The reel is everything. Whether you're a broadcaster recapping the most exciting moments of a game or a team trying to highlight the skills of one of your athletes, you need a compelling reel to make people stop and take notice. But how do you make your demo reels work harder and cut through the clutter amidst so much competition? We'll help you make the most of your work by making the most of your reels.
Use Advertising Tactics To Cut Through the Clutter
Since a demo reel is essentially an ad, it can be helpful to think of them in terms of both reach and frequency. On a basic level, reach refers to how many different people see your work, and frequency is the average number of times each of them sees it. Most people just think about getting their reels in front of fans or prospective sponsors or investors, but that's only part of the equation. Unless someone watches it two or three times (and preferably more), there's a pretty good chance that they're not going to remember it well enough to reach out to you and take the next step. So you've got to think about ways to get them to watch the reel more than once if you want it to bear fruit. That may be a matter of following up and asking questions about what they thought of particular spots so they watch them again while engaging actively. Or it may even mean sending the reel more than once and tracking whether or not it's been viewed. This requires a bit of extra effort, but it's critical to getting them to remember the reel you sent and who did the work.
There is a limit: you want to avoid inundating them with the same stuff over and over. But you'd be surprised how quickly the details disappear after just one viewing. So if you sometimes feel like you're just sending reel after reel into thin air, keep in mind that finding ways to increase your viewing frequency could help crack the code.
Timing Is Everything
Sometimes getting people to react to your reel isn't just a matter of having them watch it enough times. They also have to watch it at the right time. Say your reel showcases a lot of motion graphics; unless the viewer has an immediate need for motion graphics work, they may not respond to it, even if they like it. The fact that they viewed it is great, but you'll still want to make sure that it's fresh in their minds when they have a project that the work is a good fit for.
If you've done your homework correctly and have seen to it that people are viewing your reels, the next step is to do what you can to increase the likelihood that they're seeing them at a time when they have a need and can take action. Otherwise, you'll want to keep in touch and maintain an ongoing relationship until they do. Even if they don't have a need now, they may talk to someone who does, and if you're top of mind, that can turn into a new project.
Picking Your Spots
So how do you decide what to put on the reel? The first thing to consider is what kind of feel your audience is looking for rather than just what the finished product will be like. Will they be concerned with player performance, how good the field looks or a heartwarming story? Are you trying to showcase your brand or influence potential sponsors? While you may not be able to show them every single piece of footage, you can capture a feeling that captivates your audience.
Make It Bespoke
Of course, every client and project is different. That means the best reels reflect not only the general category they're in but are customized for the particular client or even specific aspects of the project. The top people in the business make custom reels for each job they pitch on, despite the time and cost this may incur. And creating custom demo reels professionally can get very expensive quickly: as much as $10,000 per minute of finished video once you've factored everything in.
Because your reels are often the first impression you will make, you want it to have a professional look and feel. Include company graphics or animation at the head and tail, and make the hosting page or presentation look good. If possible, you may even want to include their logo or customize the reel with a mention of the project. This is all part of making it feel like it's the perfect fit for them.
Managing Your Stable
Whether you're pitching to potential sponsors, investors or fans, chances are you've got a lot of work to pick from and a lot of assets to manage. Add to that the need to demonstrate various skills and customize your reels for specific jobs, which means you'll need to handle a lot of materials and keep track of them all. Having a reliable system for managing all of that is essential, or things can get messy pretty fast. It can also be a big time suck, so organization is critical when setting up a reel-building process.
On the other, it's a big ask to professionally create a bespoke demo reel each time when you have no idea whether it will even get viewed. And the more projects and samples you have to choose from when building reels, the greater the challenge to managing the process efficiently.
If you're going to be pitching on a lot of projects with a variety of different parameters or styles, it often makes sense to scale up your reel-building capabilities internally rather than relying on outside vendors. Doing this will allow you to be more proactive, respond more swiftly to reel requests, reduce the expense of customization, and, most importantly, increase the "at bats" you get by pitching as many projects as possible. Fortunately, tools and options are now available that let you build reels quickly with the existing staff and resources you already have, using the content you've already created rather than going to outside vendors.
For tips on post-production, check out MediaSilo’s guide to Post-Production Workflows.
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