How to Write a Project Proposal
When starting a business, there are many things one needs to consider. Out of all of these decisions is the need to have a clear action plan for when the work starts to come in. With this in mind, we recently wrapped production on a project with Tourism Saskatoon and wanted to break down the process as a case study. For this project, our goal was to create a serialized storytelling campaign by structuring and connecting content through similar themes and storylines but do so through unique production styles. To help shed light on our process, I have put together a list of ten tips for producing a comprehensive video campaign.
- Get To Know Your Client: Brand Analysis
- Develop An Idea You Believe In
- Focus On Pre-Production
- Focus On Clear Communication
- Develop a Strong Production Plan
- Set Objectives
- Build A Strong Team
- Don’t Forget The Budgets & Contracts
- Develop A Release Strategy
- Hold Yourself Accountable: Measure Your Success
The content presented in this post focuses on our brand goals which are to push ourselves and our creativity so all information may not apply to all production models. Also, all tips are simply based off of how we approach our business and each project we work on so take that for what it is. Our hopes is that it may give some insight. This content is simply a starting point. Before we go any further, check out the five videos from the campaign below.
Coming into any project, it is critical that you connect with the work you are doing and have a genuine desire to work on these projects. If you are not interested in working with a specific client, you DO NOT NEED TO WORK WITH THEM. There are times you will need to take on projects that you don’t necessarily want to in order to pay the bills but know that if you are taking on a job to do this, you should treat the project like you do with all the others you produce. Your reputation is only as strong as you allow it to get so treat all the work you do with respect.
Before going any further, it is key to remember that when coming into any project with more than one moving part, don’t get overwhelmed. There are an insane amount of moving parts so make sure to break down the process and delegate. It isn’t as hard as it may seem to coordinate if you have the right people in place.
1. Get To Know Your Client: Brand Analysis
So you’ve convinced your client that they should work with you. Now what? Generally, for us, this starts by getting to know your client’s brand on a deeper level. For us, our research starts before we meet with our client for the first time to ensure they are a company we want to work with. This is also important as this shows your client you care. It doesn’t take long and most companies have profiles online. Beyond getting to know your client better, once you know WHO you are meeting with specifically, find out a bit more about their background and what they did before they started to work for the said brand. This helps you understand where they are coming from and helps drive the conversation as you may be able to find out about their professional experiences as well as some of their interests outside of the business. Facebook and LinkedIn are powerful tools for this.
Know your brand
Before you are able to successfully analyze your client’s brand, you need to first know your brand. Spend some time developing a business plan and setting objectives that you want to target along the way. These measures will help you decipher good clients from bad clients as you are able to measure how each project gets you closer or further away from your short and long-term goals.
Talk with client
Once you have done your research, you will then want to meet with your client to find out more about the brand. By sitting down with your client, you can lay out a clear list of objectives. Make sure you follow-up after your meeting with an email with the meeting notes so you have a point of reference when these discussions are fresh in everyone’s heads. Having a paper trail is a critical reference point if some questions came up later in the production process. It also holds people accountable. There are a few critical things you need to find out in the first meeting including:
- Find out if they have a brand strategy developed: When talking with your client, find out if they have a brand strategy. These documents are usually developed by agencies and are the core mandate that drives the direction of a business for a period of time. When developing your concept, it is important to make sure these videos address the brand attributes.
- Develop your own Q & A: If the business you are working with does not have a brand strategy, you will want to work with the client to find out a bit more about what is driving their business and some the of themes that are present in the work they do. We have our own set of questions we ask even if the brand does have a strategy developed.
- Find out how big of a risk they want to take: One of the first things we tell clients upfront is that we strive to produce thought-provoking work. This usually equates to concepts that make some clients uneasy if they have yet to look outside the box on productions. Some clients buy in, others don’t. Make sure you find out what risks the clients are willing to take and do this early in the process. This will help when determining if the desired client fits within your own business objectives.
- Find out timelines and deliverables: Outside of finding out who your client is and what they are looking for, you will also want to find out dates and deliverables. This may change as you develop your concepts further but it is key to at least have an idea what your clients goals are upfront.
- Understand who you are working with: Half of working with clients is understanding who they are and knowing how to deal with them. Read their personality and focus on their approach to business. It is usually fairly easy to read what a client needs by listening and observing. This goes beyond business and is no different from dealing with people on a daily basis.
- Breakdown key objectives: The last thing we do is develop a clear list of objectives not only for each of the meetings we have but also the project as a whole. We’d call ourselves list people and think they are the best way of tracking projects, updating clients and keeping the production crew on the same page.
2. Develop An Idea You Believe In
Now, the fun part! It all starts with an idea. Every great film starts with a great idea. Once you have done your research and talked with your client to determine needs, the next step is to formulate a plan. For us, we have developed our own set of parameters that our story needs to fit in. This stage will vary from person to person but for us, we don’t cut corners on this stage no matter the size of the production. Here is how we generally approach this stage.
Analyze Q & A
In order to refine our concept, we analyze our Q & A’s from the Brand Analysis phase. By analyzing these answers, you can start to develop your story. This process starts with a one liner and a one paragraph synopsis. We then determine how we need to approach the next stage of development. Do we need to find a writer? Can we write the script ourselves? Every project goes through this process, even if it is not narrative driven. This helps us break down all elements of the production regarding story and ensures we have it clear in our head the story we are trying to tell. For the tourism project, we took a few different approaches as we wanted to create assets using different storytelling techniques.
Chapter I & II were developed by one of our in-house writers and Chapter III & IV was written by a second in-house writer. We wanted to do this to integrate two unique styles within the campaign. These videos were designed for the Convention, Event and Meeting sales teams at Tourism but were also designed to function cross-department and be used by the Marketing and Media department as well
Connecting to Story
At the root of all the work you do, there needs to be that connection and for us, that’s what drives our creatives. Once you have figured out how you connect to the given project and brand, you will then want to determine if that fits within your larger goals. We find that having access to a few different writers is the best way to brainstorm and determine the best direction.
Time, Place & Emotion
Regarding the ExploreYXE campaign, the foundation was placed within a time, place and tied to an emotion. We knew that the only thing that would separate this campaign from others was the ability to connect our audience to our lead characters and their journey through Saskatoon. The reason we did this is because in our analysis, it became clear that what made Saskatoon unique was its people so that’s the main point we needed to drive home.
3. Focus On Pre-Production
So you’re ready to start planning your project. What now? At this stage, the focus is on script breakdowns, scheduling and scouting. For this project we had around 100 locations and around 50 extras to coordinate so it was key we had a clear plan of action to ensure everything fell into place. Because the concept was so ambitious and since we only had 4 shooting days slated for production, it was critical that everything was extremely well-organized. We spent two weeks in pre-production before we started filming. In order to get everything in order for the five videos, we had two people working part-time and one person working full-time getting everything coordinated. We won’t go crazy in-depth about this part of the process in this post but believe me, we will in a future post as we are VERY passionate about this aspect of productions!
Like with anything, money is the deciding factor as to how big crews can be, how many shooting days there can be and how long you are able to stay in pre-production / prep. We generally spend most of our time in pre-production in order to keep crews small and shooting days minimized. As you work through different projects, you will find your own ratio that works best for you.
4. Focus On Clear Communication
Clear communication from the start with both clients and collaborators is imperative. For us, this starts early with the initial project proposal. By keeping clients updated, there will be no surprises when you get to the screening stage. Clear communication goes beyond the simple production aspect and includes the creative direction as well. Don’t cut corners when developing your proposals as well as with any changes that occur as production moves along. There are some things you can’t control about production so it is critical clients are kept up to date if any creative aspects change.
Focus on Clients
Although proposals take a lot of time initially to set up and develop, once you have done a few, the process becomes easier. We find that the more time you spend upfront, the better experience both parties have in the long run. This stage generally happens even before we have secured the client. For us, we find these proposals as investments as many of the ideas and stories can transcend this project and be re-tailored for other projects if the client falls through. In situations that the proposals are accepted (and so far they have been as clients have been blown away with the vision), then the communication is extremely clear on what we are looking to produce.
Focus on Teams
Beyond keeping your clients informed, it is also important your collaborators know as much about the project as possible. Our teams are always changing depending on the project needs so it is key everyone gets what you are driving towards
Our proposals vary from project to project but generally include such things as campaign introductions, strategies, one-liners, a synopsis, scripts, character development, value additives, mood board, visual style breakdowns, production schedules, deliverables, payment schedules and contracts.
5. Develop A Strong Production Plan
So the shoot is approaching fast. What now? Part of the pre-production process is ensuring everything is in order so that production goes smooth. Deadlines are critical. For us, we develop systems so that with every production, each part of the process becomes easier. Regarding production, here are the areas that need to be considered:
- Crew – Who is going to do what? For us, although we have general positions for all crew members, it is critical that each team member is willing to do what it takes to get the job done. That is a pre-requisite for us as we need to be quick and nimble with every project. We prefer to work with smaller crews so it is critical that everyone is pulling their weight and willing to give it their all. For ExploreYXE, we had ten key teams members to fill all of the roles.
- Budgets – The necessary evil of video production — budgets. As much as you may not enjoy doing them, budgets are critical to not only keep yourself organized but so you can measure the success of a project. Budgets are critical in making creative decisions and help when approaching future projects as well.
- Transportation – Getting from point A to B when dealing with cast, crew and gear can be challenging. For us, this varies with every project as our crew is continually changing and coming in from different parts of North America.
- Accommodations – For this project, we booked a crew house and had everyone stay in one place. This was a great way to help with team building and kept the costs down.
- Meals – Keeping your crew fed is the best way to keep them happy. Always have food available and treat the crew right. Having someone manage this is the best way to ensure you have what you need. We will always have craft services available with as much liquids, fruit and sugar as possible :). Variety is great.
- Gear Management – Now the fun part. Gear Management. Labeling your gear is important and knowing ahead of time the gear you will need for each location allows you to make unit moves that much smoother. Having detailed lists that you create at the start of every project will help ensure no gear is left behind.
- Script Breakdown – For this project, we had to block shoot in order to make it happen. Break down your scripts from both the Director and Cinematographer stand-point. This ensures nothing is missed when block shooting.
- Sides / Call Sheets – Having sides and call sheets are only possible with script breakdowns. These are critical to ensure you make your day and shoot each part of the script. Without sides / call sheets, it will be near impossible to make the production happen.
- Shooting Schedule – Our shooting days were heavy. The average day was 12 hours and without such a supportive crew that believed in the project, we would not have been able to produce the campaign.
- The Wrap – Although it varies from project to project, make sure to schedule wrap days so you are able to tie up any loose ends. Production days can get crazy so having wrap days allows you to get everything back in order.
6. Set Objectives
Setting goals for yourself and your crew is important. Determine why you are producing project and what you hope to gain from it. Choose at least one thing that pushes your creativity. By doing this, you will be able to keep your team on track and gives a clear sense of direction. This includes both short-term and long-term goals related to the production. There are a lot of moving parts so by breaking things down and creating benchmarks, you can measure how the project is coming. For ExploreYXE our short-term goals looked as such:
- Find a forward thinking client.
- Develop an integrated serialized campaign that addresses brand attributes.
- Use three unique production styles across the videos.
- Integrate dialog based content.
- Work with non-actors.
- Build educational assets around campaign.
Obviously this is just a condensed list but gives you an idea of what we were trying to learn from the campaign.
7. Build A Strong Team
Especially when developing comprehensive video campaigns, having STRONG people to support the idea is imperative. For this project, everyone that was brought on had a genuine interest in producing something unique and gave it their all. As mentioned earlier, for us, having people who are willing to do what it takes to get the job done is the number one priority.
We had ten core production members that aided in different areas of the project. Our core team consisted of:
- Production Manager
- First AD
- Camera Operator
- Aerial Operator
- Aerial / Ground Cinematographer
- Grip / Gaff Swing
With each of these positions, it is key that all of them were willing to adapt to the job at hand. If they had to help with sound, they helped with sound. If they had to help with set decoration, they helped with set decoration. It was key that each member was not bull-headed and left their egos at the door. What made this project possible is that everyone had the same goals and had the faith that if we worked together, we would be able to produce something pretty cool.
8. Don’t Forget The Budgets & Contracts
The necessary evil of video production. For us, we have recently adopted contracts based off of projects we worked on that really should have had contracts. We generally feel that open communication should keep you from needing contracts but at the end of the day, these contracts protect both parties.
As for budgets, they are imperative as they are the only way you can track the success of a project. By having a way to compare numbers, you will be able to make improvements on future projects and make more money. Having a budget also helps make hard decisions when they arise. For this specific production, this helped when confronted with unexpected location costs that we did not budget for. We could weigh the pros and cons of either using the location or not using the location and discuss the options with our client. A budget is the success plan for your business. By having a firm plan in place you can easily see, over the year, what type of projects generate the most income. When you are able to see what you planned and what actually happened, you will then be able to easily identify any differences – where they occurred, why they happened and how you can adjust your budget to determine how much these projects ACTUALLY COST.
For any project we work on, we request 40% upfront for any operating costs, 40% after the first edit delivery and 20% upon final delivery. On larger campaigns, it would not be uncommon to request more upfront to cover these production costs. As projects become more complex, the most costs that are involved in the production.
9. Develop A Release Strategy
One of our focuses with all the work we produce is developing a comprehensive social media strategy. Without a release strategy, this content would get lost in the noise of content posted on a daily basis. Beyond this, we strive to produce content that people want to watch and share. When thinking of creatives, this aspect of the production is always near the top of list of things we consider.
Regarding the strategy, we provide advice for clients and work closely with their team and the PR agency if one is involved to help develop a plan of action. We believe that the project does not end when the videos are completed, rather, we believe the job is done once the objectives are met.
For this project, our goal initially before we produced the videos was to release a video every two weeks but after production was wrapped, we knew that the campaign had to be released all at once. Due to the serial nature of the campaign, we decided to release all content over a week and a half. The reason we did this is because all content ties in together and there would have been no advantage to dragging out the release. As much as we knew the campaign was unique, the strength lied in it’s ability to connect with audiences desire to ingest content all at once.
10. Hold Yourself Accountable: Measure Your Success
Developing a system that can track the success of the project for yourself and your client is important. There are a variety of ways one can do this and it totally depends on your goals. For this project, call to actions paired with a Micro-site was our choice as it was a great way to not only measure viewer interaction but is a great place to showcase our work in one centralized location.
Call to Actions
Call to actions are an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response, usually using an imperative verb such as “call now”, “find out more” or “visit a store today”. Having call to actions at the end of videos are imperative if you desire to measure the success of a campaign beyond simple view counts. Micro-sites are great for tracking the call to action associated with a campaign. One additional bonus is that we are able to use the campaign as a case study and attach numbers to each of the pages to know what works and what doesn’t work.
Develop a Means of Measure
There are a variety of ways to determine the means of measure. The first thing you need to determine is the metrics that are the most important for the given project. This depends on what you are trying to learn and refine about the process.
Develop a Method for Measuring These Metrics
Once you know the metrics you want to measure, you then need to figure out the best way of measuring these items. This will vary from project to project depending on your objectives. For this project, the Micro-site was the perfect solution as we wanted to have one space to view all the content and drive home specific agendas of the conventions department. Because we were unable to feature all the hotel and convention spaces in the campaign, we needed a way to highlight the rest of the spaces while also allowing people to find out more about each of the spaces that were featured.
Analyze Your Results
Once you have had a chance to run your campaign and look at the numbers associated with your given measures, you then need to figure out what to do with these numbers. For our business, this helps us track how well received the campaign was in our target audience. For tourism, they have specific measures they need to hit with each of their departments so they will use the numbers as a way to see how the campaign drove sales.
…Staying Ahead Of The Curve
Although only a few tips to help when producing comprehensive campaigns, we hope that at least a few tips were helpful. At the end of the day, what will lead to the success of these campaign is DUE DILIGENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY and the ABILITY TO RELY ON A STRONG TEAM. We continually work to not only build our network of collaborators but also on determining what makes our work unique. We are continually refining and building on these skill sets. We know we have a lot to learn and thrive on the ability to share our journey with others. Onto the next one!