If you know the answer to some or all of those questions, you've witnessed Web 2.0 viral marketing at work, and seen evidence of the power of video to get a message across. Although the first announcement of the In[Focus] event happened in March, with a video clip of event co-organizer Julian St. Pierre walking around New Orleans and talking somewhat obliquely about the type of educational experience he and his cohorts were planning--a "midsized event" with 13 speakers promising "progressive education for videographers"--promotion for the event in the intervening two months has been restricted to posted videos and the occasional reference on Facebook and in forums. The article you're reading now is the closest thing to print coverage the event has gotten, and that's exactly how they wanted it.
Part of this gradual-launch approach was practicality. In[Focus]'s three founding studios--St. Pierre's and Terry and Joe Taravella's Studio Vieux Carre, Chris P. Jones' Mason Jar Films, and Don Pham's Don Pham Films--are all former members of the Re:Frame Collective, having left the Collective last winter. In deference to Re:Frame 09, which took place in Austin in late April, the In[Focus] organizers withheld date-and-location specifics about their event until after Re:Frame 09 was over in order to eliminate any brand confusion.
But the other reason In[Focus]'s organizers have used viral video to build buzz about their event--while preserving a bit of mystery about the details--is because video is what they and their presenters do best, and because its power to communicate and captivate arguably trumps the alternatives. (And if you don't believe that, you're either in the wrong business, or just not doing it right.)
As a result I feel like I'm bringing up the rear here in covering an event that's so effectively exploited the most versatile communication media that our technology-driven, world-is-flat 21st-century planet has to offer. If you've had your ear to the ground or your eyes on Vimeo or Facebook you should already know at least a little about this event, and have caught the buzz the In[Focus] gang has generated through their initial viral launch effort. The approach has been simple: Introduce the 13 speakers one by one through short clips posted online. But the twist they added was ingenious: Have each speaker introduce one other speaker, with lots of creative latitude given in how they go about it. Below is the first clip they posted, StillMotion's Michael Y. Wong--as Sacha Baron Cohen's iconic Borat--introducing Steve and Laura Moses of Vantage Point Custom Films and Ray Roman of Ray Roman Films:
in[focus] // stillmotion edition from IN[FOCUS] on Vimeo.
Of course, it's all been mostly teaser stuff so far--telling you more about who's speaking than what they'll be speaking about or where or when they'll be doing so--and part of the strategy has been to leave some questions unanswered to keep the audience coming back for more. May 13 brought the official announcement of dates and location--January 18-20, 2010 in Austin, Texas-and the opening of registration on www.infocusvideoevent.com.
But what exactly is In[Focus]? Designed as a "progressive education" strategy by Pham, Jones, and the Taravella/St. Pierre team, In[Focus] is, first and foremost, a two-and-a-half day, midsized (300-attendee) educational event that will take place in the Doubletree Hotel in Austin, Texas on January 18-20, 2010. The event will feature 13 speakers, 10 of whom (as the organizers have consistently promoted them) are EventDV 25 honorees: Terry and Joe Taravella; Chris P. Jones; Steve and Laura Moses; Patrick Moreau, Michael Wong, and Konrad Cysztowski of StillMotion; Jeff and Andee Wright of Blue Skies Cinema; Mark and Trisha Von Lanken of Von Wedding Films; Joe Simon of Joe Simon Productions; Ray Roman Ray Roman Films; David Perry of David Perry Films; Ron and Tasra Dawson of Dare Dreamer Media; William Gaff of Humanstory, Joshua Smith of Cinematic Bride; and Loyd Calomay of Red 5 Studios.
CHRIS JONES | JOE TARAVELLA from IN[FOCUS] on Vimeo.
But there's more to In[Focus] than the event and speaker roster; the "progressive education" experience also includes a team of bloggers designed to help videographers "stay in[focus]" throughout the year. The In[Focus] "blog all-star team" brings 10 additional educators into the mix with tips on marketing, production, business management, and more (http://www.infocusvideoevent.com/blog/).
To give some perspective on where In[Focus] fits alongside WEVA Expo, St. Pierre says, "There's a company here in New Orleans that has businesses on both sides of the river, and they say they 'bridge the gap' between the east bank and the west bank. That's how I think of In[Focus]: We're bridging the gap between major summer WEVA conventions" by holding the event in January. In[Focus] will also bridge the gap, he says, between proven and established videographers and videography styles and the more "progressive" elements now emerging in the industry. "Our attendees will get exposure to both sides," he adds.
"This will be a different type of educational experience" from the traditional three-track conference, says In[Focus] co-founder Chris P. Jones. "It's not an all-you-can-eat buffet but a 13-course meal. Attendees will be able to compare notes with other attendees on any seminar because everyone is getting the same program and style of education." The event itself is priced at $595, and the hotel rooms at the Doubletree will go for $109.
The other aspect of In[Focus] that St. Pierre emphasizes is that it will be an "education-intensive" event, with emphasis on sessions and breakout groups. A key part of the event will be the "Focus Group" room, in which attendees will have more direct and personal access to speakers than in the sessions. There will always be speakers in the Focus Group room, Jones says, along with other members of the "educational team," which will include bloggers, as well as other industry experts who have been invited (and comp'd) to the conference specifically to play an educational role.
The multipart educational team (speakers/bloggers/invited industry experts) serves multiple purposes within the "In[Focus]" vision, according to Jones, both in terms of educating attendees and inbringing new voices to the forefront of the industry--especially on the blog. "Our plan is to bring people into our educational system. Bloggers want to lead PVAs, write for EventDV, and launch podcasts, and they need a place to start," Jones explains. "Having a blog where these people can share their ideas is a simple way to get their teeth cut and get some brand recognition for their own businesses."
The other advantage of bringing in these newer voices is to strike a balance between those who established their businesses several years ago and can reflect on sustained success, and those who achieved their initial success more recently in the market we're operating in today. "So many of us who have survived for a number of years look back on our journey and marvel that we did survive," Jones says. "Lots of studios that are removed from the travails of the infancy of a business" are arguably not as close to that experience as those who have only recently put their businesses on solid footing. That's why, Jones says, In[Focus] is eager to "allow people near the start of the journey" to have a platform in the videographer education scene. "We want to give those people younger in their businesses the opportunity to begin their educational aspirations by writing on our blog and being part of the educational lineup," even if they aren't in one of the limited number of presentation spots.
As for the dymanic between the In[Focus] organizers and the bloggers, Jones says, "We've given them pretty clear instructions," but also kept things flexible, approving (or rejecting, though that hasn't happened yet) topics based on submitted subject lines. Mostly, Jones has simply encouraged bloggers to "share what they know the best."
The approach to the speaker intro clips has been similar. "We started with StillMotion because we knew they'd set the bar high, catch people's attention, and have a viral feel, something people would talk about and remember. We encouraged people to inject humor and [create something that was] indicative of the personality if the studios. We do have a diverse lineup, so if you don't like Borat, you might prefer Steve and Laura Moses's style." The expectation, Jones says, is that each clip with its different approach will "appeal to the audience that fits into that style."
IN[FOCUS] - Wedding Video Workshops from IN[FOCUS] on Vimeo.
Admittedly, the focus of In[Focus]'s promotional efforts so far has been what presenters Ron and Tasra Dawson like to call "the branding experience"; it's been very much about the speakers' reputations and the creative vibe they convey (much of which has come through in the intro clips), rather than describing specific educational content that the event will offer. "We'll have a schedule up and topics listed well before the event happens," Jones says.
But he's also quick to point out that in some respects the event might be ill-served by setting too much in stone too soon. "Because technology changes so fast and our speakers are on the cutting edge," he says, "it's only natural that what they're going to do might not be set eight months in advance." In the meantime, he says, attendees and others curious about In[Focus] and what it can do for them can expect plenty of action on the In[Focus] blogs and everywhere else viral videos tend to show up: "We realize the value in retaining traffic so we want to take every advantage of the medium we all use."
Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV and program director of EventDV-TV.