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TTOs add online video to their marketing mix

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While videos have long been used as marketing vehicles by a number of industries, they have only begun to take hold in tech transfer, despite the fact that video just may be the best and most compelling way to illustrate an invention’s potential. Recognizing that potential, some leading TTOs are now experimenting with video marketing. While some offices are using the approach to promote several aspects of their services and accomplishments, others have chosen one area in which to focus, with plans to expand in the near future.

For example, Columbia Technology Ventures recently began posting on its website a series of short video interviews with VCs, entrepreneurs, and inventors as its initial foray into this area, along with recordings of events and lectures. At Emory University, videos are also produced for educational events, but on the marketing side they include programs such as a “breakfast club,” where local entrepreneurs and VCs come in twice a year and hear technology pitches; five-minute videos about the TTO itself; featured innovations presented each month on the web page; and most recently, “human interest” videos that illustrate the real-world impact of university technologies. Likewise, the University of Limerick in Ireland produces videos about its technologies, its research centers, and also works closely with funding institutions to create case studies to promote their commercialization programs.

At Columbia, where the video endeavor is still considered “experimental,” marketing & communications manager Margy Elliott explains the rationale for its initial approach. “Most TTOs get lots of interested people coming through their doors all the time, and this is a real low-touch effort,” she observes. “If you have enough advanced notice you can host a live video or create a short with them right in the office after a more formal meeting. It’s an easy solution for sharing the wealth of what comes into the office.”

“Smartphones are more prevalent now than newspapers, and meetings are more random than showing a two-minute clip on someone’s phone,” adds Dr. Seamus Browne, technology transfer officer at the University of Limerick in Ireland. “And we post them on our website to present our brand.”

“This is at least our third year” using video marketing, notes Linda Kesselring, the TTO operations director at Emory. “Part of it is just a sign of the times; it’s user friendly. And for some technologies, particularly the medical devices, a picture is worth so much more; it’s just more challenging to describe a technology in words.”

“We do have some inventors who are good in front of the camera and can deliver a message with passion that may not come through in words,” adds Emory licensing associate Cliff Michaels. “It’s just a nice two- to three-minute minute clip so people can [understand] how the thing works and the idea behind it.”

Diverse production approaches

Just as the universities employ video for different marketing goals, they have also selected a variety of methods for producing their videos. For example, although Columbia is just in the early stages of video production, they have chosen to set up an in-house video studio, says Orin Herskowitz, executive director and vice president of intellectual property and technology transfer. ”It is worth noting, however, that every time we do shoot a video an outside professional needs to do a bit of post-production.”

“We decided to go this route because videography can be very expensive, and renting equipment on a routine basis adds up,” explains Elliott, who says the university invested $4,000 in video equipment, lighting and furniture, based on recommendations from a professional videographer who has worked with them in the past.

The professional videographer is still being used for post-production, as Herskowitz indicated, but Elliott says “we hope to have a student ready to start in the fall” to take over the post-production work. The short videos, she notes, cost “a couple of hundred dollars.”

“The premise of this is that we’re building on things that are already being done; we did not go out and say ‘Let’s spend a half a million dollars on a new video strategy,’” Herskowitz adds. “We already have all these great people around — world famous VCs and entrepreneurs who come through the campus and in some cases already host big events for students. If we can make this available for those who are not on campus, so much the better.”

“I’d say that 80% of the video production we do is done with students,” says Emory’s Kesselring, who notes that these are students involved in film study, which makes things “very economical.” In addition, she notes, these are usually older undergrads – juniors or seniors. “For the technology videos they go out to the interviews without us; we just give them information on the technology and some questions to ask,” she notes.

“We also prepare them through conversations with the case manager and marketing associate,” adds Michaels. “They tell [the students] how they would describe the technology in laymen’s terms.”

After the video is shot, says Kesselring, her team reviews the video with the student and makes editing recommendations. “We go through maybe three or four iterations before we have the finished product,” she observes.

Kesselring says that Emory, like Columbia, relied on equipment recommendations from video professionals, who still do 20% of the work. “We spent maybe $1,000 to $1,500 on a good camera, a boom mic, wireless mics, a tripod, two additional lights and a backdrop,” she reports. The professionals are saved “for things we really want to be top-notch, like about one of our programs or the office in general.” Kesselring says those more polished projects cost between $3,000 and $5,000, and the office produces three or four of these each year.

But Browne says the U Limerick office still uses only professional videographers, tapping a local firm that’s already being used for “a lot of technology promotion for satellite sites of multi-national organizations to help them win new business,” he notes. “They’re very good at doing what could be a time consuming, awkward task and making it quite easy and painless.” While he declines to cite specific costs, Browne asserts that the video-related expenses are “certainly reasonable.”

Learning as they go

Kesselring notes that producing videos in-house is an educational experience. “Once you start you get more ideas,” she says. “You have this research created and other ideas come to you and you build upon it yourself. Each time we do it we get better; you just have to dive in and get going.” The first couple of videos, she concedes, were “not so hot,” but the students got better each time.

“We had one student with us who reached the point where they could just go out and do it, but they graduated,” she continues. “It does take some experience; you learn some things along the way about equipment and inventors.”

With three years’ experience, her team has learned a number of lessons about what works and what doesn’t. “With students, you can’t be afraid to ask them to be less technical or repeat themselves to you; if you do not understand them no one else will,” she advises. “I try to tell them that the invention is this person’s life work, they are passionate about it, and they will give you more than you need. I also caution them to not get caught up in the moment — notice loud noises that are going on in the background, for example — and make sure you take pictures of the device without the person and feature it prominently in the video.”

In order to be considerate of the inventor’s time and to avoid having to arrange for a second interview, Kesselring explains, she has prepared a little checklist to make sure the student gets certain shots. (See checklist below.)

“It’s very helpful when you send the video person out to let them know what the key message, or sales pitch, is for the technology,” adds Michaels. “It’s a blank for doing blank, or whatever key bullets you would like to have because they may have only one day.” (Emory has also posted a series of blogs on the making of video technology briefs:

Part 1: click here

Part 2: click here

Part 3: click here

Browne agrees. “It’s about preparation first of all,” he says. “We have a form and we get the academic to fill it out for the external contractor.” The form, he explains, focuses in on major messages like the five key attributes of the technologies, and five key visual cues that should be used to elaborate the message.

“Make it be natural,” he continues. “When you’re shooting, you may shoot two hours’ content for a two-minute video; when the person is talking you do not want them reading from a script — you want them to come across as confident, passionate, and credible.”

In addition, he says, you must determine who the audience is, how you want to publish the video, and how advanced the technology is. “If the technology is not patented you may not want to publish a video. But you may want to have a video clip on a ‘restricted viewing channel’ if you meet certain people,” he notes. He also recommends keeping the video to three minutes max. “Animation is a bit more challenging and expensive,” he adds, “but it certainly helps.”

“I had the image that [the videos] would be truly free-flowing conversation — that you would just start chatting,” says Herskowitz. “But I’ve found it is vastly better to have a superset of questions that are open ended enough to allow for real conversation but concrete enough that the interviewee can read them in advance and can give you some guidance as to what they feel more comfortable talking about. I have an interview guide of 40 to 50 possible subjects to share with them and I allow them to cross out anything they do not want to talk about. This helps you avoid those awkward dead-ends.”

Results hard to track

While all of these universities are sold on the benefits of the videos, demonstrating concrete results is a little more difficult. “Essentially we see them as giving a return on investment, but it’s difficult to sometimes track,” says Browne. “In terms of tracking successful commercialization deals, that tends to be relatively infrequent; we do not see them as a huge draw for business.”

Where they are really useful, however, “is when you get into a conversation and then review the video clip,” he continues. “There is real value when somebody is able to tell you ‘Yes, this is something we’re interested in hearing more about,’ or even ‘It’s not what we want.’ It helps you deliver relevant information in a concise manner and allows the recipient to make a judgment.”

“As a licensing guy, I can’t say [the videos] have driven a license,” says Michaels, but Kesselring adds, “I’m not sure that’s the number one reason for doing them. They show us as being current; using videos for social media is a bit progressive, and we try to use all of the tools available to us.”

In addition, she notes, the university’s central communications office has limited resources, and “they love to partner with us to have additional things in their arsenal; it becomes collaborative.”

For Emory, the social media results have been excellent, notes Michaels, “We generally have between 300 and 1,200 hits on YouTube, and that’s a lot of eyeballs on Emory technology. We are generally known for therapeutic technology and not necessarily medical devices or software, so part of their use is to build our brand and gain recognition that Emory is a place to come look for medical devices and software.”

Michaels adds that a couple of the videos have gotten picked up by third-party website blogs, and “we consider that a win. [For example], a medical device blog has picked up two or three, and that’s awesome.”

Finally, he notes, the videos go a long way towards enhancing faculty relationships. “If I could do one for every technology I have, I would. Inventors know it takes a lot of effort, they get it, and they are as proud as we are and want to share it themselves,” he declares.

“Engaging different parties through social media through these videos helps us increase exposure,” adds Elliott. “For example, one of the entrepreneurs we videoed saw we posted it on Twitter and mentioned him, and he shared it with his network.”

Elliott says the videos have been posted on Columbia’s YouTube channel and on its Vimeo channel. “We can track results through analytics and we are happy so far,” she says. “We’ve also gotten feedback from people we shop to via Twitter and other social media.” Interestingly, she adds, she has actually found some of the longer educational videos have gained more interest than the short ones. “Having an audience and a more natural event setting does make a difference,” Elliott asserts.

Why does video help make an impact on your web marketing? “It’s another tool to drive traffic, provide further exposure of our brand and further cement us as experts in the field,” Elliott says. “Orin has mentioned that if someone Googles one of the top VCs and the video comes up early in their search, it’s a big advantage to have a connection to them.”

That’s just one reason why this “experiment” will be expanded at Columbia next year. “I think we can share these in a in a lot of different ways and places,” Elliott says.

Contact Browne at seamus.browne@ul.ie; Elliott at techventures@columbia.edu; Herskowitz at 212-854-1242 or Orin.Herskowitz@columbia.edu; Kesselring at 404-727-3857 or lkessel@emory.edu; and Michaels at 404-727-3890 or ccmicha@emory.edu.

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