Heather McLendon – Production Manager at Innovalearn

Heather McLendon is a Production Manager and Assistant Director at Innovalearn, a Georgia, US-based company specializing in e-learning solutions and training videos. Heather’s background is in theater, having worked previously as an actor and stage manager.

Tell us about Innovalearn.

Innovalearn started out as an idea to fill in the gaps in corporate training, in particular distance learning. We focus on e-learning which includes lesson planning, curriculum development, quizzes, videos, and building it all within a learning management system. We also do marketing packages – graphic design, printed material and marketing videos. Our favourite way to make videos is documentary style, using persona-based marketing – we deliver corporate messages through a story. A lot of leaders don’t want to spend the money or the time on revamping education for their employees, but when people are engaged and entertained, they are more likely retain things. This way of learning is new, it’s different and it appeals to my generation of learners in the workplace.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It looks like a juggling act! We’re still a very small company so I do a lot of different things and it depends on the day. If we’re in the office I could be communicating with clients or writing scripts. Or I could be out in the field organising everything. But most of the time anything I do involves logistics, details, and coffee.

How does your theater background tie into what you do today?

That’s what brought me to this business really. Theater is my first and greatest love. It helps me with discipline, it helps me communicate with actors, and it keeps me inspired and in love with what we do. After I graduated from college, I went through a lot of the standard cattle-call acting auditions, but I’m very small and I look very young. I had to decide whether to go into children’s theater, but it just wasn’t for me. So I worked for the state theater of Georgia for a while, which was wonderful. I was a stage manager predominantly, which is where I found my organisational flow and figured out how, through planning, I could contribute to the process in a more valuable way. And I don’t find it limiting or removed from the process at all. In stage management you do everything, you make the coffee, but you also call the whole show. There’s no job too small for you. If it’s going to help someone else out, then you do that thing. That’s something I bring to my current job every day.

What's the biggest challenge with client project management?

The biggest challenge is merging a bunch of different people’s creative visions together. Everybody has a different perspective. The client has one perspective – normally when they come to you with a project they have something in their head that they’ve envisioned and that they want. Then our creative team has another vision, based on our experience and what their target demographic is. And then I have a point of view on the details and logistics of getting all of that done, as well as my own creative input. It’s important to listen to every client and figure out what they want, and then ask very specific questions to figure out what their target demographic is, what the goal is for their project and how we can achieve that goal. And for most clients you come to an understanding very early on in the process.

What defines success for your clients in your eyes?

I think client success has to be defined by more than just, “are they happy with what they got”. True success comes when a video connects with its intended audience, and achieves the client's goal. And that’s where that negotiating and discussion from the beginning comes in. Their personal taste has to align with what will resonate with their audience.

What traits or habits do you believe are critical to a successful project outcome?

I think that you have to be a good listener. Whether you are a freelancer or work in a large corporation, you have to listen not only to clients but to all stakeholders. Good listening elicits empathy and an understanding of where people are coming from. When it’s time to have your say, you have to be able to communicate your point of view with conviction. You can’t be wishy-washy or the project won’t be as strong as it could be.

How do you use Wipster?

The first way is for internal review, because we’re not all in the same place at the same time. We’ll send it out and get feedback from our team internally. Sometimes we’ll send it to people we know as a focus group. Then finally we’ll send it to a client. When we first started using it there was some resistance, in particular with some of the clients we’ve been working with for a long time, because they’re so used to Vimeo. I like to use the shareable link because I think that’s more accessible to them. It’s more what they’re used to seeing. Once they get in there they always love it.

How were you collaborating before Wipster?

Internally, we would awkwardly call each other while we were playing the video. We would try to arrange for everyone to be there and watch it together – and sometimes that just wasn’t possible. Externally, we had to create a private Vimeo link with a password and then send it out in mass to the people who needed to see it. We got a lot of repetitive or contradictory feedback because they didn’t know what the other person was saying. Sometimes in an email if you get an edit or a suggestion from a client you don’t always know exactly what they’re asking for. It’s just easier with Wipster because you can see what exactly they’re talking about. It’s immediate and much faster.

What do you do to stay inspired and grow in your craft?

A lot of my job is to support other creative people. The more I learn about what other people do and the more I learn about the filming and editing process, and understand specifically what they do, the easier it is for me to do my job. To keep me excited, I really like to watch documentaries. It’s not strictly marketing, it’s not strictly education, but that’s my favourite type of film.

For inspiration on Twitter, I follow Creative Live – they do live streaming, and it’s educational but it’s for creative people. I like 99U, and I like Story And Heart. Story and Heart does a great tutorial series for filmmakers. I also follow Discovery, and there’s a cool guy called The Nerdy Teacher.

What advice would you give to young creatives starting out today?

I am a young creative, I’m only 27. So I would say the thing that I’ve learned in the five years I’ve been out of college is, it’s difficult to be successful when you have a narrow and limited view of what success means to you. I’m a Meisner-trained actor, so when I came out of college, I was like, “I’m going to be an actor and I’m going to make it happen and if I don’t I’ve failed”. So I really had to take a look at myself, and what I was good at and what my skills were and assess how I could use those things to be successful. And maybe that meant not being an actor. So don’t limit yourself to a narrow view of what success is. There are so many moving parts in a creative project – whether it’s theater or film – there are so many pieces, and you need those pieces. If you widen your view of what success is, you're more likely to succeed.