How to Create Successful Outreach and Increase the Impact
of Your Documentary Projects
(educational or activist) documentary projects and community
outreach are symbiotic: They need each other to succeed. A good
documentary can provide the visuals and the stories to inspire
viewers and raise awareness of the issues. The outreach provides
viewers the means by which they can take action in order to
create real impact on those issues. Following is an outline
to help you create a successful campaign.
First Things First: What is Community Outreach? A definition
Outreach is the variety of ways in which producers take the
issues presented in their documentaries out into the community
in an attempt to create greater impact around their issue(s).
B. Outreach is all about action.
It is education with a purpose - and that purpose is to create
action and impact through the use of a variety of outreach means
What are the Objectives of an Effective Outreach Campaign?
The primary objective of a community outreach campaign is to
educate people about the issues in your documentary and enable
people to take action around those issues.
B. Provide additional information
on the documentary's subject matter that couldn't be included
in the film, and also to reinforce the information that could.
C. Inspire viewers to take action
by speaking to them about the issues in way that is relevant
to them, their families (especially their children) and their
D. Enable viewers to take action
on your issue by providing them with a range of ways they can
get involved from the very easy (send an email to your congressman
at _____) to the more difficult (install solar panels for your
E. Allow viewers to seek out more
information on their own by leading them to additional resources,
books or organizations working on some aspect of your issue
- particularly in their area.
Where Does One Start When Creating Outreach Around a Documentary?
If you are not an expert on this issue (and most of us aren't)
- find the experts and invite them to participate in a
of issue oriented professionals creating outreach around your
documentary and their issue. (See
coalition building in chapter 6 of Making Television Matter)
B. Brainstorm with your crew and
make a list of like-minded organizations you might want to partner
with who are already working on some aspect of your issue. Start
calling them and they will recommend others. When the same names
keep coming up, you'll know you've found the right groups/people
to be on your coalition.
C. Make sure your list includes
groups that represent a number of diverse approaches to the
Is your film airing nationally, locally, at educational sites
or within activist organizations? When forming your coalition,
consider whether you are creating a national, local, educational
or activist outreach campaign and include those parties in your
E. If national, you need to keep
in mind that you want to create a national campaign model that
can be tailored to local audiences and issues. Choose national
partners (whenever possible) that have local offices in each
state. These can be private, public, government or educational
groups. Choosing at least one group that has an information
clearinghouse will be helpful as you disseminate information
(EPA and their environmental clearinghouse, for example).
F. Invite your coalition partners
to help provide the content and create the outreach elements
to be used in your national campaign. Let the members know that
this is their chance to speak to a large audience about their
issue. Ask them what they want to say and how they want to say
it. Then give them some freedom and a wide berth, as experts
in their fields, to decide on the outreach elements and also
help create the content for those elements. Let your coalition
help you figure out how best to use your documentary out in
the field. Let them help decide what sort of collateral elements
you should consider creating around your documentary (see Section
IV below) that would make it most useful to the groups and organizations
working on your issue.
G. First and foremost, you and
your coalition need to decide what outcome you want from your
campaign? What do you want people to do around this issue and
how do you want them to do it? Have the group come to some consensus
on the goals and objectives of the campaign, and than decide
how they can reach achieves those goals.
H. Remember, every good outreach
campaign needs a call-to-action. Your coalition should decide
what that call-to-action will be and the means by which that
call-to-action will be made to the public.
I. If you are creating a national
campaign, be sure, when raising funds that you include in your
budget mini grants to local stations or organizations so that
they can afford to create a local outreach campaign around your
documentary and issue (Use Foster Care Project as example).
J. If this is a local campaign,
ask your partners to help raise the funds to support the effort
while also making sure that any fundraising you do for the film,
includes fundraising for the outreach.
K. Keep in mind that your coalition
is going to be much more enthusiastic and supportive of any
outreach campaign that they have helped to create themselves.
Empower them with the opportunity to speak with a large audience
about their issue. Your role as producer is to support them
in their efforts and help facilitate their success. You are
helping them to create outreach items that they, with any luck,
will be able to use in their work for years to come. This will
increase the utility and life of your documentary, at the same
time creating impact on the issues you and the coalition will
Examples of Outreach Elements You Might Consider Using
At a minimum, create short informational tag at the
end of your documentary that drives viewers to a 1 800# or a
web site where they can get more information on the issues you've
raised. For example: For more information on controlling toxic
pollutants in your area call 1 800 ….or visit www.cleanwater.org
. You can either create your own web site around your documentary
(see below) or partner with another organization and use their
site instead (least expensive option). But make sure the information
(yours or others) has a list of additional resources and some
suggestions on how to take action around the issue at hand.
Use the opportunity to lead people to a course of action that
can positively impact your issue.
B. Create a documentary web site.
Promote in your doc. and on all outreach and promotional materials.
This web site would typically include information on the documentary,
where it is being shown and when, allow viewers to purchase
copies of the documentary - and also be used as an outreach
tool where viewers can find more information on the subject
at hand, link to organizations working on the issues, locate
a list of books or other resources, download copies of teachers'
guides, viewers' guides or any other print associated with the
documentary and outreach campaign that can be downloaded. If
you have a national air date, you also might consider linking
viewers through local stations with what is happening in their
state or local communities around that issue and include a list
of ways people can get involved - both large and small - in
making a difference around that issue. Check out Web sites listed
in Resource Section in item IV. for examples.
Create an educational print piece around the issue that can
be requested by calling the 1-800# or downloaded off your web
site. Print pieces could include an educational brochure, viewers
guide, teachers guide, poster, a list of resources, etc…Use
your coalition to decide which print piece(s) would be the most
useful, and then have them help create the content for the piece.
Choose your print well so you aren't destroying a lot of trees
for something that doesn't get much use. Be sure and use recycled
paper and soy-based inks in any print piece that involves an
environmental documentary, and also post the content on your
web site. Think through with your coalition, which type of print
would be the most useful in the field, have the longest shelf
life and create the most impact. Tie the print to the issue
rather than the documentary (though you can brand the film or
supporting station onto the print), which will ensure it's utility
after any single airdate or event around which it was created.
Make as many copies of your outreach elements and documentary
available free to the public as possible. Make this your legacy.
Free distribution of outreach materials and copies of your documentary
is fundable and will benefit you, your distributor, your coalition
and the issue. List your coalition members as supporters and
contributors on your print pieces. This not only is a benefit
to the members of your coalition, but also will give the piece
more credibility out in the public. (Show Choices & Changes
poster, Take a Step Guide, Foster Care Project brochure as example).
D. If you can't afford more elaborate
print, at the very least, work with your coalition to create
a one-page list of resources that viewers can use to find more
information on your issue. The one-pager could include a list
of books; videos, web sites and organizations working on the
issue at hand, plus a short list of ways viewers can take some
personal action around that issue. Post the one-pager on your
web site (if applicable), and distribute it with your documentary
(Show Morrie: Lessons on Living example).
E. Hold a prescreening event at
your sponsoring station where you invite key members of the
community to preview the documentary. Possible invitees may
include educators, government officials, environmental groups,
religious organizations and members of the community. Think
through with your coalition, all the groups and individuals
to invite to such an event. Provide some print pieces invitees
can take with them to show others. Ask them to help promote
the documentary to their constituencies. Provide a press release
they can easily incorporate into their own publications, on
their web sites or use through their own means of communicating
with their supporters. You could also partner with a stakeholder
on your issue to host a prescreening event. Make your outreach
materials available so that these groups can start putting them
to use in their work around your (and their) issue.
F. Have a panel discussion after
your prescreening event using a group of experts on the issue
- some of whom will likely be members of your coalition.
G. Create a short overview of the
documentary (8-20 minutes long) that focuses on the issues and
includes a strong call-to-action message. The purpose of such
mini docs. is for use as an outreach tool by groups working
on that particular issue. As mentioned above, get a grant to
provide copies of this outreach doc. for free or make it available
on your web site for a nominal fee. These call-to-action mini
docs. are highly valued by activist and educational organizations
to provide important visuals at their own events. You can mention
the documentary and your web site - but tie the mini mainly
to the issue, which will help guarantee it a long life out in
the community well after your documentary has aired.
H. Create short on-air educational
spots that are, once again, tied to the issue rather than the
documentary. The spots can have a common look or logo that ties
them to the outreach campaign, but their purpose is to educate
viewers and create a call-to-action that can be used as possible
PSA's well after the documentary has aired. Make sure your documentary
promos have the same look and feel as the outreach pieces so
that they are all tied to the same campaign.
I. If your documentary is going
on-air, consider setting up a phone bank of volunteers or experts
on that issue that are available to take viewers calls. That
number can be scrolled at the bottom of the documentary. This
works easier as a local outreach event rather than a national
- but it could work for a national event as well.
J. Produce and air a local follow-up
program around a national documentary that speaks to your community's
specific issues and concerns. Airing this in tandem with a phone
bank of local experts and 1 800# where people can call to get
their questions answered or be sent more resources, is even
K. Advertise your documentary production
and outreach package in trade magazines or publications read
by your target audience (educators, activists, parents, etc…).
Give away what you can for free and make the rest available
for a nominal fee. Think through with your coalition how best
you could get your work into the hands of those that would use
it - then write a grant to support that distribution.
Measuring Your Success: The Hows and Whys
Funders will want to know how you plan to measure the effectiveness
of your efforts, so, at the beginning of any project, you should
ask yourself, "What is the outcome I expect from my efforts
and how can I measure that?"
B. Your measurements should include
both quantitative and qualitative information - the former being
much easier than the latter.
C. On the quantitative side, you
can measure the ratings you received in each area the documentary
aired, you can count the number of hits to your web site, number
of calls to your 1-800#. the number of viewers guides or videos
you distributed, mini grants you gave out, number of public
presentations or prescreening events given, you can track the
publicity the documentary or outreach effort received in earned
media (radio or print interviews of either the producer or a
coalition member, issue articles in various publications where
you or your coalition are mentioned, etc..).
D. Qualitative is more difficult.
Some ideas are to include a post card that viewers can fill
out and return that include questions on how or if their perceptions
of the issue were at all changed by your efforts and what, if
anything, they would consider doing about it (give them a list
of options). Ask attendees at any events you hold to complete
a survey measuring the same things. Include an interactive survey
web site, if possible where you take viewers input.
E. One of the best ways to
show that you have actually impacted your issue is to have some
sort of before and after campaign indicator
that you can measure showing behavioral change. Having a coalition
partner that collects that sort of
data would be ideal - for example, if you're doing a documentary
on pesticides in food, I would recommend partnering with a health
food chain or local health food stores to see if they show any
increase in sale of organic produce after your documentary and
campaign has aired. If your documentary is on toxics in the
air, can you partner with someone who can measure that for you
at certain intervals. If you want people to use public transportation
more, can you partner with the local bus service to measure
ridership before and after your campaign. Taking pre and post
public awareness polls is also good, but expensive if hired
Community Outreach: Why Should You Care?
Simple: Funders love outreach. They want to know that their
dollars spent on your project are going to create impact - and
the best way to create impact is to have an effective outreach
campaign around your documentary project that can lead people
to action. Funders I've spoken to want to see at least a one
to one ratio of money spent on the documentary and money spent
on the outreach campaign, ergo, I would highly recommend that
your outreach proposal be half of your fundraising grant.
B. If you are going to go to the
time and trouble to create an inspirational documentary, why
not go the extra step to insure that it has a longer life and
greater impact? A simple outreach campaign that provides viewers
with some direction for the inspiration and desire to act you
have generated, will increase the utility of your work to the
community you are speaking to, and the impact of your work on
the issue being addressed.
C. In the absence of even a simple
outreach campaign that can help lead people to information and
a course of action, producers inadvertently engage in what I
refer to as the "dump & run" phenomenon, whereby all they've
really done is dump a load of bad news on viewers and kept them
wondering what to do about it and how to clean up the mess.
Don't waste an opportunity to create real impact on your issue
by failing to create outreach around it. When you think, "activist
documentary," think, "outreach and impact."
Resources Helpful Web sites when creating a campaign
(KLB's article on forming successful outreach coalitions is
on pg. 50, chapter 6)
(Cost: $125.00 to access entire outreach toolkit online) - Excellent
(Great suggestions for producers and non profits on how to engage
(Independent Television Services with producer resources, program
descriptions and web site/outreach links)
(How to design and fund and effective communications strategy)
(Using PR and media strategies ("earned media") in your campaign)
("Now Hear This" - Tools, tactics and opportunities for changing
hearts and minds). Examples of Outreach Campaigns:
(Web site for the PBS National Center for Outreach and a list
of the PBS primetime documentary line-up through winter of 2003.
Includes description of docs., suggested station outreach and
available outreach materials plus web sites. Created for PBS
station outreach staff).
(links to web sites of POV documentaries and their outreach
(Good web site design and materials)
(Excellent outreach web site for inspiring action)
(Web site for Escape From Affluenza - Follow up to Affluenza)
(Effective, high voltage web site of a Bill Moyers documentary,
(Very good example of broad-based, web site resource list with