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Cable Spot Pricing

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Aaron Cadieux
Cable Spot Pricing
on Jan 10, 2008 at 11:16:47 pm


I am curious as to just how much I should be charging for these type of spots. Below is a link to a short reel of commercials that I did all of the visuals for, and some of the writing for. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Cable Spot Pricing
on Jan 11, 2008 at 5:18:46 pm

Wow, Christopher Walken sells cars!:-)

Aaron, I'm just going to talk in terms of the last 2 spots that were all-your-own. I don't think just quoting you a number out of thin air for the pricing is the right thing to do, because every market is different, every client is different, every spot is different. To make a seamless background from scratch or throw down a JumpBack you get the same end product but one takes more skill and time than the other, one ballpark figure can't express that.

So I'll repeat the old song. Know your true costs. Set a rate that reflects those costs plus a margin and a markup for profit. Multiply the hours you put in on these last two spots by that rate and you get the ballpark figure. But don't necessarily reveal that rate to the client immediately, if ever. Compare this rate to what others in the area charge, see if you are somewhere in the middle or upper third. That's kind of a sweet spot on rates: the lowest-cost guy in town starts out strong with business but is never taken seriously in the long haul for being able to handle higher-end, better-paying stuff. The guy with the highest prices can only keep charging them if his quality levels and results are inarguably high as well.

Do not sell production to clients based on a flat fixed amount, ever. Ever. If you do that, you will always be overbidding or lowballing the costs, and neither one is good for you.

You use your experience to estimate the hours, tell them a minimum and a maximum number of hours you think it takes to bring this baby in, then tell them the hourly rate, with the understanding that if you're going to go over the estimated maximum, they have to okay it first. At the same time you show the guy three levels of effort you can put into such a spot, then the amount of hours he wants you to put in drives the overall cost.

This is helpful, because some other guy will promise what sounds like a Ridley Scott spot on a hundred dollar budget and look like an idiot. Another may eventually DELIVER something of extraordinary quality, but lose money based on the time and expenses he spent on it. By showing a low, medium and high option for the spot, you can settle a lot of issues right up front and better match the clients' expectations as well as his budget. And here you also help distinguish your spot over Cableco's. Their "low option" will be a no-shoot spot with house announcer voiceover and canned music that's all flying type, and maybe a couple digital stills flown over a jumpBack that may not even fit the theme well. I bet you could throw one of those together in an hour. But is it worth anything, will it bring in business? Is the client wanting something MORE? This is your opportunity to upsell the things you can spend more time on than cableco can. Cableco is about volume production to meet a set price. You can be about custom craftsmanship.

You can sweeten the deal if you like by offering that if you spend less than x percent of the estimated time, you'll rebate them x dollars. Then you ask (always) for a down payment to start work, that is at least a third of your anticipated total costs. Or if they kick about the rate, offer some added value like compressing the spot for YouTube posting or their web site for free, Cutting a radio spot version for free, extra DVD dubs, that sort of thing.

But you have to know for yourself the minimum amount you can accept, below which, it makes no sense to power up the gear - beyond which, your time is better spent on self-funded projects like your documentaries, or pounding the pavement drumming up sales, or just practicing and running tutorials to perfect your skillsets.

I can't tell you that hard number amount. Anybody says they can, without knowing what you know, should be suspect.

I can tell you that for spots like the last two I saw on your demo, you are fighting the lowball or even free spots the local cable company will charge when you buy airtime. You can't compete with 100 dollars per spot or even free, so you are going to have to make your higher quality and effective design and writing more obvious.

The bar spot for example has little to distinguish it from any average cableco-produced spot. I can tell that you spent more time on it than the cableco guy typically would, setting up all the action shots, however they look like they were all shot the same night. But worse, it's not significantly more distinct or effective than a cableco spot. The voiceover is weakly delivered. The logo is not prominent or persistent, and if you want to show a URL, keep it up way longer. The copy is a little too passive and monotonous, lacks a memorable focus. Suffers from kitchen-sink syndrome, too much info all given equal weight, when topics could be more effective, spread over more than one spot, or left off to other things like a web site. The tag line that's supposed to riff on the place name is a good idea but is garbled and not made more prominent. This spot becomes obsolete the minute one of the laundry list of day themes is changed, and bars change these things often. That's a hassle for you and the client to have to recut the spot for every change under your current format. Think about restructuring it as a donut format with an easily replaceable core or one that can be updated with only a new audio track.

The lower thirds are meant to seem funky with all the font changes but just look ununified, and they fight the background video for attention. Either exaggerate them more or lose most of them. You could do a better job of dividing the info load between the voiceover and the graphics to eliminate dissonance and increase synergy. The camerawork is competent but the lighting is weak and flat, everything has the same cast to it and no colors "pop", making it look like you used a cheaper consumer or prosumer camera. I thought it could use more change-ups between tight and wide shots. The music was not memorable.

Not meaning to beat up on you at all, they are not awful spots, just calling it like you asked me to. And showing you the kind of factors that you could improve on so that when you show the next client your rate, the number feels "reasonable" for the look they are going to get.

The nursing home spot looks more polished of the two. The copy was just okay, the "for a lifetime" line was perhaps not the best choice in this application.

I don't want to rub salt in a fresh wound, but yes, as a key tool to marketing your services, your web site design needs a reimagining. You might consider creating separate sub-sites to let each one concentrate on one specialty with more elegance and simplicity. Don't offer commercial production on the same page as weddings or sports, this is bad juju if you want to gain serious business clients. Lose the hard black BG, all-caps, and too much red, this whole page is very hard to read and it looks too much like a myspace page and not a business page. Not saying you need to make it boring, far from it, but you need to make it classy yet accessible and distinctive. I am not a web designer, we can't all be equally good at everything, so when I decide I need an effective web page, I'm not doing it myself, I'm going to spend money on an experienced graphic artist and web guru to put it together.

I hope some part of this was valuable to you, and I wish you success.

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Aaron Cadieux
Re: Cable Spot Pricing
on Jan 11, 2008 at 5:46:15 pm


Thank you for actually responding to my original post. You make a number of good points. I welcome the criticism too, and you're not offending me at all. I don't mind being criticised when it is relevant to my reason for posting. I don't even mind criticism of the web site. It just seemed that the web site was all people wanted to focus on even though I had re-posted the spots elsewhere so that people could view them.

I'm not really a "web" guy, so, like you, I'll be hiring someone to re-do the web site when I can scratch together more money.

It seems to be a tricky business. You don't want to give the client too much more than they're paying for, but at the same time, you don't want the spot to look like crap, because it ends up being a poor representation of your capabilities. It's like a balancing act.

Again, thank you for actually adressing my initial post.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Cable Spot Pricing
on Jan 11, 2008 at 8:38:29 pm

I think everyone there was hesitant to give you the hard number you were asking for because it is such a subjective thing, as I addressed before. You said in another forum for this same question you charged $600 for the rest home spot. While I won't say what I think you should have charged, I will opine that you likely lowballed that one quite a bit.

Pricing is subjective to a great degree. Look at two different cars. They both get you across town at the same speed limit in the same time. Price is not the same. Why is the Honda FIT cheaper than the Ferrari? For the details that go into them. Same with any two houses, and any two spots.

You know the old joke about the engineer? The factory's complex machine stops working. They call in the engineer to fix it. He looks it over in a few places, does some figuring in his head for a moment, marks a precise spot on the machine and whacks it with a hammer. Machine springs back to life. He gives the manager a bill for a thousand dollars. Manager says "that's ridiculous, you only took ten seconds to fix that and anybody can hit a machine with a hammer".

Engineer revises bill to break out details.
"One hammer, ten seconds of use = $1.00"
"Five years of school and five more of practical experience to know WHERE to hit it with the hammer = $999".

That's kinda where we are in any pricing discussion over production. Does your set price of $600 reflect the costs in hours, truly?

Beyond a reasonable amount for standard expenses and the hours put in, you pay someone for the added value of that person's expertise and creativity. That's a subjective item. To get them to agree to the same value, you have to market, to sell them. The other fellas were trying to suggest you could do, need to do this part better, so you can ask for the rate you really want and need. Whatever that rate turns out to be.

You're doing well so far, but you can certainly take it to a higher level. Everyone here is here because we're trying to help make ourselves and each other better. Keeping an open mind and an open attitude is the only cost of admission here. Disagree all you want, but don't be disagreeable. You have friends here, even now. Keep reaching out, with a smile. You'll get one back, or a full refund.

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