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Think Like A Showrunner: Week 1

What can the social good space learn from television shows?

We’re currently living in a golden age of television, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a passionate filmmaker. According to a 2017 Nielsen rating, the average American household spends roughly eight hours a day watching television. That’s eight hours of rooting for heroes (#TeamArya), fearing villains (#TeamVillanelle), and laughing at sitcom antics (#TeamSheldon). More importantly, that’s eight hours of content flowing through our systems every single day.

The teams that create our favorite shows are called showrunners. Showrunners know how to attract an audience and keep them wanting more. As players in the social good arena, we should all take some cues from them! Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at the different factors that make a TV show (and a social good organization) a hit. Let’s kick off this series by discussing brand: the distinctive identity that leaves an impression on an audience.

What’s in a Brand?
The most successful shows understand each element of their brand. Brand is like a puzzle—if one piece is off, the rest falls apart. For a social good organization, the pieces of a brand reflect your mission, your vision, and your impact. When the pieces fit correctly, your supporters are like loyal fans watching a show and sharing the love with their friends.

Let’s look at the main puzzle pieces of a brand—the four P’s: Pitch, Perception, Protection, and Presentation.

The Pitch
You’ve only got a brief window of opportunity to make your elevator pitch and get a potential donor’s attention. The pitch answers a deceptively simple question: What does your organization do?

As showrunners know, the answer can make or break your chance for engagement. For example, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan originally pitched the show as “a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips to Scarface.” It was too generic to make an impression, and every major network passed on the (now Emmy-awarded) series.

Think about it. When explaining your social good organization (your “show”) to the outside world, what do you want staff and volunteers to say? A vague or robotic response that falls flat? Or a well-crafted, memorable pitch that creates engagement with prospective volunteers, donors, and social media ambassadors?

When you hear an upbeat theme song, you have an idea what to expect next: a cheerful, light comedy. But imagine watching a dramatic zombie show that suddenly turns into a romantic comedy. You’d probably be very confused and quickly change the channel. Now imagine being an advocate of a dental health organization and discovering the organization actually distributes candy. Not only would you be confused, you might turn from an advocate to a critic! To avoid misperception, it’s critical to understand how audiences see your brand.

Your audience should be your biggest fans—the passionate kind that save shows from cancellation! But to keep them engaged, it’s important to know why they connect with your message. More importantly, what could make them stop being supporters? Once you comprehend your prospective supporters’ headspace, you can better manage their expectations.

Here’s a fun activity! Watch the Good Morning Football “Feeling Good” campaign and note what you perceive in only 30 seconds. If someone watched one of your videos, what might be their takeaway? And is their takeaway what you really want them to think about your organization?

Protect Your Brand
A showrunner has a duty to protect their brand. Publishing a brand guideline is the key to ensuring consistency and protection. When you create your guideline, think beyond logos and fonts. Highlight when and when not to use your brand, and involve your staff in the creation process. How should your supporters feel when visiting your website? Does your style match your mission and the emotions you want to inspire in supporters?

Consider the example of Animal Planet, whose brand guideline reflects a fun, playful style. What unique instructions could you include in your brand guideline?

Diversify Your Presentation
What do Oreos, Major League Baseball, Adidas, and the Bellagio all have in common? They’ve all tied their products in with Game of Thrones (still #TeamArya). Once you have a strong elevator pitch and a brand guideline, get your message out there! Your audience can connect with you through a surprising variety of outlets—as long they can recognize and engage with your brand. From posters, teasers, and podcasts, to virtual reality experiences, showrunners understand the importance of presenting their brand in a thoughtful and engaging manner. The Game of Thrones team has even partnered with nonprofit organizations like the International Rescue Committee to help raise awareness of their mission.

How can you present your brand through unique outlets? What partnerships can you develop to expand your brand?

What is your organization’s elevator pitch? Let us know in the comments!

Need help creating an impactful elevator pitch or brand guideline? Check out the workshop Organizational Best Practices: Marketing—Brand.
Posted by Jenny Toledo on May 16, 2019 12:56 PM America/New_York

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All the kerfuffle over Game of Thrones final season and final episode....since you used it as an example....your first point....they lost all(some?) of the puzzle pieces of their Brand. IMHO. :-)
  • Posted Tue 21 May 2019 09:14 AM EDT
Not exactly and elevator pitch, but our vision statement is: "To empower every voice in our community." I love it and am wearing a branded T-shirt with that on the back today. Logo and org name on the front.
  • Posted Wed 22 May 2019 11:12 AM EDT