I recently finished production on a project where scheduling became a bit of a nightmare. Very busy individuals showed up for interviews that were never confirmed; my film crew sat around for hours only to have interviews rescheduled at the last-minute; interview subjects got very, very perturbed as they had to re-schedule their own calendars multiple times, in some cases costing them money in last time. (For the record, until I intervened, I was not in charge of coordinating and scheduling these interviews).
One of the things I’ve learned about this business is that scheduling busy individuals is as much art as it is science. It’s often one of the most time-consuming and frustrating aspects of shooting a commercial gig; especially if you’re interviewing high-profile and/or senior executive level individuals. Sometimes these people literally only have 10-15 minutes in a day to give you. You have to make the most of that time.
The trick is being able to coordinate disparate schedules among busy people in a way that is the most cost-effective for your client. Many of my clients have limited budgets, so they can’t afford to have me come out 3-5 times. Many of my shoots have just enough budget for a half-day to maybe 1.5 days. What’s tough is that many of my clients are non-profits who need to interview people like executives, politicians or wealthy individuals who have tight schedules.
So here are three tips I’ve learned when it comes to scheduling:
- Let the client schedule their own internal people. Let’s say I’m shooting a product promotion for a new software program and we need to interview product and brand managers. I’ll have my contact at the company coordinate with those internal employees. They usually are all on some kind of internal calendaring system like MS Outlook, so it’s very easy for them to see people’s schedules at a glance. They also know best the inner workings of their organization and how to work the system to get what they need. I then just coordinate with my single contact.
- I prefer to coordinate schedules for third-party individuals. If there are a lot of third-party individuals (i.e. busy professionals who are not part of my client’s organization), I prefer to handle scheduling them. A perfect example was a project we shot last year for our client Street GRACE. We had to interview politicians, business people, volunteers, executive directors of other non-profits. My contact at Street GRACE is already super busy. I on the other hand am being paid to do this work, so I can take the time and energy to contact everyone, follow-up, follow-up again, make phone calls, etc. They all know they’re going to be in a video, I just have to get them there. For most of my clients, this aspect of the service we provide is invaluable.
- Pick up the phone when necessary. I know it’s easier to just send emails to everyone, but some people get hundreds of emails a day. If someone you’ve emailed has replied by the follow-up email, pick up the phone and call him/her.
- Set realistic time expectations. Regardless of who schedules the appointments, it’s imperative that the people being interviewed have a realistic expectation of how long they will be “on set.” Naturally, you should be as proficient as possible. So have all your gear set up and ready to go before people are set to arrive. But, sometimes you have to move the interview spot around because you want a different background for each interview. Depending on how closely the interviews are booked, there may be some wait time for them. Make sure they know that. Make sure they know how long you plan to interview them, as well as the kind of questions you plan to ask. Also factor in time for multiple takes. You may only need 10 minutes of video, but if the person is really nervous and keeps messing up, it could take you a half-hour to get those 10 minutes. Unless I’m dealing with some high-powered executive type who only has a 10-15 minute window, I usually give a minimum of 30 minutes as the time a person should expect to be on set.
- Keep your client updated. If you’re scheduling the interviews, keep the client updated on the progress. Especially alert them to any key individuals who you’re having a hard time reaching.
The process of setting up and conducting client interviews is part of the client experience that will be reflected on your brand. Take it very seriously. Even if it’s not your fault, if something goes wrong, someway somehow the “video guy” always takes the blame. Right or wrong, do what you can to avoid that happening.
What are some things you’ve learned about scheduling interviews with clients?
All good suggestions, Ron. I would just add the suggestion that for those of us working with very limited staff resources to handle scheduling need a more automated solution. There is a free site called Timebridge.com that you can set up to synch with your Outlook calendar. Visitors to your calendar page only see your free/busy time, not your actual appointments, but they can suggest up to five meeting times that fit your free space and their own. You get a message asking you to confirm one of the times, and when you do, it places the appointment on all parties’ calendars. You can also send out a meeting notice to multiple participants regardless of the calendar system they use. You choose five times, enter the emails of all the invitees, and TimeBridge collects the responses and tells you the most optimal time for all participants. Big timesaver!
Ron Dawson says
Thanks for sharing the tip Steve.
Stephen Pritchard says
Send regular reminders to people who’ve agreed to take part. Not too many (2-3 is usually enough) and try to make each email different, maybe adding more detailed instructions as the day nears. Just resending the same info is counterproductive.
Calendar invites are helpful too if the recipient can use them.
As a producer make sure your contact numbers are on the emails, and that you stress they can call: especially important for non professional talent who are often terrified.
A quick prep call can also put the guest’s mind at rest and reduce the chance of no shows. I often use Skype for that so people don’t have to call long distance.
Ron Dawson says
Great tips Stephen. Thanks.
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