The 80-20 Rule (Pareto’s Principle)

It’s been said that 80% of your fruit comes from 20% of your labor – essentially, that 20% of your customers make up 80% of your profits. This is known as the 80-20 Rule or the Pareto Principle, and it applies to many different aspects of business and life, far beyond video production.

So how can you, a creative, a freelancer, a designer, a video production company or agency, use this in regards to your portfolio? Can we make our commercials, documentaries and branded entertainment much more meaningful by leveraging this principle? Can we use it to make the stories we tell that much more powerful?

It certainly can. In this post, I’ll show you:

  1. How the Pareto Principle can impact our media both positively and negatively.
  2. Why you should entertain the 80-20 rule during production.
  3. How you can use it to leverage your efforts to be more valuable.

Crew on location shooting a commercial.

As a video production company, we’re judged on our past work – our portfolio. When a company approaches us about a project, they’ll typically reference a video or two we’ve already done.

Whether they know it or not, they’re judging us by the work we’ve already done. They talk about the style of one shoot. How they got emotional while watching one particular video, or how we magically told this story that brought them to tears. They see these elements in their project, and they’re excited about it and want to get into the creative behind it.

While this is generally regarded as a compliment, it can have some negative effects, too (unintentionally, of course).

These remarks are usually followed by a request to create a video for them in the same manner – to set up the interview the same way, to shoot this specific b-roll scene, etc.

It’s great that our clients have seen our past work (which is why they’re talking to us to begin with), but these kind of statements can lead us to jump to conclusions.

We’ve developed our process over the last 11+ years after producing several campaigns and videos for startups to world-class brands. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things that have forced us to create – and stick to – that process.

When we used to follow our clients’ instructions on what to shoot and even how to shoot it, we always ended up with a subpar project. In our hearts, we knew we weren’t delivering the best product we could. We’d watch the final edit and yearn for this shot or that shot.

Somewhere along the way, we started listening to ourselves. We still obeyed client instructions, but we also started taking time to get the shots that we wanted. We would carve out an hour or two each shoot day specifically for the shots that we thought we needed.

Respectfully, our clients don’t always know what they want. They know their business, their customer and their goals. It’s our job to listen and learn and translate that into a story. They call for specific shots because they’ve seen it either in our work or a competitors of theirs’ and want to copy that. But they’re hiring us for a reason, because we’re the professionals and we have the knowledge and skills to bring their project to life.

But that’s not always the answer. Where’s the purpose in that? How that does build the story we’re telling and create an impact?

This is the Pareto Law. We knew this would make the story stronger.

We started creating two edits for the same project – one for the client and one for us. Sometimes the creative wouldn’t line up. Sometimes there would be external politics that we had no control over. For whatever the reason, we were being asked to do something a specific way, even if that didn’t fit with what we knew the project could be.

When we started taking time to realize our vision and create a product that we saw fit, we started improving our portfolio and becoming more confident in our own skillset. This had a direct, positive effect on the requests coming in.

Clients started asking about certain projects out of curiosity and wonderment. We had explanations for everything (going back to our process and purpose) and gained trust earlier in the process. They were asking about the projects that we had created “Director’s Cuts” on.

Trust is important in video production. Trust means that you’re working with this team because you need them to bring your vision to life, and you’re okay with them working in their comfort zone.

Principle photography usually only happens once per job, and it happens in the matter of a few days. It’s costly and difficult to go back for re-shoots and pickups.

Taking 20% of your day to execute shots that could make the your story 80% better is worthwhile. It’s not a requirement and getting these shots doesn’t have to negatively affect the final product.

Remember, these are shots, setups, and questions in an interview that don’t have to go in the final edit. But if they do make the final cut, it’s because they’re making your story better.

A few years ago we were asked to produce a commercial for a sports headwear company. When the creative came in and we were discussing the look, feel and mood of the piece, the concept started taking shape.

In learning more about the brand, their goals and the execution, I kept going back to a few sticking points in the treatment…

The treatment wasn’t bad, and I understood the creative, but it wasn’t lining up. I didn’t think that this was the right decision for the brand.

I pleaded to change the creative, but was ultimately shot down. I listened to the brand and analyzed the goals, the distribution strategy and customer demographics. I knew the potential of this spot, what it could be and what it should be.

We had two production days in the budget and I knew we’d have to move quickly to get all the material – especially if I was going to take advantage of the 80-20 rule.

Working with our best crew, we were able to move fast and deliver a product that matched, and probably exceeded, the production value that was expected.

We shot the spot that was approved by the client in the manner requested. And in between setups or the very little downtime we had, we got a few extra angles to get the required coverage that I saw in my vision.

The storyboard plans everything out.

Color grading a RED Epic comercial.

Creating Two Versions

We delivered the project to the agency and they were happy with the final result. We followed instructions on approved creative and went on as a company.

But knowing this would lead to more of the same requests, we decided to put in our own resources and edit the project as we saw fit on the side.

We didn’t do this to insult anyone or dilute the brand. We did it because we saw the potential for what this project should be.

When the agency and client saw it, their reactions were surprising – even to me. The art director and creative director at the agency both complimented the Director’s Cut, and the client liked it so much they called asking to use the edit in their marketing campaign.

Original Edit

The Director’s Cut

Realizing the Vision

These comments go beyond standard feedback expected from a client. They speak to so much more – the depth and meaning behind them are substantial.

Not only did we deliver our vision, but we realized that our process works. It proved to us that sticking to our guns makes sense. We are the storytellers, we have the vision and we need the freedom to execute that to the best of our ability while working within our budget.

When you reduce yourself to a “yes man,” you inevitably don’t give yourself enough credit. Remember, a company is hiring you to help them realize a vision – something that’s not done easily independently. Seeking the advice of a professional is why companies work with creatives and production companies to begin with. Companies hire professionals for a reason.

I’m not encouraging to throw away creative ideas or requirements from your clients. Actually, don’t do that. Do your job, but also bring with you that extra oomph to take the project to the next level. This is why it’s called the 80-20 law – most of what you’re suppose to do is for the client.

Over time, you’ll see your portfolio expand with great depth and meaning. The projects you take on will have a greater purpose, and you’ll start to define your tone and voice as a filmmaker. You’ll also notice that potential clients will notice certain spots and reference them in initial conversations.

When we started creating “Director’s Cut” for the projects we work on our portfolio improved dramatically. These projects weren’t always drastically different, but sometimes it’s the subtleties that really make a difference. Going the extra mile with audio design or color correction.

This is where you can take your portfolio to the next level. Leverage your work to get more work. So now, I’ll leave you with this. Any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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