Part Eight: Hiring a Production Company—Red Flags in Proposals

Hiring a video production company can be daunting. There are so many options how do you choose?
As we conclude our series on Experience Versus Not, we thought we should dicuss how to select a production company. The first thing to check should be whether the company is operating legally. Read our last blog on licenses, insurance and permits for more information. The second place to look is at a company’s proposal.

Here are the top red flags you should be aware of when comparing proposals:

Range of Experience Be sure to look at the company’s experience and review work samples to determine quality.

Go Deeper Than the Demo Reel Companies often put together a flashy demo reel on their website home page. We have one. They are a quick way to show a company’s work, but they don’t show the whole story. Be sure to look at a company’s work samples—entire videos, not just clips. What you are looking for is how the story was told, how the information was presented, the overall look of the piece, and whether the video works. You can’t determine those things with a series of quick clips showing beautiful shots. That’s just the fun parts.

Bios or Resumes of Team Members Experienced companies include bios for their top team members. These include team members’ backgrounds and training. These should include an idea of what the person brings to the team. Look for depth of experience and education. You want people who have the skills to produce a quality video for you, not just a flashy one. Does the team have the skills to understand what you are trying to accomplish?

Changing the Parameters of the RFP Watch out for companies that change the parameters of the RFP to suit their limited capabilities. You don’t want to hire a company that is going to cut corners. Also keep an eye out for companies that don’t include explanations for how they plan to cover certain aspects of the project.

References Experienced companies offer references for prospective clients. They are proud of their work and not afraid to share the contact information (with permission, of course) of their clients.

Awards and Recognition While not necessary, having won awards by the industry shows a high level of quality. Industry awards are given by professionals in the field. They judge videos based on professional standards. Winning shows a high level of skill and ability.

Comparing Apples to Apples The problem with creative bids is that it’s difficult to compare ideas and approaches. If you’re not familiar with video, it’s easy to miss the differences between proposals. Make sure each proposal is offering what was asked. If you asked for three days of production and three locations, make sure you get a bid that reflects that.

Budget Don’t just go for the lowest number. That is no way to compare creative approaches and talent. Video is a creative field. It matters who you choose. Make sure the company you select is a good fit for the project and your organization. This often means looking beyond the numbers to the approach and what the numbers represent. If one company is offering video from a consumer or pro-consumer-grade camera and the other is offering 4K, that matters. If one company talks about needing specific permits or carnets for foreign travel and the other doesn’t, you should pause. Budgets reflect equipment, capabilities, approaches, crew, and more. Take the time to look beyond the bottom line to understand why there’s a range of budgets being offered. If you like one company, but the budget is high, talk to them. Everyone is willing to negotiate or come up with alternative approaches that still maintain a high level of quality. Be open to having that conversation.

Use Common Sense This goes along with the tip above. If you asked for a production in three locations, make sure there is enough time to travel, set up, film, break down and move. Often inexperienced companies underestimate how long production takes. They underbid the number of days required and then either have to rush the production, change the set up or reduce the number of locations. Set up requires at least an hour or two, depending on the complexity of the location and number of crew. The larger the crew, the longer the set up time is. Filming takes time too. Break down takes nearly as long as set up. Then there’s travel. And don’t forget about lunch for the crew. Timing is a huge issue in many proposals. Be sure what is proposed is reasonable.

Understanding the Approach Does the company understand the complexities of the project? The location? Do they appear to understand the event requirements? Can they demonstrate how they are going to achieve the desired goals or deal with the complexities? What you want is a clear description of how the production company will approach your project and execute the production. Do they get you and your needs?

Types of Equipment Being Used Is the company using broadcast grade or consumer grade equipment? Can they offer the highest quality sound and lighting? What about lenses? Will they offer HD or 4K? Professional grade equipment shows in overall quality of the project. A professional lighting package makes a huge difference. So does sound and cameras. Be sure to compare the equipment being used before you make a final decision.

Scriptwriting Will they use a professional scriptwriter to craft the message and story? Does the scriptwriter have a background in writing for video? Do they have a track record? Can they craft a strategic script that engages the audience? Or will someone on staff take on that task—someone who isn’t a trained writer? Companies often have people on staff cover the script who are not scriptwriters by trade.

Make-Up Have they included a line item for make-up for the production? This could make a huge difference in how your people are presented in the final video. Make-up helps create a professional appearance on screen.

Are They Offering Presentation Training? Have they offered presentation or TelePompter training? What about rehearsal time for the talent? Training and rehearsal time helps polish the delivery before the camera rolls. Since training and rehearsals don’t involve the entire crew, it costs less to add time before production begins than to address issues while the crew waits.

Are They Offering Talent Services? Professional talent and narrators add polish to the final video. Not only do you get trained professionals who know what they are doing, you save time too. Amateurs take longer to film. If the company is offering to hire talent, have they included how they plan to do that? Have they added time in the schedule for that task?

Have They Addressed Challenges? Has the company addressed any challenges with the location, weather considerations, production delays? Experienced companies know that things happen and have a contingency plan in place. If you are planning to film outdoors, there should be a backup plan fo weather concerns. There should be a plan for handling delays and other issues too.

Permits Are permits required for production? If so, has this been addressed? What about release forms or access issues? If foreign travel is required, have VISAs, shots, carnets and other issues been addressed?

Production Process Has the company discussed their production process? Have they included a proposed schedule? How they are going to meet or exceed client expectations? How the review process works?

Budget Have they addressed everything in the bid? Have they anticipated everything required to film the project or are there caveats attached?

Options Have they offered alternative approaches to address value-added opportunities or issues? Have they given a range of production options to either increase or decrease the budget? While they aren’t necessary, companies that include them often have the client’s best interest in mind. Sometimes there are other ways to reach an audience than what is spelled out in the RFP. Experienced companies will offer an alternate approach in addition to the one requested.

Distribution Do they have a distribution plan? Can they clearly articulate how the video will be presented in its final form? The distribution method can affect how the project is filmed and edited, so it needs to be finalized in the beginning phase of the project.

Need more tips on hiring the right company? Read our How to Hire a Production Company white paper by visiting Our Resource Center. Want to skip the research? Call us at 703-683-5305 or contact us either through this website, or via Our eMail. We’d be happy to work with you on your next video.