9 Ways to Improve Client Communication During Video Review

As editing tools and plugins continue to make it faster and easier to produce high quality video, the time spent reviewing video with clients, getting their feedback, and getting work approved has emerged as one of the major bottlenecks of the post production process.

In this post, I present 9 ideas to help you improve communication and get better feedback from your creative teams and clients.

Effective project communication has the following benefits:

  • Less rework and less time spent on revisions;
  • Increased satisfaction with the process;
  • Faster project approvals;
  • Better quality work; and
  • Increased trust among collaborators

All of this works together to create happy clients that generate repeat business, which means more money for you. Not bad for a quick investment in the fuzzy side of post production.

Outline Timelines and Set Expectations

At the outset of the project you should clearly articulate how many of rounds of review there will be and what the deadlines are for each of these stages.

For each stage of the process you should outline when you will deliver the cut for review, and when feedback on that cut is due. For a process with a rough cut, a fine cut, and final cut, you are looking at setting at 5-6 deadlines depending on how you plan to handle feedback after you have delivered the final cut.

You should also outline how you would like to conduct the review process. Do you plan to do in-person sessions, should feedback be emailed to you, do you prefer phone conversations, or do you use a video review service like ScreenLight

At all costs, don't just agree on a final deadline with your client and leave all the intermediate steps to chance. As we all know, time disappears all too quickly.

Educate Your Reviewers

Many times difficult clients and poor feedback are the product of inexperience and a lack of understanding about the editing process.

Think of who you are working with. Often times in things like corporate work, the people that are providing feedback on videos projects are working outside of their domain of expertise. Respecting that this can be an intimidating process for them can go a long way towards building trust and a good working relationship.

Educating your clients is a great way to make them comfortable. It can be helpful to create a document that outlines your process and the stages that a video production goes through before completion. How many stages of review can they expect? What is a rough cut? What should a reviewer be looking at when providing feedback on a rough cut? What does an editor do after a rough cut is completed? What is a fine cut? What should a reviewer be looking at? What is the next step after a fine cut is complete? Think how much easier it would be if you could hand your client a copy of "video review for dummies".

This can still be helpful with clients who are familiar with the post production process, as it will flag how your expectations at each stage are different than the expectations of other people they may have worked with.

The more your clients know about your process and what's expected at each of those stages, the easier it is for them to meet your expectations and collaborate in a meaningful way.

Ask for Specific Feedback

Don't just fire off a message saying "let me know what you think of this version". Two things happen when you give people a blank slate.

  1. You get too much feedback. This is where people provide pages and pages of feedback that's not really relevant or useful at the current stage of the project. Feedback on color correction isn't really of use during a rough cut, when the focus should be on the organization of the story.

  2. You get nothing and people procrastinate. The more open ended the question, the more of a time commitment people think it will take to provide feedback. With busy schedules, people tend to put off the items that will take a long-time and require lots of mental energy.

Both of these things waste time.

When you send something off for review, you should ask people for feedback that is specific to the current stage of the project. The more you break the questions down into manageable chunks, the easier it will be for reviewers to provide specific and actionable answers. This also helps reinforce the points about setting expectations and educating clients. If your client has an idea about what a rough cut is, and the stages that follow, they will be more likely to hold off on their color correction points until a later stage of the project.

It does take some time to put all your questions for the client down on paper, but this will be more than made up for with time savings down the line.

Respect Your Reviewers Time

We all procrastinate, and the first things that we tend to put off are those that are the most painful.

If you want reviewers to give you feedback quickly, then you have to make it easy for them to do so. This means eliminating as many friction points as you can. If you are uploading to an FTP site, ask yourself if you have clearly labeled all of the files? Is it clear what people should be downloading and reviewing? Will your reviewers be able to watch the videos that you have shared without the hassle of downloading codecs or plug-ins.

If you respect their time by keeping the review process well organized, your clients are more likely to respect the time that it takes for you to make the changes they request.

When Dealing With a Group Decide Whose Feedback Matters

The objective of any review process is to create a mutually agreed upon understanding about what needs to be done in order to move the project to the next stage.

When you have a group of people providing feedback, the process can descend into chaos. For each person you add, the complexity of reaching consensus grows exponentially. Email threads get longer, feedback gets off topic, and people start to issue conflicting feedback.

If you are going to make sense of all these threads of feedback you want a clear understanding of who you should be listening to. Not all reviewers are equal. Your life can be made significantly easier if all feedback is centralized or if one person from the client side can collate the feedback, resolve differences of opinion on their side, and provide you with an agreed upon list of change requests.

Open Yourself Up to Constructive Criticism

Your actions set the tone of the review session.

If it doesn't look like you are listening to feedback or making an effort to understand where it's coming from, then your collaborators are either going to shut down or start issuing orders instead of requests.

Same goes for your reaction to feedback. Getting defensive, being dismissive, or acting out is going to send the project sideways. You don't have to agree with all feedback, and you certainly don't have to make every suggested change, but you do have to thoughtfully consider all of it.

Separate Tone From Content

This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Some people have a knack for poorly communicating. They can be aggressive, ego driven, or just plain rude.

To deal with their feedback effectively, I would suggest trying to focus on the message rather than how it was delivered. Ask yourself what the reviewer is really trying to say. Is there a thread to the comment that you would agree with if it were presented differently? Is there something deeper underlying the feedback? Making an effort to put yourself in their shoes may help you separate what they are saying from how they are saying it.

Sometimes you will just have to remove your ego from the process, remember that you are an expert, and take a deep breath before responding to their email.

Remember That Creative Friction Can Be Good

It's inevitable that at some point you and your client will have differences of opinion over an idea. In these cases, you shouldn't just roll over and say the client is always right, as this is just a convenient way to avoid confrontation. Guess what, a little creative tension can make things better and if you navigate the situation well, you will come out with a better product and maybe even a happier client.

As a starting point, take, stock of the feedback in question. Does it matter? Does it conflict with your client's vision? If it's small and insignificant, it may be easier to incorporate the change and keep your powder dry.

If the feedback is substantive and making the requested changes will either change the outcome of the work or take a significant amount of time, you should first make sure that you try to really hear your reviewer and what's underlying the feedback. If you need clarification, this is the time to switch from email to having a phone call or face-to-face review session where more of the subtlety is communicated. If you are uncertain about what they are saying, in this conversation you should try repeating their feedback back to them in your own words.

Once you understand the feedback and any underlying motivations, you can look for threads of the feedback that can be more easily integrated while saying true to the overall objectives of the project. This can help your client feel like they have been heard.

In cases where you feel that the feedback is totally off base, remember that you have been hired because of your expertise, and that sometimes your job is going to be to fight for the bigger picture and the larger client vision.

When you decide to push back, make sure that you explain yourself. Make it easy for your reviewer to step into your shoes and see your perspective. Explain your decisions, and paint the picture of how it fits into the larger story and aligns with the project objectives. Make the narrative about how you want to do the best work possible for the project and back yourself up with best practices, examples of similar work, and any other material you have.

As you discuss the contentious points, try to be confident yet empathetic.

Use Deadlines to Help Prioritize Requests

Creative review is a form of negotiation, and one thing that helps keep a negotiation moving forward is a deadline. A deadline can help force prioritization decisions. Anything can be done with enough time. But chances are, neither you nor your client has that luxury.

With a deadline in place, you can "say yes to a request", while highlighting how much time it will add to a project. If a suggested change will push back the project by X days, then your job is to explain what's involved with making the change, and why it will change the deadline.

If the change is important, the client can make the decision about whether it's worthwhile to incorporate or not and whether they are willing to pay for it.

Do You Have Any Other Tips on Improving Client Communication During Video Review?

If so, please share them in the tips below.