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produce marketing videos on shoestring budgetVideo has become an essential tool for many marketing and PR pros. Sixty percent of marketers and 55 percent of small and mid-sized business owners use video to stay relevant and believe it has become a “must-have” for marketing, according to a survey by Animoto. Large brands can spend significant amounts to produce slick videos, but many organizations can’t afford studios staffed by professional videographers.

Fortunately, it’s possible for small businesses, nonprofit outfits to produce attractive and effective videos on shoestring budgets. Although their videos may not win an Academy award, they can be good enough to hold viewers’ attention and convince them to complete a call to action. Almost anyone can produce worthwhile marketing videos with little more than a smartphone.

Is a DYI Video Right for Your Brand?

First consider if a DYI video is right for your brand. Overall expectations for video quality have moderated as audiences accept mediocre phone video from friends on Facebook. Some viral videos have poor lighting and sound quality. Local businesses with a local angle can get away with less than stellar quality. However, expectations for quality, education and entertainment still remain high for established brands.

“If I saw a Tiffany’s commercial for jewelry that looks kind of rubbish I’m not going to trust the brand. But if I see Dave and Mike who invented a backpack, and they shot it, and it looks DIY and amateurish, I might trust them even more,” Arthur Micah Ross, executive producer at MR Studio, told Inc.

If you have few funds and believe your team can produce a video of adequate quality without outside experts, follow these recommendations:

Establish a plan. That may seem obvious, but many people start shooting without thinking about what they want video to accomplish. Planning helps avoid reshoots and keeps the project within budget. Consider the video’s message, style, audience and call to action. Make sure to have the gear, scripts and actors ready before pressing the record button. Check the phone battery and available memory.

Have interesting (or emotionally moving) content. Especially in video, content is king. Content must be either educational or entertaining – preferably both. Know your audience, their needs for education and preferences for entertainment. Interesting visuals are crucial. The most successful marketing videos demonstrate how to do something, show more than a talking head and include some sort of entertainment or emotional factor.

Consider Your Equipment. Besides a smartphone or an affordable camera, you may wish to invest in

  • a tripod to steady the camera,
  • LED lights for proper indoor lighting,
  • and an external microphone.

The human hand natural tends to shake, producing annoying vibrations. Shaking can be mitigated by holding the camera with both hands, with your elbows tucked into your chest, or by resting the phone on a table or desk. Still, experts recommend a tripod. Unless you’re close to your subject in a quiet indoor environment, an external microphone helps eliminate background noise and improve sound quality.

Mind the light. Place lights on stands to avoid sudden changes in lighting and moving shadows, rather than holding them (See the previous point). Avoid pointing the camera directly at bright lights, which causes overexposure. Lighting should be stable and steady, since most smartphones react slowly to sudden changes in light. Face your subjects toward the light so they aren’t silhouetted. Bright windows in the background are a no-no.

A cheap set. Brands don’t need to spend large amounts to travel to exotic locations or build sophisticated sets. Consider transforming a spare conference room into a studio. Paint the room with green screen paint or you simply dress the room for your topic. Spread colored paper or wood-effect linoleum on the floor, suggests Julia Munder, international marketing manager at luxury brand Maxwell Scott. The green background allows you to insert any background you wish through video editing effects.

Be aware of the background. Background objects like poles or plants may appear to grow out of the video subject’s head.

Hold the phone sideways — usually. You’ll most likely want to hold the phone sideways for a horizontal window, the most common format. But some platforms, namely Snapchat, use a vertical orientation. For that reason, consider your audience and the social media platform you intend to use for distribution. Consider shooting the videos both ways if possible.

Stay close. Staying physically closer to your subject ensures better image quality, less digital noise and better focus since most smartphones use a digital zoom rather than optical zoom, advises L. Scott Harrell, executive editor of Vtrep.com.

Be slow and steady. Quick zooming or panning from side to side may appear jerky to viewers. Rather than zooming, which distorts video quality, try gradually walking forward while holding the camera as steady as possible.

Use editing software. Even the pros don’t get it all right in one take. Record the video multiple times from different perspectives. Use low-cost editing software to cut the video together. Editing always makes a video better.

Use videos from others – with permission. Ask the producer if you can use portions and be sure to give credit at the end of the video. Ask others to send a video in response to questions you send, suggests Rob Freedman, manager of multimedia communications for the National Association of Realtors. They might not furnish a high-quality production, but what they say is more important than the video’s quality.

Bottom Line: Videos can be a powerful PR and marketing tool. Many marketing and PR pros view videos as an essential tool. Businesses and nonprofit organizations don’t necessarily need to spend large sums to produce interesting, quality videos. A few basic pieces of equipment and careful planning can lead to videos that accomplish their objectives.