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Client conundrum

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Chris Blair
Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 2:38:32 am

We have a client that we've done a modest amount of work for over the years. They're part of a very large foreign corporation.

They recently got a new marketing director who called us to bid on documenting a training session. It was a simple project. One camera following the speaker for a one hour session. It involved some travel, a fair amount of setup and some editing. Our bid was for basically a half day of shooting and a half day of editing to clean stuff up, add some powerpoint slides (or rework them so they'd be readable on video), add a simple open/close etc.

Our bid was something like $2000, which included some DVDs and a few other things. Well...they thought this was too high, so you guessed it. They shot it themselves. Well now they call and ask us if we can come to their facility and train them on using Premiere Elements to edit the thing. If you aren't familiar with it, Premiere Elements is the consumer version of Premiere, a really dumbed down version to boot.

First off, I can't believe a professional would ask another professional to come train them to do what the other professional does for a living. Second, I can't believe a HUGE international company would do this!

We don't want to alienate them because there's a chance they might spend some decent money down the road. They have in the past. But by that same token, this seems like a ridiculous request.

Just curious what others think. I'll bet this has happened to a few of you too!!

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Mike Cohen
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 3:26:19 am

Easy answer - walk away.
However you can offer them expert training for $5000/day.
Training on premiere elements? Seriously?


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Zane Barker
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 3:45:58 am

[Mike Cohen] "offer them expert training for $5000/day. "

I agree, and when they ask why so much more for the training simply explain that if you are going to be training someone who would be in competition with you then to protect yourself you must charge that much more.

There are no "technical solutions" to your "artistic problems".
Don't let technology get in the way of your creativity!



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Steve Wargo
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 5, 2009 at 7:36:08 am

[Mike Cohen] "Easy answer - walk away"

Or, you could train them for weeks and show them the amount of detail required.


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 HD .


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Todd Terry
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 3:29:42 am

I feel your pain, Chris...

The closest similar thing that ever happened to us was when one of our small clients decided to try to shoot some of their projects themselves... and then called us to ask if there was any kind of gadget or something to "stick on the front of their camera" to make their video look like ours.

My smartass answer: "Yeah, there is. A sticker with our phone number on it."

In seriousness, if I were in your shoes I would simply politely explain that training is "Sorry, just not what we do." Which it isn't.

To start with, they'd never pay you enough for the training to make it worth your time. Secondly, if they were swift enough for you to teach them to actually complete acceptible projects (unlikely), then you're cutting your own self out of the loop.

I think I would just wish them well, let them falter, and wait 'til the phone rings to either "fix" this project, or hire you for the next one.

At any rate, a half day shooting plus a half day editing and cleaning up PowerPoop graphics plus travel and DVDs and the general headache of it all.... at $2K you're giving it away in the first place. If a "very large foreign corporation" isn't willing to pony up what is basically chump change, I'd re-evaluate whether they are worth fooling with at all.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Brendan Coots
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 3:30:56 am

This is a no-brainer. You say you don't want to alienate them because they may spend money with you down the road. Well, if they can shoot and (thanks to you) edit their own videos probably not.

They are basically asking you to train your replacement, to which you would be wise to find a tactful and respectful way to decline.

Brendan Coots

Splitvision Digital

http://www.splitvisiondigital.com


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cowcowcowcowcow
John Davidson
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 6:21:16 am

Who is the worst editor you've ever seen in your life? Refer them to him.

John
Magic Feather Inc.


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cowcowcowcow
Mike Smith
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 10:00:36 am

I was approached once by a local competitor to provide edit training to a graphic designer, but declined, explaining that learning a software package was the trivial end of learning to edit. The talent, judgement, experience and mindset to edit professionally take time to develop, and need both a strong interest in visual storytelling and an element of aptitude, neither of which might be present in the nominated print designer to be trained.

Your situation is different, I think - this is potentially a significant customer. This could be a customer education opportunity.

Maybe you could set up a meeting to discuss an appropriate training and package or schedule, explaining that to achieve any kind of decent result you'd need to teach basics of editing and video production alongside any introduction to the software. Otherwise, how is the trainee to know how to evaluate and fix the footage, how to build a story?

Your client wouldn't expect to create a writer by training someone on Word or Final Draft, to create a designer by introducing someone to Photoshop, Quark or Maya, to create a composer by training someone in Sibelius, Finale or even Acid. The people learning the software would need the skills, talent and relevant education beforehand, or else would need to spend a lot of time developing those aspects alongside learning the software.

The same thing applies with editing, and making video. You might be able to devise an appropriate training programme for someone with the right talent and aptitude - no doubt you've training editors in the past. But it might require, say, 90 days of formalstudy (any other views?) spread over a year or so, with a course of home study to complete alongside. Your rate for professional training services might be $1,500 to $2000 per day - fairly standard for a skilled corporate trainer over here in the UK.

They might bite ... they'd end up with a decent editor. Or they might think a bit more about what they're trying to take on.





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Nick Griffin
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 1:54:06 pm

We had a similar situation and, so far, it hasn't turned out well, but I'm really not sure how else I could have handled it. Here's the story:

The training manager of one of our clients, not someone we routinely dealt with, but part of a larger organization for whom we do a fair amount of work, asked for a "bid" (whoop, whoop, whoop -- danger word there) on what it would cost for us to produce a video of one of his new training sessions which would then be used to promote future sessions. It would entail us flying 3/4 of the way across the country, economy FedEx-ing lights and heavier gear, shooting for a day, two hotel nights so I could be there first thing on the shoot day and not have to red eye the night after the shoot (something, as a grown up, I refuse to do) and edit the show once home. Length was, in his mind, to be a day truncated into a hour, or so program.

Within a day of submission he said that our "bid" shocked him and he wasn't trying to do a James Cameron movie, just a simple training video. He said that the "A-V People" at the hotel (who of course didn't need airfare, FedEx and hotel nights) could shoot this for him for a fraction of what we had estimated. In fact they would give him an ENTIRE day for $400 plus the cost of tape. Also, he'd be there to "make sure that they were getting what he needed."

This is the point where I tried to explain the difference between apples and oranges, but since all he could see was a number less than one tenth of mine, I adopted a new tactic. I suggested that since his organization had been such a good client over the years, he could use the hotel's people, bring the tapes back to our place. I would set him up on one of our un-used edit systems and show him how to pick out the scenes he wanted and make a simple cuts only edit -- at no charge since he'd be doing the work and our secondary system probably wasn't going to be in use that week anyway.

Then, once he had something basic that he liked I could step in, at my normal hourly editing rate, and create some graphics, an open and close, tighten up the program and viola(!) he'd have what he wanted for his very inexpensive price. In my mind this was a simple way to maintain a relationship by being helpful and even nurturing.

Then when my training director client returned from his "successful" shoot, reality hit the fan. The hotel's AV "people" (one guy it turns out) had quite literally "covered" (and I use the term VERY loosely) the 5+ hour training session from two fixed positions, seemingly one morning and the other afternoon, with some zoomed into CUs (most for no particular purpose), just ambient flourescent ceiling lights, and UNBELIEVABLY nothing but camera mic sound -- no wireless on the presenter, not even a handheld mic lying on a nearby tabletop. He had five hours of the presenter walking around a circular set-up of desks with the adult students asking questions all of which was seen from eye level, one position at a time, with only the on-camera mic for audio in an otherwise hollow room.

Once the tapes were back at my place I controlled my urges to once again bring up the apples and oranges comparison and proceeded, with a straight face, to show my new "producer" how to load the tapes, mark ins and outs, log, digitize and then review what he had. I showed him how if he had missed something or cut something too short he could read the timecode to help him find it again and fix his mistakes. At the start of day two I stepped in to show him how he could start laying the scenes he'd selected on a timeline and move them around.

This has to have been one extraordinarily patient (or dense) man, because it wasn't until the end of the second day that he came to me, threw up his hands and said that he had absolutely nothing, wanted nothing further to do with this thing called editing, greatly appreciated my letting him try, greatly appreciated my providing lunch and coffee and water, etc., and would pay me whatever I wanted to take over the project and save it.

I gave it a couple of days before calling him with the bad news. As he had seen for himself (still being helpful and nurturing) we had very little to work with. I suggested that an hour or even a half hour would be so deadly boring as to be highly counter-productive. Instead I proposed that with numerous graphics setting up numerous brief clips and with the addition of some punchy production music, we could make a couple minute long promo or "commercial." This is what he opted for.

What I was left with was a client who, without my needing to say it, knew that I had been right all along, that he knew nothing whatsoever about producing video, and that I had saved his butt.

Problem is that this whole experience either frightened him so much or was so uncomfortable that even the possibility of another video for his department never came up again. Six months later he left for another job.

SO what could I have done differently? I still have the client and their other departments still use us, in fact, more than ever. Should I try to track down this training "producer" at his new job and see if there's any chance that any of this experience has stuck. I'm all ears for the wisdom of the COW.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 7:27:18 pm

Nick, you did exceptionally well at what was a "Kobayashi Maru test". (wiki it)I don't think my ego could have stood up in silence that long, you're a better man than me, or at least you have better meds:-)

Your only other option was to not take it on at all. Your gut said to make the best effort to retain this guy, even with his bad judgement. We were not there and don't know all the nuances of the relationship, so all we can do is armchair quarterback after the fact.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of organizations out there that DO think video is only as hard as buying software. Their expectations will always be unrealistic. If you play along and try to "train your replacement" with them, per their request, first, they will always consider whatever price you chareg to be "gouging" them.

Second, the poor results they get from the new guy will not be blamed on Bob from Accounting, who volunteered or got drafted into becoming their video guy, they will blame YOU, the trainer, for not creating a clone of Walter Murch for beer money, in three weeks or less.

The safest answer, and a true one, is that you don't do this kind of training because it is not part of your services, and because training in what we do itself is a highly specialized skill. Even if you are an expert in something, that doesn't automatically make you capable of successfully and efficiently TEACHING it to someone else. Though making that effort once in a while is a great way to polish your own skills, doing it for money is a separate case.

I think when a client starts asking you questions of this type, its a danger signal that you're already lost them, and the clock is runing down. You need to either accept that and tell them to walk (politely) or try to re-establish the Value Proposition. My usual reponse to these DIY things if asked is "I've never seen this work out well for anyone that's asked me, so I don't help people do this anymore. You wouldn't send your traveling salesmen to pilot school and buy them each a Cessna; you use a professional travel agent and buy them cheap airline tickets. The salesmen are there to go and SELL. Making them pilots as well is outside the core competency and goals of the organization, and you're only going to lose time and money pursuing this".

Of course, they go ahead and do it anyway, just without me. Sometimes it is no fun at all to be right.



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Nick Griffin
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 10:04:43 pm

[Mark Suszko] "a "Kobayashi Maru test""

Jeez, Mark. You think I'm not enough of a "basement of the Science Building, 5th period A-V geek" to not know that this was the impossible test presented to James T. Kirk in... oh crap... now I can't remember which episode it was. (Or was it one of the earlier movies?) See Mark, we're coming from the same place. ;)


[Mark Suszko] "because training in what we do itself is a highly specialized skill"

[Mark Suszko] "You wouldn't send your traveling salesmen to pilot school and buy them each a Cessna; you use a professional travel agent and buy them cheap airline tickets. The salesmen are there to go and SELL."

Brilliant! And excellent answers. Or as I have been known to say to clients, "Great! Give him a stethescope and see if he can handle your health plan, too."

My whole goal in letting this guy try and fail was to keep him from forming a relationship with ANOTHER video company. Then again, it would have been fun to see the hour long show that the hotel's guy produced from 5 hours of his own garbage.


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Richard Herd
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 6:55:52 pm

See also: Sword of Damocles.


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grinner hester
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 4:21:21 pm

Don't let their bad hiring change the way you do business. Of course that new hire is very temporary. It's as easy as explaining you don't offer training services and let them know you are available for work when they are ready to get things done.




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Chris Blair
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 6:50:52 pm

All great advice. Interesting to see how people come at it from all directions. But my favorite advice was from John Davidson. I laughed out loud at that one:

Who is the worst editor you've ever seen in your life? Refer them to him.

It's just baffling to me how people that are supposed to be executives think they're actually helping their company by doing something like this "in-house."

Reminds me of the extreme home improvement DIY folks that believe they can do ANYTHING the professionals can do. I'm a big do-it-yourself guy around the house, mainly because we can't afford to pay other people to do stuff. But there are things like electrical, complicated plumbing (like installing a water heater), tearing out a load-bearing wall etc. that I realize I can't possibly do without hiring a professional. Not to mention the cost saving in sheer time. I installed Dupont laminate plank flooring in our kitchen a couple years ago (300 square feet worth) and it literally took me 4 full weekends. This year we had the same flooring installed in our kids playroom, which is a similar size. It took the 2 person team 6 hours to completely install it including trim! It was worth every penny of the $800 installation fee to save 8 days of my life!!!

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Scott Cumbo
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 9:36:35 pm

I say train them. If they're looking to have an "in house" guy, they
probably will do it if you help them or not. So pick a day you have nothing else going on and take their money. $1000 per day, $200 per follow up phone call or something like that. It's easy money.

The "i don't want to train my replacement" thing is just fear of being replaced. Thats like working in a post house and not showing
any of the assistants anything because "they may take work away from you in the future". Their is always someone who is better or will become better at what you(me, us, we) do. Why worry about it?



Scott Cumbo
Editor
Broadway Video, NYC


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Bill Davis
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 4, 2009 at 9:47:54 pm

Look, over and over again, we get this same kind of story.

The reality is that it's NEVER going to change. This is because just like US - people in corporations have to multi-task, orient and re-orient themselves to situations.

I've had many clients ask me when sitting in on edits, why I watched the same clip over and over and over again. I patiently explain that one time was for proofing audio, once for lighting, once for continuity or set appearance, once for performance, etc, etc, etc. They typically nod and shut up starting to understand some of the skeletal complexity of making a good video.

The point is that I don't do all of these things at once when I view my work. I concentrate on individual elements of the stream as I deal with them.

It should be no surprise that in this economic climate, our clients are focusing on a particular area of THEIR jobs. Cost control. It's likely the singular IMPORTANT element of their jobs that their bosses are yapping about every meeting.

Yes, that leads to temporary insanity like thinking the admin assistant can somehow magically also do videography or editing for the company meeting.

But we all know he or she can't do it competently. It's just too complex. And sooner or later they'll realize this.

So we have to sit back, relax, survive, and if we're smart, commisserate with those we've built relationships with to share in the pain of less work and understand that our clients are the poor souls who have to figure out how to cut 30% off the corporate expense sheet without making any change in the fundamental quality of the product BECAUSE their profits are down and they need to do this to survive. Just like US.

It WILL come around again. And when it does, the I personally want to be the guy they remember as friendly, honest, helpful, and willing to make sacrifices to help them survive.

Any thing else is long-term business suicide in my book.

For what it's worth.








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Chris Blair
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 5, 2009 at 5:55:14 pm

Bill Davis It should be no surprise that in this economic climate, our clients are focusing on a particular area of THEIR jobs. Cost control. It's likely the singular IMPORTANT element of their jobs that their bosses are yapping about every meeting.

I don't disagree with this, but if cost control is the case for huge corporations making these sorts of decisions, then the decision should be to NOT videotape the speaker at all.

We'll likely try to accomodate them as I sort of agree with Nick Griffin's take on the situation (especially since it was so similar).

But any reasonable "Joe Manager" that hasn't figured out it's a bigger waste of time, money and productivity to try to do something in-house without equipment, without proper software, and especially without people that have the know-how, should't be managing people and departments.

I just find it bothersome that no-one on their end found their request to be just a tiny bit uncooth!

I've been at this for over 25 years now and the stuff that clients ask never ceases to amaze me. Reminds me of the ad agency that used to make us sign a "no-compete" with each and every one of their clients we shot video projects for...but thought nothing of agressively pursuing our direct clients whenever it suited them. Whenever we brought it up, it elicited lectures (yes lectures) from the owner of the ad agency. Needless to say, we don't work with them any longer.

Thanks for the input everyone.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 5, 2009 at 7:49:46 pm

[Chris Blair] "But any reasonable "Joe Manager" that hasn't figured out it's a bigger waste of time, money and productivity to try to do something in-house without equipment, without proper software, and especially without people that have the know-how, should't be managing people and departments.

I just find it bothersome that no-one on their end found their request to be just a tiny bit uncooth! "


Most of these corporate "tape the CEO" type situations are just ego-driven BS, and the middle-management types you're dealing with know this. They're just tending to the boss's narcissism, and they're just looking to get it over with so they can say "yes," because they are typically "yes men and women," and that's what they do for a living.

It's nothing personal, we're just considered tools in their tool chest, and when any old tool will do, they'll typically settle for the cheapest tool in the box. As Nick pointed out, when things go wrong, they sometimes learn that the cheapest tool isn't always the most cost-efficient choice, but waiting around while they learn that lesson can require the patience of Jobe.

In the meantime, you need to let it go and go find yourself a replacement client.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.


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Nick Griffin
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 5, 2009 at 10:07:21 pm

[Chris Blair] "But any reasonable "Joe Manager" that hasn't figured out it's a bigger waste of time, money and productivity to try to do something in-house without equipment, without proper software, and especially without people that have the know-how, should't be managing people and departments."

I continue to be AMAZED by the fact that sooooo many "managers," owners and others in business simply can't think this through until it smacks them in the face. And as ridiculous as it is for video, it's even more nuts for web development.

I've literally heard, "Why can't we have on-line ordering easily and cheaply. It's no big deal. I use Amazon.com all the time."

Because, genius, Amazon.com spent over a billion dollars and a few thousand man-years getting their system to run so smoothly that you think nothing of it.


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grinner hester
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 5, 2009 at 9:09:30 pm

I've never met an executive of any kind who actually felt like he was helping the greater good.
If you look back, you havn't either. They are clock milkers who get high off of bluffing their way through a career.
Large companies feel the need to burn through that dolla. For that reason, they'll always have execs to do that for em.
The big company in STL keeps about 8 edit suites rocking on any given day. Every now and then, they feel the need to pull those millions in house. When they do and see it costs infinatly more, they act as if lesson was learned, only to repeat the same mistake again 4 years later. Heck, I now consult em on their purchases and how to freelance the labor, popping in there to save the day myself every now and again.
Nobody acuses big business of using common sense.



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Chris Blair
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 12:53:06 am

Good points Nick and Grin. And David...we've got a young go-getter who was actually excited about helping to train them...so we'll probably shoot them a price and see what they say. Better to make something from them now while we can.

As many who have worked with large corporations can attest, it's amazing that the economic implosion didn't happen 5 or 10 years ago. We've worked with a handful of large companies over the years, and the insanity that goes on inside their world is mind-blowing. Two of those large and very well-established corporations have filed bankruptcy in the last year, which came as no surprise to us. One has moved on and will likely emerge a better, stronger company, and we continue to do work for them (and get paid). The other is in tatters and we had to sue to get paid (still in litigation).

The money they waste and the poor decision-making and planning that goes on makes me wonder how any large corporation in America survives (if they're run like these companies are).

Anyway...thanks for the input. Lots of great advice as always.





Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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grinner hester
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 2:13:36 pm

You are looking at it logically and that will never work with government. You have to look at big business as government and discard logic. In america, it takes money to make money and they are simply trained to flaunt what the equate as power.
If you ask yourself how many times you have taken a gig knowing you could do the whole video for what they are paying on set that one day, it's not real had to see videos are usually the last thing a company is purchasing when paying for a video. This is a trend that will not only not soon be broken. I spoke with an executive producer just a week or so ago who is old school and still lives by the unwritten law that video costs 2k per finished second.
lol
well maybe it did 15 years ago when cameras required baby-fed light and each edit was discusses then rediscussed but to have that kind of money waister in a position of power just testifies that this is not an industry big business wants to learn.
Step back and you'll see this is a good thing. Afterall, a small department with a youngan, an HDV camera and a FCP laptop in each of these entities could replace us all.






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jon agnew
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 4:37:41 pm

Next time, ask them how much they are paying the presenter and underbid him.


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Richard Herd
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 7:00:34 pm

And, Grinner, we're being hired out of film schools.


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grinner hester
Re: Client conundrum
on Apr 6, 2009 at 7:08:40 pm

Not a bad place to scoop up cheap talent.




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