My adventures in UGC were positive overall and I would do it again in a heartbeat, for the right brand. I was part of the Converse team that launched the brand democracy project 100 years ago at BSSP. It was a 365/24/7 gig for me as I made myself available to all the people submitting films across multiple time zones, as well as to the ambassadors championing the campaign and of course to the agency creatives who worked thes asses off. We were all inventing it as we went, we relied on data, unorthodox branding techniques and our guts. I used parts of my brain and parts of my heart that I normally keep away from agency work. In that sense it was wonderful and liberating to bring my whole person to work. I was able to relax with these guys, they were the real deal and creative beyond the usual agency cliches, less ego, less politics and way more fun.
The greatest set of challenges and some insights:
1) Finding the best method for managing the high volume of media internally and externally.
2) Ministering to the practical needs of the over 1800 filmmakers often tailoring the advice based on their actual skills, and
3) Working hard to master the delicate balance between sticking to the brief and staying open for really great departures from the brief that you know your creative team will get behind and defend.
4) Coming up with a contract that could be internationalized and easily understood, paying special attention to the Eurozone and other international trade agreements. David Macintosh in Boston is a brilliant lawyer and was super patient with our careful approach, also I redlined several drafts along with Greg Ritchie, our COO prior to revisions with David.
5) Staying awake for that 2:30AM call from South Africa and showing up to work for an 8AM meeting, and doing it all over again the next day, and the next day. Green Tea is partly responsible for keeping me awake.
6) I even flew to the Venice Film Festival to promote the project. I figured that since I was going there with another project, I might as well give the Converse Gallery Project a piggyback ride. Its all about connecting people to projects and letting them bloom. On schlepping to Venice, It. on my own nickel to promote the project and using vacation time to do it...probably would not do that again, though it did bring us my favorite short, Pantsula-by Carey Lagoe and a few memorable others. : )
7) Offering filmmakers exposure is not enough, you have to back that up with money and-or incentives that are meaningful to the filmmakers. We offered money, exposure, practical support, mentoring and legitimacy.
8) You can guide, but you cannot direct directors, even when they want you to, especially when they want you to! Directors need to make choices that are authentic to them and to their vision. They will live with those choices long after the spot airs, please give them enough room to find their own way. Respect.
At the end, we had some amazing, broadcast worthy shorts to chose from (at least 400 by my count) and some of the best ones were simply too far off brief to air, or too wild for the US TV market. We also tripled sales for Converse in the first three quarters that the campaign ran, reinvigorated the brand and cleaned up on awards for the agency creatives, setting a high bar for integrated campaigns.
Presenting contributors with a very clear brief is key. You'll need a strong set of agency producers who also really know the full cycle of production is essential to making the best of an unpredictable and organic process. I also think that you have to have the trust of a client that is comfortable with risk and willing to be patient and adaptable. We had the good fortune of having John Hess and Eric Sodestrom on the Converse side and a creative and devoted account planning and management team on the BSSP side.
The most important thing was to treat every person who was making a film equally and with respect, they are volunteering to make your agency a spec spot. Our responsibility as producers is to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone involved. On projects like these you get to give back, you get to be a teacher and a mentor. Also, think about how far 10,000usd will go in another country with a favorable exchange rate. Imagine that, you could be buying someone enough time to work on their passion project, just by awarding them $10K you could be helping them launch their careers.
Word of Mouth. It was just "us" getting the word out. I did my best to leverage my network and the BSSP network, it was a huge agency effort, everyone contributed. I relied mainly on email, smile and dial, postings on groups, connecting with my film community, and my creative community. Basically, the same methods I used when I was helping the folks at iFilm.net prior to launching in 1999, only Converse was actually paying people and online video was not such a hard sell in 2004-2006.*(more on iFilm and adventures in online video below)
For the Converse project, we also posted magazine ads, handed out flyers at creative events, and sponsored screenings. I was lucky enough to be able to seed the process early on with about 180 really talented people whom I reached out to personally in the first round, and then the campaign built from there. As soon as the spots were broadcast the spots did more outreach than we ever could.
While Idealists and Tongle are great resources, I've not seen extraordinary work come out of those places, yet. Without an agency managing the briefing and branding process things can get muddy, how these participants are briefed and managed makes a huge difference in the overall experience and ultimately it shows in the results.
*With iFilm I had to meet with everyone of the filmmakers personally, demo the site and walk them through the process and ensuring that piracy and theft would not occur. Luckily people believed in the project and contributed 150 films or so, by their August launch there were 450 film on the site, at the time that was considered quite a coup.
In my other life I'm an independent filmmaker and I was one of the first producers to exhibit a narrative lesbian film (PG rated) online through Atom Films, thanks in part to our visionary theatrical distributor Megan O'Neill (Forefront Films) who brokered the deal in late 1998. We were not as worried about piracy, but we had concerns about privacy and safety, being online, LGBT and positive about it was not nearly as safe as it is now.