When I was asked to write about the process in which I show demos of my company’s work, I initially thought of what I used several years ago to show clients my samples—a time when DVDs didn't even exist and my home office setup was not such that I could do demos effectively there. Those were days when I had to travel to a meeting with a VCR deck, a tube-style TV, a bunch of cables, a cart to carry everything on, and, of course, VHS tapes, all properly rewound to the correct starting points.
While this old (and necessary, given the state of the technology) approach was quite a hassle, it worked, and it worked well for the time. I always believed it was important to meet the client in these cases because it’s not just a matter of selling a service that ends with a product, but it’s more important to sell myself and to always focus more on who I am and why I should be hired rather than just the eye candy in the final video production.
These days I have a state-of-the-art home office and even a dedicated theater room just for clients. But for safety, and practicality reasons, I often meet with prospects all throughout the adjoining states, which makes having them come to me challenging. In many instances, I’d lose prospects if I weren’t willing to travel to deliver a demo. For this reason, having a solid, portable workflow is vital.
DELIVERING DVD DEMOS: THEN AND NOW
Those who know me know that I am one of those people who tend to buy the latest and greatest gadget as soon as it comes to market. I have had my trials and tribulations with the good and the bad, and what works and what turns out to be a waste of time. The reason I mention this pertains to the many processes I have used over the last 6 years since DVD authoring became viable for videographers. Initially, I went the route of the laptop, simply because it was more versatile at the time and there was no such thing as a portable DVD player. The laptop worked well, but it was heavy and bulky, and I never liked the idea of carrying a lot of other sensitive files with me that were irrelevant to my meeting. A few times I used a TV/DVD player combo unit, which wasn’t bad, but I always needed an electrical outlet.
I then transitioned to portable DVD players, which worked quite well in that they played the discs, which is all I needed them to do. Now, with the advent of UMPC (ultra-mobile personal computer) systems, which are miniature laptops, as well as the endless array of wireless devices, I have been at it again with new methods to show my work to prospective clients, which yields booking ratios of 80% or higher for top-tiered services. None of which is to imply that it’s the gear that makes the sale; but the last thing you want is for your gear to limit what you’re able to do in a demo. Having the right gear combined with effective selling techniques and good work to show can make a huge difference.
As you will read, I can close a sale usually within about an hour, all with the materials that I provide at the meeting. This article will describe the gear I use and the approach I take for the type of video clients my company serves. For ease of reading and reference, I have separated each category into its own heading pertaining to social events and corporate projects.
PRESENTING DEMOS FOR SOCIAL EVENTS
When I plan a meeting with a prospective client for a social event, such as a wedding, a bar/bat mitzvah, or perhaps a birthday party or reunion, the first thing I do is to make sure I have video samples relevant to the client. First and foremost, I have the client visit my website beforehand and view various online samples that correspond with her needs, which allows us to use our meeting time more efficiently. I also show videos that I know the client will want to see rather than what I think he or she should see. If clients don’t have an internet setup that enables them to view clips online, or if they want to see additional samples prior to the meeting, I will either email or text message links that can be viewed on most mobile phones and PDAs.
The pitch that I use will depend on the clients. I typically find out what questions they have for me and then I ask questions about their event, tell them a bit about myself and my background, and then go into the details of the contract packet. Afterward, and once they’re more educated on the fine details, I show them various videos.
I bring as little equipment to the meeting as possible so as not to draw too much outside attention. This also helps to minimize the setup time at the meeting since my time is money. I think everyone should have that same perception.
As for locations, I generally leave this open to the prospective client, but I’ll typically request to meet at a coffee shop, a bookstore, or the client’s own home. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. With those in mind, I take specific steps to prepare for each location (see the sidebar, "Social Event Client Meeting Location Pros and Cons," below).
SIDEBAR: SOCIAL EVENT CLIENT MEETING LOCATION PROS AND CONS
Meeting in Coffee Shops
- Most are easily accessible and provide a well-lit environment.
- Some have outdoor seating options.
- They sell light foods and beverages, which I will often buy for a prospect. It’s a nice incentive!
- Some locations have sofas and larger tables, which provide a more comfortable environment.
- Some locations are very busy at certain times of the day and, thus, require off-peak meeting times.
- Coffee grinders, cappuccino machines, and other equipment can create a huge challenge in terms of being able to hear the sample videos as the audio gets drowned out.
- It might seem minor, but from a security standpoint, there are a lot of prying eyes.
Meeting in Bookstores
- Most are easily accessible and provide a well-lit environment.
- Some stores have an indoor coffee shop with drinks and light food items (see coffee shop notes).
- Some locations have scattered, more private seating areas that offer fewer distractions than one large grouping of tables.
- These are typically quieter environments, so loud audio is often not acceptable.
- Some locations have limited seating and can be very crowded at peak times.
- Locations with indoor coffee shops can create loud distractions.
Meeting in Clients’ Homes
- This setting is quiet and comfortable, with fewer distractions.
- Ample room is often available (such as a kitchen/dining room table, living room, etc.).
- Clients tend to be more receptive to these meeting locations.
- If you have pet allergies, this may create unanticipated problems if the clients have pets.
- A potential client may insist on using his or her equipment, which is seldom ever set up to show your work at its best, particularly if you shoot/deliver in HD or want to showcase high-quality audio.
- There is potential added pressure as the entire family, and then some, chime in with too many opinions and conflicting requests, when the bride and groom (or other honoree) should be the focus.
- From a security standpoint, this is not often the most secure or safest place.
Equipment and Other Items to Bring
When meeting a client in person at a location outside my studio, I typically bring several items, including those shown below.
Here's the full, itemized list:
- Contract and info packet
- About 20 full-length videos that correspond to their type of event and show those that I believe will be most relevant to them
- Panasonic DVD-LX9 portable DVD player with Creative TravelSound speakers
- Vye S41 UMPC laptop with a Cingular 8525 PDA, connected to both the Vye and an internet payment gateway system through my merchant account
- Ikan V8000HD or VariZoom 7" LCD or similar LCD screen
- Two sets of Bose QC2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones with splitter and separate volume controls
Some folks might wonder why I bring "so much," but everything listed here fits in a laptop case, and all of it is essential for the presentations I do. First of all, if I am meeting a bride and groom and possibly some parents at a coffee shop, chances that they’ll encircle a table are good, and not everyone will be able to view one 9" screen. This is where the Ikan/VariZoom LCD gets used; I piggyback the DVD player screen, creating two great screens so that everyone can properly view the videos.
The reason I use this particular DVD player is that it has a docking station (below) that accepts component, composite, wired speaker output, and surround sound. This is important to me because I do offer surround sound production, and the component I/O is ideal when showing the differences, in terms of quality, between SD DVDs produced from SD footage and SD DVDs produced from HD footage—I can differentiate between component (closest to the HD signal) and composite (closest to the SD signal).
Since I also offer HD delivery on Blu-ray Disc, I need to show what projects delivered in HD will look like. For this I use the Vye S41 UMPC to show my BD-R discs via a software-based player. I also show the clients what the cases and discs look like simply because it is faster than loading the discs in each time—even though I do have a Blu-ray burner/ player in the system. I can also duplicate the video output to the Ikan monitor as it accepts component, which seems fine for HD viewing.
A lot of clients I meet with at their homes have huge Plasma or LCD TVs, so I’ll bring HDMI cables and additional BD-R discs, just in case. But before playing anything through their system—given that a badly set up system will diminish the visual impact of my work—I make sure that the TV is properly set up and calibrated, as most consumers just leave everything in a default state.
If (and when) a prospect decides to book during the meeting, this is where the Vye S41, 8525 PDA, and the internet payment gateway come into play. We will write out and complete the contract and then I will process the information on the laptop. Since I have internet access when tethered to the PDA, I will send an authorized contract via email to the client immediately to avoid having to print and use paper stock. If the client pays with a credit card, I process the payment through my client software via the internet, and they instantly get an email with a PDF of the receipt slip.
At the end of the meeting, everything is processed. The only things I have to do when I get back to my office are print out copies for my records and/or deposit a check at the bank. Every- thing else is completed at the meeting.
Creating a Comfortable Viewing (and Selling) Environment
Most often, I try to set up meetings at a bookstore that has an indoor coffee shop. I have found freestanding coffee shops are too busy, loud, and distracting, and there are more people going in and out. I want the prospects’ attention focused on me and my presentation rather than what other customers are ordering. In addition, a lot of the bookstores that I frequent have a better variety of tables and table sizes, which can be very accommodating, whether I am meeting one person or a bride, groom, and two sets of parents. I have found that large, rectangular tables work better than round tables. If I use two screens, it tends to be easier for viewing purposes. Passing the contract/information forms is a bit smoother as well when going from one person to the next.
Some bookstores also have rounded sofas with a table in the middle. This arrangement works well. I let the client(s) sit where they are most comfortable, and I typically kneel on the floor. Doing this allows everyone to view the DVD player/screens, but I think the environment created by this approach is more homey and personal—not as cold or businesslike as when seated at a typical table. Again, this might seem like a minor issue, but we are all selling ourselves when we do these presentations. The more comfortable the clients are, the more responsive they tend to be.
What to Show
In terms of the content that I show, I always have an idea ahead of time. I am flexible about showing other clips on request, as long as they are relevant to the clients’ events. Everyone I meet is prequalified ahead of time, so I know their contact info, event locations, what online samples they have seen (and those that they do or do not like), and other tidbits, all of which greatly helps the selling process. If I bring 20 videos, I’ll put them all out on the table at the same time. I’ll monitor the clients’ reactions and which videos they pick up and look at. Chances are good that there is something they like about these more than the ones that remain untouched. If the clients’ event is at a hotel and the ceremony is performed outside at the same hotel, I will generally bring about 8–10 samples that show this arrangement and have been shot in the same season in which they are getting married. This way they can relate better to what I am showing them. If they have a wedding at a venue I’ve worked at in the past, I’ll obviously bring a few samples from that location.
I don’t have a demo highlight that consists of 50 different couples simply because it has no relevance to potential clients’ events. Sure, it might look nice, but it won’t be something that they’ll receive in their final product. This is also why I bring so many samples, which are all the same as what my past clients have received. If someone wants to see a cocktail hour highlight, then I’ll show it.
Maybe they want to see a shortform—no problem. I will show them anything they want to see, all based on what I feel is best. While I take out the DVD disc and prepare it to play, I’ll give the client a quick rundown of what they’re about to see—what was good, bad, or otherwise—and I am straightforward about all of it. In each DVD case I’ll also include a referral letter from the clients whose event the DVD shows—all my prospects seem to like this a lot.
Presentation Mishaps and How to Avoid Them
I haven’t had too many problems doing these presentations, but I’ve had a few issues with a battery discharging, preventing the equipment from working properly. While it might create a few moments of stress, I always have backups. I don’t rely on component-specific batteries, like those found in many DVD players. Instead, I use a custom-made battery that powers my DVD player, monitor(s), speakers, etc.
I always test and pack everything the day before my meetings to ensure that all of the documents are there and that I have enough pens and notepads (not just for my own notes but my clients’ as well), and I thoroughly check all of the equipment. I do have the occasional DVD hiccup, which is usually due to a heavily scratched disc. If (or, should I say, when) this happens, I just play it off and show something else. I refuse to be unprepared, and after all these years, I’m still going strong!
The presentations I do for corporate prospects are similar to the presentations I do for my event clients, in most respects, but there are a few key differences. For one, I generally stream everything from my servers as my corporate clients’ needs will vary greatly in terms of final product delivery. Some might want a DVD; some might need a full-resolution, uncompressed file; others may opt for an interactive CD or DVD. For these reasons, I convert everything to online, Flash-based interactive media and stream it on my server, viewing it all from my Vye S41 connected to the 8525 PDA. I think the biggest variation when meeting someone for either a social event or a corporate project is my attire, in that instead of jeans, I’ll wear a tie when I meet a potential client on the corporate side.
The streaming-based presentation method works extremely well because I can minimize what I bring. I can also maximize the viewing experience for my clients by showing them everything they need from one single unit.
There have been very few times that I have suggested to a corporate prospect that we meet at a public place such as a bookstore or coffee shop. It’s too loud, it’s not professional enough, and there are too many distractions. Instead, I offer two choices: taking the client to lunch or meeting in the client’s office or boardroom. The advantages and disadvantages of each location are listed in the sidebar, "Corporate Client Meeting Location Pros and Cons," below.
SIDEBAR: CORPORATE CLIENT MEETING LOCATION PROS AND CONS
TAKE THE CLIENT TO LUNCH
- It gets the clients out of their offices and into a more comfortable setting.
- People always like a free meal (it’s also tax-deductible for profes- sional videographers).
- Depending on the location, it can be a more relaxed environment with less pressure.
- Choosing the right place can be difficult. I tend to pick places that are not going to have a long wait or overcrowding, particularly between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and that have menus catering to a wide range of people.
- Time-restrictions can pose a problem. If the client only has "so much time," the meeting, and lunch, all have to be completed within that time frame.
CLIENT OFFICE, BOARDROOM, ETC.
- These locations provide a more pro- fessional environment/atmosphere.
- You tend to find out more regarding a client/business and can perhaps offer other services.
- Meeting here may lead to an occasional increase in booking frequency and inclusions.
- Additional business partners can share input and/or ideas, minimizing meeting time and maximizing the time it takes to decide on what is best for the client.
- More resources to use for presentation are often available: whiteboard, projector, etc.
- You will be in an unfamilar environment.
- Last-minute client issues can come up, jarring scheduled meeting.
A Typical Corporate Presentation Scenario
Here’s a quick example of some of the challenges that may arise when you’re doing a presentation to a corporate video client. Let’s assume a client is interested in a video that showcases a store, and his or her initial intentions are for web delivery. I’ll obviously do my spiel, but I will also try to maximize the product exposure, including web delivery, CD or DVD delivery, and much more. I can immediately log in to my server and perhaps show a video on a relevant subject that is indicative of a web-delivered project. Afterward, I can show that same video or another project presented with a DVD structure so that the client can view the user interaction with menus, buttons, etc.
Since I offer a lot of Flash-based services, I can easily showcase this feature as well. The only challenge with this is if I have limited internet service, as it’s run completely through my server. Just in case, I bring several examples on the laptop.
Since many companies have NetX payment structures, I am not too concerned with clients needing time to decide. But if they do choose my business, I provide a private, secure link to my server that allows them to contract everything online, including a mouse-drawn signature (handwritten is still required). Payment can be done by electronic check or credit card.
This scenario works about 70% of the time. For instance, let’s assume I am meeting people at their office, and I know that a laptop or DVD player won’t suffice. I will still bring these materials, but I will also bring a small projector and screen just in case I need to project the image on a much larger area. However, I only do this for large-scale projects and/or companies. I will alternatively bring a small monitor, usually a 24" Dell monitor with a portable battery, which often works very well when showing samples to more than just a few people—it’s a lot faster and easier to set up as well.
Planning Meeting Content
I will usually spend about 45–60 minutes meeting corporate clients. About a third of that time is spent looking at video samples. Unlike social events where I think more eye candy is warranted, I spend more time explaining the intricacies of the corporate project than I spend showing videos. Unless the client is familiar with the production processes, like storyboarding, editing, lighting, and so forth, just educating them on these details can also increase sales. If I do a real estate video, for example, the client might want tripod-based shots and pans with fisheye lenses, but it’s an entirely different world when using jibs, dollies, and sliders—all of which are extra options.
One thing that I always do prior to meeting a corporate client is to research the company to find out what it is, what services it provides, and who its target market is. I sometimes look at sales figures if it is a large public company. This allows me to take notes prior to the meeting and to also prequalify the company for services that I feel are best suited for it and its intended project. If I film for a jewelry store, I would look at its clientele and its product prices, which would then determine if I think a broadcast service or a web-based project is best. In addition, I might bring a camera, a macro lens, and some colored lighting to the meeting to show a real-world example.
Or perhaps it’s a client who wants a project that has testimonials, green-screen work, lower-thirds, and a storyboard. I will obviously show examples that are relevant in this case, but I will sometimes bring a small green-screen cloth and a camera to show the client, in person, how proper screening is completed. I have done this a few times, as screening really needs to be done the right way. I do not do this often and only provide it when I am confident the client will need the services and has the sales dollars to afford them.
OTHER EVENTS (SPORTING EVENTS, DANCE RECITALS, ETC.)
In my experience, most jobs that fall outside the social event and corporate spheres—sporting events, stage events, dance recitals, etc.—are provided through referrals of past or current clients, but I generally do not meet with them unless I know that the overall sales figures are similar to most social and corporate projects.
I do provide several examples online, whether it is online via email or to mobile phones. I have never had one complaint with this either.
While there is no infallible formula to follow when meeting with any prospective clients, my biggest recommendation is to be prepared for any and all situations when wanting to show the best presentation. It is true that we all love what we do, but we also run businesses. When we meet with a prospect, we are selling ourselves and our companies’ services, which can be much harder than selling a physical product. For this reason alone, having confidence in yourself and your work and going into each meeting with a solid plan can easily add up to more sales, more often.
Marshall Levy (info at therealmav.com) has been in the event/film business for 12 years. His company, Maverick Productions, based in Baltimore, Md., and York, Pa., specializes in event and corporate HD productions.