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How to Get the Most Out of Your Commercial Production

You don’t need to overpay for production, but here are some smart guidelines that can help ensure advertisers get the most value for their investment

DirectConnect recently sat down with the President of IDR Productions, Kelly Burke, a producer-director who specializes in direct response television commercials. Here are Kelly’s seven most important tips to ensure a marketer gets the most bang for the buck out of their TV spot production:

  1. There Is No Substitute for the Right Experience. With the omnipresence of YouTube and user-generated content, it seems like everyone has a nephew with a camera who has created content. At the other end of the spectrum there’s A-list directors like Ridley Scott who create advertising that is simply cost prohibitive for the average marketer. That’s a pretty broad spectrum, so what should someone shopping for talent look for? In a word: experience. If your objective is to sell a product or service, then you need to work with a producer who knows how to sell stuff. Anyone can produce a pretty picture; heck, anyone who owns an iPhone can do that! But not everyone can make someone pick up the phone and call, go online, or buy at brick-and-mortar retail just by watching a commercial.  I personally never studied production. I’m a salesperson at heart, through and through; it’s what I do.  When I’m directing and looking at the monitor on a shoot, I’m looking at the content from my professional salesperson’s filter. Is what we are capturing compelling? Does the content convey a sense of urgency? Are the key selling points really coming across and translating to the screen and ultimately to the customer?  To deliver on your sales goals, it takes know-how and experience. It’s like fishing: if you don’t put in the time, you won’t catch the big one.
  2. Fast. Cheap. Pick Two. In a hyper-competitive marketplace, why not demand all three? The answer: it isn’t possible. Anyone who tells you it is, is telling you what you want to hear to win your business. It will only be later that it will dawn on you: one of these three variables has been compromised. Your commercial can be good and fast, but it won’t be cheap. The same goes for cheap and fast. You can get them, but something will have to be sacrificed in order to put something together quickly. That sacrifice can take the form of the production values themselves being cheap, and therefore looking cheap, such as using a green screen, poor lighting, inferior equipment, a bad crew, or slipshod editing. With fast and cheap, the pre-production process may be truncated and therefore the whole commercial is not thoroughly thought out. We may not get the most bang for our buck on shoot day; we may miss critical selling points, or editing may not have what it needs to do its job because critical footage was missed in the rush to shoot.  Similarly, with cheap and good, you can find creative ways to cut costs, but the production won’t be fast, and a client simply doesn’t want to wait months to get a project done. Most clients will opt for good and fast.  It won’t be “cheap”, but I guarantee a reasonable cost for a great commercial.
  3. Success Requires Open Communication & Collaboration. The most successful productions are a true collaboration between the client and producer. They know their product better than I ever will, and I fully respect that. Conversely, I know production and how to effectively sell on TV; that’s what I do.  When both sides work together collaboratively is when the true magic happens. If you encounter a producer who tells you they have all the answers, insists on a ridged formula, or pretends to know your product better than you, run in the opposite direction.  I don’t pretend to know more about the client’s product and the client should not pretend to know more about TV or production. I’ve spent years perfecting my craft, creating a Rolodex of the best writers, editors, crew, makeup artists, and other professionals within my circle.  The key is that both parties be open-minded but maintain a mutual respect for the other’s area of expertise. This is why the pre-production process is so important; it’s the opportunity to get everything out on the table, debate and reach agreement. The reason is critical: once the production train is on the tracks it costs money and zigging and zagging in different directions on the set creates inefficiencies that increase costs that could otherwise be avoided.
  4. “We’ll Fix It in Post” Is Not A Panacea for Poor Planning. You cannot fix everything in post-production and it’s always better to make sure you plan and capture what you’ve set out to on production day. My experience has taught me that if we need to spend a little extra time for lighting or a set-up, it’s well worth it. Certainly, effective editing can make things better, but a tightly run and organized production day will save time, money and headaches in post. The urgency to get through the day with some clients can be a detriment to making sure that we get what we need. We also cannot rush this process to avoid going into overtime. Some clients are so budget-conscious that they do not want to go into overtime, and we are forced to press ahead and just hope for the best in post. But bear in mind, this cost can be a fraction of what it would take to do a re-shoot, which we always want to avoid. Ultimately, we need the production to be successful. The shoot day is our foundation. With that strong foundation, wondrous things can happen. Similarly, clients should be mindful that trying to cram too much into a shoot day can also be problematic. Be smart, efficient, plan well, get the very most out of your shoot day and work with a professional.
  5. Allowing Adequate Time for Editing is Essential. The edit bay is where the magic happens.  Don’t rush it. Respect the process.  Immediately after every shoot, the most common question is: “When can we expect to see a cut?” We literally haven’t taken the trash out from the set, and the client is asking about a rough cut.  But a thoughtful approach to post-production requires taking everything that has been shot, digesting it, capturing the best takes and weaving it into a story. That story is then married with the right transitions and graphics, the right music, the right cuts–it’s all important and takes time.  A good producer will have budgeted time in their timeline quote for editing.  But understand that after a shoot you may not see anything for a week or more. This time also allows us to delve into your project to get little extra cuts for the web, or social media, and the like.  It’s far more efficient to get all the content created at once, rather than going back to dig in and create these other assets at a later date.
  6. Make Sure You Are Clear on the Terms of Your Agreement. Many producers will give you a good up-front price to win your business, when their real plan is to get you to sign on the dotted line, and then nickel and dime you with change orders after you are already knee-deep into the commitment. To avoid this, make sure you have carefully thought through the deliverables and have clear terms and conditions, pricing, and a timeline for those deliverables. Everything needs to be in writing, including caveats for change orders, what overtime is going to cost in the event it becomes unavoidable, etc. My intention is to always try and give my clients more than they asked for. It may be a small extra cost for me with a big payoff for the client and endless goodwill. Some examples: a free jingle, a behind-the-scenes video, a cutdown to a 15-second spot, etc. The clients love it—which is one reason they return to work with us.
  7. Be Clear About What Kind of Producer You Are Hiring: Big Box or Boutique.  Trust me, as a boutique producer, I can go faster, smarter and cheaper with the same production value and quality as the big guys.  In fact, here’s a little secret—but don’t tell anyone—often the big guys charge you big money, then hire boutique producers like me to produce the content. My advice: go directly to the source. That gives you direct access to me–the producer and director—and the one who is actually trying to sell your product.  You’re not working with some account manager or line producer who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Part of this boutique feel and benefit is that I don’t have a big ego. I don’t care if I help pack up the equipment at the end of the shoot day; I do what it takes to get the job done, unlike producers of the backward beret-wearing type. My sets are always calm, fun, energetic and highly productive.  That starts at the top.

You want to work with someone who is passionate about your product and isn’t just in it for the money. You can get a sense of that from the first conversation. Such passion may be free, but it’s also priceless. You want to know you are working with someone you can trust and that has your best interests at heart. These intangibles are critical because in the end, they will translate into a more effective commercial. As I always say, I can sell anything… but only if I believe in it. Use these tips to help guide the process and you’ll be a true believer too!

About the author: Kelly Burke, President of IDR Productions, serves as the expert Creative Director and Executive Producer behind some of the biggest brands in the world. Working with both clients nationally and internationally, Kelly’s production expertise and intuitive sales acumen has launched and maintained long-time consumer brands such Henry Repeating Arms, RoseArt, Empire Carpets, World Poker Tour, Brainy Baby, Squid Soap, The Good Feet Store, Enova Financial, Total Transformation and Security One Lending. Kelly distinguishes herself by effectively selling your product and making your brand profoundly memorable. Kelly’s easy-going yet professional personality makes the production process effortless. Her decades-long history in video production and DRTV combined with her A team of directors of photography, lighting specialists, animators, music professionals, and editors make her the end-all choice for a successful campaign. Kelly holds a BS in Business from the University of Colorado at Boulder and lives in beautiful Laguna Beach, California. She can be reached at (949) 273-4511 or via email at