Working in creative requires thick skin. It's the business of rejection. But the victorious sense of accomplishment at the end of a project tends to make you forget all that.

"Opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks." ~ Home for the Holidays (1995)

Six Tips to Better Manage Client Expectations with Video

As Creative Director for Video Army - a digital agency focused on video - we are constantly serving our clients and incorporating feedback into video productions for marketing. Here are some tips I've learned along the way that should help get to the "victorious" sensation sooner:

1) You're only as good as your references

When pitching or presenting a video production, it's best to provide a compelling case backed by data, trends, case studies, references and examples. Show the client a sample of a finished campaign with a similar style, strategy, music track, etc.

Show them why you're taking a specific direction and help them sense what the final product feels like. This also helps manage expectations on quality levels, scope of visuals, duration, etc. Examples are better than lengthy description. Show, don't tell.

2) Create a Revision Process

Create a revision system with your client about the definition of "approval" and the number of revisions for each step of production - before you begin production. You should be able to answer:

  • How many script revisions do they get?
  • How many editing reviews?
  • Does an email confirmation work for approval or do you need a signed document?

This will help you stay on budget, create important milestone reviews (big picture) rather than micro-reviews (nit picking) and ensure your client is consciously approving material. The more upfront in the review process with the client, the less likely you'll need to change direction and "start over" towards the end.

3) Review with the decision makers

Where does the buck stop? Who specifically has the authority to "approve”? Find out and review with them whenever possible - and their influencers. And know where the notes or opinions come from. It could be the CEO's spouse or teenage son...

I encourage our clients to take 48 hours to review with all necessary department heads and collect feedback. This creates 'one voice' from the client to address notes and typically squashes any surprises in final feedback from a higher level decision maker.

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4) It's marketing, not a short-film festival

Some clients trust you, some don't. Some know what they want, some don't. Some understand production - you get the point. Every client is different but one thing is certain - at the end of the day you're making a video for the client's marketing, not your personal reel or awards.

"Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.'" (Jeff I. Richards).

Let client's feedback inspire you to create better advertising. And don't worry, you always get your directors cut.

5) Be aware of focus groups - Beware of focus groups

"If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said 'a faster horse'" - Henry Ford

How To Manage Your Clients Expectations Through The Video Production Process focus group cartoon

Sometimes there are facts, and sometimes there is originality venturing to the unknown.

Sometimes your client may want to use a focus group to test your spot before risking a media spend on an unknown. Focus groups can yield amazing insights to create effect products, strategies and inspire creative executions. But it can also create lowest common denominator decision making. Always defer back to the target audience and marketing objective, you may find that they don't need "a faster horse.”

6) Clients can only review what they can see.

Often you need to send rough cuts with temporary visuals to get client feedback before spending more budget. While placeholders or references will help your client understand your direction you should be a present guide and not let them wander their own imaginations. If you often find yourself with pages of confusing notes, consider reviewing with your client to ensure you're seeing the same thing.

If you need to review remotely, which we often do, I find these two tricks helpful:

    1. Add a timecode burn in so exact frames can be referenced over the phone for example. Especially helpful with fast edits like music videos.

How To Manage Your Clients Expectations Through The Video Production Process cinesync 200x106

  1. My favorite review interface is Cinesync. This syncs Quicktime on either end (Mac and PC) to ensure you're seeing the exact frame the client sees.  We live by Cinesync and our clients actually find reviews fun because they get to doodle on the image in real-time with us rather than write copious notes. Also see Wistia ( for a less interactive but cost-effective alternative.
  • Maddie Paige


  • Daniel Dragon Films

    Great advice! I used to work in the web development world for Moxie Interactive, now I make short films - the client process is very similar in both cases. I also was a corporate SEO consultant and I've worked inside the CDC - follow me on Twitter and check out my latest work at Thanks!

  • Kira Borg

    oh thank you for sharing this

  • Abigail Carter

    I too have had the unfortunate backup in production at the client revisions, especially in the scripting process.

    We had one set of videos for a client that took a year and a half to complete because we never limited the number of revisions in their contract. Needless to say, there's a limitation in our contracts now.

    I've also found putting together a production schedule for the client and putting their deadlines for revisions on their calendar helps to move the process along so they know what to expect and when.

    • Jon O’Brien

      You can also put in revision timelines. For example, when an official revision is sent they have 72 hours to deliver feedback, otherwise you proceed with your internal notes.

      We let them know upfront because if you have crews sitting around on their hands, they're burning up their own money. It's a delicate balance to not push them around but to also produce in their best interest :)

  • nicklange

    Great insights -- thank you.  That focus group comic is hilarious.

  • Gregg J

    As a company with a similar focus (small agency, mostly video) this was a particularly interesting post. 

    We produce mostly for the web so don't generally have to worry about the dreaded focus group, but your point #2 is probably the hardest part of client interaction from our perspective.

    Client Revisions - We always write out the expectations in our contract/schedule, but I'm starting to realize that we should probably have a very explicit page that explains how many revisions Clients get for each round. 

    I'm not sure that was an actual tip from this post, but it definitely lead to that thought - for that I thank you!

    • Jon O’Brien

      My pleasure!

      If your clients find the "revision cap" scary, I usually explain this little guide so they know what to expect and why it's ok:

      Storyboards & Look Test - a taste of the final product. Full discussion welcome.
      Revision #1 - A look at all the pieces. Majority of notes happen here. Lay it on us.
      Revision #2 - Another handful of notes that really tighten this up. We're getting close.
      Revision #3 - "last looks". A few minor tweak, nudges, polish and love. Perfect.

      Turns the conversation from "I won't be getting my money's worth" into "OK, there's a plan and these guys have done this before".

  • Grant Crowell

    This dude abides...