Why do creatives always ask about BUDGET?

The budget conversation can be awkward when hiring a creative partner.

In most marketing budgets, whether you’re managing it for yourself or for a client, a video spend is going to be the largest line item. It’s understandable that it feels RISKY when talking about money and selecting the right vendor.

It’s tempting to keep numbers CLOSE to your chest: “If I keep quiet, maybe I can get a good deal.”

On the other side of the equation, when you ask a creative, “Can you give me an idea of what this will cost? Ballparking it is fine.” They’ll immediately begin to sweat and look ill. It’s like you’ve just poured salt on a slug.

What goes wrong

By default, both parties wait for the other to flinch, hoping the budget and project will turn out better than expected. However, if you want to take your brand to the next level and succeed in the marketplace this is a TERRIBLE way to find partners.

At Pathfinder, most of our clients have worked with 3-5 other video vendors prior to working with us. Why did they leave their last vendor? 99% of the time they were:

  • Unhappy with the quality deliverables.
  • Blindsided with high hourly charges.
  • Received inconsistent / slow communication.

These client-vendor breakups are lose-lose situations for both parties. What can you do to prevent getting your heart broken?

Many times marketing executives and agency managers try to avoid heartbreak by setting up a more formal process, “We need five RFPs.” With this setup they think, “We’ll see how much this type of work costs, and then pick the vendor that’s the lowest price with the most deliverables.

It sounds reasonable. So why do they still end up disappointed with the results and frustrated with a creative vendor?

RFPs are good start

The RFP process is good at bringing you vendor options to evaluate. But it will ultimately fail to help you build a high-quality marketing campaign if you don’t talk about budgets from the beginning. Why?

Let’s dig deeper and take a look at how creative is bought. People try to buy creative the same way they buy a loaf of bread — Bread is already baked; bread you can pick up, carefully look at, and taste to know if it’s good.

Creatives are bakers, not bread.

If you select a vendor from a blind RFP process (no budget numbers in your RFP), the lowest price with the most deliverables will get you a bottom-feeder.

Bottom-feeders are vendors that estimate wrong on the project. It’s either out of inexperience or because they haven’t protected their margin. Both are a bad situation. At best the vendor is incompetent, at worst, they’re in a fight for survival and will cut as many corners as they need to stay alive.

3 Steps to Find a Great Creative

1) Put together a simple RFP.
It doesn’t have to be formal, it can be an email. It should include schedule, responsibilities, and what goals you have for the project. This indicates to your creative partner that this is a priority for your team and that you’ve already discussed a plan for the project.

2) Put your budget upfront in your RFP; use a range, not a fixed number.
Plan your budget ahead of time, it can always be adjusted later. You’re actually more in control of your final spend if you take the lead on this. Be realistic about how much you have to spend to get great work and a talented partner. Higher value vendors have a budget floor where they know they can’t deliver quality work below a specific price.

3) Always ask how it would look different if you spent $10k MORE than the top tier pricing in a quote.
Most vendors will start limiting their ideas (and thus potential outcomes) based on the budget. Asking what it would look like if you spent significantly more will break your vendor out of a mental box and prevent your team from leaving potentially great ideas on the table.

Marketing is a force-multiplier designed to help you grow your results. By taking these steps, you’ve given permission to your vendor to be a trusted advisor. It’s also an excellent way to evaluate their long-term capabilities to grow alongside you.