You Gotta Know When To Hold ‘Em!

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Got your attention? I have a specific point though, about engaging in creative video production ventures with large companies, individuals and other free lance people or agencies.

First, and I can’t state this clearly enough: large video projects are like gambling, you need to have a “stash” that will keep you from making a fool of yourself when negotiating or playing out your hand.

Not just from your last few gigs,  but ideally a list of steady clients you already do business with as a cushion. Those alone won’t put you in a position of strength, but it won’t hurt quite so much if you have to walk away and it will prevent you from being manipulated and miserable.

If you miss a detail or not perform due diligence, then you could be donating a lot of your valuable time to charity. Theirs.

You are in business to help your client make money, reach and influence people, make money, get attention, make money and make a difference in the world. Did I mention make money? In truth, a lot of my clients live by “patients first.” Very admirable qualities in a cutthroat world.

In my years of experience, the first meeting will be revelatory. If they have a plan, it’s coherent, and they have given some serious thought about what they want to accomplish, that’s a good thing, but don’t relax, not yet. In the corporate world there are most likely things that are going on behind the scenes that you will not be aware of. They could be grinding you.

There could be someone taking notes on your approach, looking ultimately, to bring the project in house. A lot of companies already know who they want to do the work but are required to put out three RFPs. Then there’s the real killer, politics.

After years of this type of thing, I can usually get a sense of who’s driving the bus, making the final decisions and where the bus is heading. It is all about influence, instinct, listening and emotional intelligence. I’ve been in rooms where the person who brought me in wouldn’t sit at the table with me. They position themselves back against a wall or leave the room entirely. Politics. Again. No getting around it.

Here are some considerations that will come into play when the initial contact is made. Scope, vision, direction, timelines, body language, attention to detail, viewing audiences, deliverables and the big one, ROI. Lest I forget, bizarre tastes. There’s a reason companies do drug testing:) Get to the bottom line on these issues immediately, or as soon as possible.

Attempts by the client to trivialize the project by using terms like “just”, “quick”, “nice to have”, “not sure” “if” “we’re in no hurry” and “we’re still pulling a team together” are a sure sign of internal confusion, and could also be a subtle monetary negotiation ploy. These are definite concerns that have to be clarified before a project can commence.

Your main focus at this point is to identify the mission and draw out its complexity and more importantly, get to the “who’s the audience?” question. If you don’t, you could be embarking on a long and confusing journey your grandchildren might have to complete. A big danger is offering too many options at the outset and throwing the project into a tailspin. “With that new information, we’ll have to get back to you.” See ya!

Your job, whether you realize it or not is to guide this group on how to crystallize the concept, pull all the pieces together, don’t ruffle (too many) feathers, while presenting different options and not confusing the shit out of them. Not easy.

It is your job to make the client aware of all the total possibilities and benefits if approached early on by sharing your experience. Don’t let them leave valuable options on the table.

Like poker, some folks don’t want you to know what they don’t know, thinking you’ll take advantage of them or they’ll look foolish to the team, the rest of the company and of course, the C Suite. Did I mention egos? Grand jury experience might be a plus here:)

So now we circle back to how much intellectual capital you have in reserve, because you might have to cut your losses. Or, as Kenny says, “fold ’em.” You could attend one or more meetings and spend time filling out SOWs, creative briefs, NDAs and quoting something based on so little detail that it could creep into your twilight years. I once met with a company multiple times over three years while their CMO was trying to get through the FDA. They ended up being sold at the last minute. Ouch.

Some companies have oodles of time and just pulling a bunch of meetings together is the equivalent of hitting their objectives for the year. You don’t want to be a test monkey, so once you get the call, get your shit together and be ready for anything.

You have to know when to hold ’em, but you also have to know when to fold ’em. It gets tough out there. Like they say in Vegas “No balls, no blue chips” 🙂

Please note: I welcome comments that are offensive, illogical or off-topic from readers in all states of consciousness.

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