One crucial element of working efficiently with clients and agencies is clear communication.
So we’re breaking down 11 tips for optimizing the flow of information between your production company, clients, and agencies.
Let’s start from the top:
The simplest item on this list is also the most important. When it comes to efficient communication with clients and agencies, listen more than you speak.
By the time your production company gets involved with a project, clients and their ad agencies have put an immense amount of time, energy, and thought into it. They’ve built a level of ownership in the project that far exceeds that of even the most well-researched producer or director. It’s important to respect that ownership and its position in the informational hierarchy that your production company has entered.
And the best way to show respect, as always, is to listen.
Making a point of asking questions ensures that your team has the info it needs to operate efficiently. It’s also both a sign of respect and an invitation to collaborate with your clients—something they’ll surely take notice of.
Plus, open-ended questions are smart. They can help you gauge client’s expectations and even test out your ideas. By asking your questions, you’re taking the time to consider what the client really wants. This, inevitably, will help you safeguard against any missteps later on.
Avoid psyching yourself out—even if you don’t want to appear in a certain light, ask the question. You could end up in a worse situation later having not received the answer you needed.
When you’re arranging meetings or calls, try to cut out informational middlemen and get all relevant parties involved. One of the most common sources of inefficiency in communication is the indirect transfer of critical information.
This is particularly true when it comes to the director and other creatives on a project.
From pre-production to post, the communication of a project’s creative vision sets the pace and tone of all other labor.
No one wants to waste the director’s time. But sometimes you’re wasting the director’s time less, just by putting them on the phone.
No matter how well you think you understand the creative, put that aside for efficiency's sake. If creative personnel are not invited to participate in critical conversations with clients and agencies, the entire production risks wasting a significant volume of resources, whether it’s time, money, effort, or something else entirely.
Producers and directors often think that everyone knows what they know, but that’s rarely the case. And this has little to do with competence or choosing the right crew, that’s a given. Efficiency is about seeing problems before they surface. And sometimes that may mean over communicating context so those you’re working with can see it from your perspective. This could take one million forms.
But as one example---say a long-time buddy of yours is the creative director on the agency side for an upcoming shoot and you’re the producer. She says “pick any still photographer you want,” so you do. Later, she’s upset that you didn’t run your pick by her. From her perspective, she didn’t care if you chose the photographer, but she had an expectation you would let her know before the hire.
Whether you interpret this as over communication or just crystal clear communication, for true efficiency, this has to be everyone’s north star.
Before you wonder if this tip is counter-intuitive, hear me out.
For upcoming producers or younger producers, a general rule is to avoid going to the director over and over again with new information. When something comes up, some critical piece of information that the director needs to know to get the job done, give it a beat and decide how "urgent" it really is. Something else will likely come up during the day---add it to your list. Rinse and repeat.
It’s always better to show up to your director at the end of the day with a list of the less critical asks than to show up with a new one every five seconds. Of course, this bars anything truly urgent, (if there are any safety risks or serious budgetary concerns, etc.).
It’s just as important that the production company’s needs are clearly communicated to clients as it is for clients’ needs to be clearly communicated to the production company.
Some production teams are understandably wary of being overly transparent with clients and agency representatives. To a certain degree, production companies are responsible for shielding clients from the more chaotic elements of production, and transparent communication inherently makes that accommodation more difficult. However, for the sake of both quality and efficiency, transparent communication should be prioritized in parallel with (if not above) accommodation.
Modern clients are increasingly price aware and sensitive. To meet that change and to preserve the position of creative in the production process, production companies should be prepared to operate with more financial transparency and to occasionally educate clients in order to deliver the best results.
When you’re working with a team of people, efficiency is challenging---because not only are there so many moving parts, there are even more personalities. The way people work and how they communicate can create a ton of process slowdowns. If you want the interaction between the client, agency, and production company to yield fruitful results without wasting time, effort, or people’s patience, it’s helpful to learn when it’s appropriate to educate the person giving you feedback.
For instance, say you’re working with an agency producer on a car commercial. Perhaps that agency producer is telling you and your director that the shot should start lower at the tires and gradually move up over the hood. If they hold a creative title, (say “creative producer” or “creative director”) they might feel this is very much in their right. And that’s fine. But as the producer on the production side, it is also very much in your right to reframe this direction as something more helpful to you and your team. More specifically, ask them what problem they’re trying to solve with their feedback. Because more likely than not, what they meant by their creative direction was, “I need to see the logo more.” And no one is more equipped than the director and rest of the production team to figure out the best way to show more of that logo.
When someone is telling you what to do, what they should be telling you is what they need.
People who tell you what to do are inherently wasting everyone’s time---because if they knew what to do, they’d direct the commercial themselves. They don’t know what to do; they know what they need. So it’s in the production company’s best interest to push back against feedback when necessary to get the shot everybody wants.
After any call or meeting with a client or agency personnel, the producer on the production side should speak to the director and then send a follow-up to the client or agency.
While the extra effort of follow-up may seem like the exact opposite of efficient behavior, it’s huge for setting your company apart from the herd. It’s an opportunity to build relationships, demonstrate professional competence, troubleshoot, and discover new information, some of which might be critical. Guidelines on usage of the brand’s logo, for instance, are unlikely to be discussed on an initial call but absolutely essential for the preparation of pitches or other client presentations.
In short, the benefits gained from following up - unknown though they may be- almost always outweigh the minimal effort required to do so
While many people argue emailing is more efficient than constantly being badgered with calls and texts all day, there’s a line here. It’s fairly common for producers (and upcoming producers especially) to overly rely on digital messaging. Emailing and messaging not only takes more time to create and send, but often, you run the risk of miscommunication which could cause a slew of other problems moving forward.
Sometimes it's better just to pick up the phone.
Quick scenario---your clients are sitting in Video Village, and they’re watching the monitors. They make a comment that more of the talent’s hair needs to be in the shot.
A good producer knows they’re seeing the director lining up the shot, and it’s not the way it will actually look. Armed with this knowledge, they’ll ask the 1st AD to let them know when the shot is lined up, so they can go back to the client. An inefficient producer will go back and forth to the client and 1st AD (or worse, the director), relaying irrelevant comments that will only slow the production down.
Being efficient means being aware of what the client perceives and what is actually happening on set. While this industry is about pleasing and servicing clients, it’s not at the expense of the project or your director’s sanity.
This final tip is for post-production. Always get a rough cut from the director before the agency gets their hands on it. If the agency is the first one to touch it, they may edit the commercial in a way that doesn't fit with the narrative or creative vision of the director. Without understanding the director's intentions, the agency cuts it their own way, and you could end up in a situation where the agency believes the production team didn't get the "right stuff." It becomes difficult to dissuade the agency at this point, and you’ll end up cutting for much longer than you needed to.
Because the director was the one who shot it and imbued their intention in it, it only makes sense they cut it first. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a ton of time. Let them do a rough cut first as a baseline, and then the agency can come in to get it to where they and the client are satisfied.
For any production company, managing professional relationships is a key business activity. Commercial production companies, in particular, benefit from learning to work efficiently and effectively with their clients and agency partners. And, most often, the best place to start is with transparency. But of course, that’s easier said than done. True transparency on set requires a unique blend of professional aptitude and the consistency of building and nourishing personal relationships.
For more on communication within the commercial production space, check out our next post, Can Transparency Put Creative Back in the Driver’s Seat?
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.