How Small Businesses and Non-Profits can Afford Multimedia for the Web
Patricia A. Schmal
Mark J. Jaklovsky
Multimedia is everywhere on the Internet, whether in the form of floating ads at major websites, streaming video or animated presentations. Of course, there is a good reason why multimedia has become such an integral part of the web experience: it’s an effective tool for capturing attention or provoking visitors to buy or contact the site owner. For these reasons, many educational institutions, businesses, and other organizations desire multimedia presentations. Unfortunately, at first glance multimedia, often appears prohibitively expensive for small businesses and non-profits. The following represent a number of ways to control the high cost that typically accompanies multimedia production without losing quality. We believe these suggestions will ensure that you save money but still feel good about your investment.
Let’s begin by understanding the components of professional multimedia production, which include creative development, actual production, and various stages for revisions.
The lion’s share of multimedia production costs typically stems from creative development. This is often the most controversial line item for frugal business owners, who may ask, “shouldn’t the cost of the creative be part of the design or production costs?” As with fine clothing, where the choice of designer adds to the cost of your product more so than the actual material or sewing, multimedia design costs depend on the creative input as well. For example, if you hire a designer with more experience or with a track record of creating unique, catchy concepts, your creative development costs may be higher. Of course, the final product may result in having a stronger impact as well. The solution isn’t to pick the least expensive creative professional, but rather to understand their process in order to help speed production (thus reducing cost).
The second component of multimedia production, the design and production of the piece itself, typically requires less guesswork in terms of defining cost. The cost per minute of production depends on a limited number of specific parameters, such as the complexity of the animation and the overall quality of the design agency selected. Generally speaking, there are three types of firms – from a cost perspective – you can choose to work with: a purely on-shore, purely off-shore, or a hybrid off-shore/on-shore firm. The type of organization you choose will have a strong correlation with the quality and the price you pay.
The third component, client revisions, is an area controlled most easily and typically is the cause of inflating or deflating multimedia development costs beyond a designer’s original estimate, or your expectations. The most basic revisions consist of three rounds: changes to creative concepts, changes to a draft version of the final product, and a final review. Often, more revisions may be needed when a designer is provided with inconsistent or incomplete information. This invariably results in a higher cost than expected.
With the extensive time that some multimedia presentations call for, requiring the efforts of creative professionals and skilled developers, it’s not surprising that multimedia presentations and ads can be expensive. Why, then, consider them? Are they effective?
Multimedia presentations are very successful at grabbing people’s attention. Multimedia results in higher retention of marketing information by viewers, or more enthusiasm for an offer. When compared to static text, graphics, or even audio, multimedia is simply more compelling due to its ability to trigger multiple senses at the same time.
According to DoubleClick (quoted in ZDNet.com, Joseph, 2002) multimedia ads have a 71 percent higher impact than their static counterparts. Similarly, in 1997, the California Community College system, “implemented a test design to assess the efficacy of multimedia technology as a non-traditional form of instruction” (Luna & McKenzie, 1997). Surveys take after the test determined, “40% of the students felt multimedia improved understanding and 73% found it a positive addition to the course.” Finally, a study published in the Journal of Management Information Systems (Benbasat & Lim, 2002) determined that multimedia “facilitat [es] the retention and subsequent recall of explanative information…” The study consisted of two test groups. One group processed information through a “text-based system” and the other a “multimedia system.” The subjects who were tested on the basis of a “multimedia system” received a higher mean test score of 2.70 compared to the 2.10 of the text based group (p.114); clearly demonstrating that higher retention is possible with multimedia.
The case for implementing multimedia into your marketing, sales or advertising is clear. What can your business or non-profit do to cut its costs?
The first method involves separating the development of the creative (the message, concepts, and storyboards) from the production (design, animation, and sound production), or at least finding ways to control it.
An article by Mark Frits for EMedia Professional (1997) discussing a fax survey taken of 100 different multimedia production specialists determined, “the creative time spent by designers and project managers, as the most expensive factor of production.” Therefore, if a business has already developed a detailed creative concept, storyboard, schematics, or other documentation of what needs to be done, it can reduce the total cost of producing multimedia by utilizing a small design firm or freelancer. Costs are cut because the time and skill spent on one creative is replaced by an in-house team. Of course, to ensure success, only those small businesses who believe they possess strong creative assets (with professional advertising or marketing expertise) should attempt this approach.
Remember, if you do ask your designer or design firm to handle the creative, that the route of working directly with a designer (rather than a firm with a creative team) may cut costs and also quality. Firms with full time creative professionals that are not involved in day to day design are often able to craft unique storyboards that describe and explain products, services, or company mission in memorable ways. Freelancers are a poor choice for strong creative since they often work alone and have limited means to brainstorm and perfect concepts with other creative professionals – a principal differentiating factor and benefit of working with a firm.
If you do select a firm for your creative and production, make sure that the creative team understands the message you need to convey. Is a creative firm with a great portfolio and appealing style really able to promote effectively your product and/or service? Only client testimonials, references, case studies with solid results, or market research can tell you this. Even when obtaining the creative from a top line firm, if you do your homework, you can still keep costs down. Prepare as much information about your target audience, goals, customers, products and services as possible. Develop a few rough concepts of your own, in-house, to help orient the creative team. Finally, discuss these endeavors with your chosen firm up front and negotiate a reduction in fees if you both agree that the information you provide is helpful.
A second way to cut cots is to ask for fixed price development. This direction can mean losing some flexibility in the design of your site. However, the tradeoff can be worthwhile if you are able to exert self-discipline. For that reason, when choosing fixed price development, be limited with revisions, as you only get a few as part of a fixed price. Avoid common mistakes such as being unsure of what design direction you desire or being unsure of your marketing message. Carefully consider each deliverable in order to provide all your comments in as few phases as possible – take a couple of days, at least, to do this.
Finally, when working with a firm, make sure that you provide them with only one point of contact so they don’t spend additional time coordinating between people in your company – although seemingly amusing, that mistake is quite common, especially so with growing businesses. Requiring your designer to handle internal coordination of ideas leads to dramatic extensions in project timelines, so be sure that you appoint someone internally to act as a point of contact and clearinghouse of internal discussion.
Another way to save on multimedia costs is by concentrating on developing powerful ideas while keeping implementation simple. When too much time is spent on design and not enough on concept, you will waste production money and effort. To make this strategy effective interview firms that may front load the creative, but also display portfolio pieces that focus on conveying ideas rather than showing off lots of special effects. Work with the designer to simplify the production process by brainstorming easier ways to animate key concepts, and be open to using less labor intensive “vector” animation rather than 3D animations or video production. When it comes to sound, seek out talented and “undiscovered” freelance musicians or voiceover actors working from home who can provide original audio that will cut licensing costs.
As a final point, the operational structure of your chosen design firm can impact cost and quality as well. Off-shoring software development is well established, but outsourcing design work abroad is less common and can lead to interesting results due to cultural differences or lack of marketing knowledge. At the same time, larger multimedia projects often benefit from repetitive production taking place off-shore. Depending on your needs, a “full” off-shore firm with just a sales presence in the US may not be able to provide you with the customer service needed. On the other hand, a fully US firm will likely double your production costs.
The best choice for small businesses is a design firm employing a hybrid approach, where creative development and high level design is handled by professionals that you can meet and build rapport with, but where larger production is handled costs effectively by a well managed offshore team.
By controlling the costs of multimedia your business can afford a highly effective communication tool that can pique site visitors’ or ad viewers’ interest. Remember these key points:
- Think “simple” when it comes to producing animations – focus on strong ideas instead.
- Be disciplined with your revisions to avoid charges for many rounds of changes.
- Take over creative development and let your designers simply produce your vision when your in-house creative is strong. Otherwise seek out a trustworthy design agency with a track record of strong creative development.
- Work with firms that employ an optimal mix of US and off-shore development.