Creative Corner: How 360Learning Developed a Documentary During a Pandemic

Lisa Marinelli

Creative


Developing compelling content can be challenging in the best of circumstances. 360Learning, a cloud-based learning management system based in Paris, France, understands these challenges first-hand.

The small but mighty marketing team developed a first-of-its-kind B2B docuseries called Onboarding Joei this year. The 13-episode series followed Joei Chan, a new hire at the company, as she learned the ropes of her new role as 360Learning’s Director of Content.

In the middle of production, COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, the team decided to forge ahead. They continued to follow Joei’s journey as she faced unimaginable challenges and found her place at the company over the course of 90 days.

Watch the trailer for Onboarding Joei:

Alert
Onboarding Joei 2 is here! Check out the season two trailer and start binge-watching the B2B reality series.

So, how did 360Learning pull off this impressive and immersive show remotely? And how did the concept come to life with a one-person production team? We chatted with Nicolas Merlaud, Head of Creative Strategy at 360Learning, to pull back the curtains on Onboarding Joei.

In this two-part interview, we’ll get an inside look at Nicolas’s ideation, production, launch, and distribution processes for the docuseries. Let’s dive into ideation and production for Onboarding Joei in part one below!


Nicolas’s video background and vision

What attracted you to video?

Nicolas: I’ve led my video production agency for seven years and got to work with a lot of startups in the Paris scene. Video has always been a passion of mine. I’ve always loved this medium because you can turn your weird ideas into a tangible asset that other people can experience, too. I’ve produced videos for several companies throughout my career, so when I joined 360Learning, I wanted to leverage the power of video while doing something different and bold.

“I always believed that the format of the video has to help the story.”

I always believed that the format of the video has to help the story. Our culture at 360Learning is very unique and transparent, so I thought the documentary format was the way to go. I’ve always been passionate about fiction, and I wanted the documentary to feel like a television show, with a real story, and not just be about journalism. So, I decided to try the impossible and commit to producing 13 episodes — one every week for 13 weeks.


The ideation process for “Onboarding Joei”

How did you land on your idea for the show?

Nicolas: Arriving at 360Learning was my first experience both in-house and at a startup. The startup scene is still very shiny in France, and I thought the behind-the-scenes view was appealing. It’s not all about unicorns and pool tables. It’s not a story that employer branding websites tell with honesty.

I wanted to make a series about that unfamiliar moment — starting a new job. And since 360Learning is a learning management system and onboarding is one of our use cases, it all came together one day. Joei was joining our team in a month. I was in my bed one night, and it clicked: I needed to make a docuseries about her onboarding. I sent an email to myself not to forget, and the morning after, she agreed to the project.

When I wrote the documentary outline, I prepped by meeting and talking with Joei. I could immediately tell that she wanted to do great things but was also aware of how fragile projects can be in the startup environment.

My premise was this: the startup scene can be very demanding. As a new individual contributor, you want to show everyone you can have a significant impact. But because starting a new job is inherently stressful, you can forget a bit about yourself and others. What I wanted to convey is that, in the end, what matters is how you treat other people. Getting a bigger paycheck but letting down all your peers is not the way to go.

“What I wanted to convey is that, in the end, what matters is how you treat other people. Getting a bigger paycheck but letting down all your peers is not the way to go.”

How did you align the show vision with 360Learning’s target audience?

Nicolas: The target persona was very clear from the start: development professionals working at a US-based company with more than 200 employees. I was lucky in the sense that we, as a company, already had a strong perspective on who we serve.

To align the concept with our persona, I used the show positioning statement that Wistia presents in the Brand Affinity Marketing Playbook. I really relate to the insight idea, the “but.” I made sure that the show resonated with an intention they had, but without hiding the potential obstacles to this intention.

With this show, I also wanted to appeal to the end-user. So, real employees at companies, not the manager or team running the onboarding process. I didn’t want to make our product the core of the story, but a present theme. I thought by targeting a broader audience, our ideal customer profile would hear about it too. And it paid off. Several clients and prospects reached out telling us that they learned a lot about the process.

Pro-Tip
Want to learn more about a Brand Affinity Marketing strategy for your business? Check out our four-step playbook.

How did you pitch the concept internally, and what was the initial reaction?

Nicolas: To pitch the concept, I used one of Wistia’s recommended resources. Vivien, our account manager, sent me the show bible from Marketing Showrunners. I filled it out and pinged the team on Trello, the project management tool we’re using internally. I started with the “why,” then the goal I wanted to achieve, and then more details about the specifics.

“I started with the ’why,' then the goal I wanted to achieve, and then more details about the specifics.”

Some people were intrigued. Others were not on board. I remember some folks were a bit worried I put all my eggs in the same basket because it would be very time-consuming. I even made a spreadsheet to prove that it would not take 100 percent of my time, and I could still manage other projects.

But as I said, the culture is very empowering. I quickly got the greenlight. If I made it work, great. If I didn’t, I’d learn from it and try something else.

How did you get Joei on board to be part of this project?

Nicolas: We actually created the concept before we met her, but the show wouldn’t be the way it is without her. She is so genuine, so honest, so bold — people can’t not love her. It could have been totally different… I was very lucky!

“The show wouldn’t be the way it is without her. She is so genuine, so honest, so bold — people can’t not love her.”

Joei wasn’t hard to convince. She wanted to start her own Youtube channel about being an expat in Paris, so she wasn’t opposed to the idea of being featured on camera. And we got along well very quickly, which helped establish a trusting relationship we needed to make this show work.


Studying the art of filmmaking

What resources did you use to learn the art of creating a show?

Nicolas: I’ve produced, written, and directed a lot of ads, brand content videos, and short movies — but never a whole series. To get started, I embraced what has become one of my new favorite books about screenwriting, The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. I re-read the 22 steps recap before writing the outline.

I also watched two masterclasses, one from Aaron Sorkin about storytelling, and one from Ken Burns about making a documentary. I remember this one piece of advice from Aaron, saying that you need intention and obstacles to create a story. Otherwise, it’s just journalism.

I also read a lot of tips. I remember this mantra from Marketing Showrunners — that the end goal of a show is to make people stay for the next episode. It really resonated with me, and I tried to implement this at every stage: hook people, make them want to see the next scene, the next episode, and now the next season.

“I tried to implement this at every stage: hook people, make them want to see the next scene, the next episode, and now the next season.”

How did you manage to create an arc for a show that was unscripted?

Nicolas: For the show to be successful, I needed to make sure that I had something to say. Personally, that was very important for me. I joined the company a few months prior and had already learned what Joei would eventually learn. I had the global picture in mind.

I met with her several times before we started shooting. I got to know her. I asked a lot of personal questions about what she was looking for in the company and why she left her previous company. But I also asked personal questions like what she wanted to achieve in life and what her friends say when describing her. The more I knew her, the more I could rework the arc I pictured for her.

Then, I made an effort to pre-write the series outline, using the seven steps of story structure from The Anatomy of a Story. I wrote as if it was a fictional story. I didn’t know which event would happen, but it gave me a good idea of where she would start, where she would end up, and what she would learn in the process. From there, it was a combination of both luck and a lot of adaptation.

Do you have any writing tips you can share for beginners?

Nicolas: I don’t think there is one process that will work for every team, but I’m happy to share the one I used.

I made sure my story had the seven key steps of story structure (all credits go to Truby).

In a nutshell, what I wanted was for the hero (Joei) to have a clear desire (create a blog, have an impact on the company) and an opponent who had the same desire (her boss). But I also wanted the hero to have weaknesses: in the beginning, she hurts herself (psychological weakness, not being able to sleep because of pressure) and others (moral weakness, she blames her colleague for being too slow in a meeting in front of others).

As she tries to achieve her desire and overcome the obstacle (plan), she learns about herself (reveal). It was super important that she understand something new about herself and what matters to her.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if she achieves her desire (the blog is not ready on time), but she overcomes her weaknesses and meets her needs. She ultimately achieves growth (final situation, she apologizes to her colleague, she understands that collaborating with others is more important than succeeding on her own).

For the episodes, I wanted every episode to be as compelling as a Netflix show. Even with shorter episodes, I wanted the feeling of drama that would make people want to come back and watch until the end. For every episode, I wanted to accomplish two things: persuade viewers to watch until the end, and then entice them to watch the next episode.

I created a simple framework that I filled out before every shoot:

  • A hook: to make sure the first few seconds were intriguing
  • The intro title: to brand the series
  • The desire: what did Joei want to do this week?
  • The obstacle: what prevented her from getting there?
  • The plan: what did Joei do to get there and overcome the obstacle?
  • The pay off: what happens in the end
  • The cliff: what will we talk about next week? What’s intriguing there?
“I used the seven key steps to storytelling by John Truby as a guide: weakness, desire, opponent, plan, battle, self-revelation, new equilibrium. This playbook helped me shape each episode and the narrative as a whole.”

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Despite having no prior experience creating an episodic series, we think Nicolas created a compelling concept to support 360Learning’s brand. Be sure to keep an eye out for part two of this interview where we dig into how Nicolas launched and distributed Onboarding Joei to the world!

Lisa Marinelli

Creative

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