How to be a good video client — and get the results you’re paying for.
13 ways to work well with your hired video producer.
Way back in the early 90s, when TV was a structured medium and my mom would not let us have cable, I would watch MTV on the rare occasion at a friend’s. Back then, MTV was the ‘music television channel’. Back then, a music video held strong meaning and the impact on me was great.
I wasn’t a music person really. But the visuals that brought out the story in the song — I wanted to pack a punch in a short story. I wanted to create short stories in video. I told myself I wanted to be a music video producer.
Fast forward 25 years later. I’m in marketing, executive producing, scripting, and editing videos for my job. MTV — marketing television, I guess.
And what worries me is how many companies, especially non-profits and startups, are wasting their money (and time) on a lousy corporate video production experience.
When I see cringeworthy videos out there I assume the person handed this project did not know how to be an active partner with their videographer/editor.
And you are fully equipped for this already! Below, read 13+ actionable tips.
In the meantime, here’s my deal —
- Born after 1970? Like you, I grew up on short videos or sketch TV, starting with Sesame Street, on through SNL, towards YouTube.
- From 2011–2014 I worked at a boutique marketing agency specializing in corporate promotional videos.
- I now work on the other side, a client of video production vendors.
- Recently started learning how to DIY short video production.
- In the last 5 years — at my non-video production job — I have overseen/ produced/executive produced/directed/edited hours and hours of video.
There’s my CV. Now’s my point: Plenty of awesome video producers give great tips on DIY video editing and video marketing. Here’s one.
What I want is to empower you when you hire a video production agency.
The trick is to recognize what to look for when you’re hiring a video production agency or editor to create your brand’s promo video. Because A LOT of them won’t do the best job they could do. And A LOT of us are on tight budgets, so once your boss approves the video budget for that one company promo shot, you have to not blow it by…
- Choosing the wrong vendor for you
- Not understanding what it is you actually want to say
- Staying quiet during the process
- Defaulting to cookie cutter end-products that don’t make your message stand out
Be an active partner in your video promo project
There are a lot of excellent vendors out there, but even the best can’t do a kickass job if you’re not a partner in the project. And you don’t have to graduate from video university to do that.
1. Oh, the humanity.
Are you human? Then you are naturally drawn to stories. And so is your audience (assuming they are human too); we are hard wired since cave days this way. Keep everyone’s humanity in mind as you prepare to tell a story about your brand, company, non-profit, event, or cause.
2. Storytelling vs advertising.
What you are doing is telling a story — otherwise, you’re just creating an ad. And unless you’re selling deodorant while riding a horse — chances are no one is actively knocking down bystanders to hit Play on your ad.
This is cheating, because it wasn’t created for a corporate website, but for a stage — but principles may apply to you. This is telling you about the results of what they are asking you to do (invest in life-changing startups), as opposed to outright listing reasons why you should.
3. Know your goal.
What are you trying to achieve with this? Not, ‘get more customers’. You’re leaving a calling card, an extended hand, a taste of what you have to offer. You’re opening up viewers to the possibility of empowerment, success, impact, cat food, whatever it is you do. In a very short amount of time. This video is not creating paying customers by way of hitting the play button. It’s taking one step in building a relationship with the people you hope to engage with.
4. Establish your CTA.
Confirming to attend? Creative timing attributes? No. Call to action. It’s marketing jargon but it’s important enough that everyone on the internet these days should understand what’s implied. Every engagement you create online with an actionable goal should include a call to action for the viewer. Set expectations; share what comes next. Use the end of your video to make that clear. Even if it’s as simple as ‘subscribe’ ‘follow us’ ‘learn more’. The relationship won’t progress if you don’t ask for the next date.
5. It’s about not you.
Remember, there are humans on the other side of the screen and want to understand where they fit in — not how ‘amazing’ your company is. They are the protagonist of your video.
If you are an app/product, showing a step-by-step of how to use it and the results, can be a great way to put your viewer at the center:
6. Don’t start too early.
There’s a principle in entertainment script writing — start late, get out early. Don’t start your scenes when everyone is first arriving, shaking hands, welcoming each other. You start when the action starts driving the story. And don’t linger in the scene until everyone leaves. Same way you never see characters in a sitcom using the bathroom. For these short promo videos, get to the story quick. I’d say :05 or so seconds tops of opening shots to set the tone and setting with good intro music.
Here’s an example where it took way too long to start (same screen till :07):
6. Too much face.
No one wants to see someone’s face talking for long stretches of time (you know, ‘talking head’ videos?). Even at alternating angles. Shake it up with smartly-placed b-roll (to put it simply, the visuals that look like video versions of stock images; it’s the illustrative footage that visualizes the words you hear the voiceover speaking).
By the way — consider an alternative to stuffy talking head videos with featuring your customers on the field — like Lemonade’s streets of NYC video:
Extra tip: Don’t be afraid to use text callouts to accentuate or highlight a point instead of having the voiceover/speaker/interviewee say it all out, adding to overall time. You can cut narration and get to the point faster if you use this.
7. Stand out (a bit).
So many of these ‘corporate promotional videos’ look the same. Talking heads, light upbeat stock music, token stock b-roll. Or an animated caricature of a lost but curious customer trying to make his/her way through her job. In any typical corporate video situation, there are ways to stand out without being drastic — slightly different angles (points for originality?), a different pace of music (depending on message), alternatives to stock b-roll (lightly animated overlays highlighting your interviewee? Funkier transitions? Etc).
I like the way these editors livened up what could have been a boring talking-head video with some light animated effects, accentuating her words:
Extra tip: Don’t go for an over-the-top radicle and/or hilarious video idea unless it a. fits your brand/product and b. fits your budget. No one is expecting your video to make them cry with laughter… especially if you’re selling a medical device or tax reporting SaaS software. Most people just want to understand what you do, check if it’s relevant for them, and feel confident they should continue talking to you.
Another example I love, in the fully animated format, is The Girl Effect video. No spoken words — just kinetic text and dramatic music and pacing, with simple visual concepts telling the story:
I dare you not to be moved.
8. Cut. And cut some more.
We all feel your pain. Your story is so important, how would anyone not want to hear the long version?! Ask any writer — sometimes it feels like cutting words from their stories is like executing their beloved house pets. But cutting is necessary to keep people with you. Think of it as pruning.
Conventional wisdom says these videos should be somewhere between 60–90 seconds, even 120… maybe up to 3 minutes in certain cases, though that is pushing it. Keep it short to keep your viewer with you till the end, and that might mean really skimming the fat.
Remember: the goal of your video is to give your viewer the core of what you do/offer, a visual, storytelling business card — with a clear CTA at the end.
Extra tip: Show your script to people outside your organization before you go to production; it’s even harder to read a too long script than watch a too long video. Take it from there.
9. Come prepared with what you like.
YouTube is your friend. Start searching your favorite brands, your competitors, videos you remembered you once saw and liked. Or go further — go to video template sites and pick templates you like (something like this). Templates can be completely customized, so open your mind.
Compile a list of videos with elements you like — maybe not the whole video, but the way they transitioned the narrative at :25 or the effect they used to highlight their point at 1:54. The type of voiceover voice they used. The background music. Videos you don’t like. Starting the discussion with your potential vendor will be a whole lot more productive if you can come to the table with ideas, likes, dislikes.
10. Beware the Spielbergs.
Some video production guys/gals want you to go big so they can go big. Most of the time — you don’t need some Hollywood effects style editing to get your point across. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you probably don’t have the budget for that.
Part of knowing what you want (#3) is being able to then push back on ideas that are distractions. When choosing a vendor, listen carefully to how they relate to the project — especially after you did #9. If they don’t relate to the inspirational material you brought to the introductory conversation, and skip to show what they’d love to do — that’s a red flag.
11. Speak up early.
I’d like to offer my (limited) insight into what it’s like to be a video editor. From my experience, which is way less than a dedicated professional, setting up materials in the video editing software itself can take hours. The actual editing is the bulk of it, and then rendering and exporting can take more hours. Plural. It’s a big deal to make changes once the video is in production and edit mode.
So if you have an issue with script wording or you already know the flavor of video you’re looking for, that should all be well established at the start of your conversations with the producer, and at the script phase.
12. Be good at sharing your nitpicky comments.
The following is critical to getting your video completed quick, without too many drafts (which you may pay extra for if you don’t stick to the plan), and matching your expectations.
- Give organized, detailed feedback. Send your feedback outlined by type — style, music, voiceover, and specific points timestamped. I like to do something like this:
- Use screenshots from the draft to make your point. The clearer you are about changes, the clearer the editor can be in making them.
- Show to others. Draft burnout is real; after a while, you won’t notice a quick skip in the music or a jump in the b-roll. Show others at your organization and some outsiders — but don’t get too many cooks involved, it can start to pull apart the core of the video since others may not totally understand the project goals and scope.
- Be on time. The quicker you turn around the draft, the quicker the editor can keep going. By the way — you know how when you originally found out the process can take AT LEAST six weeks and you balked? Often turnaround time on draft is hurting your chances.
13. Pay on time.
This one is for my wonderful video vendors out there. It’s rough running a freelance business or any sort of creative business that relies on clients. Their time is money. Be kind; pay your vendors on time.
As someone who has sat on both sides of video production, I wish you a productive, successful and pain-free relationship with your next project.