For many web folks in higher ed, the holiday video and Presidential email that goes with it can be the bane of our existences. I’ve seen many holiday videos from institutions in my nearly 15 years in higher ed. Some have been awesome, and some have been really bad.

My first few years at John Carroll, we went all out as the University hadn’t done much more than the scrolling photo slideshow with music type of video/card. My first year, we went high concept. You can see it here. It looks great and I’m very proud of it.

This video we shot in 2012 is also a favorite, as we involved the general campus community, inviting them to our student center to take part and share what they were thankful for. We got a great mix of people and messages. You can see it here.

This year, we went in a different direction for our holiday video. We didn’t have the time to put together a big shoot on campus, so our marketing team along with our friends in our enrollment division cooked up an idea to deliver acceptance letters to students in the Cleveland area and capture those reactions on video.

Our teams put in an amazing amount of work in about 2 weeks to find the students, work out the logistics with their parents, prep the teams, get balloons, secure our mascot costume and much more. On Dec. 11, we set out about 5 p.m. from campus to surprise some folks.

Here’s the video:

First off, a little behind-the-scenes information. We shot this ourselves with just 2 cameras – a Canon T2i and a GoPro Hero3+ for the time-lapse portions and some B-roll of us coming to the houses. I edited it in iMovie (yes, really) for speed and we licensed the music from Marmoset Music, after a tip from the super-talented Seth Odell. All told, we spent about $200 on a light for our camera, a camera rack, and some balloons to give the students.

The video blew up on Facebook, where it reached 65,500 people. I did boost it slightly, but the majority of the video’s reach was organic. It had 96 shares and 765 likes as I write this and Facebook says the video was watched 26,000 times. We also promoted it on Twitter with a link to an embedded version on our Admission website, but the YouTube views aren’t counting correctly. I think it’s because I used an old embed code so I could force the video to play in HD. YouTube claims its only been viewed 177 times but I know it has more views than that.

Most importantly, this video really put into perspective why I’ve chosen to work in higher ed web and marketing. We get wrapped up in the day-to-day work sometimes. We are saddled with projects that are last-minute, red tape, budget woes, stress, and so on that we sometimes forget what we’re all in higher education to do – to provide students with an education that will serve them the rest of their lives, as it has for me.

That night, we got to be part of a special moment for these students – the beginning of their college experience. They found out about their future and the next step in their lives. Usually that moment happens in private, but we got to experience it with them.

One family in particular really stuck out to me – it’s a family that emigrated here from Armenia and Angela is the first student in her family to go to college. For as excited and teary as she was, I think her parents were even more affected by the moment. They invited their whole family there: brothers, cousins, even Angela’s grandmother, who had to have everything we were saying translated.

They were so thankful for us being there and for the opportunity. They gave Angela flowers to celebrate. Their family members in Armenia and the US knew this was happening and couldn’t wait to tell everyone. They made delicious pastries and cookies, and insisted we share their champagne (adults only.) I would have loved to stay all night but we had 2 more families to visit.

It was one of the best nights of my career and while I’m so proud of how this video came out, it can’t completely capture the emotions of that night, the night we spend driving around Cleveland in a van with a crew of marketing and admission folks having fun and changing lives.

Now that we’re a few weeks past the much-needed holiday break and the Spring semester is starting to find its groove, I thought I’d be interesting to take a look at one of the best, or worst, parts of any higher ed marketer/web person’s job: the annual Christmas video (or holiday/season’s greetings video.)

When I got to John Carroll in 2010, they really weren’t doing videos, per se, but more of the “static photos of campus set to Christmas music” type of videos. To go from that to this was a big jump up for our marketing team, who hadn’t produced this type of piece before.

The next year, 2011, was our 125th Anniversary, so we produced a historical look back at the events of the University. We produced this video for a big fund-raising gala we held, and decided to also share it with our on-campus and alumni communities.

This past year, it was back to a more traditional form for the Christmas video. After brainstorming a bit, I thought it’d be interesting to really involve our campus community, and invite them to participate in our video. The premise: set up a camera in the lobby of our busy student center lobby and invite people to talk about what they were thankful for during the holiday season.

We put out an open casting call a week in advance, and followed up using our intranet, daily news emails and digital signage. We did talk to a few folks ahead of time, mostly faculty and administrators, to make sure they’d show up and had a voice, but the students were our main need. Even up the time the shoot started, we weren’t sure that we’d actually get anyone – this was, after all, a completely optional event and something that had never been done at Carroll.

Luckily, we had a great turnout of students, faculty, passers-by, administrators, support staff, athletes and so on. The trick was crafting it into a form that told a story and kept moving. I think we accomplished that, as you can see below. We have great production partners in Route1a, who I’ve worked with both at an advertising agency (that was fun) and at Allegheny College.

If I cast a critical eye at the video, overall, I’m really pleased with how it came out. We captured a great slice of Carroll culture. I wish we had more faculty representation, but we had more than enough students to balance it out.

There are also two shots that if I had to do over, I’d either cut or re-do. You can tell that they look radically different then the other shots. The administration requested we shoot people after our main crew finished shooting, so we had to recreate the best we could with our DSLR and lighting setup. Was it perfect? No. The worst ever, no. Love to get a Mulligan on it though.

The good news is that we’ve got a few months to think about things before we have to do it again.