Sizzle reels--also known in some circles as demo reels, show reels, media highlight reels, public relations videos, video pitches, electronic press kit videos, promo videos, or teasers--are 3- to 5-minute videos that combine visuals, audio and messaging to create a fast-paced, stylized overview of a product, service, initiative or brand. These short videos can become a crucial part of any business's B2B or B2C communications process and help convey key messages to consumers, clients and other target audiences. Sizzle reels are often used for sales and marketing presentations, pitches and website videos. Here are some examples of sizzle reels .
While sizzle reels are a great way to get the word out about your business, poorly crafted sizzles can just as easily blow through your budget and completely turn prospects off to your brand. The last thing you want to do is spend countless hours and thousands of dollars just to make a web video that will get 15 hits on YouTube or a video that's no better than a PowerPoint presentation. Before you jump into the editing room, here are 11 things you need to know to produce a high-impact sizzle reel that will capture your message, captivate your audience and increase your revenues.
- Crap in, crap out. Garbage assets will lead to a very crappy sizzle reel. Expensive color correction software and fancy editing equipment will not turn low-quality footage or amateur photography into an award-winning presentation. Spend time planning and executing your deliverables. Hire professional videographers or use inexpensive consumer tools such as the Flip HD Camcorder to shoot high-definition video. Learn how to properly frame and light your shots to ensure that what you're filming is professional and worth watching. Place microphones on subjects and--when possible--avoid filming in noisy areas to ensure crisp audio. The goal is to start your editorial process with the highest-quality video, audio and image assets possible so that you can end up with the highest-quality sizzle reel.
- Content is king. Use images with impact to craft your sizzle reel's narrative thread and present your brand message in the best light. Minimize your text usage. When you must use text, use short catchphrases, punchy title cards and bold factoid slides. If content is king, music is queen. Music sets the mood and tone of your sizzle reel. Selecting the right track will keep viewers engaged, while the wrong one might turn them off. Great sizzle reel content edited to bad stock music or ill-suited genres will have your viewers tuning out before the closing credits.
- Know the tools of the trade. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on stock videos, photos or music. If you can't shoot your own video--or you need assets to compliment your live-action footage--consider these tools to help you acquire additional media from the web:
- FreeSound.org is a free database of royalty-free music and user-generated sound effects.
- Flickr Creative Commons is a database of millions of royalty-free, user-generated photos.
- iStockphoto is a database of millions of reasonably priced stock photos, illustrations, audio clips and stock videos.
- Voices.com is an online marketplace of voice-over actors.
- KeepVid is a free tool that enables you to download streaming videos from the web and convert them into editable media files.
- Jing is a video screen capture software for Mac and PC.
- Screengrab is a Firefox plugin that allows you to save web pages as images.
- Free vs. fee. Pick one: Time or money. When it comes to sizzle reels, you can't have both. If you want to produce a sizzle reel yourself, then you'll need to learn to master video editing software such as Apple's iMovie or Final Cut Pro, or look into online services such as Animoto.com. If you need help, then look to outsource your project to professional sizzle reel production companies . Either way, remember: Your sizzle reel should either be top-notch or nonexistent. When putting your brand out there in such a public and visual way, there's no room for mediocrity. The last thing you want is a poorly edited video getting into the hands of a prospective customer, giving them a negative impression of your brand.
- Know the audience. A sizzle reel made for advertising executives will look, feel and sound a lot different than one created for consumers. Know what your audience needs to hear before you begin to assemble your reel. Would they prefer stats and figures, fast-paced snippets that present an overview of your brand, or a little of both? Will your audience respond more to pulsing, fast-paced music beats, or slow and elegant orchestrations? The worst thing you can do is make a sizzle reel for yourself. Unless you plan to present your product, brand or service to yourself, know who is on the other end of the play button and produce the reel with them in mind.
- Know your rights. Depending on your desired deliverable (e.g., DVDs, web videos, broadcast, etc.) and end usage, you might not be able to use certain assets, such as copyrighted photos and music. Whenever you shoot new footage, make sure you have people sign waivers and hang signs stating your intention to film them. If your sizzle reel is for internal purposes, such as sales videos for presentations, you're probably in the clear. But putting copyrighted materials online is another story. Make sure you own all of the rights to your assets. Otherwise, you might open yourself up to cease and desist letters--or worse, lawsuits and court.
- Get to the point. Less is always more. Tell the story of your brand or service in a concise manner. A sizzle reel shouldn't exceed three minutes--and five minutes is the absolute max. If you can't offer a compelling narrative in that length of time, go back to the drawing board. Cut down long video and audio clips to their most essential and powerful components. Utilize sound bites rather than lengthy explanations. Remember: The purpose of a sizzle reel is to give viewers a taste of what you're selling or pitching, not the whole ball of wax. Your goal should be to produce a sizzle reel that engages prospective consumers and piques their interest about your service.
- Call to action. Just throwing together a bunch of clips hoping it will "go viral" or cause your viewer to act is a recipe for an expensive disaster. A sizzle reel needs to serve a purpose, not just be some glitzy pat on the back for your company--especially if you're creating a sales sizzle reel. If you're creating a PR sizzle reel that highlights all of your product's media hits over the course of a year, and your goal is to get distributors to place orders, you might want to consider including distributor testimonials, current big names that carry your product and brief instructions on how a distributor can begin to benefit from your product's hype today--a.k.a. sign up to sell the product in-store. Help your viewer or customer take action by providing clear next-step directions in the form of short vanity URLs, voice-over instructions or basic contact info.
- Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Sizzle reels have multiple purposes--presentation tools and online viral videos to name a few. And the best part is--if produced correctly--they are versatile and can easily be modified to fill almost any need or market. Changing a sizzle reel's voice-over can easily keep a restaurant's specials current month after month. Inserting different title cards in a sizzle reel can offer targeted messages to specific niche markets. In both cases, little additional video editing is needed, yet both reels' impacts are strengthened.
- Know what assets you need. Before you begin to edit, know what assets you will need upon completion--such as DVDs, web videos, large-display screeners, or broadcast-quality tape outputs. Have a conversation with your editorial team about where your sizzle reel will need to be displayed. Each deliverable may require its own post-production process to complete, which may affect timetables and budgets. Having to go back to the editing room later will cost you a lot more time, money or both. So know exactly what you will need before you even begin the editing process.
- Give it some window dressing. Sure, you could just throw your sizzle reel up on YouTube and call it a day. In some cases that might be sufficient, but for all other purposes put a little more effort into presenting your sizzle reel in the best possible light. If your final deliverable is a DVD, create a professional-looking label and cover art. If you're creating a landing page online, create a nice frame and some basic design elements to further develop the brand message. Don't shortchange your sizzle reel by turning people off before they press play.
Throughout the production process, stay focused on your sizzle reel's objectives. Be sure that every frame of video you include in your sizzle will give it an opportunity to achieve its desired goals and results.
Scott Gerber is the founder of Sizzle It!, a New York-based sizzle reel production company specializing in promotional videos for PR and marketing professionals, and the Young Entrepreneur Council. He is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, columnist, public speaker and author of Never Get a "Real" Job: How To Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke (Wiley, 2010).