Before you start googling "video production companies," read this buyer's guide and companion workbook.
You have a great concept, a well-written script and a beautifully crafted storyboard. You’re ready to hire a video production company to make a video! (If you don’t have these items, you should engage a video marketing agency to make them for you before you hire a video production company.)
Finding the right production company for your creative is critical. They will be the ones who take what’s on the page and turn it into an effective marketing video.
This guide was designed to give you best practices when it comes to sourcing your video production company. We’ve even included a workbook you can fill out along the way. At the end of this process you’ll have found an excellent video production company to bring your vision to life.
Let’s get started. The first step is to download the companion workbook: “The ultimate video production buyer’s workbook.”
In the United States alone there are thousands of video production companies.
Finding the right production companies to consider is probably the most critical step in your procurement journey. If you shortlist the wrong companies, your chances of success go down dramatically.
So how do you find the right production companies to consider? The answer is: do your homework! Our goal with this guide is to make your homework easy, and maybe even a little bit enjoyable.
We will use the second tab of the workbook as you search for video production companies to consider. It’s best practice to consider at least 10 companies. By the end of this guide, you’ll have whittled your options from 10 companies down to 3-5 shortlisted options, and finally down to the company you’re going to award your project to. Keeping track of everything in the workbook will help you pick the right partner for a successful project.
Getting a referral is a great way to source video production company options.
A trusted colleague can share their honest experience with the production company, as well as key details like the final video, notes on the process, and pitfalls to avoid.
We find simply asking your Facebook friends, LinkedIn peers or Instagram followers will net you some pretty viable options.
But don’t make contact with the recommendations you get yet!
It’s important to wait to reach out to any of the referrals until you’ve completed the rest of the steps. Not all of the suggested video production companies will be the right fit for your project.
For now, simply add them to the workbook and move on to Step 2.
Googling “video production company” will net you 2.6 billion results. If you spent a minute looking at each company it would take you 5,000 years to make your way through all of the options. So get cracking!
Ok, so how do you narrow down the choices?
The first question to ask yourself is, “Does the production company need to be local?”
To answer that question, ask yourself: Is there a specific location where production has to take place? Is your video concept a mini-documentary that will be filmed in your facility? If so, you’ll probably want a local production company (unless you have a solid budget for travel).
If your concept and script can be shot anywhere and you can afford to travel to be on set, then you should widen your search. The best option for you may not be local.
Now that you know your geographic boundaries, you’ll want to start with one of the following searches:
For a national search: Video production company
For a local company: (insert your city name) video production company
When you search, you’ll notice the top organic results are directories.
Directories are a great place to start, but be aware that their first few listings are always companies that paid to be there. Some directories use terms like “Diamond Partner” and others clearly label the profile as “sponsor.” While sponsoring a listing doesn’t make the company bad, we recommend giving more weight to the organic search results since those rankings are based on customer reviews.
Back to Google, once you get past the directory sites, you’ll start seeing the organic results for actual production companies.
The goal of the below exercise is to use the directories and organic search results to add to your list so you have 10 viable production companies to move to the next round of evaluation.
Don’t worry about diving into each one of the production companies in detail right now. What you want to do is find companies that exhibit good aesthetics and an eye for design/creativity.
As you review production company websites, ask yourself:
No need to spend too much time reading the websites right now. Try to get a feel for these answers within 30 seconds of landing on the site. You’re looking for a total of 10 video production companies that have good taste on their outward image. Why? If they’re not good at representing themselves, they’ll probably do a poor job of representing you.
Once you have your list of 10 video production companies added to the workbook, move on to step 3.
In this step we’ll dive into the detailed criteria you should use to evaluate the production companies prior to even having a conversation with them.
While there are countless factors you can use to rank video production companies, we like to focus our efforts on this set of significant few. We find they carry the most weight in finding the right production partner.
We’ll break down these four categories so you can fill out their corresponding fields in the workbook.
You know how people always say, “the proof is in the pudding?” A production company’s portfolio is their pudding. The portfolio is the company’s best work – the work they are most proud of.
When reviewing a portfolio, here are some key questions to ask and some pitfalls to avoid.
What’s their best piece? Out of all of the work in the prospective video production company’s portfolio, what’s your favorite piece? Why? Write this in the workbook.
What’s their worst piece? Just the opposite of the last question. Don’t feel like you have to judge the work on technical quality. Choose whichever piece you like the least. Make sure you note why you think it’s their worst piece in the workbook.
Am I ok getting their worst? Many marketers make the mistake of assuming they’ll get the best of a video production company’s work. But realistically, the odds are you’ll wind up in the middle or lower end of that work-quality spectrum.
For every top video you see in a portfolio, there are five videos that weren’t good enough to be included. You have to be ok with receiving the production company’s mediocre or even worst work. If you are ok with the worst work in the portfolio, keep going. If not, stop right here and delete the production company from the workbook.
Is the work cohesive? Does the production company have a “voice”? Is most of the work bright and pop-y? Or is it dark and moody? You want the production company to have a voice for two reasons. First, it means they have a point of view on the world, and they bring their unique style and passion to their work. Second, it means they have a consistent team.
If you find that the work samples are all over the place, it could mean that the production company is unfocused, or worse, cycles through many directors and crews, lacking consistent creative vision. This is bad because you may like a production company’s work sample, hire them to produce something similar for you, and then get a totally different crew that cannot achieve the same look, feel, or level of quality.
Do you see your video in their work? If you have a funny, lighthearted script, then you probably don’t want to hire a production company that has mostly dramatic and heavy work in their portfolio.
Odds are that group won’t be able to accomplish the vibe you’re going for. You want to make sure that the production company has work in their portfolio that’s at least in the same neighborhood as your desired creative. It doesn’t need to be an exact duplicate, but the closer the portfolio is to the look you’re going for, the higher the odds of getting the video you want.
A video production company reel is made up of snippets of the production company’s best work, edited together to form a cohesive look at the company’s style. In theory.
While some reels are awesome, we wouldn’t put too much weight on them when evaluating a video production company’s capabilities and style. It’s more important to look at completed pieces rather than a series of shots gathered from a bunch of different videos.
That being said, if the reel is special, meaning after you’ve seen a dozen or so one really sticks out, note it in the workbook. A true standout piece does count for something. It demonstrates that the production company knows themselves and how to project a message.
The thing about video production company client testimonials is that, like most industries, production companies don’t ask for testimonials from unhappy clients. So there’s a bit of bias already in the system. Assume that all companies will have the equivalent of 5 star reviews on whatever platform they’re on.
Instead of looking at the number of client reviews or how many stars companies have, spend the time reading the individual reviews. As you read the reviews, ask yourself: Do the positive reviews focus on work product or customer service?
If the review focuses solely on how great the production company’s customer service was (e.g. “They always answered their phone!”), watch out. This is the equivalent of not trying to be mean when someone asks for feedback on their appearance – “Oh, I really like your necklace!”
If the review focuses on how great the work product is, it means that the final video met or exceeded the client’s expectations. The production company brought their A game and delivered.
A lot of advertising and production awards are total BS and are easily bought. There, we said it. Avoid being sucked into the lure of statues and website badges and claims of “Award-winning production company.” Most of the paid-for awards will give production companies a participation statue just for paying their fee (they’re usually called “bronze”).
That being said, there are a few awards that do carry some weight. We consider these awards pretty impressive and hard to come by:
There are a handful of other awards that carry weight but these are the biggies. Use this general rule of thumb: If the production company is touting an award you never heard of or have seen other production companies brag about, discount it! Those are most likely paid-for awards.
If you haven’t done so already, answer the evaluation questions in your workbook. Use these answers to select your favorite 3-5 production companies. We recommend sending an RFP to these top 3–5 production companies on your list. We’ll cover how to put together an RFP in the next section.
An enticing and comprehensive RFP helps you create a pool of right fit video production companies eager to work with you. It also forces you to gather all of the information you need to find the best company and make the best video, getting you into production quicker.
Many marketers struggle in this RFP phase. Either they provide too little information for production companies to prep a useful proposal, or they drown companies with too much information. Focus on the four key areas below.
You want to provide clear and organized information to your shortlist of video production companies so they get excited about your project. Just like dating, the fewer games you play, the higher your chances of finding the right vendor.
We’ve included an RFP template in your workbook. If you haven’t already done so, download the workbook below.
If you’re reaching out to a video production company, you should be armed with an approved script and storyboard. If you don’t have those yet, you’ll want to develop them yourself or engage a creative agency to create them for you. Generally speaking, video production companies are not good at developing ideas and scripts from scratch. They are excellent at taking an existing script and storyboard and elevating it with their unique point of view.
Assuming you have an approved script and storyboard, make sure you include these documents when you organize and share your RFP. Prospective video production companies will use these assets to give you an accurate picture of budget, timing and any issues they foresee cropping up during the production process.
The creative brief explains the context around your script and boards, including your campaign or overall marketing goals. This will help the production company understand the video’s core message and audience, how you’ll use it, how it fits within the larger customer journey, and what your desired conversion or end result is.
The creative brief gives the production company a chance to measure your script and boards against your larger goals for the video. If there are any discrepancies, a good video production company can identify them and bring them up for discussion before sending you a proposal.
There’s another benefit to supplying the production company with a creative brief: it signals to them you’re serious. A well-thought-out and well-written creative brief says you know what you’re doing and the production company should bring their A game.
Brand statement - Under 200 word description of your company and its mission
Overview of video/scope of work - Under 200 word description of the video you intend to make
Objective - Why are you making this video? In other words, what is the video’s mission? To generate traffic to a landing page? To encourage email signups? General brand awareness? Make sure this statement is clear.
Single most important message - If there’s one thing the video absolutely positively needs to say, what is it?
Target audience - Be as descriptive as possible. You’ll want to include both demographics and psychographics if available. This helps the video production company visualize your script in the context of the audience who will be digesting it.
Intended use - Where will the video live? On your landing page? Social? TV? Pre-roll? List all possibilities, because this may have cost implications.
Giving the production company this information will allow them to understand how the video has to interact with its surroundings and how it fits into the greater marketing strategy. It will also tell them the different versions of the video they’ll need to deliver and make sure they’ve allotted an appropriate budget for editing and talent usage costs.
A Google search will show you a lot of different suggestions for what to include in a creative brief. Avoid giving the production company too much unnecessary information. For example, they don’t need “reasons to believe” (RTBs) or “mindset shift” details — that’s stuff for your creative agency or your internal marketing team.
For the production company — the doers — stick to the pertinent information so they don’t get overwhelmed by unnecessary details. They should be focused on your high-level goals and bringing their unique spin to your script and storyboards.
Ah, the budget. America’s real pastime is trying to figure out what something will cost without disclosing the budget.
We believe by not disclosing your budget, you’re wasting your time and will cause more work for yourself in the long run.
First, let’s address your fear. The fear is that if you give a production company your budget, they’ll use every single dollar and the video will cost more than it would have cost if they just quoted it from scratch.
That sounds logical, but the thinking is flawed.
By not disclosing your budget range and forcing production companies to bid blind, one of two things will happen:
1. Production companies will low-ball in order to win the business.
They’ll strip out any of the cool things they could have done or even quote below their margins. This means they will be looking for every opportunity to ding you for additional costs or even cut corners with resources once awarded the project, which often results in an overworked, underpaid crew making your video.
2. Production companies will bid high in order to test your true budget limits.
This can lead to call after call to try to wind the budget back to your true comfort level. By the time the guessing game lands in a budget range you’re comfortable with, it would have been more efficient to have the intern shoot it.
Disclosing your budget allows prospective video production companies to save energy playing the pricing game and use it to bring creative execution solutions to the table. Your end product will be better in the long run.
It also allows video production companies to weed themselves out if they aren’t a good fit. Video production is like fine jewelry. There’s a huge range of price and quality options. You don’t go to Tiffany’s if you’re on a tight budget, and you don’t go to the discount department store when you want to splurge.
Sharing your budget with the video production company helps you both know if you’re the right partner for the project.
You probably want your video done ASAP. As you should! But it’s important to be realistic with timelines.
On average, the video production process takes 6–8 weeks from start to finish. Some productions can be shorter, some need more time.
We’ve noticed a correlation between having enough time and the quality of final output – the finished video. Try to give your production company as much time as you can.
If you do have a firm deadline for the video, include it with your RFP package. By submitting clear timing expectations (including any around shoot timing), the production companies can take that information into consideration when developing quotes. Withholding timing could lead to additional charges down the road, since production companies often need to bring in more resources for condensed timelines.
If you haven’t already done so download the video production buyer’s workbook and complete the RFP template. Try to be as thorough as possible. The more clear and purposeful you are with your RFP, the more accurate the quotes you’ll get back will be.
Once you have your RFP package prepared, send it to your short list of video production companies. Let’s dive into the next step in vetting video production companies: the initial phone calls.
Now that you’ve sent out your video RFP, you should be receiving responses from production companies letting you know that they are interested in the project and looking to learn more.
Your next step should be to get these folks on the phone to answer their questions and gather information that only a conversation can provide.
When vetting partners like production companies, bosses traditionally ask to be kept out of the process until a decision has to be made. They ask their team to handle the calls, provide a quick summary of what each potential company has to offer (including a price), and then leave the boss to make a decision.
With years of experience in the industry, we highly recommend against this. These initial phone calls can provide tons of insight about your potential new partner that may never come out or be lost in translation for someone not personally on the vetting calls.
In addition to being an opportunity to understand budget and timing questions, these initial calls should be used as an unofficial chemistry test for both parties to understand how their potential partner works and whether or not the pairing can result in the quality and type of video you are looking for.
Video projects that go awry are often a product of a lack of chemistry, a lack of alignment on expectations and processes, or a failure to involve key stakeholders early in the process. All three of these pitfalls can be avoided by ensuring the final decision maker has been an integral part of the vetting and hiring process.
Before you get all of your key stakeholders on the vetting calls with potential video production companies, it’s important to have a plan for how you can objectively learn more about each company and be confident that the proposal they send your way will align with your expectations.
You can use the “Step 3” tab of the workbook to take notes from each call and rate each company based on the key differentiating factors outlined below.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the key questions you should ask the potential production company on the phone and why.
This question is very important for you to understand what to expect from your potential production company. A solid production company should provide a general team roster including a minimum of a director and a producer/project manager/account manager.
Your day-to-day contact throughout the video production process should be either a producer, a project manager, or an account manager. Sometimes, video production companies provide a combination of both a producer and a project manager/account manager. These folks will work together to keep you informed of the current status of your project, any updates or changes that are needed, and help answer any questions you have along the way. Think of them as your travel guide. They’re here to help.
The director may or may not enter into the equation until the project is awarded, depending upon when you request a director’s treatment (more on that later), but you should have an idea of the roster of directors the production company works with and the types of work they specialize in.
The director will be the one creating a blueprint for the look and feel of the video during pre-production, and will be on set ensuring that the director’s treatment and vision agreed upon during the pre-production process is accurately and effectively brought to life.
During pre-sale calls, ask the production company who you would be working with from a creative perspective as well as a project or account management perspective. See if those people are on your call or identified. Ask how you could expect to work with them.
If you don’t feel a connection to these key players on the call or don’t feel like they are the right fit for the project, it’s important to weigh this heavily when it comes time to evaluate your options and award the project. The director and producer/project manager/account manager connection can often determine whether or not you end up with the video you were looking for.
In your workbook, assign the “core team” category a score of 1-3.
We all know the awkwardness that often sets in when it comes time to talk turkey. The right production company should be able to assess and explain how they scope projects and what happens if an “out of scope” request comes up.
These types of requests have the power to derail entire projects if not handled well by both the production company and the client, so it’s wise to ask prospective production partners how they handle them. The answer reveals a lot about a company’s character and can help you manage the project in a way that avoids surprise or unintended extra costs.
A production company charging for out of scope requests is not a red flag. A production company that does not discuss out of scope requests and associated costs with you (the client) before incurring them is a sign of a company to avoid.
Their out of scope process should include the identification of potential solutions and agreement on the best way to move forward, whether that means the need for additional budget, reallocation of the existing budget, or adjusting the request.
Proactivity, honesty, and transparency are the key words you should look for in a production company’s answer to this question. It will help you see the difference between a true production partner and one that may not have your best interests at heart.
Rank the production company’s approach to handling changes in scope with honesty, transparency, and flexibility from 1–3 in your workbook.
This third question really gets to the heart of a production company and tells you what you can expect when pre-production gets detail heavy and tough decisions arise.
Your future video production company should want to help you prove that this video was objectively successful. The only way to do that is to understand what you want to accomplish from the outset. If you haven’t identified what “winning” is, how can you ever objectively say you’ve won?
If a discussion around defining or understanding objective success of the video is not part of the pre-sale conversation, ask the question. If the answer doesn’t include a conversation that clarifies your goals and expectations for the video, you should note that and remember their answer when evaluating your video production company options.
Rank the importance each production company places on objective measures of video success, effectiveness, and outlining KPIs from 1–3 in your workbook.
Defining who owns all of the video footage and work product coming out of an engagement is very important.
You should structure all engagements to legally protect your rights to the footage and work product from the project.
Check that the video production company does not have the right to distribute or use your footage without your permission. Most video production companies will have standard terms that allow them to use the footage to promote themselves via a work reel.
Make sure that you are aware of all of the details of your project agreement so that if a video includes confidential information, it is properly handled with an NDA or other binding agreements.
You’ll also want to understand a video production company’s policy around exclusivity. Most video production companies will not sign exclusivity agreements that bar them from working with your competitors or other members of an industry off the bat. If you want to enact such a policy, you should definitely inquire about this during the pre-sale process and expect to pay a premium to cover any potential work they have to turn down as a result.
Even if the production company will archive the footage for you, plan to request a hard drive of all of the footage at the end of the project so you are not necessarily tied to the production company forever.
Note in your workbook how closely the production company’s stance on these items aligns with your own from 1–3.
The pre-sale or negotiation process with a video production company is often like dating or job interviews. People are always on their best behavior at the beginning.
You have every right to ask all of the above questions, and a video production company worth their salt should be able to answer your questions and do it in a way that gives you confidence in their ability and desire to help as well as their reliability.
Once you award the project and you get into the nitty gritty details like location scouting, casting, treatment options, and editing and post-production revisions, it’s only going to get more challenging. A top-notch video production company will help guide you through all of this and make you feel up-to-speed, included, and supported.
If during the pre-sale you find yourself feeling manipulated, deceived, talked down to, ignored, passed around, or just plain not treated well, you have every right to question whether or not this is the right fit. (It’s probably not.)
How you feel you were treated during this call is a very important factor to include in your rankings. Rank it from 1–3 in your workbook. Be sure to fill this out right after the call so it is not swayed by time or other opinions.
Now that you’ve done your research, sent your RFP package, and talked to a few companies, the next step is to review proposals from the video production companies. In this section, we’ll break down what you can expect from a video production proposal, how to read it, and how to choose the best one for your project.
The basic elements of a video production proposal are a director’s treatment, a budget with scope of work, and terms and conditions. Some proposals may have more than that while others may be more streamlined.
A director’s treatment is the creative vision for a video. A treatment can only be created once a creative concept or script has been finalized. The treatment shows you how a director plans to execute the idea. It generally should not be the idea.
The role of a director at a traditional video production company is not to come up with creative concepts, though some do. It’s their job to take the big picture concept and bring it to life.
Just as with film directors, commercial directors have a style and voice that comes through in their work. Certain directors are better suited for certain types of projects, so take a close look at the treatment provided before hiring a production company.
Can this director bring our vision to life?
Is the quality of the director’s work consistent with the quality of the work that attracted you on the production company’s website?
Do you like the look and feel presented, and will it be consistent with your brand?
A video production proposal can be a lot like a proposal from a general contractor. As a consumer renovating your house, you care about things like being on time, on budget, and the final room looking good. You don’t need to know what brand of buzzsaw they use. You trust the contractor to hire good workers and use quality tools.
Your video production company should behave similarly. You should trust them to use their expertise to hire quality people and use quality equipment. It’s ok to not understand (or care!) what’s included in an HD camera package or what a Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun mic with Vdb pole is.
In this section, we’ll help you understand the pre-production, production, and post-production basics so you can feel confident evaluating a scope. For a full dictionary of video production terms, download the workbook or the glossary of video production terms.
Pre-production is an essential part of the video process. During pre-production, the video production company does all the leg work to bring your video to life. That means scouting and booking locations, casting for talent, finding and hiring the best crew, and more.
The timeline, if included at this stage, should include 2–4 weeks of pre-production, depending on the complexity of your video.
The pre-production costs should include a producer’s time to coordinate all the logistics of your shoot. The producer will manage all the pre-production steps, most importantly hiring the crew and making sure they show up on time.
This section of the scope may also include administrative fees and insurance charges.
Production will likely be the most expensive section of the scope. For the most part, you can and should trust your production company to provide everything needed for the shoot day.
At the very least, a production day should include:
The crew may also include:
Post-production is the phase when an editor takes the footage captured on set and puts it together into a cohesive video.
What you want to see included is in this section of the quote:
Some production companies will itemize this section into more steps, like “Transfer, Log & Ingest Footage” before editing. That’s simply listing out the steps that all editors do as part of their job. You can add up all the costs associated with post-production to compare apples to apples on different proposals.
If motion graphics are included, make sure you understand what is included in that rate. Many companies include a standard charge to add people’s names and titles or to animate your logo. If you aren’t sure what it included in the line items, ask!
A timeline may or may not be included in this section. If you already have your creative concept, expect it to be anywhere from 3–6 weeks from the shoot date until you have a final video.
Terms and conditions exist to protect the production company. It is not necessarily a red flag if a company includes any of the following line items, but be knowledgeable about what you’re getting into.
You may have discussed some of these stipulations on your initial call with the team. Double check that the T&Cs match what you discussed.
Does the production company have the right to use your final video in their portfolio or “for promotional purposes”?
If your final video is not going external or contains sensitive material, consider asking the production company not to use it without your permission. If they won’t make that adjustment, choose someone else.
Who owns the footage?
Be careful of any production company that retains sole ownership of your footage. It should all be work-for-hire with rights retained by your company.
What happens to the footage after the project?
Does the production company save it for you? Do you have to request it for your archives?
Pro tip: Always request the footage for your own archives, even if the production company storages it. Servers break, companies fold. Have your own copy.
What is the cancellation policy?
If you paid a deposit but work hasn’t started yet, can you apply that deposit to a future project?
If the T&Cs break down the feedback process, make sure you understand what you get.
How many times do you see the video before it gets finalized? Does the company restrict the kinds of notes you can give?
Now that you have proposals from several companies and understand how to read them, how do you choose?
Use the chart in the workbook and ask yourself the following questions to rank your choices.
Well, we did it! Or should we say, YOU did it!
By now you should have a completely filled out workbook and a solid idea of which video production company you want to work with. There are just two final steps you need to complete before giving the lucky company the good news.
Give yourself and your team plenty of time to really think over the decision. As you’ve learned, you’ll be working with this production company for around 3 months from start to finish. It’s important to make sure everyone is comfortable with the decision you’re about to make.
It’s important to tell ALL of the production companies you’ve worked with thus far you’ve made a decision. Start with the ones you’re not hiring. It’s a sign of respect, and they’ll really appreciate it. If you’re up for it, consider sharing the reasons why you’re not going with them. This will help them hone their pitch for their next project.
Finally, call the winning production company and listen as they try to contain their excitement and muffle the sound of champagne bottles popping.
Good luck and happy shooting!