HOW TO WRITE AN RFP FOR A VIDEO PRODUCTION PROJECT

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1 HOW TO WRITE AN RFP FOR A VIDEO PRODUCTION PROJECT EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Henninger Media Services Production Account Executive, Sue O Hora, explains what specific questions people outside of the production and television industries should ask when looking to hire a video production company. In this whitepaper, she outlines the three overarching stages of every production project pre-production, production and post-production; and their respective components (the basics, content, approvers and budget) that should be given thought when writing a video production request-for-proposal ( RFP ). She describes how similar these subcomponents are to the everyday functions with which any typical business manager should be concerned. There are two key takeaways here for any public relations, government, corporate or non-profit entity: (1) Give potential production vendors as much information as possible upfront in the RFP the more the better. This will increase an organization s opportunity for receiving more comprehensive and more financially competitive responses and bids. In addition, (2) these entities, during their evaluation process, should be mindful of how well responders articulate and justify their recommendations for various production equipment and workflow systems. Organizations should vet these recommendations for how well they relate to the responder s recommended storytelling techniques and message execution. This article also contains a list of questions and guidelines for organizations to use when constructing a video production RFP. The need for video in the worlds of public relations, government, corporate and nonprofit America is increasing rapidly. INTRODUCTION In my job with Henninger Media Services, I wear two hats. In one role, I am a production manager. I oversee and shepherd the day-to-day finances and logistics of projects already in production. In my second role, I have sales responsibilities that require me to generate more production-related business for the company. In this sales role I respond to RFP s for video production services, I research and write bids and estimates, and respond to incoming production-related calls and s. In fulfilling these requests and inquiries, I ve realized that RFP s for video production are coming from public relations firms and the communications departments of various associations, nonprofits and government agencies more than ever before. The need for video in the worlds of public relations, government, corporate and non-profit America is increasing rapidly. From quickly made, quickly distributed response videos to public service announcements and longer videos designed to brand and launch new initiatives, uses for video content are growing exponentially. However many times inquiries about new video projects, and particularly RFP s, leave out important bits of information that could greatly help those of us trying to fulfill video production requests. While asking for additional information may seem self-serving, in most cases answers to missing questions would provide the RFP s author with a better apples to apples comparison. Certain questions could give deeper insight into creative direction, service offerings and capabilities, and overall workflow plans between different responders. Other questions may yield information that can help decision makers come to a conclusion based on more than just bottom line price comparisons. It could help institute metrics that are unique to video production, and make judgments and decisions using a more balanced scorecard. 1

2 If you ve never created a video project before, or written an RFP for one, how do you ensure that you re giving potential vendors the right information and asking the right questions? If you have requested a video project before, but weren t happy with the final product, what can you do differently as you write your next video RFP? The answer is a matter of perspective. If you have requested a video project before, but weren t happy with the final product, what do you do differently as you write your next video RFP? PUT ON YOUR PRODUCER S HAT As you write your next video RFP, play the role of an Executive Producer. An Executive Producer is the CEO of a production. They look at the production as a business, and you should too. Executive Producers take into consideration the same typical business concerns any CEO would operations, personnel, marketing/sales, product quality, and budgeting. Executive Producers think long and hard about the three overarching stages of every production pre-production (the conceptualizing and logistics needed to get the project off the ground), production (the shooting and gathering of images and sound), and post-production (the editing, polishing and delivery of the final product). Within these three overarching stages are three components that mirror standard business elements that the CEO/Executive Producer should consider when writing an RFP and evaluating any responding proposals. Similar to a CEO, you should consider (1) the basics. Pre-production is the stage during which one simple question is pondered: What will it take to get this project started? From a business perspective this includes elements such as personnel, operations and budgeting. So ask yourself questions that will illuminate these business concerns. For instance, a simple question such as Where will this be filmed? will require thoughts about personnel, operations and budgeting. (See BASICS below for a list of correlating RFP questions). (2) The second stage to consider is the production stage and concerns content. From a business standpoint, you should think about content as an area covering the elements of marketing/sales and product quality. Ask yourself questions that will touch upon these business elements such as, To whom am I telling the story, how am I trying to persuade them, and what s the best way to get them to listen? (See CONTENT below for a list of correlating RFP questions). (3) The third set of questions to consider concerns post-production. It looks at approvers and the budget. How many people or organizations have a say in project approval will greatly affect the amount of time needed for post production. Questions such as How will management be involved in the creative as well as strategic sides of this production? also speak to the role stakeholders will have in the ultimate approval of the project. As in business, you should think about the budget in terms of profit, loss and return on investment. Ask yourself questions that will consider these business elements such as, How much money am I willing to spend, and how can I prove to managers that this video s story will outlast the cost to produce it? (See APPROVERS and BUDGET below for a list of correlating RFP questions). 2

3 USE THESE QUESTIONS AS A GUIDELINE WHEN CONSTRUCTING YOUR VIDEO RFP: BASICS When is the final, finished video due? How long does the finished video need to be? Will there be a need to shoot original footage, purchase stock footage/photos for this project? If so, standard definition or high definition? When does shooting need to begin? Locations Will the shoot(s) be local, regional or national? Will shoots at multiple local locations be required? Will on-camera talent be needed (a host, interview subjects, etc.)? If so, will the production company need to provide this talent, or will you (the client)? Will a teleprompter be required? (teleprompters are electronic cue cards from which on-camera talent read scripts) If there are interviews in the piece, will these be conducted by a host? Will two cameras be necessary one to shoot the host and one to shoot the person being interviewed? Do you have a preferred setting for the interviews (a certain location, a pro backdrop, a computer generated background or a logo in the background, etc.)? Will there be a need for makeup/wardrobe? Will you be providing the script/interview questions, or will you need the production company to provide them? In what format(s) will the final project be delivered (tapes, DVDs, compressed video clips for the web, etc.)? Can you provide the production company with examples of other videos you like/dislike for direction and guidance? CONTENT What purpose does the video serve (to educate, drive website traffic, change outside parties perceptions of your organization, etc.)? What type of audience will be watching this video who is this video being made for? Will the video be heavily interview-driven, or action-oriented showing mostly general video with just an off-screen narrator (or a mix of all three)? Do you have a specific look/feel in mind (news, corporate, slick vs. rougher and less polished)? Will there be a need for graphics and/or animation in the video (an opening logo sequence, on-screen identifiers, onscreen maps, graphs or charts)? Will there be a need for music in the video? Will you (the client) be providing the music, or will the production company be furnishing music? Will there be a need for captioning for the hearing impaired? Where will the final video be seen (over the web, on tv, in a presentation)? Where it will be seen affects music and stock footage/stock photo licensing costs. APPROVERS Will you be the sole person reviewing and approving the rough cuts and final edits? If not, how many individuals/ departments from the company have approval power? (Having several approvers often causes a production to drag on and take a long time to finish. In addition, multiple approvers with different viewpoints will often cause a production to go over budget) If the project is a pass-through (in other words, you are producing this video for a client, not your own company), how many levels of approval/people needing approval will there be? Do you know how much time these multi-stage approvals will typically take? Be sure to plan for approval and feedback time accordingly. BUDGET Do you have a specific budget or budget range in mind? Are you looking for a rough estimate, or a more polished line-item idea of what this project will cost? 3

4 EXAMPLE OF A PRODUCTION PROJECT S INTERCONNECTED WORKFLOW TASK PHASE 1 PHASE 2 PHASE 3 PHASE 4 PRE-PRODUCTION CONCEPTING SCRIPTING APPROVAL HIRE CREW/EQUIPMENT TALENT DETERMINE POST- PRODUCTION LOGISTICS & DELIVERY PRODUCTION ON-LOCATION SHOOT POST PRODUCTION MEDIA TRANSFER EDITING GRAPHICS SOUND DESIGN/MIX COLOR CORRECTION QUALITY CONTROL DUBS/COMPRESSIONS DVD/BLU-RAY DELIVERY EVALUATING A GOOD STORY AND STORYTELLER Now that you ve looked at video production from a business standpoint and perhaps gained some tips that will sharpen your next video RFP, let s look at ways to evaluate responders. You should remember that what makes video production different from a typical business is that it is primarily about the art of story telling. A producer in the video production industry typically plays the role of chief storyteller. He or she is not only concerned with getting the project done and the message across but, more importantly, they are concerned with how the story is being told. That s a big part of what to look for when distinguishing production companies and creative vendors. Consider how the responder is proposing they will tell your story. How well do they articulate their choice of production elements and equipment? In visual arts such as video production, everything can be used to tell the story. Producers are concerned with everything from the physical placement of the camera, scene set ups and light sources, to the figurative voice of the story the narrator, the on-camera script readers, the on-camera interviewees and even camera angles. Sound effects and music, on-screen graphics and interview sound bites all matter within the big picture of an entire production. So, when you evaluate responses to your RFP, consider how the responder is proposing they will tell your story. How well do they articulate their choice of production elements and equipment (e.g. the type of camera, editing system they plan to use)? Are these choices based solely on pricing and cost? How well do they justify these line items as support for the type of story they plan to tell? How well do they plan to adjust to the environment they re shooting in? How are they planning to organize, edit, polish and finish your story s footage and final video piece? Are their choices part of a process that will enhance how the story is being told? Are there indications that these choices will provide more impact, or support the persuading message? Is the storytelling driving 4

5 the production company s equipment and production workflow choices, or are considerations and concessions being made solely due to cost? A WORD ABOUT BUDGETING A lot of the aforementioned RFP questions that we ve recommended relate to the creative content of the video, and a lot of times the potential client wants to leave the creative formulation of the project up to the company that is ultimately hired. Leaving creative decisions in the hands of the production company is great (there is nothing video people like more that this type of creative autonomy); however, it makes the questions surrounding the budget all the more important. Good video companies can come up with a variety of ways to tackle every project at a wide variety of budget levels. I understand that the budget is a tricky subject. You don t want to reveal that you ve got $40K to spend and then receive five proposals for $39,998, but here is why giving video production people at least a range is important. If I know you want to do a 30 second PSA and that you ve got $10-15K to spend, I m going to propose something much different than if I know you re looking to spend $40-50K. I m going to propose a different creative approach, a different camera package, a different number of days filming, different casting different everything. The budget definitely influences how the story can be told. I ll make these different recommendations not because a bigger budget requires more expensive equipment and personnel, but rather, a larger budget allows for more options for the client. If I have to make a guess about the budget (and every other respondent is guessing as well), it is going to be much harder to determine the best value from the proposals you receive. The budget estimates that you receive will likely be all over the map. Good video companies can come up with a variety of ways to tackle every project at a wide variety of budget levels. Don t disqualify what might be a great company or a good idea and approach because they give you a budget for $50K and you ve only got $15K to spend. Eliminate the budget guess if you can, and give at least a range. The responses that you get back will be more competitive and you ll be on the road towards comparing apples to apples. A FINAL WORD ABOUT WRITING AN RFP FOR A VIDEO PRODUCTION A producer must consider unique nuances associated with production things like the size of a room being used for a shoot, the amount of sunlight coming into that room, the amount of echo or extra noise they might have to mask, and the special needs of the principals being captured on camera. For instance, will the host of the video need to read their lines from a telepromter, or will they have to do several takes because lines are being recited from memory? Sometimes things like this can t be considered until after the winner has been awarded the contract, but by including more information in the RFP, you will have the opportunity to see how different production companies propose tackling the same challenge. As you craft your RFP, keep these things in mind. Let the responders know that they will be shooting in a small office or out in front of a building on a high-traffic street. Let them know that they ll need to prepare for a long script to be read by a person who will be short on time. These nuances will often affect how the story can be told, and how to budget for equipment that will support the storytelling methods chosen. This is paramount for both writing the RFP and evaluating responses. Good RFPs invite a question and answer period, and the questions and answers collected from all interested vendors are distributed to everyone well before the RFP due date. This also helps identify if there is a weak spot in your RFP (or your project planning). For instance, if you propose 5

6 filming in six different cities but your proposed timeline won t allow it, it s likely that most potential respondents will ask a question about it. Better to find out that a deadline or project parameter is unrealistic before the project starts than once you re in the thick of production. Asking for samples of the vendor s work helps as well asking for work they ve done on a similar topic or in a style similar to what you hope for from your project is even better. CONCLUSION The goal of anyone creating an RFP for a video project should be to clearly and effectively communicate to potential vendors the project s guidelines and what the organization wishes to see in a qualified candidate. At the same time, you should give the video experts who will be responding to the RFP the flexibility to find creative ways to meet your goals. You never know what great ideas will come from it. Give potential production vendors as much information as possible upfront in the RFP. It saves time, money and overall, it helps level the playing field for more comprehensive, competitive responses, and ultimately better video products. Sue O Hora Account Executive, Productions Henninger Media Services, Inc. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Henninger Media Services was founded in 1983 by Robert L. Henninger. The company serves broadcast, corporate, association and government clients, providing a full range of electronic media, interactive and high-definition services. It provides original script-to-screen production, and specializes in video editing, compositing, color correction, film transfer, quality control, and duplication; as well as surround sound audio, motion graphics, graphic design, Blu-ray and DVD production. Additional information can be obtained by calling Sue O Hora at , or by at Visit our website at: 6

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