How to Work With an Ad Agency to Create Brand Online Videos

So you want to kick off an online video marketing campaign? That’s a good idea, and you’re not alone. According to Borrell Associates, online video production will account for more than one-third of all online advertising spending within the next five years. You know that online video is engaging, targetable, measurable, and easy to deploy on multiple platforms for maximum effect.

But how do you get started? What should you expect as you scout out ad agencies, video producers, and strategists to help you achieve your goals? What kinds of questions should you ask as you set up a deal, and what will the process entail?

Seek Out a Good Working Partner

Finding the right ad agency or producer is a lot like dating. You need chemistry.

“When you make those first calls, it’s important to get a sense of the creative director’s or the producer’s perspective,” says independent video producer and project manager Karen Stewart. “You should feel free to say, ‘I’m thinking of doing this, so can we spend a few minutes talking about it?’ Look for people who reply ‘Sure! Let’s talk.’ That’s far preferable to someone who says, ‘Tell me exactly what you want, and I’ll get back to you.’”

AdAgencyStewart listens to her clients and then repeats back what she thinks she’s just heard in order to build a rapport and guarantee clarity from the get-go. “I like that affirmation,” she says, “and I do it every step of the way.”

Ask to visit the ad agency or set up a lunch—whatever it takes to get a sense of the people you may want to hire and feel assured that the working relationship will be collaborative and fruitful. Stewart notes that once you make a friend of your ad agency colleague, he or she can become a valuable resource and sounding board if you maintain an ongoing dialog into the future.

Focus on Your Branding and Objective

You can’t simply walk up to an ad agency and say, “We need a video.” They need much more to go on.

“The important thing is to be able to articulate your branding and your objective,” says Stewart. “I ask clients what they are really trying to do, what their goals for the year are, what their vision of their branding is, and how they expect the content to meet their marketing objectives.”

Ryan O’Hara Theisen, founder and executive creative director of Lucky Branded Entertainment, puts it another way. “Do you have a story that will captivate audiences and inspire them to talk about and share it? A creative director can take an amazing idea and run with it.” But it all starts with that story.

Have at Least Some Idea of Your Budget

It’s important to come to the table with at least some idea of what you can afford to spend. Being up front about it helps shorten the planning process. If you have no idea or are looking for estimates to take back to your CFO, ask the agency to talk you through the kinds of things, generally speaking, that you could expect for $10,000, $50,000, $100,000, or whatever you think your range is.

“A good collaborator will sketch that out for you and give you enough info to go back to your financial people,” says Stewart. It’s a far better approach than to solicit blind bids at random with little or no previous discussion. Once again, frank communication will yield the best results for both parties.

Set Expectations and Schedules

Once you’re ready to get down to work, you should expect the agency to draw up a contract that puts clear parameters on access. Will there be a written creative treatment? A script? Storyboards? How many reviews will you get? What will the key dates in the production schedule be? How much time will be built in for corporate approvals?

“Know what you’ll get before you write the first check,” says Stewart. You should also ask how much it will cost—if it will be allowed at all—for you to put in change requests after the agreed-upon deadlines. Sure, you may be able to change the on-screen text from red to blue at the whim of your CEO, but it may cost you if you make the request too late.

Work on the Concept Together

The best way to avoid potentially expensive surprises is to work collaboratively, with a script or treatment in writing that everyone involved can review and approve. All the creative decisions should happen as early in the process as possible.

Stewart’s favorite way to kickstart creative conversations with unsure clients is asking them to come to the table with two or three examples of videos they’ve seen that they like. The producer can react to those videos and tell you what it might cost to get the same result. “It’s important for the agency to show you examples too,” says Stewart. “Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I think you’re thinking something like this, and here are a couple of good examples to watch.’ It’s helpful to share examples before we spend any time on scripting.”

Strategize Successfully

After your video is created, you have to send it out into the world as effectively as you can. For that you need a media strategy. Michael Baliber, senior vice president and director of digital media strategy at ID Media, says you should come to initial meetings with potential media strategists with questions: “What’s the culture of your organization? What are your people like? What’s your overall approach to media planning and how do you bear that approach out? What are your technological capabilities?” At the same time, the strategist will have questions for you: “Are you focused more on customer acquisition or branding? Where does your brand fit in its competitive space? What challenges does your business or product face in the current environment?”

Like Stewart, Baliber believes the best results come through close collaboration. “Having a good rapport is important,” he says. “You need to feel like you can pick up the phone and talk through things so everyone is on the same page. Ultimately, we want to feel like an extension of your brand team. That’s the best-case scenario.”

Company: John Lewis
Objective: Brand awareness
Strategy: Kick off the British holiday season with a scripted big-budget, high-profile video

Company: Fidelity Investments
Objective: Lead generation
Strategy: Take a low-budget educational approach

Company: Always
Objective: Brand awareness
Strategy: Focus on advocacy with the “Like a Girl” video and viral campaign

Ad agency image via Shutterstock.


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  1. It’s true that you can’t simply ask an ad agency to make you a video without giving them more to go on. To effectively advertise, a business needs to truly work with the agency. The less a business is willing to participate and give direction, the less likely they will be satisfied with the final product.

    Posted by Gaston Parizeau | January 21, 2015, 2:42 pm
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