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Communication students make commercials for real clients

Communication students prepare to film a commercial in Milledgeville.

Some clients were specific about what they wanted. Others gave no directions or feedback. One didn’t always respond to emails. But, in the end, they all wanted a professional product.

That’s the way life goes. Adjusting to that professionally was one of the most important lessons students in Angela Criscoe’s electronic editing class learned this semester. When it comes to filming 30-second commercials—you have to be quick-witted, flexible and a creative problem solver. It takes exact planning and communicating with coworkers, as well as clients. 

“We learned how to manage our time and work with a real-world client,” said Michael Andrews, a junior mass communication major from Johns Creek.

“Instead of having an assignment in class, where everything’s prepared for you—we had to deal with criticism from someone besides a teacher. It really humbles you,” he said. “But it’s also nice, because it helps us become better filmmakers and editors.”

Junior Michael Andrews, left, in digital media production class.

Andrews hopes to get a job in Atlanta—a hot area right now for people who want to make commercials. This class is an important step towards reaching his goal.

Criscoe’s been using commercials in her digital media production class for about 10 years. Smaller video assignments lead to the big finale: Students are ‘hired’ out in production teams to produce video commercials that’ll be distributed on multiple platforms on-and-off campus.

A 30-second, locally-produced commercial costs anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, Criscoe said. But business owners in Central Georgia get student-produced commercials for free. They use them on websites or social media. If a client pays to air a commercial on TV—Criscoe gives students extra credit. She proudly states her classes produce “content that’s better than what’s already out there.”

These promotions have to be memorable with a simple message. They must persuade a targeted audience to do something: go online, visit a store, buy a product. This requires tons of preproduction planning. Student teams make “look books” and storyboards that determine every detail from client expectations and props to scripts, camera angles and voiceovers.

“It’s real life with real-world problems and a lot of critical thinking,” Criscoe said.

“Who’s this going to impact? What decisions do we need to make? What do we need from our client? It goes back-and-forth,” she said. “They have three weeks to satisfy a client and produce a commercial.”

Assistant Professor Angela Criscoe teaching recently.

Each team has a producer, camera operator, sound person and editor. The four clients this year were Barberitos, Georgia Water Sports and Scenic Mountain RV Park, all in Milledgeville, and the Methodist Home in Macon.

Students research businesses, develop a product description, identify client goals and chose a method of persuasion. Clients often enjoy the process, because students offer a fresh perspective. 

Every well-laid plan, however, has last-minute and unforeseen problems that must be handled professionally. Film might come back blurry with bad audio, forcing students to go back and reshoot. Lighting might be off. Sometimes, clients change their minds and want something entirely different.

Kristen Maddox, Harley Killgo and Chris Kauffman

“I think this is one of the best assignments in our department that shows students the real world,” Criscoe said. “They’re working with real people, real businesses and, sometimes, we get clients who are a bit of a challenge.” 

Junior mass communication major Chris Kauffman of Eatonton helped make a commercial for Georgia Water Sports’ online store PartsPak. To give the client what he wanted, Kauffman had to learn new software and editing techniques. He had to go beyond what was good enough for him and determine what was good enough for his client.

First, the storeowner thought the students’ idea wouldn’t appeal to their target audience, 30- to 50-year-old men. So, Kauffman’s team rewrote the script. It went back to the client multiple times, and the commercial was edited and tweaked right up to the final cut.

“It ended up being easier for us,” Kauffman said, “because they literally told us what they wanted. It was frustrating, when all the work we put in wasn’t what they wanted. But they worked with us and helped change it and, ultimately, sent us exactly what they were looking for.”

At Baberitos, the rules were more relaxed. The owner liked the students’ look book. But the day students arrived to film at the restaurant—they discovered the owner hadn’t told his employees they were coming.

Students filming at PartsPack.

“That impressed upon me the need to communicate with everybody,” said Jackie Terry, a senior mass communication major from Warner Robins. “We had to text the owner, so he could let employees know it was OK for us to film there. You really have to get your ducks in a row on every little thing.”

This experience showed Terry she’d like to go into producing. Challenged by the problem-solving aspect of making commercials, she found she enjoyed being in charge.

Senior mass communication major Kaitlin Bryan of Milledgeville worked on the Methodist Home commercial. At first, the client’s expectations were too broad. After seeing the look book, the client decided to focus on a thrift shop that financially supports children at the home. A new look book had to be made. But Bryan said a clear vision and simpler message made the commercial better and easier to produce.

Another client didn’t communicate his expectations at all. Emails weren’t returned, leaving students in-the-dark on what to do. Finally, the team produced something on their own, hoping it would pass inspection.

It’s a lot of pressure. But it’s all part of the lesson.

“They have to think creatively,” Criscoe said, “and that pulls them out of their comfort zone. These aren’t fake clients or a pretend campaign. Students actually implement something real, and it goes out for distribution for other people to see and criticize.”

“This, more than anything,” she said, “prepares them for what lies ahead.”

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