Producing a Promo for National Geographic Channel

Dean’s Intern Meg Kearns at the National Geographic Channel

Building Penguin Paradise Promo from Meg Kearns on Vimeo.


Meg at National Geographic

In Washington, D.C., working at the National Geographic Channel is the ultimate goal for most aspiring filmmakers, including me. When I saw that the School of Communication had a Dean’s Internship with this world-renowned institution, I knew it was an opportunity I could not pass up. But “Ad Sales Creative”? What could that possibly have to do with my major, Film and Media Arts, and my background in writing and production?

As it turns out, quite a lot! I decided to apply and ultimately accept this internship because as a writer for film and television today, I know- because my coursework at AU has emphasized it over and over again- how important writing for different formats can be to remaining competitive and successful in the industry. I thought that short-form promo writing for television would be an exciting creative challenge for me to take on that would help me learn and grow as a writer- and I was right!

On my very first day back in January after a whirlwind tour of the office, my supervisor asked me if I was ready for my first promo. It was a last-minute assignment that would have a fast turn-around time, about half the time that a promo usually gets, but I was ready.

First, I watched enough examples of ad sales promos, which are promos that are “brought to you by” a corporate sponsor, to get a good idea of what I needed to do. Next, I watched the NatGeo show the promo was for: a very fun show called “Building Penguin Paradise,” all about SeaWorld Orlando’s renovation of their penguin exhibit. I took notes, keeping track of sound bites that were particularly catchy, and drafted three different scripts.

Right away I faced the biggest challenge of writing promos: the timing. My promo was supposed to be 30 seconds long. How hard could that be? Well, 10 of those seconds had to be dedicated to saying when the show is actually airing: you know, the “tune in this Sunday at 10 on NatGeo Wild.” And 10 more seconds had to be dedicated to our sponsor, SeaWorld: “brought to you by SeaWorld…” etc. So basically, I had 10 seconds to not only explain what the show was about, but also make it seem fun and interesting enough to get people to tune in. Talk about a challenge!

I wrote three different versions of a script, and my supervisor helped me edit and decide which one to send to the head of our department, who then helped me edit even further. The end product was a combination of the first two versions I wrote. I searched online for the perfect music for my promo, which the editor of the project later said “sounds like it was written by a penguin,” so I guess I did a good job.

It was so much fun going to a post-production house for the editing session and watching my promo get made. The end result is exactly what I pictured in my head when I was writing it, which I think is pretty amazing.  I learned so much from this experience, and I can’t wait to do it again.

To view more of Meg’s work, check out her website here.