How to Get Your Work Seen by Clients in the Video and Photography Industry.
Starting the presentation. Photo by Dustin Bennett
BUT FIRST – THE EVENT.
Masters in Motion is an annual event held in Austin, organized by the www.shooteditlearn.com founders Cristina Valdivieso and Jon Connor – friends and collaborators from previous shoots covered in this blog previously (Killing Lincoln, and Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?). You can learn more about Shoot/Edit/Learn from their website, but the short version is that they hold this event/workshop every year in Austin and the first 100 or so people to sign up get to attend an event that features luminaries from the filmmaking community (Shane Hurlbut, Vincent Laforet, Alex Buono, Philip Bloom, Eliot Rausch) as speakers, plus true hands-on workshops with some incredible Directors, DPs, Art Directors and Storytellers (Tom Guilmette, Nick Midwig, Jon Bregel, Joe Sciacca, Khalid Mohtaseb, and Ryan Connolly) that offers attendees an up close opportunity to learn from the best,and interact with the latest gear that we all drool over (this year, the Phantom Flex and Movi were two of the featured guests).
Filmmaker Philip Bloom on stage at Masters in Motion day 3. Photo by Ivan Barra
And this year there were 3 guests that had not attended before that were featured presenters – Tak Fujimoto, the DP behind “Silence of the Lambs” (amongst many other films), Dan Lebental, A.C.E editor for films such as Iron Man 1 and 2, and Elf. Oh, and then there was me. Andy Baker?! It was a humbling experience, and at the same time thrilling for me to be on the same stage as these guys. While I was not able to stay all 3 days due to some work conflicts, I was honored to be a part of it, and took away many things from the time I was there.
IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY.
One of the things I admire most about the filmmaking community (outside of just the creativity, drive, passion, technical brilliance, and collaborative spirit) is just that – THE COMMUNITY. And like many aspects of this industry, it’s an incredibly large and diverse group – yet surprisingly small and interconnected. In many ways, I walked in as a bit of an outsider – after all, I would not say I’m a ‘filmmaker’, as I am generally responsible for hiring and Creative Directing/Collaborating with them rather than being one myself. But very quickly, I was greeted and welcomed, and that sense of collaboration between everyone – learning and sharing what they knew, and their experiences, was immediate. Masters in Motion (MIM) is all about learning, sharing, and being inspired – and the eager attendees were ready to soak it in, wherever or from whomever they could. I’ve always admired how even on Twitter, just how strong of a community filmmakers and photographers are, as they ask for tips, tricks, gear, props or operators from one another, and generally someone is there to help answer their questions or provide a resource. Being in person, that sense of a close-knit group with a shared goal of learning and absorbing was clear. I’m not sure how many of the attendees knew each other previously but to an outsider it would appear that they all were long lost friends, reuniting in Austin. All of that is to say that what this community does so well is work as a unit – they learn as a group, they share their knowledge, and they remember what it was like when THEY were learning. So whether it was a one-man-band DP shooting weddings, or a small production company looking for inspiration, or a still photographer looking to make the move to video production, it didn’t matter. Each situation was different, but the result was the same – they left knowing more than when they arrived, got personal advice and tips from the industry’s best, and gained new friends and invaluable contacts in the business. That’s what Community is all about – working together, as a team, learning, sharing and collaborating towards a common goal. And that’s what MIM is all about, too.
Up on stage during the playing of the opening sizzle – my ‘Citizen Kane’ moment. Photo by Evan Bourcier.
I can’t thank Jon and Cristina enough for asking me to speak at Masters in Motion 2013. They thought that my perspective as a client might be a great one for this audience, many of whom are just starting their careers in filmmaking and might need to hear about how to manage the ever-tricky client relationship. I knew it was a tremendous opportunity for me – and also a daunting one. After all, I really look up to this audience – I admire their creativity and technical know-how, so being thrust into a position of an ‘expert’ at anything to this group somehow felt odd and intimidating to me. But since one of my goals is to begin to redefine the term ‘client’, this was a huge chance to spread that message to a large audience that not all Clients are from hell – there are some that are just as passionate, collaborative, respectful and creative as everyone in that audience. So starting in August, I began to sketch out an outline – and yep, I collaborated with Jon on what he thought would resonate best. Not having been to MIM before, picking his brain was essential for me to zero in on a structure and the objectives of the talk. The basic outline was to educate attendees on how to get a Client’s attention, sell themselves to close the deal, what to do when hired & when in pre-production & during a shoot, and after it all wrapped. Sprinkled into the presentation were 5 “big takeaways” (hmmm, sounds familiar…) that are universal to the client/creative process no matter what aspect of the industry you might specialize in (corporate videos, web films, weddings, etc). After kicking it all off with a little video sizzle (know your audience, I always like to say) we dove right in to the first goal and the subject of this blog post – “Get The Client’s Attention.”
There are a million clients out there and there are also 2 million potential creative agencies or production companies out there vying for their business. Which means it’s a buyer’s market, and for those of you on the side trying to land a client, it is often asked how you can stand out in a client’s eyes…what can you do to get their attention in the first place, let alone get hired? Well, I believe that there are a couple of ways. The first is pretty obvious: Do Good Work. Essentially, you have to be better than the next guy/girl, and you have to make killer stuff. For most clients, and certainly those in the Cable TV industry, that’s sort of a barrier for entry. Ok, so assuming you’re doing good work – what next? You need to understand the (potential) client’s business. What motivates them? What drives their business? Who is their competition? What is their product all about? You really need to know the answers to all of their questions – and once you do, that should inform how you reach out to that client, or try to get on their radar screen. If you send them a reel or a link to your work – does it include a lot of work from their competition? If “yes” – you might want to re-think that. Because you likely don’t want them thinking that you’re in their competition’s pocket, right? If you watch their channel, can you talk fluently about their programming? Do you have a favorite series or an episode from that series that resonated with you? Because ultimately, the client is likely passionate about their brand, or their content. And what they want from you is for you to share that passion and then see it translate to the final product. And if you don’t know the product, or the channel, you simply won’t have the passion for it.
Another way to get on the client’s radar is through social media. 3 or 4 years ago, the only way to get your work in front of a client was to blindly send links to work, or send the dreaded DVD mailer. I believe the only time I worked with a company that sent me a DVD mailer was when they sent a portable DVD player with a big sticker saying “Andy, open me” and then another sticker telling me to push play, “Mission Impossible” style. When I did, it played a custom DVD with an intro catered to me and my channel’s programming. And yes, it included a FedEx package to return the player, which I did return, along with my card that said “call me and let’s talk.” We still work together to this day. It was a clever idea, spoke to me personally, demonstrated their creativity, and clearly the company had done their homework. But today, DVD players and discs are a dinosaur, and social media is the best way to make an impression, and leave your fingerprint in the client’s mind. Twitter accounts and Vimeo pages are very obvious but all-too-often ignored mediums for production agencies to use to share work. And even if they have work that is proprietary, I know of many agencies that use Twitter, Facebook, Vine or Vimeo to showcase their perspective, their POV, and their own personal projects – all wonderful ways to connect with a client. Which brings us to my first big takeaway.
When Jon first approached me to speak at MIM, one of the topics he specifically wanted me to address was personal projects. He mentioned that there was a bit of a debate in the community about not only whether people should or shouldn’t do personal projects, but also whether they should use them as tools to drive their business, and whether to share them with clients. Well, in my mind the answer is obvious. ABSOLUTELY, without question.
Personal projects are a must for many reasons. Chiefly, they showcase your interests and give the client a better sense of your own personal interests. I am into relationship building with creatives, and understanding what drives and motivates them is important. In a perfect scenario, I might see someone’s personal work that could tie in nicely with a show or upcoming series on the Channel – knowing their passion helps me understand them as an artist and as just a person. Personal projects are also entirely YOURS – it says a lot about your own personal aesthetic, and your creative sensibilities. Very often I see work for other channels on a photographer’s reel and I’m not sure how much is theirs and how much is the client’s. And if it’s not an amazing spot, I may wonder how much was your doing, or your client’s – but I probably won’t immediately assume it’s their fault, which is not a great place to be if you’re trying to impress a potential client. And the last thing I’ll say about personal projects: You’re reading one right now! This blog is entirely a personal project for me. It’s gotten a little bit of attention which is nice, but most importantly it has been a lot of fun, and something that I do for my own creative happiness. And that’s hugely important for all creatives, to have a place that is theirs to own and control and create.
And another way to get the client’s attention is having a wide diversity of company offerings. Being a talented filmmaker or storyteller is a given, but what can separate you is when you have something unique about what you do or bring to the table. Clients love it when they can bundle several creative aspects together. That’s why ad agencies have existed and been so successful because they are true “one-stop-shopping” for clients. And that can be true even for smaller clients as well. They want to make their lives easier, and the more they can bundle their projects with one or two vendors, the better for them. In our case at least, at Nat Geo, it’s because at any time we probably have more than a dozen or two dozen projects going on at the same time, so having one company handle multiple aspects of a campaign is always going to be preferred. It’s one conference call to handle several deliverables, and there can also be savings by doing that as well. So ask yourself – “what is unique about me or my company?” Do you have strong production support built into the DNA of your organization, an incredible line producer who can make clients’ lives easier on set, and in production? Do you have strong partnerships with talented still photographers who could be looped into your video production? Or maybe you have in-house designers or compositors who can offer finishing services along with the video you shot. These are all examples of companies we work with a lot – talented specialists in particular areas that can also do much more if given the chance. The goal is not to become ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ – but rather the goal should be to become a ‘jack of all trades and master of more than one.’ Easier said than done, I know, but those little things can help separate you from the pack. Again – the more often you can bundle services for clients to make their lives and logistics easier, the better.
On stage, discussing another “Big Takeaway” late in the presentation. (Spoiler Alert!) Photo by Philip Bloom
CONCLUSION: BE NICE. HAVE FUN.
There are, of course, other ways to get a client’s attention. Networking, and understanding that maybe I’M not your prospective client are essential. Maybe you’re more likely to get hired by a production agency than me (because you’re a solo DP or one-man-band). Being collaborative, and easy to work with, with an impeccable record of not being a jerk – all essentials in today’s highly competitive market. If you reach out to a client, find an original way to do it – and don’t hassle them. They probably know you’re there – let your work speak just as strongly for your brand/services – if not stronger. If you decide to hire a Rep to sell your company to prospective clients, make sure that Rep represents YOU, and your brand. They become the defacto face for your company, so making sure they connect with your vision of how you want your company to interact with the Client. The fact is, everyone’s budgets are always challenging, and there are a lot of pressures on projects. Clients often want to have FUN when they team up for larger productions. They don’t need stress in their office and on-set. Shooting is often the most fun part of big projects, so clients want to work with people they enjoy spending time. Keep that all in mind, and the good work will come to you. In future blog posts, I will cover more from my presentation at Masters in Motion 2013, including what happens once you’re hired, and some thoughts on how to better collaborate with clients on-set. Once more, thank you to Jon and Cristina for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful and inspiring event, and my team back at Nat Geo who helped me with the presentation.
Here’s the sizzle reel I played to kick off the presentation, showcasing some of the coolest shots captured for Nat Geo promos over the last few years. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this reel, and to Brannon Shiflett for his edit wizardry.