May 27, 2016 at 2:39PM


How does an ad agency choose a video production company to work with?

More importantly, do ad agencies even work that way? I'm looking to get into shooting national television commercials, and honestly have no clue how ad agencies work. I'm looking to find out if an ad agency hires a production company, or has a cinematographer on retainer, or someone working directly at the ad agency as his only job? Thank you in advance, for any help you can give me!


The agencies I know work with production companies, not individuals. A national TV commercial (15- and 30-second spots) might have a crew of 40-50 people over a two-day period (one day prep, half-day shoot, half-day strike). The production company handles the many different unions (camera, audio, electrical, lighting, wardrobe, makeup, etc) which, together, make the shoot happen.

This may sound very counter-intuitive, but they usually choose to work with those whom they have worked with (successfully!) before. The way to break in is to get a job at an existing production company and develop such a great reputation there that agencies begin to ask the production company for *you*. When you have enough people asking for you, and you think you are ready to run the show, start your own production company. With luck, enough people who liked you will jump ship to your company, but don't count on everybody converting: there may be other people and services that the production company offers that they also value, and that may cause them to keep their business with the original company, not your new one. But once you have your own company, with high-profile clients that support your high-quality reel, then agencies might consider you for new work, and you can grow the business that way, too.

May 28, 2016 at 3:59AM, Edited May 28, 3:58AM

You voted '-1'.

Thank you so much! I know I'm naive when it comes to stuff like this - so far I've only shot local television spots, which I know is a completely different animal from national spots. From what it sounds like, my next task should be primarily focused on landing a job in an already well established production company. I guess I need to figure out how to do that!

May 28, 2016 at 3:24PM, Edited May 28, 3:24PM

Ethan Swords
Cinematographer/Editor & Owner of Cinematic Technologies

For full broadcast jobs, agencies are often expected (by their client) to have three production companies/directors bid on the job. It comes down to a mix of previous relationships, the directors work, the director's treatment/pitch and the proposed budget. It all starts with relationships and trust that for the large amounts of money spent, an great job will be done. If it's a known director, that works or maybe a production company could vouch for a new director (with a reel of creative and interesting work).

May 29, 2016 at 4:42PM

Brooks Reynolds

I used to work for an ad agency, we would make "spec" commercials to try and win contracts. It actually helps a ton but the company or you is putting up front the money to create these spec commercials, but to be even considered, make sure your spec commercial is close to the real thing as possible in quality.

But if it doesn't work out, you should have some cool stuff for a reel that will help.

May 31, 2016 at 2:30PM


I hope your agency won enough contracts to make it financially worthwhile. Unless you're making very cheap spots to go after very small clients, it is a very risky move- not only are you devaluing your work and risking almost-certain overall financial loss by presenting finished work for free, on spec, you're also making big decisions on what's best for the client before getting to know them. If it worked, good for you, though.

David Ogilvy has a few thoughts on clients and agencies who go that route, it was my redeye reading last week :-)

If you're "just" a director or production company, spec spots are really important when you are starting out, especially. And they can jumpstart new directions for you, if you've been pigeonholed in a genre you want to break out of.

June 2, 2016 at 9:01AM

Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.

Do you have a link to Ogilvy talking about agencies doing that? TBH I've never even heard of agencies making spec spots, seems like an odd business model for sure.

Brooks Reynolds

June 2, 2016 at 2:08PM

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