This is the fifth article in a 5-part series, “Getting Into the Content Development Game.”
Want to know how I’ve heard that my idea has been sold to a network? It usually goes like this: I get an email that is totally non-committal, asking me to call my content when I have a second. I do, and they say “hey, we really loved the idea and we want to take it forward.” No fanfare, no celebratory bottle of champaign, and often times, no paper trail that you can forward on to your partners and colleagues to trumpet the good news. And this makes sense, because while it is great news that you are moving forward, you are far from being able to celebrate victory!
For this discussion I’m going to work with the typical distributor model, one in which they are giving you funding for the series and will thus control it forever. This is still the most oft-seen type of deal. Sure, there are those that get a brand to pay for production so you have both more control and less input from distributors, but this is not the standard… yet.
A NEXT STEP DOES NOT A SERIES MAKE
So you got the call. What are they “green lighting”? We all want straight-to-series, but this is very a-typical. For most we are lucky if we get a pilot. For most, the more common thing you’ll see is either development funds to flesh out the idea more to see if it really can work on their channel, or a “Proof of Concept” fee. This later is the new normal. If you aren’t familiar, this is usually $10-20k to produce a “mini” pilot — typically 1 act. Some things to know:
- The distributor expects to see something of quality, so know you will be presenting your very best work vs. what is easy to put together.
- The amount they are giving is never enough, so you will most likely be dipping into funds to help this get made.
- The distributor can get 4+ POC for what they pay for a pilot, so they are hedging their bets to see if anything resonates.
In other words, you are still selling yourself. The benefit of the POC is that if it goes well they often go right to series. But know that they might go from POC to pilot. Regardless, know that your work is just beginning!
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
I have to say I am amazed in 2017 how many people produce on a handshake. How in the world can you assume to know what is expected, and what to focus on if you are not clear? This next point probably goes without saying as most of you are already dealing with networks or agencies, but let me state it anyway: Make sure you have a very thorough contract/deal with all deliverables, schedules and benchmarks spelled out. Why? Because you have to be able to answer many questions, very quickly.
- Are you prepared to move this forward?
- Do you have the staff?
- Do you have the bandwidth?
- Do you understand your role (especially important if you are in a partnership)
- Do you have a good attorney and CPA.
And make sure you have a strong relationship with your executive from the buyer. If you haven’t met them yet, be prepared to fly to them if you aren’t in the same city. Understand how they like to work. Understand their quirks. Know that you can’t expect to shape them to work like you do because you (technically) work for them.
TIME TESTED TRUISMS
There are some quotes (aka: truisms) that I haven’t covered yet in this series, here are a few:
- Never BS a BS-er. Translation: know what you know and know what you don’t and do not try to BS your way. They are smart people and they have heard every excuse and half-truth that you can tell. People expect you to be top of your game and at their level, but they admire honesty.
- Never Try and Hide. Translation: don’t try and hide money from the budget to cover your margin. You are lucky to be at the table, don’t get greedy. I believe that the best opportunity you have means you make a small amount and put as much as you can on screen. Back to Eminem: you only have one shot…
- Know when to Shut Up. Translation: (especially if you are taking a minority position with a partner) You cannot talk your way into a series. You have to be willing to be quiet and listen. But I’ll take it even further: do your research. Have you watched the buyer’s shows? Are you asking to see their POC’s or Pilots to see what they dig? Are you asking questions or are you telling?
- Dress to Impress. Translation: think about your innate DNA and what you are known for. Think about all the unique little bits of specialness you can bring to the project. Don’t half ass the product.
The end goal is to get your product through the pipeline and on “air” for all to see. Once you’ve done it, you are officially in the content game and it gets easier. But know that you have to always be thinking about pipeline.
WHAT’S YOUR END GAME?
I asked in the first article why you are getting into content. It shouldn’t be because you want to be creative, you already are creative. But if you’ve continued to think about development, hopefully its because you see that you have a unique style and POV you can bring, you have unique access to talent and IP, and you know that with the right work, you can make content a successful vertical in your company’s long-term strategy.
But if that is the case, I would encourage you to always have more content in the pipeline. While you may have a series and a pilot, what are you researching and developing? What are you pitching? How are you allocating resources towards this goal? If you are one of those who wants to get one done before starting another you will always be at first base. Think bigger! And know that you can never truly be successful in content if you only dip your toe and hope for the best!
STILL NOT SURE? WE HAVE AN ANSWER FOR YOU
Why are we providing all of this information? It’s not because you can read these five articles and be at the level you can conquer the world. Rather, my partners at RevThink and I know that if you are reading all of this, you are determining if you are ready to really enter the fray. We realize that for many this feels like an expensive proposition. And you are correct. But the potential far outweighs that expense.
So what next? If you are large production studio, motion design firm, etc you could easily contract with me via RevThink to develop strategy. That’s what I do for my clients every day. But if you are smaller shop you need to think smarter and really see if this is for you. And we’ve developed a product to help you:
ShowLauncher is RevThink’s 4-month development “Master Class” designed to give you an intensive “boot camp” to help you determine if you are ready to dive into the content development pool. Here’s a link to the ShowLauncher site for more information. But in a nutshell, in this Master Class I will be working with a diverse group of national and international companies that are all focused on this next step. ShowLauncher has 5 components (mirrored off of RevThink’s incredibly popular “Creative Jump Start” Master Class):
- Weekly Live Q&A: this is an opportunity to every week jump into the deep end of the development pool. I, along with guests and experts, will answer the topical questions members have. While we will always have an “agenda” when we go in, we open this up so that any week we may have 20 people with 5 different topics. It’s boot camp and moral support and classroom all in one.
- Monthly Mentoring Modules: Each month I’ll teach an in-depth module that is focused on one of the four areas that are KEY to success in content development. These modules are sent to you via private link so you can review as your busy schedule permits. We will also have links to sample projects we are discussing, as well as resources that can help you think smarter and grow bigger.
- Private Facebook Group: Our Facebook community is built as a private place where you, your peers and I are having daily conversations to share our challenges, ideas and successes. But what is most important is that you have a community of peers – peers that will become your best allies. We celebrate our successes and help get past failures. as soon as you join, you become a member in a community with one purpose – to see each other succeed.
- Pitch Evaluation: It’s one thing to make a theoretical program, it’s quite another to make sure that you are armed for battle. So, as part of the Show Launcher program I will evaluate one of your pitches – from deck to sizzle, and help you refine it. I will also help you strategize networks to pitch and help you figure out what to expect in the room.
- Alumni Benefits: Once you have completed and graduated from the 4-month program, you are invited to become an alumni member, which will allow you further access to me and my friends in development. You will have opportunity to get one-on-one support on projects, the ability to collaborate with me directly on projects that we think might have legs, opportunities to join me on pitch trips, etc.
Know you don’t have to go it alone in content development. We at RevThink are committed to seeing our peers grow to the fullest potential possible! We want you to be armed for battle and ready to conquer every aspect of business that you focus on. Content isn’t a scary beast that only the “big guys” can tackle. Every single one of you has the potential to be content creators. Every single one of you deserves a seat at the table. Every single one of you is critical. Because we need fresh ideas in creative content. We need to be continually pushing the envelope not only with what people can consume, but how they consume it. You are ready. And we are here to support you! I for one cannot wait to see what you create!
Patrick Jager is a Content Consultant at RevThink and CEO of strategic advisory firm CORE Innovation Group. He is a frequent speaker, panelist and author on the topics of media, brand, and business leadership.