Courtney Spence on How to Manage Non-Profit Client Expectations

In Chapter 12 of 16 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit founder and executive Courtney Spence answers "How do you balance retaining artistic control over a final story product with client expectations around what they want to see in the post production process?" Spence shares how she balances maintaining artistic - or final cut - control with meeting client storytelling project expectations. She tempers potential hurdles by setting expectations up front, including tone, shots, interviewees, etc. Once her team hits the ground, often the stories or project elements change. This is where continuing communication, coupled with confidence based on experience, help manage and evolve client expectations. Spence is founder and executive director of Students of the World, a non-profit that partners with passionate college students to create new media to highlight global issues and the organizations working to address them. Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen:  How do you balance retaining artistic control over a final story product with client expectations around what they want to see in the post production process?

Courtney Spence:  So part of what we really try to do with our partners is do a lot of work upfront.  So it’s a media assessment, it’s a production proposal that is a back and forth, you know, basically, tool or conversation through a proposal that we have with our organizations to outline, here are our final products that we will deliver, here is the tone that we’re taking, here is the shots that we’ll be getting, here are the interviews, I mean we get very detailed in that.  Of course, then you get on the ground and everything changes, and you meet people that you didn’t expect, and all these great stories pop up in ways that you weren’t expecting to see them.  And sometimes the stories that you thought you were going to find that would be great just don’t translate very well through, you know, through film, through photography.  So when we come back, you know, a lot of it is just sort of internally looking at the footage and really seeing where are the strongest stories for this organization, where are the strongest proof points that this organization is making a difference at the human, individual, family, community level, and let’s go after those. 

So we have definitely found times where we present a rough cut to a partner and they’re like ‘but you didn’t talk about the fact that we also do microfinance levels to women over the ages of 60 in this community’ and I’m like ‘we love it, we think it’s great, it’s a great program, but either we didn’t find -- we didn’t have an opportunity to tell those stories or we feel that this one story will elicit an emotional response in the viewer enough to where they will go to your website and read about the program that you have for microfinance for women over the age of 60.  You want them to go read more about your project because you can’t tell everything in a two-minute piece.  And so a lot of what we have been able to do in the last couple of years is really, you know – there has been certainly a desire from organizations, we want a 15-minute piece, we want a 20-minute piece, and there are sometimes when those, you know, documentary films really work well, but more often than not, we specialize in and really, really encourage organizations to tell – let’s tell your story in three minutes or less.  Let’s tell it in 90 seconds or less. We have such a limited amount of time, we’re gonna have to sacrifice certain elements.  So there’s usually a back and forth that happens. We have to internally say ‘okay, we’re gonna fight for this, this, and this; we’ll give them this, this, and this.’  It’s not like a one versus the other, but it’s just, you know, organizations bring us on because this is what we do.