What Went Wrong in that Government Recruitment Video

By now we've all seen the federal Department of Finance's latest graduate recruitment video, and can tell it's not working the way they might have anticipated. So we wanted to look at exactly what they got wrong to open themselves up to so much ridicule.

Here's a refresher:


Bigger Picture

An idea can be great on paper and in the planning stages, but fall down on execution. It's worth continually and honestly re-assessing your approach as you move through the pre-production process, and before you have an expensive film crew on site ready to shoot.

Some bigger picture issues:


1. It's way too long

Video is a very expensive tool, and in instances like these it's not a good one for detail. It would be much better to get people excited about the subject, enough to get them to head to a website that holds all of the detailed information. Trying to cram it into the video means viewers' attention isn't held and all the key messages are lost.


2. There's a total lack of emotion

One of the most important questions you want to answer when making a video is, "What should the audience feel?" This video isn't eliciting any level of emotion throughout, and the real key to this is the choice of music and the video rhythm. More on both below.


3. Mismatched choice of music

The choice of music here doesn't match the content at all and is very misguided. The music is high energy while the content is informational, so it's jarring and just doesn't work.


4. Its relentlessness

Up until the grads enter the boardroom for their meeting more than 2 minutes into the video, it never shifts gears. Modulating rhythm and pace works to keep interest up and prevent fatigue. Pausing so that the viewer can process is also important.


Smaller Picture

While we'd probably recommend a complete do-over, looking at this specific approach there are a few things that could have been done to improve the final product:


Ditch the jargon

Read the script out loud. Read it to colleagues, record it on your phone and play it back, listen to how it sounds. You'll soon realise what's not working. People don't actually speak to each other in jargon, so you have to translate that to normal, conversational language. We try to get rid of all jargon, but if it needs to be included, put it in on-screen titles.


Working with non-actors

There are a lot of things to keep in mind if you want to get a convincing performance out of someone who hasn't dedicated years to studying the art of acting, but a few of them are:

  • Speech patterns – people don't wait their turn to talk, they talk over each other all the time. Remind your speaker to speak as if the idea had just come into their head. No-one knows exactly what they're going to say before they say it.
  • Speaking too clearly – it actually helps if the less important lines are mumbled rather than delivered super-clearly. Insert some fake fillers (that's "um"s and "ah"s). Use colloquialisms. Keep a very close eye on over-delivery of lines, it's a dead giveaway.

David Fredericks, Deputy Secretary of Budget & Financial Reporting (around the 0.51 mark) is the best example in this video of someone who's more natural, inserting a "hey" in the middle of one of his sentences and using "arvo" instead of afternoon, as well as using a bit of natural hesitation in his speech patterns. Nice one, David.

  • Looking at each other – we'd reduce the eye contact to about a quarter of what's in this video. People just don't look at each other that much, it's unnerving!
  • Get them to hold something – non-actors can be understandably a bit nervous in front of the camera, and a good way to minimise awkwardness is to give them something to hold. A laptop, a notebook, anything. It gives their hands something to do and their minds something to focus on.
  • Have your performers think about the meaning of what they're saying. If it's just not working, have them paraphrase it to a thing they would actually say and throw out the script. What would Department of Finance PSM Secretary Rosemary Huxtable (2.35) say if she was really impressed with these grads and sharing that with them?


A different approach

Trying to merge entertainment and information as a dramatisation is a hugely ambitious approach that's very hard to pull off, so it's a risky manoeuvre. The video may have only cost $4K to make, but what did it cost in all of the staff time? Be careful you're not working to a false economy.

For our money, it would probably have been better to create an information-driven video that's punchy and upbeat, with the entertainment coming from the delivery, the music, and the rhythm. The ambitious dramatisation actually detracts from the key messages, which can be delivered as a mix of spoken words and on-screen text, taking advantage of all of the elements that video offers.

Here's a specific example. The script from 1.53 to 2.16 (a full 23 secs) is as follows.

Teena: "Hey, Dane, you mentor Jenna don't you?

Dane: "I do, yeah."

Teena: "I think her capabilities would be a really good match for the budget surge team. Could you suss her out and see if she's interested?"

Dane: "Sure, I'm actually seeing her this afternoon so I'll definitely run it past her."

Teena: "Great. Thanks. See ya."

Dane: "Hey Jenna. I just had a quick chat with Teena and she asked me if you would be interested in joining the budget surge team. What do you think?"

(As a brief aside, they're already sitting in a meeting room together, why on earth would Dane only be greeting her now?!)

Jenna: "Oh yeah, that'd be brilliant."

So what does this add to the whole video? The message that could easily be someone saying to camera (or titles on a screen): "Initiative is rewarded with opportunity." About 3 seconds as opposed to 23.

Here's a look at a recruitment video we put together for the gang over at You & Co for comparison:

Read more about that process here.

If you're looking to make a better recruitment video, let us know what you need!