The Secrets of Winning an Academy Award: How One Day School Got Out the JDSA Vote

by Shira Garber Strosberg and Arnold Zar-Kessler

This fall, Jewish day schools across North America were charged by the AVI CHAI Foundation with creating a video on their own… without the support of a video professional. The goal of this video contest: share a story of someone from the school’s alumni community, and then distribute the video to the school constituent groups and encourage them to vote for the clip.

Even with dozens of entrants, Schechter was in first place with 1,915 votes, representing an incredible 19% of all votes, when the contest closed on Wednesday, December 12th.

This contest challenged us not only to create a great story through video, but also to share the story with our students, parents, alumni, alumni parents, grandparents, faculty, staff and friends. This was our plan:

  1. We focused on our networks. We created a thoughtful distribution plan, targeting each of our constituent groups. We connected with synagogues and Jewish communal agencies. We reached out to other institutions where our alumni partner had worked or studied. We emailed and called leaders in these organizations and asked them to vote, and then to share our video and request to vote with their colleagues and members. We provided text for them to easily use in a newsletter or email blast, or even as a Facebook status update or tweet.
  2. We used social media, creating a Facebook “event,” and inviting roughly 3,000 friends of our alumus partner and of the school. Our alumnus partner drove this effort and personally connected with many of his classmates and friends. He kept in regular communication with this group, announcing short-term targets and updates along the way on the Facebook event page. Through this, all event invitees received updates in their emails and in their Facebook feed. Just about every evening, multiple people within our organization posted and shared the link on their Facebook pages to keep the momentum going.
  3. We shared the video with offline audiences. We shared the video during lunch periods for fourth-to-eighth grade students, and set up a voting station. We shared the video during a Shabbat program for kindergarten-to-third grade students and parents, and distributed flyers with a link to the voting page. We shared it at a board meeting and asked board members to share the link with their extended networks.
  4. We created focused emails, with a clear call to action. Throughout the voting period, we emailed everyone in our school database with a working email address. The emails focused solely on the video contest and provided a check-list: view the video and vote; forward this email to friends, family members and colleagues; and post to your Facebook page asking others to vote as well. In addition, we included the link in our regular school e-newsletters, but it was these focused emails with a very clear request that made a huge difference. Within an hour of one of these emails during the second week of voting, our vote tally rose by 100.

This was, in short, a low-cost, high value experience. We logged many hours in the development of this video – from determining our story and conducting interviews to scanning photos and learning the ins and outs of iMovie – but in the end, the reward has been huge. We shared an authentic, compelling, personal story about our school with hundreds of people, locally and globally. This video, and the push to bring in votes, served as a touch both to our school donors and prospective families… in a manner so much deeper than any advertisement or other promotional material.

The next question is, now what? Here are our some of our next steps:

  1. On a granular level: We need to review the analytics. YouTube, Constant Contact, Facebook, and Twitter provide key clues on the levels of engagement among our constituents. For example, we can begin to learn how to improve our storytelling skills by studying the audience retention scale in the YouTube analytics. We can review the names of the individuals who clicked on the link to our voting page imbedding in Constant Contact emails, and develop a plan for further engagement. We can make note of the friends who “attended” our faux-event on Facebook, and those who tweeted and re-tweeted, championing our cause during this period, and thank them personally for their support. At the very least, we have a great new database.
  2. On a bigger level, we must determine our next steps for engagement with each of our constituent groups. Through this process we have further developed our connections and relationships with many people and generated some new excitement for the school. We need to find ways to keep the momentum going, with or without a contest in place.
  3. We need to plan for our follow-up video project! We have learned the power of electronic media and have much more to learn, both technically as well as how to best leverage each video production.

The AVI CHAI Foundation’s Jewish Day School Video Academy encouraged us to develop skills in video production and distribution; for this we are grateful. During this contest our video logged 2,378 views on YouTube, making it our most-watched video. Click here to view A Schechter Student, A Schechter Alumnus: Jesse Wolf ’01.

Shira Garber Strosberg is Director of Communications and Arnold Zar-Kessler is Head of School at Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston.

cross-posted with PEJE blog