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The Cost and Value of Digital Creative Services

How to budget for creative media production services.

By Steve Puffenberger on
The Cost and Value of Digital Creative Services

By far the most frequently asked question about our creative media production services is, “what does it cost?”

There’s a very simple answer, “it depends.”

Advent Media, Inc. creates CUSTOM content, specifically for your audience that conveys the specific message you have for that audience. So it’s virtually impossible to give a fixed-price quote the first time we talk.

You may have seen the illustration about “Pick Two: Fast, Cheap, Good.”

Fast + Cheap = Not Good
Cheap + Good = Not Fast
Good + Fast = Not Cheap

This old saw rings true when it comes to the cost of video production, website design and PowerPoint design.

As a result, budgets vary depending on the amount of work and assets required to complete the project. That being said, here are some of the budgeting strategies we use at Advent Media, Inc.

Budgeting Strategies for Media Production

Hourly Rates:

We have an "hourly rate" for clients who need open-ended production services such as videography, editing, copywriting or other professional services that can take varying amounts of time. For some services we have a minimum number of hours because of the setup time involved.

Flat Fee Pricing:

When quantities are known, we offer "Flat Fee" and "Per Unit" pricing.  If we're going to do a series of presentation support gigs or video productions for a client, where time and gear requirements are consistent, we can negotiate a flat fee for each project.

Negotiated Fixed Fees:

But for all of our digital creative services, we negotiate service fees as part of a contract using a rather complicated matrix of factors, the most important of which is “how much does the client have to spend.” As a result we commit to work within any reasonable budget. Of course, the big question is, "what is reasonable?”

"Reasonable" Budgets

It’s been interesting to track this over the years. Back in the 1970s I was at Ohio State we were doing very labor intensive turnkey projects (in slide Multi-Image - the equivalent of today's corporate video) for around $4,500. And about that time you could buy a loaded Chevy for about $4,500.

Fifty years later a loaded Chevy is closer to $60,000, with lesser models and trim levels starting around $24,000.

Amazingly enough, the cost to do custom video and websites has more or less tracked with the cost of a new car. A high-end documentary short with multiple cameras, many locations, lots of interview subjects, good B-roll and high-end graphics is going to be in the $60K range. A responsive, well-designed Website with serious data collection capabilities or e-commerce can easily reach upper 5 or 6-figure price tags of more luxurious cars or trucks.

Now you may think that a shorter video or a website with fewer pages would lower the cost significantly. That’s not necessarily the case. Each project requires a lot of “pre-production” which includes the planning and writing phases to determine exactly what your viewers will see. Shorter projects often require more work to condense the information into a limited time frame. That’s why for video a “per finished minute” budget can vary widely, from $500 - $5,000 per finished minute.

So while we could approach media pricing like a new car (with a base price plus options,) or like a commodity (price per unit), we think it’s more constructive to approach our clients’ major projects like design-build remodeling or construction contractors. They start with how much money their customers have to spend and compare that with the objectives the customer wants to achieve. Then they craft a way to meet those objectives within the budget. For the remodelers, that means carefully choosing materials and finishes, and designing in a way to minimize labor cost.  For us, it means budgeting time, assets and resources to achieve the communication goals you have within the funds you have available.

For remodelers, if the client decides they want to add a door or change a closet, that results in a "change order," which alters the budget. Likewise with us. Unless the scope of work changes, we guarantee that the price will not change, as long as it is within the approved scope of work.

That's why we like the "Negotiated Fixed Fee" option of our production process. You can be assured you'll not have any budget overruns, and we have set paramaters in which to deliver your product. It's a win-win that provides a no-surprises, no excuses experience.

In the end, it's all about maximizing value in creative media content.

About Competitive Bidding

Before I wrap up this post on cost, let’s address competitive bidding for creative services. Creative services are ART FORMS, not commodities.

When it comes to competitive bids on media projects, one has to consider that we are artists working in a virtual medium of 1s and 0s. Our pallet is red, blue and green pixels on a screen. Our brushes are words, photographs and moving images. And our art is interactive and kinetic.

Now imagine if there was competitive bidding for the Sistine Chapel, and the bidders were Michelangelo and Picasso. If Picasso had won, the chapel ceiling would look entirely different than it does today. When bidding on creative services, the resulting work will be as unique as the artist who creates it. So instead of competitive bidding on price, clients need to choose someone who can most reliably convey the message they need to communicate to their audience.

Competitive bidding is closely related to the construction industry.

In general contracting construction you have two parties at work. First you have the architects who plan the project and specify exactly how it’s supposed to look and function. Then you hire a general contractor who follows those instructions exactly to create what the architect envisioned. The architect provides a fixed scope of work on which competing contractors can bid. The one who can most reliably deliver what the architect designed at the lowest cost usually wins the bid.

IF all the creative decisions were made previously and we are presented with the production documents (script, storyboard, etc.), THEN a competitive bid on the mechanics of production would work. But if clients expect us to bid on the creation of the artwork from the ground up, an alternative method needs to be used to select your producer.

The alternative construction method is called “Design-Build,” or “DB.” With DB, the contractor is also the designer. Because the contractor will be building the design, the scope can be controlled more accurately to fit the client’s budget.

The production process at Advent Media, Inc. usually resembles the Design-Build method, where, by working closely with the client, we can achieve the desired results within our client's budget and time frame.

With 40 years of experience, we believe Advent Media, Inc. has the systems and creative energies to provide the spark that will communicate with audiences. But it all starts with a conversation, not an RFP.

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