idea had a short shelf life: after three days, the joke was past its sell by date and they abandoned the plan.
"It was dynamite and would have been talked about for 18 months," he says shaking his head.
On the second point, welcome to the world where instruction manuals, company reports, dinner recipes, political protest, vacation postcards and so on, all have switched from the written form to audio visual.
Being quick to video is crucial to the Brand Definition worldview. O'Connell says they normally produce a report for clients containing bits of PR and news, but the chances are such reports go straight in the recycling unread. Now they have started doing three-minute videos, presented by an actor, shot in the little studio. "We went to the talent agency and got a girl to hop in front of the camera...Suddenly we got all this (trade) press, an award, all for a three minute monthly report. It's because it reflects the organization (the client), people are paying attention."
Output PDX goes fully mobile, too. At the recent TechFest Northwest conference Hertzog and Savage set up the gear in a corner at a table with two cameras and the Trackmaster for brief interviews with people from tech firms. They did the same thing the next day but just using a phone on a tripod, a second camera and a handheld microphone. Both times they sent the video straight to Facebook Live.
"It used to be you'd look on Facebook and a link would take you to YouTube to watch a video," says O'Connell. "And before that you'd send them to your website. But now the whole idea is to publish direct to social. Now your channel is social media."
"And they make it worth your while, Facebook," adds Hetzog. "You get better search results on Facebook."
When O'Connell and Savage are trying to find a particular clip of Output PDX, she searches Twitter first.
SaaS on steroids
This fast-moving game of chasing Facebook and Google's ever-changing algorithms ties into Brand Definition's primary purpose: helping companies sell things.
O'Connell gets animated as he whiteboards his current strategy, which can be summed up as 'We get them to the funnel.' As in, we get customers to the point where they can make a purchase, usually online.
They're often using ActiveCampaign, which is integrated email marketing, marketing automation and small business customer relationship management (CRM). "ActiveCampaign is SaaS (software as a service, a subscription) but it's SaaS on steroids, it's democratized SaaS," says O'Connell. "A few years ago that sort of thing would cost $50,000." Now it starts at $17 a month.
He looks at ESPN as an example of how creating content has exploded. From just shooting the football game, to the pre-match shows, to filming the players arriving at the stadium, to the swarm of snippets, clips, gifs and memes that are released to social media during the week, it's all content and it's all designed to hook you in.
"They want to suck it all in to their workflow so you have multi-tentacled media production. That's the content economy." Sports, he says for example, used to be all about branding — slap your logo up and hope it sticks — now it is moving toward direct response: people spontaneously buying things with their phones.
He calls marketing clouds run by Microsoft, Intel and particularly Adobe (the same people who brought you Photoshop) integral to the content economy. They are not so much ground zero as the mushroom cloud.
"Adobe wants to plug into that intelligence, where marketers are working out with precision where the content is going who's consuming it," he says about opt-in privacy policies.
"And now people are trying to link that intelligence with their ERP (Enterprise Resource Panning) systems. Now you've got your intelligence from the market and from the community, and you connect it to your inventory...Then you have the true prize, directly connecting supply and demand."
Where: 1200 NW Naito Parkway, Suite 520, Portland
Output PDX video series
Stream to Facebook with Canon XA20
Using an iPhone6