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I work in academia and do research in an applied field. A small group of people from our research group are soon travelling to the largest national convention to promote our research as close to all our research is done in collaboration with either municipalities or companies, and this is an important event.

They've decided to have a screen in our booth, running with different small video clips on it, including short interviews. I was approached in the hallway by our project manager if I could feature in one of the videos. I replied that I would be uncomfortable being filmed and the video made public. We were interrupted and parted ways without finishing the conversation.

At the start of the next week we had our weekly meeting, and the project manager once again asked me if I we could shoot a video with me later in the week for this event. I replied that we could discuss this further in private, as I didn't want to debate that in our official meeting. Now it seems to all my colleagues like I've already accepted this, which I have not. I am expecting further contact with the project manager later this week regarding this.

All previous videos are uploaded to a YouTube channel tied to our university to promote what we do. They're often low budget, filmed with a cellphone and badly edited. Basically they're done by someone working with PR and communications and not someone with video experience. In my honest opinion I think they add very little value to what we do, both in terms of research dissemination and investor attraction.

Presently, there are few videos (<20), and they have low amount of views (<500). Most of them have very specific topics that I doubt would garner a lot of views by themselves, however they're labelled with our names. I've intentionally kept a low online presence my entire life, and being put on YouTube feels very exposing to me. I've in the past been featured in small local news articles, which I have been fine with, they're good publicity and the articles disappear online rather quickly (I can't find any by googling any more). Being put on YouTube for the whole world to see feels so much more intrusive, as so much of your personality is conveyed through the media even though you're portrayed from a professional setting.

So to the question in the title, am I unprofessional if I reiterate my desire not to be filmed for this? Have anyone else been in a similar situation?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 19 '16 at 22:47
  • If you're not an actor, then acting is not your profession. As simple as that. – Agent_L Sep 20 '16 at 7:44
  • Unprofessional? Absolutely NOT, presuming you decline in a professional demeanor. The caveat is that you could end up in less-than-desirable circumstances. Later in your career there could be a moment when a superior asks "Bob" to recommend a person for this well-funded research project and asks Bob for a recommendation on who would be a good fit. Now Bob ponders for a moment and says "You know, Jim participated in that video for the convention and was a pleasure to work with. I recommend him." Even though you are 20% more superior than Jim in this field, personability wins the round. – MonkeyZeus Sep 20 '16 at 14:59
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    Also, if you work in a niche field then getting < 500 views isn't necessarily a bad thing. It could mean that there are only 500 people which you would consider talking with. I would imagine that this video is not targeted at the general masses and likely does not rank high on anyone's rewatchability radar? – MonkeyZeus Sep 20 '16 at 15:05
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Is it unprofessional to decline being part of a promotional video?

No. No reasonable employer will require run-of-the-mill employees to participate in a promotional video if they don't want to.

There are some caveats to this though. For one, if your role somehow relates to marketing or PR you would otherwise be reasonably expected to participate in these then that's just part of the job. The same is true if they mentioned this as part of your responsibilities in interviews, though that would be rare.

Second, there are plenty of unreasonable employers and in the US they are legally allowed to make this a requirement of the job and force you to participate (though in at will states you are of course allowed to resign in response). There are some exception such as if the video was political in nature or if some kind of discrimination or harassment is involved, but that's more of a legal discussion. Suffice to say, you want to be aware of your company's culture here and judge whether anyone in management is likely to react adversely to a reasonable request not to be filmed. In most companies this won't be an issue.

Thirdly, there may be unreasonable people in your company that don't force you to participate or fire you over it but will still think less of you for not joining. These are typically the kind of people who want to see your "Can Do Attitude", organise trust falls or are otherwise incompetent when it comes to managing adults. To combat this and avoid giving the impression that you're the one person not taking part I would suggest offering to help out in some other capacity. These kinds of things usually involve some administrative and logistical work behind the scenes that you can volunteer for.

So, can you decline to participate? Absolutely and provided you decline professionally I'd expect this should be fine unless your project manager is a complete boor. I'd actually encourage you to speak up as I'll bet you have some colleagues who'd rather not participate but who caved to peer pressure.


Regarding the Academic angle: I've intentionally glossed over that aspect of the question as I have little experience with it and it's outside the scope of this site. While Academia has its own (largely un-)written rules and conventions, researchers are still employees in the end and my advice still applies to them. I will say that the majority of researchers don't get their time in the spotlight at conferences so it's unlikely that OP would consider this part of the deal (see caveat one), and that a promo video is quite a different thing.

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    "they are legally allowed to make this a requirement of the job and force you to participate" That really depends on the nation. Please don't assume a US audience. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 19 '16 at 13:02
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    I'd actually encourage you to speak up as I'll bet you have some colleagues who'd rather not participate but who caved to peer pressure. Wait, what? I was with you the entire ride until you called for revolt there. Is that the best professional advice, best for his career? – Konerak Sep 19 '16 at 13:30
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    Everyone seems to have missed this: "I work in academia and do research". Looking at the responses makes it quite clear that this site isn't the right one for this question. "For one, if your role somehow relates to marketing or PR " <- It sounds like this is a research group. There's no "marketing and PR". It's all group members' responsibility to promote the research that they are doing, and such a request is something that most people I know in academia would consider quite normal. – Szabolcs Sep 19 '16 at 14:02
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    Also, the OP didn't give any clear reasons why they can't appear in a video, other than that "they don't like it". All academics are expected to learn how to be good presenters. And at many conferences the presentations are recorded. – Szabolcs Sep 19 '16 at 14:06
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    @Szabolcs Yet they are usually not put on a public website like YouTube where everyone searches for videos. On the conference/university website the public will be significantly different (and smaller). What if you inadvertently mispronounce a word during the presentation and an innocous sentence becomes something that might, with some effort, be interpreted offensively. If the video is on YouTube if a random guy finds it it can share it and suddenyl you have all the media claiming that you are (say) sexist or whatever, this would less probably happen in the other case. – Bakuriu Sep 19 '16 at 16:07
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To add to what others have said, as well as not being unprofessional, I think that declining to be part of the video will not even come across as particularly unusual.

I work in academia, and have to regularly liaise with the press officer to create promotional videos. He has said on several occasions that finding academics to actually get in front of the camera is one of the trickier parts of his job.

Just politely refuse, and if pressed more about it, keep your answers short but polite. Something like "I'm sorry, but as I've said, I am not willing to do that" which doesn't give any openings is best (avoid using phrases like "I'd really prefer not to", which can give the impression you're open to persuasion)

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    This, in particular the last paragraph. Avoiding giving lengthy explanations avoids lengthy discussions. I'd recommend to resist the urge to justify yourself if not asked to... – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 19 '16 at 19:06
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It's not unprofessional to refuse to be part of a promotional video, but it falls under the same category of all other "optional" work functions. It's not unprofessional to refuse and it's not required that you participate, however, refusing to participate will be a CLM on your part (Career Limiting Move). The extent will depend on how much they want you to participate in this "optional" activity.

If you think your position is secure, let them know now that you will not be participating. The longer you wait, the more of a disruption you will be perceived to be.

If your position is not secure, assume this to be mandatory.

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    I don't see any reason to believe not participating will harm OP's career. – user42272 Sep 19 '16 at 17:57
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    Calling it a CLM seems a bit much to me unless the OP royally screws up saying no or if he's developed a pattern of not participating (in any shape or form) in these kinds of events. – Lilienthal Sep 19 '16 at 19:04
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It's not unprofessional when you can give reason.

This is a good opportunity for you to address a quality control issue within the organisation. If the videos they make are 'cell phone quality', then they are not showing the business in the best light.

In the same stride you can point out that having no online presence is better than having a hap-hazard/low-quality video that looks unprofessional and amateurish.

You don't have to address the fact that you're uncomfortable with an online presence. If they address all of your other concerns, you're well within your rights to still refuse. Or if you feel comfortable enough to be on the video at the show, but not on youtube, you can require them to edit you out of the video before it is uploaded. Even simply offering to have a slideshow 'hide' you, may be enough for you to be comfortable with.

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    I wouldn't go and criticize their production process, wait for them to fix it, and only then announce that you don't want to be in the video anyways - this will only annoy people. If the issue is that you're not comfortable being in the video, I think you should give this real reason right away. Criticizing the organisation's "PR strategy" probably won't win you any brownie points. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 19 '16 at 13:25
  • I'm not recommending criticizing the PR strategy, but put forward one of the points of concern, and potentially one of the more valid (from the point of view of the business) They are more likely to appreciate that the production quality is low and you don't want that to affect the perception that other professionals have of you, than they are to understand that you're just uncomfortable being in a video. (#DigitalAge, #NoPrivacy) – TolMera Sep 19 '16 at 13:36
  • I would expect it to be the other way round: quite a few academics are shy or have concerns about privacy, so requesting not to be in a video isn't so unusual. But telling your local "social media enthusiast" that his/her YouTube channel contains crappy videos is creating unnecessary tension, especially if that enthusiast is higher up in the pecking order or the higher-ups decided that a YouTube channel is the done thing now. But I guess that's another culture issue where Europeans have a rather different view - it depends where the OP is situated. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 19 '16 at 15:06
  • That's true, the OP would need to approach the topic with discretion and honesty. I am a European myself, and I would consider it unusual for someone to be reluctant to have a digital footprint (search me, mines getting long... then again, no please don't...) but that being said, cultures change drastically with environment, location, profession, race, gender.. Hopefully the OP's HR won't pigeonhole the person. – TolMera Sep 19 '16 at 15:22
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    Your first line implies that if you don't give a reason, it's unprofessional. If that's what you're saying, I can't disagree enough. Being filmed is not part of his regular job. Giving reasons often has the person asking seeing it as a challenge the same way a salesman devotes himself to getting past no. If you have your own reasons, whatever they are, you shouldn't feel compelled to convince someone else that your reasons are valid. – Chris E Sep 19 '16 at 16:13

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