“Have we thought everything through before we start ” is likely the best business advice you will ever receive.

Too many video production projects start part way through the production process – with a ‘cool idea’, little thought as to which key messages will resonate with your audience or no plan for actually delivering the video to your intended audience.

If you haven’t taken the time to properly plan out your production, it will likely fail. By ‘fail’ I mean fail to achieve a measurable business objective.

There are many different types of videos that you can create to promote your product or business and there are many factors and costs that go into the production of a video.

This post was created as a tool for planning a video production as well as to give the reader an appreciation for the many elements and tasks associated with the creation, development and delivery of a corporate video.

Your specific video project won’t necessarily require each of the steps described below. Some projects (i.e. recording an expert talking-head for training purposes) can be quite straightforward and only require a few of these steps.

That said, the success of your video project will largely be determined by the time and effort you put into properly planning your project.

If you don’t have both the front-end and the back-end of your video project worked out in advance, no amount of shooting or editing expertise will save your project (although your video may still may look really good.)



The challenge with the Pre-Production phase of video is that while it’s the most important phase of video production it’s also the hardest part of video production to cost-justify. It’s relatively easy to cost-out crew, equipment and editing time, but how much is an idea worth? How much is experience worth? (Quite a lot, as it turns out.) And who really wants to pay for ‘planning?’ If you want your video project to succeed consider the following critical tasks that go into the pre-production phase of video production:



What do you want to accomplish with your video?

  • To raise awareness?
  • To drive traffic to a landing page?
  • To motivate your customers to buy your product or service?
  • To influence key decision-makers in your industry?
  • To showcase your company as being environmentally conscious?
  • To clearly differentiate you from your competitors?
  • To save money on travel costs for training or sales?
  • To educate a new target audience on important issues affecting your industry?
  • To drive prospects to the booth at the next trade show you will be attending?
  • To attract the best candidates to apply for jobs at your company?
    (Pro tip: You can only pick one.)

If you can’t clearly articulate the business objective of your video then you’re wasting your time and money. ‘Having a video up on your website’ or ‘keeping up with your competitors’ are not business objectives. Determining a business objective allows you to focus on outcomes.  Lack of clear focus is the principle reason why business videos fail.

Answer this question: What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video?


Marketing is the process of communicating the value of your product or service to a specific audience. Unless you are Google or the Catholic Church {merger rumours are unfounded…} you should have a very narrowly defined audience that clearly benefits from your product or service.

You have to know exactly who your customers and prospects are and you have to differentiate your message for that specific audience. This step requires a combination of research, soul searching, experience and pain. The narrower the focus the greater the chance of success because the more likely you are to deliver a message that your audience will actually care about.

What is the demographic and psychographic make-up of your target audience? What are the needs, preferences and biases of this audience? Of greatest importance, does this audience share a specific problem that you can uniquely help them with?

Answer this question: What does your unique audience care about and how does your product or service relate to their specific concerns?


This topic invariably elicits a ‘chicken and egg’ discussion. How can you determine a budget before you come up with a concept or approach for the video.” Conversely, why would you even bother considering creative ideas without the benefit of knowing a reasonable budget range? Does it make sense to require your production company to guess / assume a budget range?

“OK!, Check out this idea… imagine… a thousand multi-coloured Toy Poodles… all chasing J-Lo, against traffic, through Time Square at rush-hour…” (If I ever see this commercial I want a credit btw.)

If there are no budget parameters then it’s impossible for a video production company to understand the scope of your project.

You might have to do some research if you have no prior experience with video production budgets, but at the end of the day you, or someone you report to, definitely has a budget for your video project. Every business has a budget. Every project has a budget.

‘Hiding’ your video production budget is not going to help you get a deal on your video anymore than hiding your budget from your realtor is going to help you get a better deal on a home. If you are unfamiliar with video production costs you can start here as a reference point.

Do this to move forward quickly:  Find a video similar to what you are thinking about and ask potential video production companies ‘what would a video like this cost to make?’ Then you’ll have an understanding of reasonable budget ranges.


{This will likely cause ‘creative anxiety’ for some marketers, but we’re still not getting ‘creative’ yet…}

By ‘message’ I mean what are the ideas, themes or topics that you need to communicate. Ideally, you’ve settled on one key message but if you have a broader purpose in mind for your video then you may want to include two or three key messages. What are the things that you need to tell your audience that will resonate with them and what do you expect them to understand AND to remember after they have watched your video.

The more messages you include in your video the less likely it is that your audience will understand and remember any of them.

This activity serves as the underpinning for all marketing – not just video. You need to know the unique value proposition that your product or service provides to the market. Everything in marketing starts here. If you don’t nail this step, then you’re creating a video that will have little relevance or permanence.

Answer this question: What specific problem am I trying to solve, how does my product or service uniquely address this problem and how do I effectively communicate (show and ‘prove’) my unique solution to that problem?


A creative brief for video production is necessary in two specific instances:

  1. When a business is tendering a video production project to a number of production houses and they want to give everyone participating enough information to quote on, or:
  2. When you are working on a video project with a team and you need to communicate all of the key points and context to that team when you begin brainstorming ideas for your video.

We’ll focus on #2 for the purpose of this post. Not everyone on your creative and marketing teams have the benefit of speaking with the client so if you want to involve a number of people in coming up with concepts / ideas for your project you’ll need to create a summary (‘brief’), that includes all of the necessary background information for them to participate effectively.

Choosing people for this exercise with a cross-section of interests and backgrounds can be very useful. While there is no ‘correct’ number of people to use in a brainstorming activity generally groups of 3 – 7 are ideal. After 7 people you tend to have too many people with not enough opportunity to contribute.

Preparing for brainstorming:  Have the team helping you with the creative concepts read through the brief the night before before you begin your brainstorming exercise. There are plenty of studies that indicate your subconscious mind works wonders on its own if given the chance.


{Finally…we’re getting creative!}

Often (especially for broadcast commercials) video projects begin as concepts in search of a purpose. (“Imagine a video with these amazing roller-blading babies in diapers, someone’s gonna want it!!!)

I suppose that if your idea is epic enough then you can tag a logo on to just about any cool concept and realize some benefit, but the execution of most clever-for-clever’s-sake ideas rarely realize the giddy expectations imagined at conception.

So, back to earth… the vast majority of video production concepts are driven by a combination of both practical and creative imperatives. The ‘concept’ or ‘idea’ can be as simple as ‘let’s move the CEO out from behind his big desk and show him actually talking to customers, or it can be as complex and grand as your imagination and budget allow.

Either way, this is where the value is really created. No one might remember who’s idea it was to invite all your brand enthusiasts to a one day event and film them talking about your product but that may be the’ big idea’ responsible for tripling subscription rates on your website.

Even though this is potentially where a significant portion of the value in a video is created, it’s very difficult to charge for ideas, so this exercise typically get wrapped up in execution costs.

There are many ways to brainstorm ideas, whichever method is right for you it’s best if you have someone leading / facilitating this process.

Get Creative:  Choose your team, appoint a leader, pick a concept development process that best suits your group… and get creative.


A ‘treatment’ is an outline of your creative approach. A treatment is typically a one page document that summarizes the general idea, the style and the actions you plan on incorporating into your marketing video.

The reason you might choose to start with a treatment summary first is because it’s better to get approval at this stage before you dive into the storyboard and flesh out the exact details of your video.

Treatments are presented when novel concepts or ideas are being considered and there is some risk that the client may first need to approve the ‘idea’ before you proceed with flushing out the details in a formal storyboard.

The risk in starting with a treatment is that you may need a detailed storyboard to ‘sell’ the concept in the treatment to the client. The risk in not starting with the treatment is that you might waste your time diving into the details of a concept the customer is not going to approve.

Ultimately, it will depend on your relationship with the client to know whether a treatment document is required first.

The treatment will also recommend a suggested length and distribution plan for the video.

To employ a stepped approval process:  Creating a treatment document can help you to present a top-level creative concept idea to a client before you dive into the details of the script and storyboard.


A storyboard is your blueprint for the marketing video you are creating. The storyboard flushes out your concept or idea and considers the following:

  • Do you use voice-over to support what is being shown?;
  • Do you use animation anywhere; do you employ actors, if so which ones and how?;
  • Do you use specific music to set a tone or maintain a pace?;
  • What locations do you shoot at?;
  • What are are the specific sounds bites we need to hear and who delivers them, etc?
  • Who should be on-camera?
  • Should we support what is being heard on-screen with on-screen text anywhere?
  • How do we manage transitions between shots and scenes? etc.

This is the step where you determine the flow, the length (more on this step below) and the structure of your video. The storyboard is the physical manifestation of the treatment. It breaks down the video into three key components:
1. Script / Narration – what is being said, by whom, on-screen or as voice-over.
2. What is being shown on screen – where is the action taking place and who or what is in each scene.
3. What other elements (logos, text, animations, cgi, etc. music track, sound effects etc.) are needed to support what is being said and shown. Even if you don’t plan on developing a detailed storyboard (as a rule, you should…) it’s still a very valuable exercise to write down the basic structure of your video.

Creating a storyboard allows you to think through the video in a logical fashion and share this vision with others. It’s also a tremendously valuable tool for accountability. You can’t ask your production company when the video is finished why something wasn’t included during shooting if it wasn’t included in the storyboard. A well written storyboard holds everyone (client and production house) involved accountable.

You may also want to create illustrated cells/panels to visually represent how you envision key scenes being shot. While this is only done on higher budget productions it does help everyone involved (including the person directing the video) to share a common vision for the production.

Answer these question: Who has to be in the video? What do they need to say. What shots, graphics and animations need to be created to support what is in the video? Where is the filming taking place? These are the elements that go into a storyboard.


While promotion and distribution are beyond the scope of this post it’s important to understand, before you finalize your production and post-production plans, how you plan on distributing your video. Knowing where, how and why people will be watching your video will help you determine the optimum structure for your video.

A broadcast audience is very different from an audience on a professional business portal and different again from someone viewing social media on a mobile device. There is little value in creating a video if you don’t have a plan for getting people to view it.

Putting your video ‘up on your website’ may, or may not, move the dial. Similarly, ‘putting it up on Youtube & Facebook’ has little value unless there is an associated plan on promoting that video.

If the video production company you are talking to doesn’t ask about proposed distribution channels then I’d suggest getting a second opinion.

Answer this question: How are you going to get people to watch your video? The answer to this question will effect how you construct your video.


While video length has to be sorted out in the storyboard phase it’s important to remind business owners and marketers that the ongoing reduction in viewer attention spans continues to necessarily shorten the length of business videos.

How long should my video be??? Shorter is better, but shorter is often harder.

Shorter seems riskier because you have to leave things out and narrow down your message to a very few key ideas. That’s difficult to do.

‘Shorter’ is a guideline, not a rule, however. Where the viewer is on the sales cycle plays a significant role in their viewing preferences. If you’re creating a product demo, a training video or something else for someone who is much further along the sales cycle, then these audiences will likely need more information to help them make a decision.

The desired length of your video depends on the motivation of your viewer. A good rule of thumb for promotional videos (targeting the ‘awareness’ or’ interest’ phases of the sales cycle) is between 60 and 90 seconds in length. Your video should be succinct and it needs to include targeted, relevant information. Oh ya… and it better be really engaging.

Answer this question:  How long does your video need to be to make your point?


Who needs to be involved in the approval process.

This is an important question that should be considered up front. Any organization bigger than a sole proprietor is subject to the political whims of colleagues and bosses.

Nobody really cares about the new web page you just put up. Everyone will care about your new video, however.

This is where a storyboard can be a lifesaver. The worst possible scenario is that someone suddenly cares about your video production after the production and post-production is complete.

There’s nothing worse than hearing someone say (after the video is completed) ‘well, I don’t think I would have said that…”

This becomes much more important in large organizations. If you don’t circulate a storyboard and production schedule to the folks involved in approving/blessing your video you may be in for a shock when they tell you that you’ve left something out or you have not represented the material the way they would have liked.

Every business video ever made has, prior to release, first been sent to at least one senior person in the organization accompanied by the question ‘what do you think?’ Good luck with that.

Answer this question:   Who needs to approve the storyboard AND then the finished video and should they get inserted into the approval process?


The size and scope of your video project will determine how many meetings and how many people are involved in the video production process.

On large conceptual projects we sometimes hold facilitated story planning meetings with a range of people associated with the project to ensure we’re getting all relevant perspectives on the project.

This process has proved invaluable in uncovering stories and reference that no one else would have known about or would have considered.

On smaller projects a simple video production brief may be enough to estimate and start the planning process – especially where a good client/supplier relationship already exists. The better the collaboration, the better the outcome.

Answer this question:   Who’s input/perspective would really be of value in the planning process?


Video shoots, even small ones, are logistically challenging. There are a tremendous number of moving parts in video production and as a result there are a tremendous number of things that can go wrong (something will…) Pre-production planning will minimize the risks associated with your next video project.

Some things to consider before the folks with cameras arrive:

Location Scouting – Where are you going to shoot and what challenges do you have at that location? Are there lighting, audio or other logistical problems that you will have to solve. A pre-production location visit and discussion with on-site maintenance or security is often necessary.
Permits – Do you require permits for shooting, sign-off /waivers for people in the video, special insurance, parking access for the crew and equipment, drones, etc.
Crew – Who is on your production crew? Camera, Audio, Lights, Director, Production Assistants, Grip for special equipment, Teleprompter operator? When is shooting scheduled to start and how much time is required for everyone to set-up and tear-down?
Equipment – What type and how many cameras do you need. What do you have as back-up if something goes wrong? Do you have all of the right lights, lenses, audio equipment, jibs, sliders, reflectors, tools, power, etc. necessary? Do you need special equipment or props or products for the shoot.
Talent or Presenters – Who is on-camera? Are they prepared to be on-camera? Have they rehearsed their lines or will they be using a Teleprompter. When should they arrive? What should they be wearing? Do they want / require hair and makeup? Are they on a tight schedule? (The answer here is almost always ‘yes’….) is casting voice or on-camera talent required?
Weather – Are you shooting outdoors. What happens if it rains/snows/hurricanes? Do you have an alternate shoot date?
Schedule– – Does your storyboard include a shotlist and schedule that lets everyone know when to arrive and how long each scene or shot is going to take?

If you consider all of the above steps and take the time to properly plan you will have a much higher likelihood of success on your next video production.

30 thoughts on “Video Pre-Production Planning Check-list – 13 Steps to a Successful Project

  1. Great! Knowing all the important stages in production is necessary in order to have a great outcome. And, with the help of a great production company, videos can never be better.

  2. Great post! Creating a great video production takes so many things to consider. Great tool, and of course great ideas. The kind of gadgets really matter as well. This is so perfect for advertising and marketing as a whole. Thanks for sharing!

  3. this is great! It’s all the stuff that’s in my head but it’s been really useful as a resource to give potential clients and idea of how important it is to think about scope and logistics of a video project!

  4. Thanks, good info.

    The share button isnt so bad…. Maybe it is on smaller phones tho…

    Thanks again for the info 🙂

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