5 Lessons Learned From Shooting OpenTable's First Talent Brand Video

January 26, 2015

Co-authored by Leela Srinivasan.

At OpenTable our mission is to power great dining experiences. Every month we help millions of diners find the ideal place to eat, and thousands of restaurants stay busy. We also happen to be a pretty special place to work, partly because we’re focused on innovating in a fun space, but largely because of our amazing team.

Trouble is, every company claims to have great people -- and as we ramped up hiring in 2014, we realized that despite our relatively strong consumer brand, we didn’t have much of a talent brand yet, particularly among some of our harder-to-recruit audiences.

Our solution: create a video to capture the essence of working at OpenTable.

Here it is:

This was our first attempt at a talent brand video, and it was a fairly scrappy effort – relatively modest budget, tight turnaround time, opportunistic leveraging of our team to get the job done (did I mention we have great people?!). In the end, I think we got the outcome we were looking for, with a few minor missteps made along the way. Here are five lessons we learned in the process.

Scene 1: the false start

We kicked off the project in late October, quickly and eagerly engaging a recommended and well-known production company. At the same time we surveyed around 30 employees whom we thought had the deepest sense of our identity. With that feedback in, we agreed that we should strive to create something very true to our culture – with ample food references and opportunities to dress up, without a hint of stiffness or formality, and certainly not a talking head in sight.

The production company sent us back three concepts. While two of the three were fine, nothing totally resonated. The concepts were either too contrived, not funny enough, or too – well, corporate. We gave our feedback and waited for a second round of ideas. When the second concepts didn’t quite work either, we did a bit more diligence and reached out to a second, smaller production company whose prior work had really impressed us from a stylistic and tonal point of view. By now I was conscious of time zooming by, so when I say I ‘reached out’, I essentially stalked this second company, booking calls at odd hours in order to connect with them as they traveled overseas.

Lesson learned: just like recruiting talent, hire the right production company and pay attention to their cultural fit with your organization. Our first choice was a convenient one and a strong production company, just not the right one for us. This fit is particularly important if you’re going for the type of video that we elected to do. Which leads me to…

Scene 2: the script

Now we had the right production company, we needed to hone a concept and a script. We decided on a style that would showcase real OpenTable people, playing themselves, doing the things they are known for. On reflection, our video is a 3-minute inside joke: Dave, our VP Engineering, is obsessed with boats, Alex really is a hugger, and Denis does specialize in Irish goodbyes (sorry, Denis. We love you all the same). But, we reasoned, if you watch it and it resonates, then that’s a good sign that we’re the company for you.

As we dug into these details, we realized that since our video needed to highlight the real personalities around our organization, we were far better placed to lead the script development than our production company. So we took a stab at writing the first draft ourselves and then had the production company edit it for pithiness. We also looped in key colleagues in Marketing, Communications, and Legal to get feedback as the script took shape.

Lesson learned: even if you don’t see yourself as a creative type, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the content. Especially in the case of a video about your culture, because no one knows your culture like you do.

Scene 3: action!

By early December we had a script we were excited about, so we scheduled our shoot over three days in our office. Talk about a mammoth administrative project: our script included roles for 108 actors (one-seventh of our company, and one-third of our San Francisco headquarters crew).

Looking back, the shoot itself was fast, furious and a bit of a blur. In fact, almost nothing went exactly according to plan, which is hardly surprising given the size of the cast involved. I also bit off a bit more than I could chew by being the on-shoot makeup artist (leveraging skills from a prior life) - trying to groom our cast while managing the shoot was a tall order.

I was really thankful for the help of three colleagues on our shoot days, both in wrangling the many moving parts and adjusting our approach on the fly. Our schedule morphed repeatedly. We needed to improvise when people inevitably forgot their props and costumes. One scene that we thought would take one hour to shoot ended up taking three because of lighting issues. We tried lines on for size and edited them real-time as we came up with better ones. And so on. Throughout the process, flexibility and a good sense of humor were key to our success.

Lesson learned: don’t forget to line up your backstage crew. Having a few extra utility players involved in helping me improvise and keep the momentum going was absolutely critical.I would have been absolutely lost without the support of Kira, Brittany and Jenn. Cheers, ladies!

Scene 4: cut!

With the shoot wrapped, our production company had a rough cut back to us within three days. At that point, we realized we had a lot of footage. A lot. (See the part above about 108 cast members.) At first I was really reluctant to cut scenes, because it would mean editing out some participants altogether. But it was necessary to keep the length of the video manageable (no one wants to watch seven minutes of footage), and I’m confident we’ll find excuses to use some of the scenes that hit the cutting room floor in other situations.

Lesson learned: expect to generate more footage than you need, and lean on an objective producer. Our production company really steered us straight in boiling down our content to something which flows and makes the point without dragging on for too long.

Scene 5: the premiere

And so, after several rounds of editing, our video was done and dusted. Our production team provided two flavors: the three-minute version embedded here, and a shorter 90-second version. Now, how to launch our work?

Given the teamwide effort it took to pull this off, we decided at short notice (in other words, the morning we received the final video) that it would heighten the fun and excitement if we threw an impromptu office lunchtime pizza party to unveil our product. It was standing room only as we played the video for the first time, and the reaction was wildly positive, including rip-roaring laughter during some scenes. We played it on loop; people stayed to watch it for a second and a third time, to catch references they’d missed on the first go-round.

Lesson learned: schedule a live unveiling with your extended cast and crew. It’s a great way to drum up buzz, thank participants, and it will lead to  more organic social sharing when you’re ready to go live.

So, what’s next? Like any movie studio, we’re now ramping up promotion of our new release, through posting in all the right places, sponsored posts on LinkedIn and more. We’re really proud of the final productand the way it authentically reflects our company as a place to work. If you find it resonates with you, good news: we’re hiring.

Huge thanks to John Orta, Steph Douglass, Roger Norton, the Marketing and People & Culture teams for all the input, support and encouragement in the making of this video.

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