4 ways to spot a crap content creator or creative agency

It’s a tale as old as time – you get sold on the idea that some kind of marketing product (whether that’s a new website, a flashy video or next level headshots) is going to change the game and make you billions of dollars. Then a few weeks (or if you’re un-lucky, months) later, surprise! What you got barely moved the needle, and all you’re left with is a rather salty disposition about marketing as a whole and a bill that solidifies that perspective. We’ve all been there, but it doesn’t always need to be this way. By knowing the tell-tale signs of crap content creation, you too can identify early on if you’re getting what you pay for, or if who you’re dealing with is a fly-by wannabe with a flashy camera.

1. Do they ever ask why?

As we’ve mentioned in our other article 10 things agencies don’t tell you, no content creator, production house or agency is going to tell you they’re ill-suited for your project or that they’re under-qualified. Of course everyone’s going to tell you they’re the best choice for you! Could you imagine if you walked into JB Hifi and they told you everything sucked? Exactly. It’s particularly tricky when it comes time to compare quotes from companies in the creative industry because unlike something you’d buy from JB Hifi, there’s really no hard and fast facts to form a comparison with. That’s just the reality of anything creative – prices are largely influenced by skill and reputation and as such can vary wildly, despite the end result being similar.

Instead, rather than buying into the selling and pleasing, take note if anyone asked you why you want to make content to begin with. We start every project with the why stack – it works for app development and design and it works with content, too. By starting with why, we can easily identify your needs, your customer’s needs and the KPI’s we’ll use to achieve them.

At the end of the day, not everyone needs pyrotechnics, helicopters and A-list talent to launch their product. And that’s okay, we’d much rather create something with you that’s effective at an honest price than something that overwhelms your wallet and under-delivers on promise.

2. Are they curious about the brief itself?

Another tell-tale sign a content creator or an agency is more interested in the potential invoices they get to send rather than what you need is if they’re curious about the fundamentals of the brief. In the same way I trust my vet to offer the best of care to my dog, so should you find great specialists that you can trust to ask the right questions, who will listen and then adapt your brief into something that simplifies and amplifies your story.

Ultimately, without a want to workshop the brief first, it’s often impossible to deliver on the three pillars that make great content. Ask yourself – is what they’re promising going to be something useful, aligned and unique? If not, look elsewhere.

3. Is all of their previous work a bit same-same?

Recently we’ve seen a surge of real estate and property content that all looks a bit, well, identical. And that’s not by mistake – content creators are bombarded by influencers and targeted ads from online courses that realise their “dream potential” using a “secret formula that costs just $X,XXX to unlock but makes creators millions of dollars.” Learning from mentors is never a bad thing, but when creative ideas become a factory-floor process, your idea, your business and your potential becomes lost in a sea of same-same content. That ultimately means your return on investment shrinks dramatically and the point of investing in content is largely for nothing.

In the case of this new style of real estate content, these kinds of whip-pans, fast zoom transitions and over-processed shots might look cool for property sales, but this kind of imagery simply doesn’t translate well into other forms of content. Could you imagine a soft, delicate, skin-care range designed for those with sensitive-skin with content that’s harsh, fast and with a backing track that’s straight out of a rave?

When it comes to content, look to those who focus on story over flashy editing. One of my favourite films, Lost in Translation, has practically zero special effects and no fancy editing because the story itself and cinematogprahy is more than enough on its own. Ask yourself – am I being wowed by the story or am I just having a seizure from the intense editing? If it’s the latter, there’s another clue you should look elsewhere.

4. What gear are they bringing to set?

Before I go into gear, there’s a joke i’ve referenced in a previous blog post that I say all the time to folks, and it’s this:

“A popular photography joke has a photographer invited to a dinner, where he shows some photographs. “I love these photographs!” the host says. “You must have a great camera.” The photographer replies, “I love your food. You must have great pots and pans.” This illustrates that point that a photographer’s skill makes the photo, not the instrument that is used.”

Gear is important, but skill will always win out. If a content creator doesn’t understand the difference audio makes, or how to shape light, or even how to move a camera through a scene, you’re in for troubled waters ahead, m’harties! That being said, camera gear can also be a minefield, too. It’s almost impossible to stay up to date with what’s happening in the world of camera gear, especially if you’re not a specialist in the field. There are a few fundamentals though that you can use to identify if they have the right tools for the job, or if they’re just buying cool toys to look fully sick on their Instagram.

If your content creator rocks up to a shoot reppin’ brands like this you’re in for a bad time.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the story of gear doesn’t start or end with the brand of camera someone uses. The conversation around Sony, Canon, Blackmagic, Arri or RED is irrelevant if you don’t have the rest of the gear to make the shot truly magical. A lot of Australia’s best photographers spend three to four times the amount of money on just lighting equipment alone than on their camera bodies. That’s because fundamentally all great images and films deal in the art of shaping lighting, and by spending all your money on the best and greatest “technology” without spending money on other equipment, you might end up getting an ultra-sharp, ultra-crisp but ultimately lifeless, boring image.

So how do you identify if someone has the right gear when you know nothing about gear? First, consider your project’s needs. Are you doing talking-head style interviews? If so, you’ll need a lighting kit, an adequate audio kit and someone (or a group of folks) skilled to operate both. There’s honestly hundreds of videos like this one that will easily show you the difference between good and bad setups and why those two variables alone can make or break a project.

I’ve personally spent tens of thousands of dollars on equipment that isn’t the camera itself. It ranges from equipment that moves the camera through the shot (like gimbals, sliders, dollies etc.) to equipment like film trucks that enable us to move gear more efficiently from set to set. Even basics like moving blankets to deaden sound reverb or high-quality storage media that reduces the risk of data corruption are often unspoken yet critical things that mean the success or failure of a project.

Long story short, an expensive Sony camera and a cool-looking gimbal isn’t enough to tell a compelling story. If your content creator is uncomfortable dealing with rental houses, trash-talks other camera brands because they’re “not fully sick enough” or insists natural lighting and one onboard mic is enough, simply put – run.

So how do you make good content?

There’s thousands of videos online that tell us it’s easy – but that’s simply not true. Content production is complicated. And like my earlier vet metaphor, we don’t need to understand every facet to know if someone’s doing a good job, but we do need to find great specialists that we can trust to deliver the goods.

We all know we need great content – every marketing report on the planet tell us it’s the key to unlocking online success. And to make that a reality, you’re going to need folks who can move a camera through a shot, light the scene and make sure your talent sounds crisp whilst staying true to your brief . If you haven’t found those people yet, try us. We’ll take the stress out of the process – our quotes are free and painless, and we outperform Brisbane’s best agencies by 46% whilst being cheaper.

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