Go Big or Go Home: 4 Key Elements for Producing a Brand Video with Casey Dittmer
We constantly preach the importance of your images, the value of spending the time and money to do it right, educating clients about what an image can say, the power it holds. And yet we ourselves skimp sometimes. We make excuses for why good enough is good enough. What the fuck is wrong with us? I want to be the best. I’m going big or going home.
I have a successful portrait business, with 12 years in business, two full-time employees and $300K gross revenue per year. I am proud of what I built, but I know it can be better. I can be better. In May, I started a journey to improve and stabilize my portrait business, and to mark my territory as an industry leader. I set high goals. Some of these goals seem ridiculous, but that makes me push harder. I struggled to find a path by myself. I knew what I wanted, but just couldn’t seem to take the right steps in that direction.
So my husband and I made the leap and invested in the best mentor we could find. We rebranded with a new name, logo, website and structure—a complete overhaul. I had 90 days to do the meat of it. It was a huge mountain of to-do lists, not to mention the biggest leap of faith I had ever taken.
I told myself if I completed the 90-day checklist and fully gave in to the process, I would reward myself by investing in the production of a branding video. This wouldn’t be just any video, but one that would demand attention, one that would make our brand and statement clear, unlike what any other photographer has had. As the 90 days rushed by, it became more and more clear that this video could not be just my reward; it was an intricate piece of the puzzle of success. I would not be able to reach my goals without properly introducing myself to potential clients, but also to the photography world. So before the 90 days were finished, the shoot dates were booked.
Four key elements were necessary for organizing and shooting a project of this magnitude while keeping our studio operating during the busiest time of the year. I think these four things are necessary in everything we do.
We had to have a plan. What is the purpose of this video? What is our message? What do we want viewers to feel while they watch this? Who is our target audience? Message is everything. You can make a beautiful video, but without a clear and precise message, it will be a waste. It needs to invoke emotion, cause a reaction and clearly speak for your brand. And in today’s digital world, once you make a statement, it’s out there, no take-backs.
So don’t just throw shit against a wall and hope it sticks. I say it all the time in my classes and workshops: Be purposeful. Have a reason, down to every detail. I wanted something bold and edgy that showcased our amazing custom gowns, gorgeous locations, willingness to travel and our nontraditional way of shooting maternity. I wanted the audience to be compelled to watch it again and again. I wanted to ruffle a few feathers along the way, so I knew that working with Sal and his team would be the perfect match. He understands how I think and shoot, and what makes me different. He knows how to focus all my crazy ideas. He knows the importance of protecting one’s brand.
Once we had a game plan, we used style boards to coordinate gown designs, colors, shooting locations and models. Each element was chosen with purpose. For a big project like this, it’s easy to ignore details. Don’t get lazy. Don’t be afraid to have big ideas, to blaze your own trail, to do it differently. Going the extra mile makes you stand out from your competition.
Blood, Sweat and Tears
This is where you decide how bad you really want it. Are you willing to push harder than you ever have before? When you think you can’t possibly add one more thing to your day, add five. Don’t be afraid to work. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If you get to a breaking point, cry it out and then start again. Just let it out. You will be more productive afterward. I get told a lot that I work too hard. What does that even mean? You mean I actually work toward something bigger than most people imagine is possible? You mean I believe that anything is possible if I work for it? You mean I control the legacy I leave my family by what I put toward today’s goals? Then yes, I do work too hard.
Just make sure you always work with purpose. Be efficient. Busy doesn’t mean you are making progress.
I made big sacrifices to make this change. There are days I question if I am making the right decision. There are days I ask if it’s worth it. When we packed up and flew to Chicago for the first leg of our video production, we left our three kids with family. This was the first time we had left our 6-month-old overnight. We were gone for four days. It was tough. But I’m willing to give a little in order to reach the great things ahead. I know that without sacrificing, great things cannot be achieved. You will make it through easier as soon as you accept that you cannot do everything. Make peace with dropping a few balls. It’s ok, it happens. Just dust yourself off and keep pushing forward. Take things one at a time and never be afraid to lean on your support team.
As I write this, we are getting ready to finish filming in the last two locations, which means another round of models, gowns and all the details. Mix that in with shooting over 25 sessions over two weeks (10 in the week after filming), IPS sessions, editing, ordering, marketing, the responsibilities of keeping three small humans alive and making sure my husband doesn’t feel like I’ve abandoned him. All I want to do is eat cake and nap. I can do neither. Instead I get coffee, ibuprofen and late nights. I know it is worth it. I know it won’t be like this forever. I know I am doing something special and the cake at the top is extra sweet.
You can’t do this alone. Don’t try. Going for broke will test you in every imaginable way. It is important to have key people in your life you can lean on when things get heavy. This is the most important piece to your puzzle.
Support can come in a few forms. You need a team of people who are there to help plan, organize and complete the tasks needed to reach your goals and complete a large project like this. Don’t be afraid to lean on them. Delegating allows you to focus on the most important tasks and details. My staff have been great in helping confirm reservations, communicate with models, give clarity to our message and slap me when I start getting in my own head. That’s when you know you have a great team—when they aren’t afraid to set you straight.
Chicago required two custom gowns, two models, flights, hotels, scripts, wardrobe, accessories and equipment. My staff worked long days leading up to the trip. Some traveled with me, others stayed at the office to keep the business going. Both are equally important.
Besides the literal tasks that need to be done, you need people who give you strength. We all know who those people are in our lives. It could be a spouse, friend or colleague, someone who doesn’t judge you at your lowest, but helps pick you back up. The climb to the top is not without bumps and flat tires. You will get past them, but having someone with you makes it a little less daunting. I took people with me to Chicago who I knew would do that. They calm me. They are honest with me. And just by having them there, I knew I could do this.
Stepping in front of the camera, shooting in a new city and being filmed by Sal was all a lot to process. Running low on sleep and feeling nervous and overwhelmed, I’m not ashamed to say I started to implode after we had a meeting with Sal and Alissa the night before filming. I questioned my ability to perform. I questioned our message. I doubted my decision to do the project. But I had my team there to talk with me, help finish last-minute gown alterations, discuss script direction, communicate with models and remind me why I wanted to do the video in the first place. I finished the night with stronger resolve and excitement for the project.
So you want your client to invest in you. You want to be a high-end brand. You want higher averages but you are unwilling to invest in your own brand. What kind of message does that send? With our focus for this video, I had to do it right. Filming at one location would not cut it. Showing traditional clothing or even easily accessible gowns would not cut it. Doing the video production ourselves would not work. I wanted to look like the best. I wanted it to resemble an ad you would see from a corporation. I knew I had to put my money where my mouth was.
I hired the best video production team. I went all out on gown design and fabric. I hired models. I went over the top with concepts and design. I took my amazing team with me to help things go smoothly. If I skimped on just one element, it would show.
Risk equals reward. If you are unable or unwilling to take risk, you will never accomplish big things. I’m not saying to go all in willy nilly and be pissed when it falls apart. Be calculating and strategic, but also be willing to go outside your comfort zone. Risk makes you work harder. The fear of failure keeps you moving forward. Don’t overthink it. Trust that with your support team, your focused plan and your hard work, the benefits will outweigh the risks.
So often, we make excuses and justify limiting our goals: I’m not at that level yet, I don’t make enough to justify that, my market can’t afford that. There is always an excuse to not do something or to do it halfway. That path may seem easier, safer, cheaper. So you want to be cheap and easy. Good for you. More for me.
This overhaul was brutal and letting go of my previous methods was painful. Adding this video project during my busiest time of year required even more time and sacrifice from me and my family. The investment stretched us. Every dime, minute and tear was worth the success. My business is already stronger. Averages are more than double last year’s. Bookings are up. Our efficiency is way higher.
My personal achievements in competition went beyond the goals I had set. We’re doing exactly what we wanted: getting the attention of sponsors, creating more speaking platforms and making an impression with potential clients worldwide.