One year ago today, I was extremely bloody nervous. It was day 1 of a project called Me In TV.
Here’s a short video about the project:
The aim was to give young people from tough backgrounds access to the TV industry. Over five days the participants created a TV show idea, filmed and edited a trailer for it, and then pitched their idea to a panel of TV experts. The young people were from Community Links, and the event was held at FremantleMedia.
It was so much work that it nearly killed me and Josephine, who ran the project with me. At one point I was waking up at 5.15am and I stopped trusting pencils.
But it worked out really well. Everything came together, there was a great atmosphere throughout, and the feedback was amazing: it averaged 96% positive on every single thing we measured.
1. Record everything
I had made a huge mistake on my previous project, and I didn’t want to repeat it.
I did nothing to record the event, so afterwards it was hard for those involved to tell people about what they’d done. “So I attended these workshops, and we were working some kind of social enterprise, er…”.
For Me In TV I did the opposite. meintv.org was built to record everything. In a project like this, it’s important that everyone involved has something to point to afterwards – a link for their CVs, a reminder of what the project entailed, and something they can be proud to show other people.
2. Get a partner in crime
There’s no way the project could have been such a success without Josephine Serieux. About two months before launch, I realised I had way too much to do and was struggling to prioritise. Getting a partner in crime means you get more capacity, but also more ideas – Josie changed loads of stuff for the better.
3. Give everyone else a clear vision (even if it’s still in flux)
It took me about six months to set the project up. The plan was changing constantly throughout. But I realised early on that I should keep that a secret. That way anyone I was trying to sign up would feel confident that I knew what I was doing, even if everything was still in flux.
4. Find a leader the young people trust
You’re dealing with a lot of nervousness and uncertainty in projects like this. So you need a Jason Forde. He’s a youth leader from Community Links, and because he had the trust of the students before the project began, he could ally their fears and (almost) always get them to turn up on time even when they’d been working late the night before.
5. The non-charity people will be the most nervous
The biggest single mistake I made in the planning was misjudging what one of the tutors needed from me. She didn’t need ideas, or structure – she needed reassurance! It hadn’t occurred to me that my colleagues would be more nervous than the students.
But for them, this project was an unknown – even though they would only be teaching the stuff they get paid to do every day, none had never taught before, and none had ever worked with young people from tough backgrounds (not that there was any difference in practice from any other youth group, but pre-launch it’s all about perception). It took me ages to figure all this out, and it nearly lost me a tutor.
6. Have a single, clear end goal
Me In TV built towards a grand finale: the pitch. Having this single, clear end goal was exceedingly useful. It meant that the students were highly motivated to pay attention. They knew they had to do the pitch, so they were grateful for anything that would help them prepare for it.
7. Clearly define and explain what happens afterwards
I got these questions a lot: would there be jobs for the students at the end? Or at least job opportunities that they could apply for? Would there be more training, or mentorships, or follow-up workshops on CV-writing and interview skills?
No no no. Me In TV was meant to be self-contained. It was supposed to give the students skills, experience, and contacts. But it took me a while to define that list, and to make it clear to everyone – hence the repeat questioning. Know what happens afterwards before you even start.
8. Look for spin-off opportunities
We had a problem: 6 spaces in the project, but 7 people desperate to do it. At first I said no to Emmanuel – everything had been set up for a group of six and it was too late to change it.
Thankfully, one night I realised that I could just invent a role for him, without changing anything else. So Emmanuel became the Content Producer, tasked with recording the experiences and reactions of the students, and posting them on the student blog. He did a great job – 40 posts during the week of the project! – and still got to learn a lot alongside the other students.
9. Make it measurable
All this good stuff is harder to communicate without numbers. You have to be able to put numbers on your project, because numbers make things tangible. Here are some key numbers from Me In TV:
Website: >3k views in the week of the project, 1k visits, ~500 uniques
Feedback stats: 96% positive overall; 100% of tutors described as Excellent or Very good, 95% of students said they learnt useful future skills on every single day
Cost: £800 (kindly funded by FremantleMedia’s HR department)
Cost per hour – students: £2.96 per hour of training delivered to the students
With these numbers I could create a solid project report to send to everyone involved, and to all the people elsewhere who had heard about the project and wanted to know more. If you want to read it yourself, the full project report is now online.
10. Reward everyone
I gave all the tutors a hand-written note.
And I added every single person who made a contribution, however small, to the list on the Who’s involved? page.
No-one expected it. And it took ages. But in many ways it was the most enjoyable bit.
So what happened in the end?
I wrote to all the students last week. Two have found work in TV production; four have not; one didn’t reply (perhaps he’s busy on a production somewhere? I don’t know). All of them were very happy to have been involved, and very grateful to my colleagues for their help during Me In TV.
So if you’re thinking of doing a project like this, I hope the ten things I learnt are useful.
I’m very proud of this project, but if I wish I’d known all this before it began!
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