Once you've made the decision to get involved in online video, and picked the video style that you think fits both your personality and your goals, it's time to start thinking about production. And in online video production, there are really only two choices: self-produce, or hire a professional. This third edition of our Online Video Marketing Basics series will examine the pros and cons of both choices, to help you determine which one is the best choice for your situation.
Right off the bat, I think it's only fair to tell you that I think you should hire a professional. It's not that I don't think you're capable of creating a great online video by yourself. After all, plenty of regular anonymous nobodies have done it before you, and many of them have had success. But your pluck, energy, and willpower will never stand up to the raw talent and experience professional filmmakers bring to the table. But that's just my opinion. There are a lot of factors that go into a decision like this, and finished video quality is actually only one of them.
So let's break down each choice—video self production or professional production—by the respective pros and cons:
Lower Cost. The single most common reason that companies and individuals decide to self-produce their online video is budget. Compare the bottom line cost of hiring a professional against the bottom line cost of pulling out your Flip camera, filming yourself, and then editing the result with YouTube's free video editor… and you're making the accountant's job very easy. When cost is the most important factor in your decision, this seems like a no-brainer.
It can be significantly less expensive to make your own videos than to pay someone to do it for you. I could list hundreds of tiny reasons why this is so, but the long and short of it is that professional video production companies charge for their services. I would argue that they are generally worth it, but that's not the point we're discussing right now. There is no denying the cost. And a lot of businesses simply can't afford it. The choice is made for them by the annual shrinking of their marketing budgets in a recession.
It's cheaper to do almost anything yourself than to hire a professional. I could hire a tax professional to compile my tax return, or I could save all that money and just do my taxes myself. I could hire a professional to build my new backyard deck, or get some lumber and start hammering on my own. In terms of pure dollars spent, it's almost always cheaper to do it yourself. But there may be other "costs.”
Again, money is not the only consideration in this decision, but it's an important one that, for many, can't be overlooked.
Creative Control. When you self-produce your online videos, you have 100% of the creative control. You might think that you have that same level of control even when you've hired a professional. And while you most certainly have the final say in those situations, you have to realize that a professional is always going to bring their own experience, expertise, and ideas to the table (and you would be wise to listen to them in most cases). When you roll the opinions and suggestions of professionals into your original seed of an idea, that idea often morphs and changes. It's usually for the better, but it's still worth pointing out that hiring video production professionals is almost certainly going to see you yielding some level of creative control as you put that trust in the professional.
Low Production Values. You might be thinking that low production values belongs in the "cons" list and not the "pros" list. Rest assured, it's on the cons list as well. But it's here as a possible positive for one big reason: in viral video, sometimes you want to have low production values. Maybe you're trying to trick the viewer into believing your big marketing push is actually a series of harmless user-created videos. Maybe you're doing some guerrilla-style marketing. Maybe you're faking something, and lower production values help you hide your special effects tactics a bit more.
Don't just assume that every video you create needs to have top-level production values. Not everything that goes viral is slick and full of pristine CGI. In fact, a large portion of today's viral hits are shot by amateurs (and tend to look like they were shot by amateurs as well).
Low Production Values. When you self-produce, you can count on your video looking self-produced. Professional, high-quality camera work and editing almost always looks better, and today's savvy viewers can probably tell it apart subconsciously. If you want your video to have the best production values possible, you simply cannot choose to do it yourself… unless you just happen to also be an expert in video production.
But if your business or personal endeavor is not related to video production services, then you definitely won't do as good a job self-producing as a professional firm can do. Period. It's not even really up for discussion.
Of course, production values may not matter for your viral video effort—in fact, some efforts specifically call for a video that looks self-produced.
Mistakes. When you self-produce, you're going to make mistakes. This is a tack-on point to the first one. You'll chop too much on an edit, or record the audio levels too low… or some similar mistake. One of the reasons people hire professional firms is that they've repeated the video-creation process enough times to have it down to a science… they've practiced the tasks so often that they simply don't make many mistakes. Beginners, however—regardless of what craft we're discussing—are going to make a lot of mistakes… and that leads to something even worse:
Wasted Time. When you make mistakes as your own video producer, that costs you time. Think about everything you don't know about video production, from lighting to lenses to blocking and framing. You'll be using trial and error in making several of these decisions, and you'll make many more mistakes than you realize.
Every decision you make will cost you most time than it would a professional. What kind of camera should you use? Don't know? Maybe you can do some online research and read some reviews to find out which camera is best? Of course you can… but it'll waste four hours of your life. Each mistake costs you precious time, but it also costs you money—every wasted hour you spend on video production is an hour you're not billing your customers for.
Hiring A Professional
High Production Values. Professional video production firms have some huge benefits to offer you in the area of production values. First, they have better equipment. Most full-time video production houses have top-of-the-line cameras, lighting equipment, and editing capabilities. When you self-produce, you're sacrificing the quality production values that high-end equipment brings with it. The second major benefit professional production companies offer in the realm of production values is related to their experience. While you've been building your business or personal reputation for several years, they've been making videos. They know more than you ever could, and that insider's expertise leads directly to a finished product of noticeably higher quality.
Minimal Wasted Time/Effort. That experience also helps trim wasted time and effort that naturally comes from trial and error. For instance, before self-producing a video, you might comparatively shop video cameras online, reading reviews and gathering data to help make your choice. But the professional firm already knows what the best cameras are, and what the strengths and shortcomings are to every possible piece of equipment your video requires. What takes you hours or days to research could be answered in seconds by a seasoned vet.
Added Value/Services. Most professional video production firms offer a wide variety of ancillary services such as scripting, casting, and marketing. Those that don't offer such services usually at least have solid relationships with vendors who do, and can facilitate a smooth transition from script to filming or from production to marketing.
If you self-produce, you have to either do all the scripting and marketing yourself as well, or at least go out and shop for such vendors on your own. Obviously this can add tremendous time to your overall project, further removing you from your day-to-day core operations. Instead of selling more widgets, you're spending all your time creating YouTube accounts and researching the use of social media in video marketing.
Creative Collaboration. Video production firms make videos for a living. They've seen more than you ever will. Much like a graphic designer seeks inspiration from other graphic designs, video firms pay attention to what they're peers and competitors are doing. They know what's working online. Almost every video company I've worked with in the past has a creative team ready to jump into the brainstorming session with you, pooling the ideas that spring from their experience with the root concept you developed. In most cases, listening to this kind of collaborative advice will result in a better overall product.
Cost. Quality video production services aren't cheap. If I were to throw out some numbers I've seen, many of you would quit reading this article right here and simply decide to self-produce. The truth is that it's hard to give a ballpark number on this sort of thing, since every video requires a different mix of services. Just know that it can get expensive. And there's a reason for that… it's usually worth it. If you were to create a video yourself, and then hire a video production house to create the same video, and then you played them side by side… one would look like a Hollywood feature and the other like a weekly winner from America's Funniest Home Videos. Like a lot of expensive things, high-end video production is worth every penny you spend on it, assuming you have the pennies to spare.
Lack of Creative Control. Quite a few video production companies will have strong opinions on the creative side of your project. Some might suggest changes, additions, or even rewrites of the script. You are the customer, and as such you will always have the final say, but a lot of energy and time can be lost in discussing and debating the creative elements of an online video. You might even begin to feel like you're being asked to abandon your original idea completely. While the advice of experienced professionals will be, more often than not, worth the taking, it's something that a lot of you would probably rather skip altogether.
There are really only three instances when choosing to self-produce is the best choice:
- When you actually have some video production expertise or talent yourself (or on your staff), or…
- When your budget simply leaves no room to hire a professional, or…
- The goals of your video actually require it to appear self-produced.
Outside of those three reasons, I would advise almost anyone to look for a professional. There are fewer risks, and the potential for huge upside. And if you value your time, then self-producing can often end up costing you more than paying even high-dollar video production firms to handle the project. But I know that reason number two above is going to put a ton of you in the self-production column, just by virtue of today's economy.
Because we have a wide variety of readers, many of whom are either business owners or marketing consultants, we'll focus the next few articles in this series on self-producing—though we will also include an article about shopping for and hiring a professional video production firm. I hope you're finding this series helpful and insightful as you contemplate your own video strategies. It is my sincere hope that, even if the entire series is not relevant to you, there is at least one article that speaks directly to your current situation.
Stay on the lookout for Part 4 of our Online Video Basics series, Choosing The Right Equipment For The Production Of Your Video.