Demo Reel Success Secrets

By Steve Yankee

If you don’t have a demo reel –or you’ve got one that isn’t doing the job –don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. A good demo is a rare commodity in our business, simply because we’re like the shoemaker of legend.

Many times we’re simply too busy making shoes for other people to take the time to put shoes on our own (barefoot) children. Well, if you want to run with the big dogs instead of staying on the porch, you’ve simply GOT to take the time!!! Because a good demo reel, properly planned, produced and distributed can win you a lot of profitable new business.

So what IS a demo reel, anyway? Contrary to what you might think, a demo reel is not a random collection of snippets and scenes from video productions you’ve already shot and sold. Even though we’ve all cut and pasted and used these types of videos before, for all intents and purposes it is NOT a real demo reel. Because “Demo” stands for “demonstration.” It does NOT stand for “a miscellaneous collection of unrelated scenes.”

The first mistake –you’re moving too fast!

The first big mistake most producers make is to hurriedly throw a demo together because a client wants to see it –right now. The second biggest mistake is to grab unrelated or imperfect bits of video footage –bits that don’t convey the message you need to relate to your prospect or suitably showcase your production quality –and hope, somehow, that it will suffice.

Far and away, though, the very biggest mistake you can make when you assemble your demo is to center the attention on yourself…and NOT your client.

Your demo MUST be client-centered!

Let me elaborate. I’ve talked to hundreds of video producers. Many of them wonder why they’re not bursting at the seams with profitable jobs. Most of the time I believe it’s due to a common fault: too many video producers focus their marketing efforts on themselves, their own talents and equipment, and on what they’re selling…and NOT on the prospect and why he or she is buying.

Your demo MUST use what I call client- centered marketing to get people to come knocking on your door after seeing it.

Client-centered marketing is simple. All you have to understand is the difference between features…and benefits. Features are about you and your product or service. Saying “we use 3-chip broadcast quality cameras” is a feature. Benefits are the specific results that your products or services offer to your prospects.

It would be far better to tell your client that their production is captured flawlessly, in perfect color and sharp focus –which is the benefit of using a 3-chip camera…than to tell them you use 3-chip cameras, and letting it go at that.

Are you with me so far? Good. Because I want you to make a real point to remember that whether you’re making a new demo reel or writing a sales letter or talking on the phone to a new prospect –you must use BENEFITS to sell to their wants and desires.

And that’s the First Commandment of making an awesome demo:

Focus on the client’s benefits of using you as their video source…not on the features of you, your equipment or your company.

Here are the other six commandments you need to follow:

II. Your demo video must be planned properly. Creating an effective demo is not a one-day job…it’ll take some time to create and execute a video program that’ll really do the job you want it to do…to reach the audience with which you wish to do business. It doesn’t help to show wedding scenes on a demo aimed at corporations…or vice versa. So always keep the needs of your target audiences topmost in your mind.

III. Your demo must be produced carefully and exemplify your very best work. No glitches, no bad camera moves, no bad edits. Simply the best you have, presented in a logical sequence.

IV. It should contain testimonials from satisfied customers! You need benefit-oriented testimonials to defuse any prospect anxieties while simultaneously enhancing your credibility.

V. Your demo reel MUST have a call-to-action! It MUST offer something to make the client respond, and respond NOW! It (or the note or letter that goes along with it) should contain a limited-time discount offer, a coupon good for some value-added benefit that makes the prospect reach for the phone to call and book you…NOW.

VI. Your demo must be packaged properly if it’s on DVD or thumbdrive. A hand-written label just won’t cut it in today’s competitive marketplace. You need to consider printing. If it’s a DVD, use a nice Amaray case with printed inserts. If it’s a thumb drive, consider a branded thumb drive with your logo. Anything and everything that will set your reel apart from your hungry competition.
Most likely you’ll want your demo reel to be hosted online at a company like Dropbox, Wistia or Vimeo.

VII. You must get your demo in front of the people who you want for your customers! Like any marketing tool, a demo reel is useless unless you get it out there working for you constantly. So who should get it?

ANYONE that you contact –or who contacts you –who requests more information about your company and your video capabilities! Mail it, deliver it yourself…but get it out there where it can be seen…appreciated…and responded to.

Remember the value of good and proper follow-up.

Now your demo may be the demo to end all demo videos. But you’ve got to remember that people can be lazy or unwilling to commit to a video project. And while your demo will certainly get their interest, by itself it’s usually not enough to get them to call you. So you’ve got to realize the value of proper follow-up. That includes phone calls, postcards, and even a second or third sales letter if required. Get started by writing down your goals.

I suggest that you sit down with a pen and notepad and write out, first of all, your goals for your demo video. You should be as specific as you can be. Are you looking to increase your sales with this demo by, say, 20 percent? Are you looking to close on half the jobs you get a chance to bid on? Are you looking to enhance your credibility…have an opportunity to work on those higher-priced productions…get more wedding work…or do you want to accomplish a combination of these goals? Whatever your goals are, write them down and keep them in mind through every step of the creation and production process!

You should also note down who will be receiving and watching this demo reel. Who is your main audience? Are you in the wedding video business? The brides-to-be and their mothers are your primary audience and you should be targeting them with a wedding-specific demo reel.

Are you looking to attract new corporate clients for explainer videos, webinar videos, Instagram videos, testimonials or white board animations?

Is your main market churches, schools or educational facilities? Is it legal firms who you want as new clients for your deposition video services, your “day in the life” programs, your witness preparation services?

Or…is it all of the above? I believe it’s very hard to produce a video that appeals to the broad audiences that most small video businesses or independent producers work with…but here’s a clue. If you’re one of the mixed breed –which includes most of us independent video producers who market to several different audiences –doing weddings on the weekends, videotaping the occasional seminar, doing a deposition once or twice a month –you can get around trying to cover too much ground in your demo by making a sort of general opening video, and then dubbing in a more specific program for each audience.

In other words, customize your demo to fit the prospect. If a business is looking for a program on a new product or service, for instance, you can give them a copy of your ‘general’ demo and then follow it with a dupe of a new product presentation of which typifies your best work. I would caution you about mixing what I call ‘retail’ and ‘business’ productions. If I were a VP of sales for a large company, I wouldn’t be too impressed with your wedding video skills…and if I were a groom-to-be, conversely I wouldn’t be very interested in seeing how well you lit and shot that mammoth construction crane or a new automatic widgetmaker!

You might be better off with TWO demo reels…one for the typical consumer, one for the typical corporate dweller.

And while we’re talking about planning, remember to keep your demo attractive, to-the-point and short! Unless you have a dynamite story line or way-cool visuals, your demo should be from three to four minutes in length. Get in there, get your point across, wrap things up and get out!

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6 thoughts on “Demo Reel Success Secrets

  1. Ron Harper

    Yes, of course it must be client-centered. Every sales message should be focused on the consumer, and not the seller. Now, let’s have a look at one or two great demos, and break them down to tell us WHY they’re great.

    1. admin

      Thanks for your comment. We used to sell a DVD of demo reels, but it became dated too quickly. Many people share demos and other sample videos in our forums. Try a search in the forums and you may find some good ones.

  2. Mark Weiss, P.E.

    Do you have any advice for obtaining footage to make these targeted demo videos if you haven’t yet been granted a job in, say, corporate video? One of the problems is that I shoot orchestral performances from time to time, but I need work to fill in between those 1-2 concerts a year. But the problem is I don’t have much ‘corporate’ footage to use for a demo reel. I apply at company after company, but never get called back. Sounds like the ‘chicken or the egg’ syndrome, doesn’t it?

    1. Hal Post author

      It looks very good, but is a little long. You could cut a lot of shots out of it without losing a thing. A shorter more powerful demo will be better.


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