If youre a video or multimedia producer who doesn't work in broadcasting or film production, yet you are not a player in the wedding/event market, youre probably focusing on the market niche loosely defined as corporate or corporate/industrial. Ive come to believe that the word corporate, as it applies to this production market, must be derived from a Latin word meaning Cross-section of clientele with completely dissimilar needs, means, and circumstances.
Some of us work inside the client-company as actual employees in a media-services or A/V production department, while others of us serve the client as a completely separate supplier or vendor business. This article will probably serve the outside production company more than the internal department. While most of the information here is relevant to either type of producer.
As is the case with most skilled craftspeople, many of us concentrate on accumulating the skills and appliances of our trade before we really become knowledgeable about our market. There are very few of us in this industry who can purchase a piece of equipment and have customers approaching us because of it. We must understand how to deliver a usable video/CD/etc., as most of us base our livelihood on our ability to provide a finished project that is successful. This is not a difficult premise, until you ask the question, What does the CLIENT see as being a successful project?
Many times, the way we as producers would gauge a successful project and the way our client sees it, is very different, indeed. Ive seen plenty of times when a project producer and client get into a conflict over things like a simple product shot. An example might go something like this: The producer or director have spent hours on arranging and lighting a business-to-business clients product in the most visually appealing way. The problem is that the most visually appealing side of the product doesn't show the products functional superiority relative to its most significant competitor. Some products are sold because of how they work, not how they look. In this case, the production person may have produced an image that was absolutely awe-inspiring visually (successful), but the client has pretty images that were probably expensive (from his/her perspective) that don't help sell the products main benefit (waste of money
So how do we, as producers, get inside the clients head enough to understand their needs? Well, its probably not as hard as some of us might expect. On the other hand, its probably not as easy as others of us might think. The man who helped me start in business once told me that People only do things for two reasons, to gain a benefit or avoid a loss. Its absolutely true. No matter what type of project youre doing for a client, its being done for one of those two reasons. Sales programs help to boost revenue (benefit), training programs help to avoid injuries and downtime, as well as fulfill regulations, which avoid costly fines (loss).
Every project you are awarded from a corporate client has its roots in one of these premises. Even charitable work has benefits that are gained, whether they are public relations for the company, or the personal cause of the CEO who gains satisfaction in donating their money for a noble purpose. The success of your project hinges on your ability to assess what the upsides are for the client and to maximize those benefits. It definitely helps to put yourself in your clients place and consider their position.
There are things that a video or multimedia vendor can do in the sales or project proposal stage that can put things on the right track.
A particular issue that tends to puzzle me is the way some production companies approach the proposal or quoting process. We all want to be seen as having valuable talents and unique skills, yet many of us furnish the client with nothing more than a list of estimated hours and a projected cost. If you provide a unique and valuable service (as we all strive to do) you can't treat it like a commodity during the proposal process. Really good proposals visualize a project out through implementation for a client. Which would you rather buy, a house that is described with a few bullet points and features and a price, or one that has drawings and measurements and other illustrations for kitchen cabinetry, etc.? While you don't have to necessarily create images for the client, you can certainly use descriptive language and create a clear picture in the clients mind of what you plan to do. Tell the client why you took the approach you did in your proposal.
Make sure they understand all the benefits and limitations to the medium they've chosen. Videotape is very linear in nature and dictates that the viewer, but for a person interested in a small bit of information, watch a lot of material that doesn't matter to them. CD-ROM solves this problem by being interactive and user-directed so the client can pick the areas to view. On the other hand, there are still a few unskilled computer users out there and you are depending on them to know about their operating system, RAM and media drivers, etc. to fulfill the minimum requirements of proper playback. Many of these computer users may experience problems with a CD-ROM that has nothing to do with how it was produced. Ive never seen a VHS player that doesn't have the proper operating system or enough RAM. Different media is optimal under different circumstances.
Make sure to hype any and all things that cost you very little to provide, but benefit the client. Maybe you provide a larger number of distribution copies at project end than your competition. VHS tapes and CDRs cost very little to you, but they are the only way the client can deploy the material. If you provide 20 CDR copies of the clients project as opposed to your competitor who provides 10, you've effectively doubled the clients capability to immediately implement their $7-, 8-, 10-, or 20,000.00 dollar program while your actual cost is around $10.00.
Try to help your client make the best use of the medium they've chosen. If you go the extra mile to counsel the client to remove some time-sensitive financial performance information from the script for their employee orientation video, thereby extending its effective life another 2 years, how much money does that save the client over the next two years? Too often a producer in that situation will produce it as the client requests it with an eye toward the fees they can charge for revision of the project. Let's look at it from the clients point of view. Will the client think that you should have informed them of the time-sensitive information issue when they realize they now have to revise the video in 10 months? Possibly not, in fact they may even blame themselves for the bad judgement call. If you had addressed it up front and they benefit from your consult however, they know that you not only know what you are doing, but that you are there to help them. The more you teach clients, the more they respect your knowledge and expertise. The more suggestions you make to benefit them, the more they trust and respect your opinion in future projects. In the time-sensitive content scenario above, the company that would keep the helpful suggestion to itself might not be eliminated from the eligible vendor list. On the other side of the issue, the company that would sacrifice the short-term revision prospect by making the money-saving suggestion may not have to compete with the rest of the vendor list when the next project comes around. It happens all the time.
One additional issue comes to mind when a production company is dealing with a prospective client at this stage; the possible negotiation of fees and project cost. Turn the tables and think of yourself as a business client, or as an everyday consumer for that matter. Wouldn't you always pay the least to get the most? Of course you would. So why is it that many of us, as producers, have such a difficult time when our clients try to negotiate our fees down? They are doing the same thing as we are when we wait to buy something on sale, request a traveling on business discount at a hotel, or change long distance carriers for a penny per minute difference in the rate on Thursday nights. Price is important. We don't expect our vendors to be angry with us when we try to get the best price; we need to work with our clients keeping that in mind. Our clients are in business just like we are and they don't want to waste money either. Think of how to really illustrate the value of your services. And don't think I'm saying to give a negotiating client anything they want, that's actually counter-productive. Part of illustrating the value of something is not giving it away. A client who doesn't understand that you have costs and can't stay in business without a profit is a client best suited for your competitor anyway.
Think long-term. Advertising is expensive. The clients that return without you having to call on them save you money and you can serve them more effectively as you get to know them better with each passing project.
I could continue on this subject forever. In fact I may put a couple more things in a future installment. The overall idea is this: Treat your clients business like it was your own. Learn their market, their products, their weaknesses and strengths and then help them to be successful any way you sensibly can.
You'll be surprised how your clients will return the favor.
(author blurb: Tim Kolb has spent thirteen years in video production including time in television news and eleven years at his own company, Kolb Communications. He is a multiple ITVA, Telly, American Advertising, and Emmy Award winner. His business focuses on corporate and commercial projects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)