Tips for Business and Commercial Production Success
COW Library : Business & Career Building Tutorials : Winston Cely : Tips for Business and Commercial Production Success
If it's on TV and has a phone number, it's direct response advertising. Nothing else can tell you so quickly and accurately whether your production is working in the real world. When you tell someone to "Call Now!", it won't take long to find out if they do.
Show-length or "long form" direct response (DR) advertising spots are also called infomercials, but the same core element is there in 30 minute spots and 30 second spots: a call to action that people either respond to - or don't.
This is much different than traditional commercials, or "image" advertising, where the goal is often general brand building and reinforcement. If there's a call to action, it's "soon" rather than "now."
Testing the two kinds of commercials also shows big differences. Research for image advertising measures feelings: how people feel about a spot, how it makes them feel about the product. DR research measures actions: do people call?
Media buyers have spent years of experience to know which markets will be best to test what you've created. They identify the markets, buy the time, and start airing the show. If the response goes well, the only thing left to do is create the cut downs: 60, 30, 15 and 10 second spots.
If the original 30-minute spots test poorly, you start over. You and your team put your heads together for new ideas, create a new edit, and test again. You do it over and over until you get a winning spot.
Smaller clients have less room to test, and larger clients haven't always budgeted money for complete testing. But they've paid for your expertise, and you're still expected to deliver.
Neither you nor the client has any question about whether or not you've succeeded. It's all in the response.
Working under this kind of pressure, I've learned some of what it takes for your business to succeed: close contact with the client, planning, and patience.
DIRECT CLIENT CONTACT
I've worked with a wide range of clients. Recent ones include The Food Saver (the vacuum packaging machine for your food), Space Bag (the compressible clothing bags) and insurance companies like Lifewise of Washington.
The relationships can vary as much as the products: from warm enough to go out and get a couple beers after a successful meeting, to distant and strict. But no matter what the relationship is, I almost always have a direct relationship with them.
This might be the biggest difference between DR advertising and image advertising. An image spot often begins with a client hiring an ad firm to come up with an entire campaign. Everything is signed off on before one frame of footage is shot.
In DR, the client is much more involved in all phases of development, from start to finish. The producer and sometimes the director will also be closely involved, leading meetings and conference calls, but the client typically has the most influence on the final edit
Working so closely with the client, you hear back directly from them, not an agency. If it goes well, it's a great feeling to know how much they appreciate your hard work. You also get their wrath most directly when something doesn't go right.
Communication is the name of the game, but it can be difficult. With so many people directly involved, under such pressure to produce concrete results, there are many opportunities for wires to get crossed. Sending, receiving, and digesting conversations across the whole team requires patience, but leads to a much more rewarding experience for everyone.
It's important to have some type of design background. Many times you're working with clients who have a new product, and they need your help to build that brand from the ground up.
There have been plenty of times where the client didn't even have a logo before they came to us. It fell on me and my producer to come up with some concept or logo to get us at least through the first round of audience testing.
That's why I studied art history, and not film or editing. By the time it came to make the decision, I'd already been tinkering with FCP and decided that learning how to push buttons is the easy part.
I felt it was more important to learn the history of art, and to actually create art in more "classical" ways before I could go out and use new methods to do it. (I especially enjoy painting and arc welding.) I could then become more confident in my creative choices, and my reasons for making them.
Many of the creative choices in editing revolve around titles. As I started doing infomercials, there was a lot more leeway in how titles could look than the documentary work I'd done before.
Documentaries tell a story, but advertising sells a story. It's a small difference but hugely important. DR requires higher-impact titles, and lots of them.
RULES OF DIRECT RESPONSE
Here are the most important rules for creating high direct response:
These rules are true for every form of advertising or course, and even more so when you're looking for immediate action. If you your work needs to persuade – not just tell stories but SELL stories – start here.
As with everything there can be exceptions, but never go for the exception before at least testing the rule.
WORKING WITH HD AND SD
HD makes planning and communication especially important - not just with the client, but with the people duplicating and airing your show. If you don't know the fundamentals of setting up your project, you'll be dead in the water and missing deadlines before you even get started.
For example, we shoot DVCAM, the most flexible and robust SD format I've ever encountered. But no dub house can have every kind of deck. Most use DigiBeta, which is what we send out from our DVCAM masters.
HD is even more complicated. We use the Panasonic Varicam for almost all of our HD shooting, but the expected delivery format is HDCAM. You can't take this for granted, though. Most stations only have one HD deck, and the format is the format. Even before that, you have to know their preferred frame size, 720 or 1080.
This can change on a project by project basis, so pre-planning is critical.
We shoot more and more of our long form and short form spots in HD, even for SD delivery. Our recent Space Bag shows were delivered in full HD/widescreen and as DR gains more respect as mainstream advertising, and the budgets rise, you'll see HD delivery more often.
Before Space Bag, we've always downconverted in post, where we either set up an SD sequence and letterbox the HD footage, or center cut the finished HD spot. Obviously, if we center cut, we take into account the different title safe zones, and adjust accordingly during the edit.
Even if you're delivering widescreen video for both HD and SD, and have created all your text and graphics to fit the widescreen title safe, the black bars at the top and bottom of the SD frame mean that your text and graphics will shrink relative to widescreen playback size. Graphics are sometimes fine, but text is often not.
In any case, we always make a DVCPRO HD master both with and without titles, an SD DigiBeta master, and an SD DVCAM master. We dupe the DigiBeta and send that to the dub house for broadcast delivery, and we keep the DVCAM for in-house use. This is what we use for web video and SD DVDs.
We set up all this redundancy from the beginning so that we aren't crushed for time later on. Better to be prepared for anything up front than to scramble at the end.
Anyone can push buttons in Final Cut Pro. That's the easy part. The truth is that editing is only a fraction of what's involved in building a successful business.
Dropping your prices and giving in to your clients' every whim has nothing to do with it. What sets you apart and sets you up to succeed is knowing how to deal directly with the client, having the foresight to plan ahead carefully, and the patience to see it through.
If you can present yourself as a true professional, your short term clients will turn into long term ones. Sometimes, they'll even turn into friends. In this business that can mean a lot, financially and otherwise.
And believe me, if you don't leave a good impression with the client, no matter how nice the finished edit turns out, they'll look elsewhere in the future.
Direct response advertising is a tough field to work in. On top of all the other challenges I've talked about here, you've still got to face the biggest obstacle of all: people's preconceptions that if it's for sale on TV, it's crap. If you can't get past that, you can't succeed. Persuasion is everything. But when those phones start ringing right after, or even during a spot that you've done, you know all your hard work has paid off. It can be incredibly rewarding, and with communication, planning and patience, it can pay well too.
So call now!
The First Paid TV Spot
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