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“Swinging” Clients

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Bruce Bennett“Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 1, 2008 at 7:55:59 pm

Today, I learned that one of my clients went looking elsewhere for video editing services. Now, mind you, I am a Producer and sub out my editing. Since owning my own business, I have done only one video for them, and that can easily be classified as “low-budget” compared to what I normally do. Through the grapevine, I learned that this particular video was a “cheaper budget” project, so I’m thinking the client feels that I cannot produce it for the low-budgeted amount.

The video is going to be shown at an annual show/conference that the client will probably hire me to do the audio/voice-over introductions for (and possibly hire me to call/Direct the actual show). I’ve done the audio introduction recordings for the past three years.

When I worked for a post house for 8 years, we had a few clients come to us for their “lower budget” projects while keeping their “higher budget” projects with our competitors. So this type of thing is not new to me.

So, my fellow COWs (is that what we’re called?) what are your thoughts, experiences, sound-offs, etc. when it comes to such “swinging” clients that play with others as well?


Bruce Bennett,
Bennett Marketing & Media Production, LLC

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Todd at Fantastic PlasticRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 1, 2008 at 8:28:58 pm

Well, when those clients "swing," we tend to just let 'em. Not too much to be done about it.

We have a couple of agency clients where we pretty much handle all of their higher-end stuff, but for easy/fast/cheap things they go elsewhere. And that's pretty much fine with us, we don't really want their low-end gigs.

And we have a couple of agency clients that started out using us and other production companies... kinda spreading the love around. Gradually they have come to the point where we are doing almost all of it, but they will go elsewhere if they need something that our schedules just simply can't accommodate (although we usually try). They always come back though.

Last year one of our very biggest clients (that we usually do fairly high-end commercial spots for) confessed to us that they had taken a low-end project (a shareholders' annual report video) to another company. They told us it was because they feared we "wouldn't have time" because we were working on another big campaign for them at the moment.... but I'm sure it was primarily about money. They made the confession while bemoaning what a huge mistake it was and that they would never do that again.

I'd say don't sweat the "swingers" too much... people like to test the waters, and actually I encourage that. One of our big clients was recently complaining about production costs, and decided to go get two other estimates from other production companies in two different cities. When they leaned the lowest of those outside bids was at least $20K higher than our highest guess, our rates suddenly didn't seem quite so bad any more.

As long as you have fair rates and your work is of substantially higher quality than their alternative.... the swingers will keep swinging back. At least the ones that you want to swing back do.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mike CohenRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 1, 2008 at 9:51:39 pm

We have a client (let's call them Company A) who has given us steady work for many years. Last year, after one particular project had endless revisions, and we billed them for the overages, they sent us this e-mail:

"Thanks. We will decide shortly whether or not we will use your team for future work."

Their solution? They are having their in-house person, (who no offense to people who wear many hats, is probably their designer who has a Mac and obviously can cut video using iMovie,) so why would they need to hire an outside firm for this?

Perhaps they think their customers like star-wipes and lots of scrolling titles!

The funny thing is, this is a fairly big company, but nickel and diming happens everywhere.

I have a related story, kind of the reverse of swinging customers. Call it "sleeping with the enemy".

The above mentioned company sent us a video with a note saying

"we have acquired a copy of our competitor's video. We'd like our next video to be exactly like this."

Little did my client know that we also shot their competitor's video, so they sent me my own work to copy!

Later in the year it was announced that company A will now be distributing Company's B's product, and do we have video shot for Company B which company A could use? That's up to company B, since their contract stated that they own the rights to the video.

What goes around comes around.

Mike Cohen

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Mark SuszkoRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 1, 2008 at 10:55:43 pm

Mike, that's hysterical. Reminds me of a time when I was in a contract dispute with a guy in Chicago, which I think you'll grant is a fairly big city. At one point the guy says he's going to sic his lawyer on me and names the lawyer. I laughed and said "I don't think your lawyer is going to take the case to the judge, your lawyer is my cousin".

As far as these clients go, I agree you only benefit from comparison shoppers, as long as you make a good product at fair price that works for you.

I had a client once brought someone else's work to the office and asked us to evaluate it. In some businesses, this can get pretty catty; every dentist I ever had did nothing but trash the work of the guy that worked on my teeth before him.

Anyway, the client tape was pretty bad. Badly mic'ed, video levels all over the place and badly exposed, timing and execution of the edits was crummy and sloppy. Not knowing who had done it, I pointed out the most obvious flaws by saying what I'd have done differently, trying to be as diplomatic as possible. No telling if the client themselves had done this at home and were trying to get some positive critiques on the DL. Imagine how telling the client THEY stink would go over!

Then the client asked me what my estimate of the dollar value of the work on that tape was. I was hesitant to name a figure that way, because such things are subjective and situational, so the client told me what they'd paid this person, to see my reaction. At that point diplomacy went out the window as I told them flat-out I thought they'd been overcharged by about 100 percent.

They were on contract to us and I told the client I was sorry they'd spent the money before reaching out to us, because we could have done a much better product for essentially no charge but the tape stock.

I offered to do a repair job on the junk they brought in, but they had nothing but a VHS, no higher-quality masters, so there wasn't a lot I could do except color-correct it and trim some cuts. We concluded together that was throwing good money after bad, even at our "free" rate, and that a new program from scratch was a better bet.

Of course this person takes my words back to their office to use as a weapon against the person that authorized the tape. We didn't see that client back for a while. But they did come back eventually. I think after a management shakeup.

I think being honest and never lying about things that can be checked anyway is the best policy, getting you the grudging respect of the right kind of people; even if you can't make them happy *today*, they know you're ready to do your best for them some time in the future.

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Christopher WrightRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:25:24 am

It sounds like you actually got the amount your client paid the "other company" and that you could make a real comment on "production value" versus budget. I am in a smaller market where especially ad agencies are "roving" all the time. Whenever I am asked to evaluate another competitor's work, I always ask the particulars of how the project was handled. I have seen horrible work from competitors (who usually do credible work) which turned out to be shot as a concept "test" scratch video on a consumer format by one person (sometimes an intern of the company), "rough edited" by another person in another company (sometimes a film student), and ultimately dropped by both companies due to not being paid for their work, not wanting to get further involved in the project for no pay, or having the work shuttled to another person within the agency. Several non-profits just want their piecemeal projects (mostly shot by volunteers) "fixed" for free as well, and go from company to company, trying to let you "prove" to them that your company can do a better job, but again for free. I even had one client who had been through eleven "free" or "student intern editors" part-timing at bigger companies for over a year who finally realized that she needed to get her project completed by deadline and finished professionally with us. I have also been on the receiving end of a "competitor smear" where I found out someone was showing a 10 year old project of mine which was shot by a client in extended play 8mm video, and they were told that this project was an example of my recent HD work! It is always REALLY good to know if you are talking apples to apples.

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Timothy J. AllenRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 3, 2008 at 4:54:47 am

It's incumbent on the producer to get the best price for the budget on each production. I value loyalty, but after all, it is business, not a marriage.

I've worn hats as a client, an editor and a producer, and I think that it's not a bad thing to spread the work around... even when I'm happy with the services of a particular production company.

As a business owner, no matter what industry you are in, it's unwise to get in a situation where all of your income comes from one or two clients. On the flip side, as a client, I want to be sure that I have a good and competitive selection of vendors. This is not only to keep the costs competitive (which is just as much a part of my job as writing scripts), but to make sure my company isn't too dependent on any particular vendor - whether that be for video production services, or office supplies.

Sometimes the "best" crew for the job is simply the crew that matches the demands and needs of the project better than the other choices. Budget, schedule, personality, technical expertise - all those things come into play, and it's prudent for a "client" to have a fall back in case their first choice is booked or otherwise not the "best match" for a particular job.

It works both ways, folks. Do the best job you can at a fair price and in a professional manner and people will come back to hire you. That doesn't mean they will - or should - hire you every time.

If you use the competition as motivation to develop your team's skills, your company will grow.

Don't just be competitive on the video production side of things, though. This may be a signal to develop your company's marketing and sales skills and get them as sharp as your creative and technical skills.

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Steve WargoRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 3, 2008 at 4:55:35 am

We have three rooms and three rates.

1. MacPro Intel box with FCP and 7 Tb raid, leather couch, HD TV for use during the session if appropriate. Full HD access and all the others.

2. A similar but lower level (Quad G5) system in our machine room. Comfortable but not "suite" so to speak. DV - Beta

3. Out in the cold studio (Dual 2.7) and manned by a decent student. No effects software, dinky speakers, no coffee pot and a walk to the potty. DV only

4. We also have a laptop that can travel to the client's location when they need a cheap quicky. DV only

All are priced accordingly and profitable. On the cheap systems, they do not get professional advice, the music library or brown nosing. We charge for that.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1.

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Bruce BennettRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 3, 2008 at 2:58:32 pm

[Steve Wargo] "On the cheap systems, they do not get professional advice, the music library or brown nosing. We charge for that."


Bruce Bennett,
Bennett Marketing & Media Production, LLC

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Arnie SchlisselRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 4, 2008 at 7:19:48 pm

[Steve Wargo] "On the cheap systems, they do not get professional advice, the music library or brown nosing. We charge for that. "

So, if they want the music library & the brown nosing, but not the professional advice, is that a little less? :)


Now in post: Peristroika, a film by Slava Tsukerman

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Steve WargoRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 7, 2008 at 5:45:34 am

Make me an offer and come on over. Free popcorn!

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1.

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grinner hesterRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 7, 2008 at 4:34:06 am

You should ask why. If it was a booking issue, ensure them you will alwyas try your best. If it's a price issue, work it out. If it's a capability issue, you have to know about it.

that said, approach cautiosly. Know that you are owed absolutly nothing, friends as you may have become.

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Bruce BennettRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 7, 2008 at 1:20:11 pm

[grinner hester] "You should ask why."


I’m not so sure that this is a good idea. Like I said, I heard about them going elsewhere through “the grape vine.” In my experience, asking “Why?” would probably be considered a direct challenge and would embarrass the client; resulting in a bad/worse relationship.

Thank you,

Bruce Bennett,
Bennett Marketing & Media Production, LLC

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walter biscardiRe: “Swinging” Clients
by on Feb 7, 2008 at 1:45:56 pm

[Bruce Bennett] "
So, my fellow COWs (is that what we’re called?) what are your thoughts, experiences, sound-offs, etc. when it comes to such “swinging” clients that play with others as well?"

Let them swing. I will always pass on projects that are too low of a budget for me to work with. If I like the client I will refer them client to other editors who I know can do a decent job for the money allocated.

If it's a client I've only worked with once or probably won't work with again, I don't give any referrals.

I can say that three clients who left us all came back after un-satisfactory experiences with other production companies. Our rates are higher than many production companies in the area but lower than companies that produce equal quality work.

You let your work speak for itself and you make sure the client gets exactly what they want. If they are happy with your work and budget they will use you. By asking them directly about working with other folks, you'll probably just upset them.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Biscardi Creative Media
HD and SD Production for Broadcast and Independent Productions.

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