Research and Preparation

Introduction

When a teacher asked you to create a PowerPoint on a certain topic, such as your “favourite” novel in English or an overview of the Norman Conquest in History, did you go straight to the computer, open up the software and spend thirty minutes deciding on a design for your presentation? Did you mess about with font colours and typefaces for your title slide? Did you waste time testing out the different animations available for the slides?

This ineffectual approach is a very common mistake students make in school. It is also a mistake you cannot afford to make in Media Studies.

Think about this scenario:

Your teacher prints out the coursework briefs in a booklet or displays them on the screen at the front of the classroom. Perhaps, you are excited by the possibilities and there is one brief that immediately appeals to your interests. Or you become overwhelmed with dread because they all look challenging. Either way, you have to create a cross-media product. That does not mean you rush to the computer room to open Photoshop or Dreamweaver and stare at a blank screen for inspiration.

Your first step should be to explore and research the brief! Get your pen and paper out and be prepared to make plenty of notes.

Research

Your cross-media product needs to fit into the current media landscape, so you should research other similar products to find inspiration and ideas that can help shape your own thoughts. If you are delivering a health or beauty campaign, go looking for existing products from around the world and evaluate what you think makes them successful. If you are tasked with creating a film trailer, watch lots and lots of trailers on Vimeo or YouTube. Make notes about the form’s codes and conventions, such as the film rating and institutional codes. If you need to build a blog about your favourite football team, search for online fanzines for all different types of sport and think about how they engage their audience.

Say you are asked to devise a print campaign for a new perfume, go on a search engine and type in “perfume advertisement”.

screenshot of search results for perfume query
Perfume Advertisement Search Results

Scroll through the results and select a range of images to analyse. Think carefully how the producers encoded the message and appealed to the audience. Did they use celebrity endorsement? Consider the representation, including non-verbal codes such as facial expression, body language and clothing. Suggest why certain colour codes were employed. Scrutinise how the lexical codes help anchor the meaning of the text. Are there any other signs that convey important connotations?

Your responses to these questions will help inform your own cross-media product because these are the codes and conventions you will be emulating.

This handy worksheet listing key concepts might help you structure your analysis.

If you are not too sure about the terminology used to describe the different elements of a media product, there is more information regarding media form in that section of the website. You can also find guides to analysing media texts in our unseen practice questions area.

Develop Your Company’s Story

You are creating a cross-media product. Right now.

However, the products you analysed and evaluated in your search will have been developed by institutions which have existed for a number of years. You need to appreciate their history and ambition.

In other words, you need to imagine your own products are being created by an experienced company and agency. World-build. Develop the institution’s background. Where are they located? What is their mission statement? What is their unique selling point? Create people and job titles. Think about the stories they can share. What products have they already delivered? At the very least, you will need to include logos and branding in your work.

Your products are fake, but they should be real enough to fool the casual observer.

For example, if you are creating a film trailer and a movie blog, you should research a large range of film companies. Look at their about us pages, check out their objectives and think carefully about how they present themselves to the audience. How do they use their history and values to promote their next big product?

You should be creating imaginary biographies for your production crew and actors. Therefore, go on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to research the people involved in lots of different films from the Hollywood studies to the more independent companies.

Research the film industry and the festival circuit. How are films financed and promoted? How eager are production companies to show off their awards?

Put simply, develop your own history before you start writing the next exciting story.

Character Profiles

Media products and campaigns are often driven by strong characters. For example, celebrity endorsement is a very common marketing strategy used by advertising agencies and large companies to get their messages across to the audience. Developing detailed profiles is a great way to make your characters seem convincing. They will also help maintain continuity across your productions.

Therefore, spend some time defining the demographics and psychographics of your characters. What are their names, ages and occupations? What are their values and ideologies? Why would the audience be interested in their stories? Our worksheet will help you jot down some answers to these important questions.

Conclusion

Researching the contemporary media landscape should be your first step. By exploring existing products, you will better understand how your own cross-media product will be fit for purpose and meet the demands of the brief.

However, the quality of your responses will improve if you invent backstories for your characters and develop the institutions behind the products. These details will add a sense of realism to your work. Attention to detail is important for the top marks.

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