Do you have a business where all your customers come to you? It could happen. You may make great videos, satisfy every customer need and do so at a low price. The word on the street may be that you are the man (or the woman) where video is concerned, and that using another production
company is not only foolhardy, but dangerous as well. If this is the case, you have reached video
nirvana. You can stop reading now.
But this probably doesn’t describe your situation. I know it doesn’t describe my situation.
In the real world, video is a tough sell. The client may not understand how video works–or if it works at
all–and they may have only a vague idea of the steps involved in producing a video. Or they may not have
a clue how much money to budget.
In essence, the client must trust you to know all these things, and to guide the video to a
successful conclusion. The client’s first question should be, who is this person or company offering to
produce my video, and why should I use him, her or it?
If you were an artist specializing in etchings, you could carry samples of your work in a portfolio.
By showing samples of previous work, you might win the trust and respect of the reticent client.
But you aren’t. (One who etches, that is.) You are a videomaker, and your work is difficult to
carry in a leather briefcase. Your portfolio includes the moving pictures and sounds of your actual video
work, along with the equipment on which to play it.
What Can You Do For Me?
One of the most important parts of any video portfolio is the demo tape. It is also one of the
least important parts. Paradoxical, no? Here’s why: no matter what project you show to a potential client,
they will say (or think), hmmm, that’s not exactly what I had in mind for my show.
Well, of course it isn’t. Every project is different, with a different audience, different goals and
different methods. The only video that should look exactly like the potential client’s imagined video is the
actual video created for that client. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.
But a demo tape is still important, because it shows the level of expertise the client can expect
from you. If you have a demo tape with many pieces of different projects edited together, it should move
quickly and be brief. This is difficult for most creative types, because we are proud of everything we have
ever done and want to include all of it on our demo. But if we did, the result could easily take several hours
(or even days) to watch.
The potential client may only stay interested for about three to five minutes, so if you plan to go
longer than this, get your best stuff up front. You might want to put together a five minute “music video”
(quick cuts from your best work edited to a dynamic music track). This will give the audience of short-
attention-span theater a feel for your capabilities.
There is a downside to the music video approach: it’s all flash and little substance. If your
specialty is making complex subjects easy to understand through excellent writing and direction, then a
music video probably won’t reflect that skill. But if you hook a prospect with a dazzling, music video-style
opener, he or she may stay with your demo long enough to learn more about your writing and direction
abilities. You could put longer examples after the opener that show your expertise in greater detail.
If you have a niche market in which you specialize–such as documenting talking dogs, or perhaps
something more exotic like wedding videos–then you could hit the prospect with a finished product that is
similar to the one the client wants. You might even show a range of projects from the simple and
inexpensive (small talking dog: the Gettysburg address), to the complex and costly (many singing dogs:
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony). This will help the client see that there are many options available for the
video, depending on the budget.
Because your demo tape contains videotape examples, you have another problem that the etching
artist does not. The artist’s medium is a flat sheet that someone can view with the naked eye. You have to
play your work back in a VCR, and show it on a monitor or TV set.
Can you assume that your prospect will have this equipment at their facility? No, but you could
ask. Let’s say the prospect does have equipment, but when you play your tape back on it, all the people in
your demo have green faces. If that wasn’t enough, your once-beautiful graphics have turned a shade of
fuchsia which, in turn, turns your stomach.
You will probably want to show your video on your own equipment. But if the prospect doesn’t
have time to come to your facility, then you have to take that equipment to the prospect. Chances are, you
won’t want to drag a 25-inch TV set, stereo receiver, speakers, full-size VCR and assorted cables into the
field. But there is a compromise which works in most situations.
Small TV sets with built-in VHS decks are common and not overly expensive. I am also aware of
an 8-inch monitor with a built-in Hi8 player, though this professional gear is more costly. Obviously, a
prospective client will not get the full effect of your video on a small screen, but she can get an idea of the
quality of your productions. Larger screen TV/VCR units are available, but think about wear and tear.
Heavier means clumsier. Carrying machines to client meetings not only puts dings and scratches on the
equipment, it can cause you to work up a sweat when you need to look cool and calm. Even with a small
machine you might want to use a two wheel cart to lug it around.
Who Did You Say You Were?
If you are approaching a client for the first time, you will need to tell them who you are. “Hi, I’m Bill.
I want to do your video,” lacks a certain depth of information. The client needs to feel that your company is
legitimate, hence needs more details.
A short but comprehensive history of your company can show a prospect that you’ve been around.
What year did you start the business? What are your major areas of expertise? Are there any large and
impressive projects you could mention? What kind of equipment do you use?
Perhaps you have several people on your staff. You could include a short resume of each to show
the expertise of your crew. If you run a one-man shop, you could include your own resume and an
explanation of how you select your freelance help.
Another document that can raise a prospect’s comfort level is a client list. If you can show that
other companies (especially companies that the potential client has heard of) have used your services in the
past, then you will be more attractive as a supplier.
Another item to include is a list of organizations you belong to. Some of these may be civic
groups, like the local Chamber of Commerce. Others might relate directly to video, such as The
Advertising Federation or the International Television Association. If you are the coach of your son’s little
league team, it might win you a job with an ardent baseball fan (this will depend on your win-loss
How Do I Know You Can Do the Job?
After receiving all this information, the client may begin to trust you, but he or she still hasn’t actually
seen you work. Also, there are other video companies from which to choose. How are you going to stand
out from the crowd?
Really, the prospect doesn’t give a hoot about video. What the prospect wants is a tool that will do
a job. This might be to entertain, to inform, to document or to train. That end result is what the client is
after. After you are sure that the client takes you seriously as a service provider, get the client talking about
what the video should accomplish. Ask questions and then shut up. Get as much information from the
client as you can, and then begin to explain how the video can reach that goal. As a video expert, you will
probably have a good method to do this immediately.
You may have to give away a great idea. The client can then take your idea and hire someone else
to implement it. You can’t copyright an idea, only a finished product. But it’s likely that the client would
choose to use the person that came up with the idea in the first place–you.
The client may have an idea of her own in mind, which could come out during a brainstorming
session. You can then build on this idea, or show how to make it better. If the client never mentioned her
idea in front of your competitors, you will gain an important advantage. Yet another advantage of asking
questions and then zipping your lip.
Why Should I Take Your Word for It?
O.K., the client loves you. The client loves your idea. The client loves the equipment you use. But
there remains a nagging doubt. Everything the client knows about you, he learned from you. What if you
are a pathological liar? (Not that I’ve heard anything along these lines, mind you.) What’s a client to
This is where the next part of your portfolio comes into play, which we will call the Attaboy
Section. Have you ever received communications from your existing clients, telling you how much
they enjoyed working with you? Have they written to inform you that the video you created was the finest
example of its kind the client has ever seen? If not, do you ask your clients for letters of recommendation
when you complete a job? Sometimes you can get impressive and helpful documents this way.
If you do a good job for a client, they should be happy to give you a nice memo on the client’s
letterhead. You can then put copies of these letters in your portfolio. The prospective client can read these,
getting a third party’s opinion of your work.
My company enters several awards competitions each year. Do we do this to satisfy our bloated
egos? Of course. But we also list our winning entries in our portfolio. Reading this list, the prospective
client may say to themselves, “I thought this company did good work, and this panel of judges thinks so,
too.” The fact that the prospective client doesn’t know who these judges are usually doesn’t matter.
Here is one more technique, but I caution you to use it sparingly. If you are trying to land a huge,
important or extremely lucrative job, you may allow the prospective client to contact one of your existing
(and very satisfied) clients. Before you do, call the existing clients yourself and ask their permission. This
will give them some warning that a call is coming from the prospect, and will also give them a chance to
decline the honor if they don’t feel comfortable in singing your praises. It’s better that you hear this painful
truth rather than your prospective client.
What’s This Going to Cost?
Now the hook is sunk deep, and you’re reeling the catch toward the boat. He can still break the line if
you’re not careful (shall I continue this metaphor, or are things beginning to smell fishy?). As you’ll
discover soon enough, the line that often breaks is the bottom line.
The client probably has a budget in mind for his video. If you quote a price that is much more
than this budget, the client may look elsewhere. And strangely, if you are too low, the client can lose
confidence in you (how can he do a good job for so little money?).
This may sound radical, but you could just ask at this point if the client has a budget, and if so,
how much it is. If the client has decided to use you anyway, he might tell you. Then you can detail what
can be accomplished for that price.
Some clients begin to ask for a price during your first phone conversation. This is especially
difficult, since you’re probably working with sketchy information at this point. (“I want a ten minute video.
What will it cost?”) I tell the client that creating a video is similar to building a house. You don’t know
what a house will cost until you decide exactly what kind of a house it will be. Will it be on the water? Will
it have 50 rooms or 5? Brick or tarpaper? You get the idea. Hopefully, you can then wait until you have all
the information about the job (and with luck, the job itself) before giving a firm quote.
If the client presses you for a ballpark figure, be aware that he may expect you to stick to it even if
you find out later that there are parameters to the job that will be more expensive than you first estimated.
For ballpark figures with no information, I use the $1000 to $1500 per finished minute figure. It’s not very
accurate, but it will quickly show you if the client is serious. If you hear choking noises on the phone
followed by a dial tone, you may guess that they were not.
Video can be a tough sell. Show the prospective client what you can do through a portfolio. Show
him your demo. Show him that you are for real. Show him that you can do the job. Show him that other
people think so, too. Show him what it will cost. And if a potential client still hems and haws, then show
him the door. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
I knew that metaphor would come in handy.