Brian once told me that for every 10 sample reels sent out, you'd get one bid and for every ten bid you'd land one job. It's much harder to do the math on the first part of the equation these days when an actual "reel request" is rare -most samples are screened anonymously off of the web. The 1 out of every 10 bids might be a bit long on the odds these days as well, since potential clients have learned to narrow down their prospective contractors before running through the bid process.
Back in the 10% days (when all the budgets had that additional zero on the end), there was also a form to bidding that seems to have disappeared. Clients don't seem to know about this protocol and busier ones may not even be all that receptive but this procedure -like everything in animation, is about making the job easier, like everything in budgeting, is about making the numbers more transparent.
It's up to production companies to stick with this process (or something close) even when the client is unaware -after all its our job to make films, its their job to sell product. This is the filmmaking procedure more than a sales/advertising one.
STEP ONE: The Initial Conversation
Here's where you get a lot of the generalities out of the way. What's the timeframe? How long is the piece? What media/style? And most importantly: "Is there a number you want the budget to hit?"
Sometimes they play coy (hate that), sometimes they genuinely don't know, sometimes they come right out and say it.
Remember, a budget is just a component of a bid. It's a fixed number -just like a household budget -a figure you work towards and on which you base all of your expenses.
STEP TWO: Follow Up
Very often the initial conversation takes place before you get the script, client storyboards or prospectus brief.
Usually when you get this material in, you'll see something that you hadn't thought about previously. "Is the product live action?" "Do we need to do multiple versions for (800) numbers?" "Is it a 25/05 or a straight 30?" (Many commercials -especially ones for franchises like fast food places or automobiles will have an unchanging 25 second body with a 5 second tag that changes per market or offer).
It's best to get on the phone with these questions. One answer can often lead to another question. As much as people resort to email these days it's a terribly inefficient way to do it.
Even if you don't have any questions the follow up is important for one big question. Here's how I like to phrase it: "Everything looks pretty clear, but I may have some questions as we dig into the budget and schedule. In the meantime, we have some thoughts we love to share with you and your team on a creative call."
STEP THREE: The Creative Call
I'm told there was a day when you'd actually meet prospective clients face to face before bidding a project. I even vaguely recall attending some of these meetings in the hallows of Madison Avenue.
Those days are passed, we now rely on the wonders of telecommunication and the marvel that is the "conference call" to discuss ideas that could be the ground work for a million dollar project.
For the sake of discussion, we'll pretend that everyone successfully gets on the phone at the appointed hour, that everyone knows how to operate their speaker phone, that the audio fidelity is loud and clear, every participant has an easily distinguished, clear voice and that no one is working on an experimental aircraft while on their "hands free" nor eating food that sounds like one.
Here's how the call should proceed.
1) Good natured banter.
2) A display of common interest. "Oh my pal so-and-so worked with blahblahblah, they had a great time!"
3) Get that out of the way quickly and say "So we've got your boards in. Maybe you should walk us through them so we're on the same page."
4) Agency/client goes through their board/concept.
5) At this point you've got to gauge how much they want to hear from you. If they don't want much feedback (you can usually tell if they talk about how hard it was to sell the idea to their higher ups) you tailor your pitch accordingly.
5a) Your creative pitch. Maybe you don't have much to add. Maybe you envision everything big and red. Either way, this is your chance to impress them with your thought process. Optimally, it's a conversation: "We think this could go a few ways, here's one idea...", "We don't have it all figured out but we were thinking something like...". It's not exactly "brainstorming", but its along those lines. Have an idea of what you want to say, what your approach to the project will be and present it.
6) Any questions? This is a two way street. You may have creative questions for them. "Does the pony have to be polka dotted?" "Have you considered other techniques?" Et cetera.
7) Wrap up. This can take shape in a number of ways. Sometimes we'll do a quick walk through of our process if we haven't done that already. Often it's just "Any more questions?" Thanks. Goodbye.
As always, its best to follow this up with your contact and thank them. An email will suffice here, or just a phone message.
STEP FOUR: Tell Them What You're Going To Tell Them
I can do a commercial bid (meaning budget, schedule and creative treatment) in about four hours depending on the treatment. A very complex one can take up to a week, especially if it involves talent, casting, music, filmic live action or other outside-the-studio costs. Sometimes you may need to get bids from subcontractors to complete your bid. Likewise, a simple spot in a familiar style can have a bid package prepared in an hour or less.
If you haven't done a lot, it should take you longer -bidding is a skill like any other. Still, no matter how quickly you can do it, let it rest overnight before sending it.
Before sending, call the client and say: "I've got the bid ready. We're covering X, Y and Z and we're coming in at $XXXXXX. Does this make sense?" This gives one last chance to make sure everyone is getting everything they need from the bid.
It has happened where a client has told us to lower the number at this point, and believe it or not, we've also been told on a few occasions to raise the number.
STEP FIVE: Send It In
I once talked to a director at another studio. We had bid against him on a project. Neither of us got it, I think it went West Coast. Anyway, he claimed his producer didn't send the bid in on time -an act he felt cost them the job.
Like they say, 90% is just showing up.
STEP SIX: Follow Up
At this point the client probably doesn't want to hear from you.
Tough. They need to hear from you.
Call. Leave a voice mail if that's all you get. "Hi. Making sure you got the bid, sent it at X:XX. Lemme know if anything is unclear." (Here's a rare time I use negative phrasing. Instead of "Lemme know that everything is clear", use of the negative invites a question/contact.)
Obviously, this process is no guarantee to get the job. In my mind, these steps put the client in the best position to make the right decision and give the production company the opportunity to make their best presentation.