If you need high-quality video for your campaign or project, and you're not an expert in the field yourself, then the most reliable option is to approach a professional video production company. However, budgets these days are tight, and everyone is interested in saving a buck, which often results in companies producing video in-house. But this can often turn out to be a false economy. I've lost count of the number of times my Chicago-based video production company, Motion Source, has been asked to redo videos that our clients created themselves.
The good news is, there IS a way to have your cake and eat it. Commissioning an external video production company doesn't need to be exorbitantly expensive. In this article I'll explain a number of simple steps that you can take at your end to keep your overall spend at a reasonable level while still getting quality results...
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01. Know your goal
With any undertaking, you should know your goal intimately. However, with the hectic pace of our daily lives it is often easy to settle on 'kinda-sorta' knowing your goal, and then expecting whatever vendor you seek out to take you the rest of the way. This ends up being a black hole that sucks in great quantities of time and cash.
Nobody knows your business, and the goals of that business, as well as you do. A video production company should play anthropologist and seek to understand the culture of your company, and its aims, but they will never know it as well as you do. Therefore, it is beholden upon you to make very clear to them what you are seeking to accomplish.
If you don't take this step seriously, you are going to be spending a lot of time going back and forth with the production company as they attempt to decipher your target. Or, even worse, you are going to end up with a video that does not hit the mark, and is at best undesirable, and at worst unusable. You may also end up paying significantly for all of this back and forth, as it is costing your video vendor in pre-production time.
Figure out what you want
Do yourself a favour and spend the requisite time, upfront, to figure out precisely what it is that you want your video to accomplish; whether it be to educate prospects, increase sales, demonstrate a product or simply to outshine your competition.
And don't just pick one of these examples! Figure out what it is that you want your video to do specifically for your company, and communicate this clearly and directly to the production company that you select to work with.
02. Provide samples
Knowing your goal, and communicating it effectively, will help to direct the core content of your video. However, you should also have an idea of what you want the package that carries that core content to look like.
Telling a video production vendor that you want your video to look sexy and modern does little to actually determine the appropriate aesthetic. Most companies will probably take their best guess at these adjectives, and provide you with their interpretation of 'sexy' and 'modern'. This doesn’t mean their best guess is right; meaning that you, again, run the risk of a video that does not work for you and your audience. And what does that equal out to? Potentially, a big waste of time and cash.
To avoid this pitfall, spend some time perusing the web searching for sample videos that you'd like to emulate, or integrate a part of. I know that this is asking for your time, but this will ensure that the investment you are making in your production proves to be a beneficial one.
I cannot express to you how refreshing it is when a client sends over video samples. When they can both tell and show what they are seeking to accomplish, we always end up speaking the same language. Additionally, this tends to expedite the pre-production process, as the basic structure is already there.
It would be like if you hired a construction company to build you a house whose framework had already been erected - less work on their end, more cash stays in your wallet.
03. Be prepared
It is an all-too-frequent tragedy in our business that we arrive for a shoot and the client is totally unprepared. Perhaps they haven’t prepped the area of their offices in which we will be filming, or the interviewees haven’t prepped themselves on their topics. Whatever the lack of preparedness, this always translates into one of two things, if not both: a) additional cost, or b) a lesser product.
A recent experience of ours will help illustrate this point beautifully.
We were working with a large corporate client to produce a video about their organization. The client did their homework in the conceptual phase, and sent us examples of what they were striving for, and communicated a very clear image of their goal. With this information we were capable of planning down to each individual the shot, and shared our plan well ahead of time with the client. Smooth sailing right? Not so fast!
The day that we arrived at the client’s office they were woefully unprepared. Interviewees had not been prepped on what they would be discussing; employees that were supposed to be in the video were never asked, and others declined to take part... the list goes on.
Regardless, we did our best, and turned over an edit to the client that was as close as possible to the original plan. The client communicated that this wasn’t what they were looking for, and openly took responsibility for this undesirable outcome falling on their shoulders.
The only way to rectify the situation was to reshoot, costing our client another day in production fees and employees away from work. Needless to say, the second time around they were well prepared, and exceptionally happy with the finished product. But the moral of the story remains: preparation pays.
04. Get involved
Again, this is more work on your end, but the final product will be much stronger with your involvement. You should make sure that the production company provides you with each iteration of the video, so that if they are moving in the wrong direction you can quickly get them back on track. If you do not opt for this review process, it is possible that your vendor may sink a significant amount of misspent hours into the project.
At this point in the production process, if you've followed the above tips, the production company that you are working with should have a very clear idea of the direction they are driving in, but, at times, things do take a detour. By being involved through reviewing iterations of the project, and making critiques and requesting changes, you are helping to steer the course. And it will be a course that does not result in the cost of additional hours due to a lack of guidance.
Choose the music
Additionally, it pays to be involved with the selection of some of elements that make up your video. For instance, you may leave it to the production company to select a musical track that best fits your video. But if a track is selected that doesn't gel with your vision, you are going to end up paying for it, as well as the one that does satisfy your vision.
I'll often ask a client to provide direction on the type of music they would prefer included in their video. I might even ask for, (gasp!), a sample that is in the same vein. At times, we will even go to the extent of simply having the client select the track from one of the many royalty free providers that we purchase our music from.
Choose the graphics
This same approach can be taken to any of the graphics within the video. I am going to let the cat out of the bag here: most graphics are based on templates that can be purchased, and then modified. Therefore, at times we will take the same approach to graphics as we do to music, and have the client select from one of the graphic template libraries that we frequent.
This isn't to suggest that you cannot have graphics created from scratch, but this is often a significant cost, which is what we are trying to avoid here.
05. Final thoughts
There is no ultimate secret as to how to save money with a video production; it simply takes an effort of time and attentiveness. The above tips aren’t really tips at all, but steps that every client should consider when working with a video production company. Not only will these steps make your wallet smile, but they will ensure a successful project, the end product of which meets your specific needs.
Words: Craig Bass
Craig Bass is the co-owner of Motion Source (opens in new tab), a video production company based in Chicago, IL. Craig has over 14 years of experience behind the camera and in the studio. When he is not busy creating video solutions for clients, he is collaborating on indie film projects and immersing himself further in film culture.
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Have you had good or bad experiences with commissioning a video production company? Let us know in the comments below!