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My North Video Series Spotlights Best of MN

by Erin Barney

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Deputy editor Drew Wood discusses the development of a 52-week video project leading up to Super Bowl LII

When the Super Bowl Host Committee approached Mpls.St.Paul Magazine two years ago about a media partnership for the impending Super Bowl LII, Drew Wood’s first thoughts were not of our beloved Vikings. Don’t get him wrong, the magazine’s deputy editor can Skol with the best of ‘em, but what excited him the most was having an opportunity to help our state do a little bit of humble bragging.

“As Minnesotans, we’re not good at promoting ourselves,” Wood says. “We’re not good at saying how awesome we are. So I was like, you know what, we’re not our best spokespeople, but what’s a better spokesperson is the collective whole of who we are.”

After many months of planning, the My North video series met the world, and the world has been able to meet the real Minnesota. Wood explained to MMPA how it all came together. Here are some highlights from the interview:

MMPA: Why videos?

Wood: People aren’t going to engage the same with 52 [written] profiles. It’s not as believable as seeing somebody moving. Also, the video will just find you.

MMPA: And why these videos?

Wood: If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do 52 videos, one a week leading up to the Super Bowl, of notable Minnesotans, whether they were born here and moved away, born here, moved away, and came back, or aren’t from here at all, but moved here and felt that sort of connection.

But not everybody from Minnesota counts. I know plenty of people who never had any sort or regard for this place and got out of here and never thought twice about it. And I know plenty of [other] people like Genevieve Gorder, who is in New York City, loves New York, but is wistful as hell about Minnesota and will always be a Minnesotan. And so [we thought] let’s create a platform for them to tell their stories.


Har Mar Superstar, one of the Minnesota faithful interviewed for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's My North project.

MMPA: What’s brought the most challenges?

Wood: Because it’s underwritten by Explore Minnesota, there’s been a certain set of parameters. They want them to be more tourist videos. But the difference between us making this video series and [them] making it is we don’t pay people to do it. They do it because they believe in what we’re doing here. Will Steger is willing to invite us to his house just because we had a good pitch and he liked the idea of it, and we need to show that he’s letting us into his life because that’s what’s gonna make people respond to these videos.

MMPA: What have the responses and engagement been like?

Wood: Facebook is where people are watching them. Twitter to a certain extent, but really Facebook is the video player people want to watch. We’d been learning that anyway [from previous video projects] and so we knew the expectation can’t be to drive traffic to Our only end game is to have as many people see these as possible.

MMPA: How have you gone about achieving that?

Wood: Proper distribution: I think it’s great that it’s its own homepage, but strategically, you have no search equity in a brand-new website. So it’s not that we don’t try to drive traffic to it, but since our key metric was to just get as many people to watch it and share it as possible, Facebook has really been our place.

We started doing this thing called a ‘handshake’ where Explore Minnesota and us do a handshake on Facebook and basically that tells the Facebook algorithm that this thing is real and should be lifted up higher.

Proper editing: When you scroll past a video [on Facebook], it turns on, usually, but if you scroll down, it goes off. So we realized a lot of people were watching, but were quitting after seven seconds. People at this company who are more strategic than me, a lot of people at MSP-C, said we need more action at the start—get a voice, somebody talking, seeing somebody, as opposed to opening with credits.

Know your audience: Steve [Zahn] talked about the middle school and the high school he went to and the teachers he had in this very vivid way, and that helped engagement because people see it and are like, “Robbinsdale high school! He’s talking about Mr. so-and-so, I love that guy!” And whenever someone says something like that, they always say it to like, seven specific people. This one guy tagged nine of his friends, and then those guys all do it, too.

MMPA: Any words of advice to future filmmakers?

Wood: Give people a real, authentic reason to go into these, and more people will go into them.