COMPANY VIDEO HANDBOOK
11 QUESTIONS TO ASK POTENTIAL COMPANY VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANIES
Updated Feb 2021
Corporate video producers want you to think their company is the finest in the land, and many will have a well-practised spiel for creating this impression
- whether it's during a telephone chat, a webcam meeting, an email response to your brief, or even a face to face 2 metres apart dialogue.
To get round this you have to ask a few unexpected questions, and observe their reactions.
It’s not so much right or wrong answers you’re looking for
- as the reactions, and the degree of knowledge & experience shown.
You not trying to embarrass a video producer or make anyone feel angry
- but there’s nothing wrong with testing the limits of their comfort zone with the right question.
After all, you're going to be married to them for the next month or two, and possibly more if you involve them in your overall long term, multichannel video strategy.
No single question in isolation will unearth the world beating producer you might be looking for, but the following 11 questions will help open things up.
And they work regardless of whether you need a filmed or animated video.
The take-home is to watch them closely and decide who’s the genuine article, capable of producing an effective video for your organisation - and who is not.
As always: Ask your question, then stay silent, watching & listening attentively to their reply.
Often it’s not just what they say, but the way that they say it!
If you’re using webcam, then you should request a meeting with face-to-face video visibility switched on. It’s helpful for both sides to see each other’s faces.
A mere photo of you both won’t do. It needs to be personal for it to work.
The 11 questions to ask
1 – The Pandering Response
The video production company that gives you lots of pandering attention in the buying stages might be desperate for the work, and so have all the time in the world to give you in order to win. But they give that precious attention that some clients love! Either way, you need to know.
> Ask them how busy they are, then watch closely
2 – The Standard Response
On the other hand, the company that only gives you a “standard amount of attention” aren’t necessarily disinterested. They’re just busy. And they’re busy because they have lots of customers who like what they do. Which is a good sign.
> Ask them how many quotes a month they do
3 – The Boilerplate Response
Some video companies send you a 40 page pdf for a tender document or proposal (I’ve even seen 80 pages!).
But often it’s template, the same one they use for every client, where you get battered with superlatives and posturing, and much dubious or irrelevant information.
> Ask how long their tender docs or proposals are
4 – The Templated Response
To evaluate their video tender doc or proposal for individuality, ie, no boilerplating, check how many times your organisation's name is individually used, in an individual contextual way. That’ll give you an idea if how much specific thought has gone into your video project, and how much is simply boilerplate to be hashed up for every video client.
> Ask how much of the tender is generic and how much is specific to you
5 – The Recent Work Response
While it’s obviously good sense to ask to see samples of video work similar to your business or from your business sector, it’s good idea to ask to see very recent video work from the last month or two. Then you’ll know what’s bubbling in their pot – or not!
> Ask to see recent video work, any work, from the last month or two
6 – The 3 Referees Response
A tough series of questions to ask are “show me your last three videos” followed by “can you give me references for these last three videos?” followed by “did you go over budget or time on any of the last three videos - and why?”. Watch reactions closely. It’ll sort out the bluffers from the genuine article.
> Will your last three clients provide a reference?
7 – The Pricey Treatment Response
Do you get an expensive treatment (like ad agencies do) or is it basically a video quote, proposal and a few samples?
If it’s an expensive treatment, maybe with artwork, you can be sure you’ll be paying for it. Which may be okay, if you have a sizeable video budget and are looking for something particularly special.
> Ask how long it took to prepare your presentation or proposal
8 – The Added-Value Response
Check if your initial meetings or conversations with potential video producers came up with ideas that added value to your explainer or safety video? Or was the meeting simply someone showing you how much it costs to meet your spec? Always look for added value, identified quickly early on. It’s a good indicator that you’ll also get added-value later on in the production, when it’s needed.
> Ask how your ideas could be improved on
9 – The Script Check Response
Watch out for the “you tell us what to say” syndrome.
Any video production company, especially the freelance videographer or animator, that are weak on developing your business message, will always imply the onus of script development lies with you. Or they'll brush over this area, and talk about animation, cameras, other client work, or technical stuff they're familiar with and hope to impress you with.
You do not want this. You want a professional scriptwriting service by a person experienced in your industry or your topic, so make sure they offer this, unless you’re super confident you can write a professional video script yourself.
> Ask about script development meetings, and research
10 – The Old Video Response
Ask each potential video producer "how long since they produced a corporate video, a promotional video, a business video?" (not any other kind of video, such as a wedding or social event, or an animated quickie for Instagram). It's a simple question, but surprisingly many will respond with previous work made a while ago, and not something relevant they did last month.
> Ask how long since you last made a video like the one you need?
11 – The Problem Hider Response
Does the video producer look resourceful? Sometimes things can go wrong in the course of a making a video (believe it), but a resourceful video producer will solve these issues fairly painlessly.
By contrast, a nervy person, a creative effete, or a tense image-obsessed individual will get everyone else worked up the same as they are, if there are unforeseen problems later down the line. The right person will openly admit to problems, while the secret hysteric will feel uncomfortable discussing the subject and want to move on quickly.
“We don’t get problems” is not an acceptable answer. “Problems happen and we like solving them” is a much better answer.
> Ask what sort of problems they get on a project like yours
Some of the above questions are obviously tongue in cheek, or even playful.
But mostly they’ll help you sort out the genuinely suitable video producer who can help you, and not leave you reduced to simply buying on price.
Still curious? Let's dig a but deeper to discover if a corporate video production company is more than just a demo reel and fine words.
1: The Video Content question
This is always a great place to start, so ask:
> How will you determine my video content?
You're looking here for a sound production methodology, preferably one that harnesses existing data on your existing customers, competitors and vertical markets to gain additional insight into the key points of your video message. This insight could be the extra 5% or 10% performance improvement your video needs to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
What you don't want to hear is "tell us your feature benefits and we'll organise a script around it for you."
2: The Video Marketing question
You're producing a promo video so you want to know about your prospective supplier's potential video marketing smarts.
But since video marketing strategy is such a big subject you need to pick one straightforward question that will reveal a lot, so start with Customer Profiles, for example:
> How will you match my customer profiles to my video message?
This isn't really a difficult question, as segmenting your target buyers & champions to match your target markets is fairly standard stuff when establishing a video message. It's also the sort of process that can give your final video extra leverage by being extra-relevant to your target audience.
As ever, what you don't want to hear is "Tell us what to say and we'll do it,". Unless you're dead certain of your video message already, you should expect some insight, and it should come more-or-less free of charge, and it should add value to what you already know.
3: The Technical Skills question
It's always good to know the level of technical skills a video production agency has in-house. Of course they'll outsource some of their work, same as you do. But what are their core skill strengths? As a potential client you're entitled to ask. So ask.
> What technical skills do you have in-house and what skills do you outsource?
Their in-house video production team may be more digital marketing or website development-focused, or design-focused, or animation-focused or social media-focused . You want to know. After all it's your money, and you may be picking a potential partner for the next 3 years.
Expect clear answers. Any sort of fudge is obviously suspicious.
4: The Video Production Process question
Asking a potential video production company about their process is a good conversation opener. They mightn't have ISO 9001, but their process should be well documented with information easily available on their website. So ask:
> Can you describe your video production steps for me?
This is a very fair question and most will answer it easily. Where you come into the conversation is to stop them at any point where you're curious, then ask them to describe this part of their production services in more detail.
For example, you could ask how they determine whether your video should be animated characters or motion graphics?
Or ask how many approvals they offer at each step in the process? Or who owns the footage, if you need filming, or the final video if it's an animated production. Same for editing. Who does it and where?
As ever, there's no right answer. You're looking for clear answers that demonstrate they obviously know their stuff, and aren't trying to hide.
What's the ideal business video production service?
I'd suggest you're looking for Insight, Flair and Track Record. All three.
And you want hard data to support all three of these points.
Insight, supported by data & research, is the overdrive that makes your video more effective for the job you intend. It's your marketing bedrock. While you may have done a fair amount of research yourself - or not - you should expect data-backed insight from your ideal video production company.
Flair is harder to define as the finest visual flair often costs a bomb and may be over your budget. But you should expect to hear more than "we have great designers".
For example, has your prospective video production company analysed your competitors' videos and the visual styles they use? Obviously you want your video to look a bit different to the crowd so you stand out in the mind of the passing visitor. This is one of the fastest routes to video marketing success - standing out.
So let a competitor video analysis form the starting point for visual flair, especially for a brand video where strong visual differentiation in the eyes of the audience matters.
Track Record is fairly easy to establish. I'd suggest you're looking for a track record that demonstrates video marketing success.
How is this measured? A client list doesn't reveal enough no matter how impressive. It's the clients who keep coming back for more that are the surest indicator of a producer's video marketing success.
The quickest way to discover this is to ask "how many ongoing projects have you?". Then ask "how many of these are re-orders?"
It's not the volume of work you're interested in hearing, more like the ratio of new business to re-orders.
For example if a video production company has, say, 10 jobs on, you might expect to see 7 of them as re-orders, confirming that a high percentage of their existing customers like them and come back to use them again for each marketing campaign.
This informal measure of track record success is so easy to discover if you just ask.
Remember: Behind the video production company website, and the representative you're having a conversation with, lies a wealth of data and information you need to know to ensure your budget is well-spent with the right people, who can meet or exceed your specific goal or challenge.
Asking the right Cost question
The last question is always about video production cost, but it's not always as simple as asking for a quote.
You could always ask for 2 cost solutions, ie, a higher cost and a lower cost.
There are reasons for this:
You might like their top offering, but can't afford it. Nonetheless, much of the insight and flair that goes into a higher cost promotional video may be quite easily transferable to a lower cost but-still-quality video style.
On the other hand, their lower cost solution may be too "me-too" to make a dent in your marketplace. Maybe you need the extra pizzaz that comes from spending more. Rarely is there one single perfect solution. There are always alternatives.
Asking for two quotes gives you the opportunity to consider your best option, especially if you particularly like a given video production company, and they've answered all your questions clearly and appealingly.
Asking the right questions is the most powerful way to discover your perfect match, the video production company who'll deliver on your goals, without fuss and to budget.
To get the impact, reach and return you need, look for insight, flair, skills and track record.
Don't be put off if a question somehow gets side tracked. Just ask another until you get clear answers that satisfy you.
Explain that you're curious and need help. Future good customers always need help.
A good supplier will enjoy the challenge your questions present.