There’s no denying that there’s an art to making a great television commercial. When I started out in the film and video business over 17 years ago, there was hardly any readily available information about what steps were needed to make a broadcast spot from start to finish. I think the biggest reason for that knowledge gap is that the old model had multiple agencies and vendors working on the same campaign, so no single group had to know everything; they just needed to understand their part of the equation. Nowadays, with the cost of video decreasing and barriers to entry disappearing, as well as brands looking to spend less and get more, many advertisers are moving away from big agencies. ECG’s tagline has always been “From Concept To Completion In Style” because we handle everything from brand strategy, writing, production, and post-production (including animation and compositing) in house. The one-stop-shop is a growing business model. Many creative directors from big agencies have broken off to start their own production companies, and groups of talented young people are constantly getting together all over America to build companies just like ours. Thankfully we got into the business at the perfect time. We have navigated the terrain as all successful businesses do: by failing, learning, improving, and always pushing ourselves to do more and deliver a better product. With years of hard work and a willingness to grow our skillset on countless projects all over the world, we have become one of the premiere video production and post houses in Atlanta, Georgia. Its not an easy road, but it does pay dividends if you’re willing to put in the sweat equity. My hope is that this article will help younger producers and companies looking to break into the commercial game navigate the terrain a little easier, while also educating folks on either side of the camera about just how much planning, work and execution goes into producing what, to the layman, appears to be just a short piece of video.
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STEP 1: Get The Job! Work hard on your pitch and deliver it in a clear and concise way
In our situation, we were recommended by our media buyers over at Media Brokers International. Greg Vassar, who is one of the coolest and most honest media buyers I have ever met, presented us to his client Theravent, for the creation of two commercials. Theravent had a commercial already in the early development stages with a company they had previously been involved with. There were some good things in the original script and the client really liked the messaging so we used it as a jumping off point. It quickly evolved when we decided that as a brand we wanted to own “Snore Like A Freight Train” and “Snoring Stops Here”. We also wanted the spot to be memorable and the other script, while it had great messaging, wasn’t particularly “sticky” from a branding perspective.
STEP 2: Learn About Your Client And Their Product(s)
In order to market a product or service you need to fully understand it. In the case of Theravent we started by wearing the product around the office. Not the best way to test a snoring product, as we tend to breathe much differently when we are sleeping. After learning how to apply the device and wearing it around a bit, we really started to study the technology and the clinical studies that lead to its development. Finally, we conducted extensive interviews with the head of the company, Matt Williams, until we felt we understood everything there was to know about the product.
*Did you know humans are what’s called “Obligate Nose Breathers”? This means that by design we instinctively shut our mouths and breathe though our noses.
STEP 3: Engage A Media Buyer
It’s hard for clients to create their marketing budgets without knowing what their ad placement is going to cost, so getting a reliable media buyer (like Gregg Vassar at Media Broker International) is critical. Make sure you vet your media buyer. A good media buyer is very responsive and typically fights for what he/she thinks is best for the client. A good buyer knows that if they want to continue making money off these ad buys they need to have a good ROI (return on investment).
STEP 4: Map Out Potential Concepts
As stated above, the client came to us with a fairly fleshed out idea, but it wasn’t quite working for them. In the time between signing the contract and picking our winning concept we had at least five different ideas floating around. We would share various concept options with the client via our virtual meeting room or over the phone (since we’re located in Atlanta, GA and they’re in San Jose, CA). Mapping out different concepts a is very important step towards finding the right direction for a campaign. We’re always open to ideas from literally anyone and everyone in our organization. Sometimes serendipity strikes when & where you least expect it, so we’ve found that its never wise to limit options and voices at the concept stage. Our policy has always been “best idea wins”.
STEP 5: Write A Great Script
I recently switched from Final Draft to an online cloud-based scriptwriting platform called Celtx. It’s far from perfect, but they are the best option around currently. Using cloud-based scriptwriting software allows the writers and the client to easily communicate and make revisions in real time. This saves a ton of back-and-forth and really gets the client involved. We like keeping our clients intimately involved in the writing process because it ensures we get them exactly what they are looking for in terms of creative (and ROI).
We typically do anywhere from 5 -10 revisions before the script is locked. I always warn clients and writers not to over-analyze things. There typically comes a point where additional revisions aren’t actually improving the content. Pick an audience, pick a vision, and execute it well. If it’s memorable and informative, you will win. Don’t get stuck on details that don’t forward your plot or strengthen your messaging. The color of your lead characters shoes is likely unimportant (unless you’re shooting a shoe commercial).
Step 6: Time The Script
Before you present a final script you must time out the spot perfectly. With broadcast commercials you have a set amount of screen time to work with. In our case with Theravent, we had a thirty-second and a sixty-second spot. For voiceover talent, the client chose the very talented Ross Huguet, (you can hear a sample of his VO work HERE) to do the narration. Having worked with Ross on radio spots before, I know if I time myself reading the sixty- second spot, for example, ten times and I can get it between fifty-five seconds and sixty-two seconds that he can give me the reads at the appropriate speed needed.