Ben Tyson, Senior Vice President of StudioNow and Executive Producer at Coca-Cola Studio in Atlanta, offers his top ten guiding principals for building an in-house studio
PostAds Group, the leading global content production consultancy, and StudioNow, the leading curated creative network and scalable marketplace, jointly offer marketer-direct production strategy and executional services for global marketers.
There’s a good chance that you may be thinking about building an internal studio. As a guy who’s set up video studios for our company, as well as for clients and brands both big and small, there are a number of key things and simple guardrails to think about that I’d recommend before you hit go. The specific tactics, of course, will be different at every brand or agency, but here are ten tips to think about when setting up a studio:
1 — BUILD doesn’t have to mean a construction project. Build does not have to mean a significant consulting, procurement and IT investment. This consistently surprises people but it’s so obvious to me. Instead, you can build a business model, build a strong group of people, and build the right partnerships. Just to be crystal clear: This means you do not necessarily have to build a studio facility with tons of construction expense. Think Virtual. Nimble. Agile.
2 — GEAR - Worth a specific call out. It’s tempting to buy the awesome cameras, and reps from every vendor are going to sell you their first born, especially if you’re inside of a Fortune 100 brand. But the reality is, you can leverage downstream partners who have already invested in much of the gear without buying it yourself at the studio level and depreciating it over a few years. So instead of paying for it as a capital expense, pay for it out of client project budgets. One note - larger studios and brands with a high output will indeed require an investment to ensure their teams have the best tools available to produce at scale. My point is that most internal teams don’t need millions of dollars of gear. Do not weigh yourself down with expenses that a finance executive WILL look to recover over a period of time.
3 — GREAT PARTNERSHIPS - Don’t do it all yourself. Find the best people out there with relevant experience. Watch their work. Talk to them about philosophy. Talk to them about pricing. Find one partner with a proven track record, presence bigger than the local company down the street, and strong client reference base, and double down and hire them to run your studio. (PS, don’t hire 15 partners and expect them to work seamlessly, you’ll end up with too many markups in the value chain and the potential for finger pointing and dropped balls when things get tricky.)
4 — BE BOLD INTERNALLY - Don’t build your studio under the radar, it’ll come back to haunt you. Attention spans are so short today you must make sure the team you put in place has the awareness of the greater organization and the ability to stay on the radar. We’re in a culture where a piece of gum changes flavor five minutes in - and so will your internal champions and clients, so try to avoid putting all eggs in one basket.
5 — GEOGRAPHY - Modern video production doesn’t happen all in one place. It happens in a ton of places, simultaneously. It’s complex, ever-changing - and it’s totally OK. Moving footage around has become easier. Projects may shoot in five different countries, edit in one city and finish or finalize in yet another. This isn’t something to freak out about. It does require rock solid operational backbone, careful confidentiality attention, superb people and processes, but it’s the way to saving money. Think like a feature film producer. Why would you shoot at home if it were cheaper to shoot in Georgia? So keep your infrastructure investment back at the home office to a minimum. What this means for those of us operating internal studios is that we can, and should, expect that the edit bay or studio space may not be used for every single shoot and project. It’s OK. It’s how it works. Again, see #1 and #2.
6 — THE TEAM - Don’t hire technicians full-time. Full-time staffers should be client-facing producing partners who are able to develop creative, project manage, triage and communicate. For the specific functions of the work – think directors of photography, camera operators, audio techs, etc. - use superb freelancers. Every time you hire a freelancer or crew, your mantra must be “we don’t just need any crew, we need the best crew”. The people touching the work are the single biggest contributor to the quality, perceptiveness and success of the video material.
Side note on The Team: Once you’re up and running, your future associate producer may become friends with the CMO. That’s totally OK. Make sure that you empower the team members to communicate freely internally and externally, and don’t cuff them with an org chart that limits who they can speak to. Let them sell themselves, talk about their successes. People like a success story and no one better to articulate it than the creators and storytellers in your video studio.
7 — FINANCE - Set up a proper financial structure. The reality of a video studio is that expenses pop up. Second and Third tier vendors are hired. There are unexpected expenses, most of which are covered in client project budgets if you’re doing a good job, but these aren’t expenses with 14 days of lead time. This causes friction with finance teams who like careful planning, proper procurement and responsible vendor management. No controller likes the “I need a check by 6pm” routine. Don’t put yourself in that spot. I recommend pushing this all down to a great partner with the ability to pay quickly. It will show in the work, and you are never in the position of saying “no”, instead you are empowered to say, “Yes, we can make this happen now”.
8 — CREATIVE STANDARDS & QUALITY - As someone leading an internal studio, your #1 priority should be establishing what your work must feel like - the tone and the quality. It’s your job to polish your brands, with an even finer polish than an external team might. Let this be reflected in the quality of the people working for you and quality of every single interaction with internal clients, and most of all the creativity and quality of the video work. If you are internal, and your work isn’t as good as or better than all of the external production companies and agencies (that would stab you in the face for 10% of your business) you’re hosed. So as a leader, talk about quality. Show examples. Look at what’s going on in the world of film, TV, design, and make it the single biggest headline of your studio. The studios that succeed are all about creativity and quality.
9 — SPEED - Sense of urgency. I was trained at a Hollywood talent agency. I wish every person spent two years at a Hollywood agency. It teaches you to maneuver quickly, precisely, and to make good, quick decisions. David Mamet needs two raccoons removed from his pool. In Vermont. Now? Not a problem. He’s your client. It’s done. Not sexy work, but the ticking clock and high stakes of Hollywood forces creativity and an unbelievable ability to solve problems by sheer willpower and creativity. Likewise, internal agencies and internal video studios get the most insane requests on a frequent basis. Your answer must be … “What’s the problem? It’s done.” Things must happen. Emails are answered immediately, the phone is never unanswered, and the team understands the importance of pace. It’s so simple, but many completely miss this one.
10 - LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY AS YOUR SILVER PLATTER - The way the work is presented to clients is extremely important. Think about this early in the game. Please do not email video files around a company to distribute video. So, when you’re setting up a video studio, it’s important to consider how the work will be viewed, revised, delivered, distributed, shared, measured … and what other systems your organization may have that present opportunities or roadblocks. I would recommend investing in partners who understand that modern video studios require technology to operate and scale. Technology can help your internal teams look exceptional. Tip: make sure not to ask clients to login each and every time - it’s a pain!
Ben Tyson is Senior Vice President of StudioNow and Executive Producer at Coca-Cola Studio in Atlanta