10 Tools to get the BEST deal from Production companies
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Film production like any creative discipline is not magic, it’s a science – have you ever heard someone talk about creativity like some vague dreamy realm of chance and mystery? Do you know Creatives who see the big picture but gloss over the details? There is some luck involved, no doubt, and we’ve all encountered “happy accidents”, but that’s only five per cent of the creative process; ninety-five per cent of success comes down to an exact science. How do you tell the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to production?
1. Take The Acid Test.
EXERCISE: To do this exercise, locate online the last video content your agency made and watch it three times. First, turn the sound off – can you understand what the content is communicating only by the visuals? Is the narrative and concept strong enough that it’s not just telling, but showing the key communication? Next, turn the sound back on and make a cup of tea while listening – can you tell me what is being communicated without the moody talent, the geometric light-show and the fugly little puppy on the sofa? Now, watch it once more and tell me how you feel? Most content will not survive one viewing, let alone three, without making even the creator feel bored, uncomfortable, or simply indifferent. The Number One reason bad content gets made, and often at a high price, is because the people commissioning it don’t know how to tell the difference between the good, the bad, and the mind-numbingly obvious.
HINT: If you’re reading this and you didn’t complete the exercise because you “don’t have the time”, your content probably sucks because you don’t have the time inclination to make it unsuck, in which case you should discontinue reading now because the tools that follow are for people who want to be the best, and are prepared to get better to achieve that.
2. Cut your losses
If the Acid Test has left you feeling bored, confused and angry, fret not. At least you have tea, and the good news is: there is a solution. All sensible businesses know the best way to increase cash flow is to minimize expense and avoid wastage. Often times paying the highest price does not equate to getting the best product, as you may have learned from Point 1. In fact, my experience of working with and for creative agencies leads me to suspect billions are being wasted every year. Now that we’ve learned how to spot the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly, next it’s out with the old and in with the new. Armed with the facts, there is no reason for you to stick with what you’ve been stuck with because perhaps you didn’t think or know you could do better or simply for fear of the unknown. Instead…
3. Shop around
If you agree insanity is repeating the same behaviour expecting different results, then variety is the best way to spice up your life. Now you know how to spot quality, let’s go shopping. Why do so many agencies become dependent on one production company to make all their content? Smart businesses in any industry know that it’s unwise to rely too heavily on a) one client and likewise b) one supplier. How comfortable is your comfort zone? Deep down a lot of agencies want to mix it up and work with fresh faces on new ideas – I know this because they tell me that ALL THE TIME – but often they don’t know who to turn to or where to look.
EXERCISE: Ask us – good production companies will recommend other companies. Competition is healthy for everyone and it’s in your best interest, in fact, because by shopping around you personally ensure market prices remain competitive.
4. Compare the market.
One of the biggest mistakes agencies make is not getting multiple quotes and comparing prices. Have you ever gotten five different treatments for a pitch? Then why wouldn’t you do the same when it comes to cost? Mark-ups vary substantially – I’ve worked for production companies working to a to as much as a 70% mark up and you won’t know it, unless you get a rough of idea of the hard cost which, if you don’t know yourself, can be ascertained by getting three quotes. The mean average is likely what your project will actually cost and, most importantly, will help you feel more confident in negotiating.
We actually share our internal mark up because we believe what we do is worth what we charge – and we’re comfortable sharing that with our clients. You don’t work for free and neither do we and, frankly, it would be weird if we did, don’t you think? It’s highly successful for our business to be transparent because it encourages trust when we’re clear on cost. Simples.
5. Take a risk
It is a great art to take the right risk at the right time for the right reason. In fact, it is the secret to all good investment. Look for engagement or even just how you feel when you watch content – after watching your latest monstrosity three times would you share it on your personal social media? If you won’t, potential customers won’t either. The world doesn’t need any more disposable content. Content that doesn’t genuinely reach people can have a negative impact on perceptions of brands, more so than no content at all. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
How often do your show your friends and family what you’ve been working on? We only make content we’re genuinely proud of and excited to share ourselves. If it doesn’t scare us a little bit to make it, we’re not risking anything and, if we’re not risking anything, we’re not really connecting with anyone. We’d rather not make it than fake it. But, and it’s a BIG but, how can agencies take creative risks without losing trust from their clients or putting their investment capital at risk? There is such a thing as an educated risk, it’s like an educated guess but sexier – a risk taken at the right time, in the right way, for the right reason.
CASE STUDY: A good recent example of this are Gillette whom we worked with on their ‘The Best Men Can Be’ campaign in 2018, which completely redressed the way advertisers sell to male audiences, including Gillette themselves, and sets a new bar for how advertisers talk to men in public and asks them to revise that relationship, in much the same way that women and men themselves are doing. The result? Worldwide coverage, debate and discussion not only about Gillette and the campaign, but about an issue that affects 100% of the population of the planet.
6. Raise your expectations
CASE STUDY: We completed a project for creative agency and from from the word go they were suspicious. From the kick-off it was clear the agency viewed us a threat rather than an ally. It was as if they expected us to fail. This manifested in controlling and micromanaging behaviours, paranoia, hissy fits and blame-throwing. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like an abusive relationship. Their mind-set became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It prevented us from doing the job we were hired to do as well as we could do because deep down the agency feared that we couldn’t do it and so wouldn’t trust us to do it. In the end, they actually created the scenario they were most afraid of.
I wondered what had caused them to behave in this way. They couldn’t seem to take that leap of faith and trust us. They had mentioned they’d had problems before and bad experience is what I suspect led to their fear of bad experience with us, which resulted in more bad experience! In fact, in retrospect I see that this agency wouldn’t let themselves have a good experience because they didn’t believe it was possible and so…they made it impossible, verifying their self-limiting belief.
If you’ve had a bad experience previously it’s usually because of not implementing Points 1-5 and because you’re uncertain as to whether you’re in safe hands, you’ve come to expect and anticipate the bad and the ugly, thus negating the possibility of good work. If this story sounds all too familiar, the best way to avoid this is by hiring well in the first place using Points 1-5 and only commissioning people you genuinely believe in. If you hire people you don’t trust, you will get what you expect. If you are regularly finding yourself in conflicts of interest with creative partners, look at the common denominator and, raise your expectations.
7. Get involved!
A good production company is a midwife but it’s your baby. We want you to create with us – it’s more fun that way! Sometimes we encounter agencies with the opposite problem to the previous point: being too hands-off. All good work comes from working as a We. Point 6 is an example of an Us v Them relationship but the best way to get the most out of people in any business is to find a common purpose that all parties are equally invested in working toward that goal. Rather than seeing it as an over the counter exchange “I give you money, you give me product” try to view yourself as a co-creator of the product, equally invested in and responsible for its success. Have you ever worked in a team where when you succeeded it was everyone’s success but when you failed, it was your failure?
We will bake and decorate the cake but you will like and enjoy it much more if you tell us as much as you can about who it’s for, what the occasion is, what you like, any allergies? You get the point. If a project does not meet the desired outcomes, it’s invariably due to a failure to be specific about the aims and to manage the project effectively to ensure it stays on track to meet those aims. In science, experiments are defined as successful or unsuccessful by their aims. A good production company will create the optimum conditions for the achieving the desired aims, if they know specifically what those aims are so get involved, stay involved and as often as possibly you can…
8. Ask stupid questions
We’ve all heard the truism "there are no stupid questions", but very few people actually live by that. Most of us are afraid of looking stupid. Those who ask, get. A good production company will ask YOU questions and lots of them. Primarily so the production company can be well prepared rather than having to mind read, second guess and bring in last minute changes that could have been communicated ahead of time – know what you want, and ask for it – this tends to increase your chances of getting it.
We ask questions because we respect directness in communication. If it wasn’t explicitly stated it might as well have happened in a dream. Have you ever been in the room when the most obvious question is asked and…nobody knows the answer? It happens ALL THE TIME. Make no assumptions, they are the killer of creativity. Over and over again I’ve found the most obvious question leads to the most simple, creative, ah-ha, light-bulb, why didn’t I think of that idea. Most people didn’t think of it, even though it was the most obvious in retrospect, because they were too afraid to ask a ‘stupid’ question.
9. Go Fishing…the right way.
Production companies know that agencies and clients fish for ideas. Everybody knows this and nobody likes it. But why? Because nobody likes to have their time wasted. BUT let’s look at what agencies actually want when they go fishing: a) they want to impress their clients and b) they want the best idea. They believe, quite rightly, that quantity produces quality BUT that’s not how you get the best idea.
Fishing is not the problem; it’s how you fish that counts. Be honest, tell the truth that you’re approaching multiple directors and or production houses. Do you know what will happen? The directors will work ten times harder on the treatments BECAUSE they know they’re competing and if you do choose to go with another director or company, you will keep a good relationship with the other companies a) because you’ve been honest b) because you didn’t waste their time and c) because you’ve actually helped them by pushing them to do their best work, even if it’s not the best out there, they will appreciate you and be ten times as keen to work with you next time because you’ve raised their bar instead of wasting their time, which means you’ve added value for everyone.
10. F*** Fear All of the above comes from one BIG all-encompassing problem of the human condition – we all know what it feels like to be afraid to say “I don’t know,” “Can you help me?” or “Can you explain this?” Be smart, be brave, but above all else be honest because when you disown fear, you attract what you're afraid of, but when you own it and say it out loud, it has the power to transform your business and make you more successful than you ever imagined possible.
To find out how we can help you transform your business and create lasting success, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org