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Workflow Problem with Client

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Dean BrennanWorkflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 22, 2008 at 8:07:52 pm


Although I always look to creative cow for advice and solutions, this is my very first post. I am just starting my career after graduating with a Bachelors degree in Television and Digital Media Production a year ago. This is a brief explanation of my problem. Any suggestions, tips or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

I recently started as a Digital Media Specialist in the production department at a major university. My biggest priority/assignment is to produce a series of videos the Marketing department wants for their website. Each video has a topic that has been predetermined (recreation center, business college, anthropology program, student organizations, etc...) They have tried to produce these in the past but everything has ended up failing because of lack of communication or marketing not agreeing on scripts, rough cuts and other things. There are also things like trying to get students to show up for shoots when they are not getting paid. Also, our production department receives no pay from the Marketing Department. This causes problems with final approvals because they can always say "NO" and we then waste enormous amounts of resources at our expense and not theirs. This only burns our department out and they do not realize the time, effort and cost it takes to produce something of quality.

I am probably confusing you on where I am going with this cause there is a lot involved. I guess what I am asking is how would you go about producing these or has anyone had a similar experience?

I wanted to write a standard set of procedures through each phase of production to help them know where we are at and what parts are being worked on. Is this a good idea? Also I need to explain to them that there needs to be a process message with every video that explains the desired effect on the audience from viewing the video and we need a professional VIDEO script writer. They have a writer who wrote for newspapers. How do I explain this to them in a way that doesn't sound like their writer doesn't know anything about writing for video?

If you need any more info let me know. There are a lot of other variables involved but I don't want to bore you with a novel.

All your help is greatly appreciated!


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Mark SuszkoRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:58:16 pm

You have a host of problems going on here. It's a cluster.
I don't even know what to tackle first.

Money: how do you bill? A revolving fund? Some kind of media account? Even if you are doing this for "free" within a university's accounting system, you should be keeping a "virtual bill" of the hours and other expenses going into each project. With that, you can show the equivalent value of what you've done, had they taken the project outside. Its also a way to control all the freebies: You can tell each client they only get x amount virtual dollar value of service a month, beyond that point, if they want priority service, they have to pay real dollars for it, because they are offsetting every other customer's work. "Look, we've done the equivalent of three thousand worth of work on this for you, we've used up your allotted virtual budget for this quarter, we'll pick it up for free again next quarter, unless you want to pay real money to jump the line and inconvenience all the other customers." Bill in installments, use progress payments, and never release the final product until they pay for it. You are running things backwards, doing and-redoing work until THEY decide to pay you. That would never work in the commercial world. You might invite the marketing folks to explore that fact by taking a project outside the ivy covered walls just once.

Script and review/approvals: this sure sounds like you don't have a structured system for the production process in place. You are running around doing what some marketing goof asks of you, hap-hazardly, and they may not even know what they are doing. People that are good at press releases may not always have equal skills at producing videos. Successful productions need an experienced producer using proven methods within a systematic approach. Roles have to be defined. You can't just keep trying stuff waiting for the marketing guy to say: I'll know it when I see it".

The right way to go is to first do a needs assessment and research to define fully what the client wants; the message, the look, the style, how we measure if it works. You then codify that in a formal specification document and get them to sign off on it. Nobody can later say that this is not what was asked for. The next step is to do a creative treatment with accompanying storyboards, think of it as a blueprint of the project and how it will look and sound, without actually writing scripted dialog yet. You get the clients to sign off on this, if they reject it, go thru another treatment process until you get it signed-off. Everybody must agree on the style and the flow. THEN you do the actual script, and get them to sign off on THAT. Only then do you go out and shoot. Because everything is based off documents they already approved at each step, they really can't say "this is not what we wanted/agreed to/had in our heads". They can only complain if you don't hold up your end regarding the execution of the approved work. If things are not right at any stage, you just go back and fix it on paper, where it doesn't cost anything.

Let me recommend you get to Amazon and get a used copy of John Morley's Corporate Scriptwriting book. It has a lot of tips for a guy in your position, even if you are not the scriptwriter.

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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 23, 2008 at 4:00:37 pm

Thanks so much for the advice. We currently do not bill them at all but we have been keeping records of costs within our department so if we do have to tell them how much everything has costs we can. You are right and it is a great idea to do a virtual budget and let them know how much this really costs and how much resources it takes up.

I totally agree when you say the roles have to be defined and thats partly why I was brought into this situation. We only have a limited number of people that wear a lot of hats. Would you write a written document that states everyones role and what they are responsible for? Even the roles of the client and release that to them? If so, what roles do clients usually take part in with these types of situations? Because our department is not marketing experts should we leave all that up to them since they are the marketing department? Things like audience and all that? Sorry if this is to many questions. I think I know the answer to these but it is good to have an outsiders opinion and I do greatly appreciate it.

You are also right when you say we don't have a process for script/review and approvals. I am currently working on a process for this and I am going to buy your suggested reading to help me out. I know a lot of this will come with experience and I am up to the challenge.

Thanks for all your help!


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Mike CohenRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 24, 2008 at 2:50:14 am

clients who do not know exactly what they want are frustrating and quite common.
Start with an informal meeting, conference call or one on one interviews with the key players. You need to learn all about what they want to say, although they may not know what they want to say.
Once you have educated yourself, write a treatment, a 1-3 page outline of the key messages and selling points of the project. Then send this to them for review and revision.

They may ask "What did you mean by x,y and z. We don't want that." This is part of getting them to focus on what they want - don't take offense since you are basically guessing at what they want. With their comments, make a new leaner treatment. If they like that, then either make a rough storyboard (beware using specific images in a storyboard - we have had people say "why do you show a picture of a person wearing such and such outfit - that's not what we wear." they tend to focus on minor things that they find not right, rather than looking at the big picture. Again, your job is to help them focus and narrow down their ideas.

Now you need to spell out the process for them:
First we will write a draft of the script for review.
Next a 2nd draft of the script with suggested visuals, for approval.
Next we will line up the participants.
Monday - we will shoot interviews with Bob and Jim and ask them these questions.
Tuesday we will shoot Jim in his office and Bob out on the campus doing his thing.
Wednesday we will review the footage with you the client and decide what else we want to shoot on Thursday.
After that we will log all the footage and produce a rough cut.
Client will view rough cut with editor, and editor will make revisions until approved.

So you are getting them to tell you what they want, even if they don't know what they want. Then you figure out what you think they want and tell them that. Then they tell you what they really think they want, until you are on the same page. Then you tell them how you will do it, before you actually do it. This way everyone knows their roles ahead of time.

I am going through such a process currently and it is a challenge, but potentially a rewarding challenge.

Good luck and let us know how things progress.

Mike Cohen

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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 24, 2008 at 1:59:18 pm

Thank you for all your input. I am going to use a lot of your suggestions as well as what Mark has given me. It's also a weird situation because you have office politics involved. It's not like this is an outside client. They, in a way, are responsible for you having a job. So you try to make them as happy as possible.

I will keep posting to keep you all updated.

Again, Thanks!

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Ken SummerallRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 24, 2008 at 3:54:02 pm


Man, I feel your pain. I am in an eerily similar situation. I work at a small university, mainly producing products for Distance Education, but we do the occasional job for the Marketing department, and we have many of the same issues. I do not have all the answers and am myself learning some things from this thread, but here's a few things that we do.

1. We bill the client. It's not much, basically a reimbursement for salaries. For example, I log my hours, figure out how much I get paid an hour by my department and bill those hours back to the client. If I use one of my student workers I back charge the client for those hours as well. This goes along with what mark has said. We tell the client that we only have so many hours to work on outside projects, but we can "hire" someone to help with it so that we can get it done in a timely manner. This is part of the politics that we have to play.

2. Let them go outside and bid a project, once. That's all it will take. We weren't working fast enough for the client on one project so they decided that bid out the editing. They were back in three months because the bid was about 7x what we were charging and they still couldn't get it done any faster! They love us now.

3. We are just beginning to implement a write and review policy. As someone mentioned they never know what they want and it tends to change by the day. We will on future projects write a treatment, get feedback, write a more specific one, get approval, write a script, get feedback, make changes, get it approved. When all of this is approved and has someone's signature on it we will start scheduling and shooting.

4. We will also probably use some version of Mark's budgeting idea. In the initial proposal I will estimate how much time it will take. When a number of hours has been agreed upon I will stick with that number. When those hours are up we will have to begin again with another proposal. Hopefully this will discourage the "grinder" type client that always wants one more revision.



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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:09:40 pm

This may seem like an odd question a little of topic but not really. I am just curious if any of you have thought about this.

What are your opinions with posts like this accessible through google? What I mean is..what if someone from the marketing department or whatever types my name into google with lets say "VIDEO" next to it. Maybe they are curious or what not on my qualifications or want to see some my other work. Anyway, this post comes up on the firs page with "workflow problem with client". Is this something I should be worried about? Also, can you go back and delete posts?

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Ken SummerallRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 24, 2008 at 4:47:53 pm


It's out there now and I don't think that there is much you can do about it. I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep over it, but if it does come up you can spin it to your favor by saying that you are new, trying to learn how to do the best job that you can for your university. You saw an area that you felt would benefit from some wise counsel and you took the initiative to seek it. It's professional development. You didn't slam anyone and you were very professional about it. You also didn't say where you worked so you weren't doing any damage to your employers image.

Bottom line, you really shouldn't worry about it.


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Timothy J. AllenRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 27, 2008 at 2:31:34 am

You mentioned that its fairly early in your career in the industry. If there is one piece of advice I can give you it is this:

Don't EVER let anyone make you feel ashamed for asking questions in order to improve yourself.

There have been times that I've been hesitant to publicly post certain questions, but once I posted them, I was often relieved to find that other professionals (that are way more experienced than I) also wanted to find the answers.

As long as questions are posed in a professional manner, they help us all. Since I joined Creative Cow, I've had a career in television that has far surpassed my expectations. Asking questions in the forums here has been key to my progression - especially since I don't have to make the all of the mistakes in order to learn the lessons.

When I hire people, I look for those who participate in professional web forums. I don't have to agree with their every opinion. It's far more important to me that they aren't afraid to ask questions and that they KEEP LEARNING.

Yes, you shouldn't forget that people you work with and some clients might find and read your threads. That said, if you are earnestly trying to improve the situation for everyone, and do the best job you can, you really have nothing to fear.

Ben Franklin had his Junto, we have the Cow.

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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 28, 2008 at 1:18:32 pm

Tim and Ken,

I appreciate all of the advice and comments. It is important to ask questions to better yourself and/or your company at the same time. This website is incredibly helpful for me because I am not learning a lot of production skills from trained professionals on the job. I guess that is a downside for working in a University Production department. But I see it as a challenge and right now and, being early in my career, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Again, thanks for your input. I will keep all of you updated on my progress with this client and job.


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John BaumchenRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on Apr 29, 2008 at 9:31:15 pm

I work for a large Government organization and we did a recruitment video not long ago similar to yours. We had facilities, computer services, education.....and such. Althought the video was being made for the HR dept. we controlled the process. For each segment, we had a subject matter expert, (SME), who was responsible for writing the voice over for their area. They were the only people who could make changes to their script, and only before shooting begins.

You're idea of doing up a set of procedures is right on the money. It's the first thing I did when I started here. The idea is to educate non-video types into what goes into making a video, the role and responsibilities of the SME, the video dept and such.

Good luck to you.

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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on May 2, 2008 at 1:39:10 pm

Yea it's a bear trying to produce something when you don't know what the client wants. There are solutions though and the more the client is educated about production the smoother things should go.

I just finished a rough draft of the process we should follow for these videos. Is this something I could e-mail one or a few of you to take a look at and maybe add some suggestions or comments? It would be greatly appreciated.

I think I have a good start on it but it is still rough and I know I might be missing a few things.

Thanks ahead of time!


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John BaumchenRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on May 2, 2008 at 2:00:01 pm

No problem,

Send me a copy to me at and I'll have a read through.


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Mike CohenRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on May 7, 2008 at 10:27:03 pm

I wouldn't mind seeing it also, since I am developing a process based upon the recruitment style video we are now producing.


mcohen at cine-med dot net

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Gav BottRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on May 13, 2008 at 4:56:30 am

I'm a bit late on this one, but just one question:-

Does your Uni offer any project managment modules? If they do why not see if you can get into one (paid by employer).

Those sorts of course are realy usefull for times like this - they may talk about projects relating to bridge building, but learning to keep the scope under control, comms and developing a change system works for any project.

The Brit in Brisbane
The Pomme in Production - Brisbane Australia.

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Dean BrennanRe: Workflow Problem with Client
by on May 16, 2008 at 2:27:52 pm

Sorry for not responding quicker! It's been a busy couple of weeks at the office. A quick update. I introduced the process to everyone involved and it was taken really nicely and things have been running smoothly since then. The client seems a lot more educated on the production process and what it takes to make a successful video. Because of this they are more understanding of our needs and they also are aware it takes effort on both ends for something to work. Thank you everyone for all your feedback and suggestions. I just hope things continue to go smoothly.

Anyway, Mike I will send you a copy of the process I wrote up.

Gav, we do occasionally have project management modules but none have run since I have been here. I will definitely be going to them when they come up. Great suggestion.

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