How to Avoid a Costly Trap and Save Thousands

By Josh Gold

Here’s a quick tip to save you from a thousand-dollar mistake:

If there’s one piece of advice I could make sure my clients listened to, it would be: Always have a plan.

Or, to put it another way, never film “just because.”

Organizations often get excited when they have a prominent speaker or special event coming up, thinking that this will be a great PR opportunity. They ask me to come in and film the speech or activity, certain that they’ll be able to find a use for the footage later. It’s a rare occasion and they don’t want to let it go to waste.

I understand the impulse. In my experience, though, there are a lot of ways that it tends to go wrong.

1. No vision

When I get the call for these kinds of projects, the first thing I notice is the vagueness and ambiguity. The client senses that there’s a good use for this footage, but because the decision to film it is a second thought and not the main goal, they haven’t worked out any of the details. As a result, they aren’t able to give me any real direction. What is the footage going to be used for? Who is the target audience? What is the message?

When we film, we don’t just point a camera and put it on autopilot. We’re constantly making decisions on set.

What do we focus on? Whose story do we tell? What is the narrative we are creating?

These are choices that we can only make if we have a goal in mind. Without that, there’s a good chance this expensive footage is going to be useless.

2. No control

When you make the choice to film a live event, you are taking something of a risk. This is not a controlled environment where you’re in charge of the lighting and can ensure that it’s perfect, or fix it if something goes wrong. You can’t predict whether the audience will be attentive and engaged, and you won’t be able to bring the energy up if things are too slow. You don’t know what’s going to happen. The only predictable thing about it is that it’s completely unpredictable.

I see it as my job to help clients share the best of themselves with their donors or prospects. We work together to find the moments that will film well and to capture them in the most effective way possible. But these uncontrolled environments make all that harder. If there’s a live event going on, we can’t move around for a better angle, or prompt an interview for a better soundbite. I can’t do my job properly, and I won’t be able to deliver the kinds of results I believe in.

3. No followthrough

I have found that when clients initiate a project without a real plan, they are all too likely to let it fall by the wayside, never to be seen to completion.

They surely had good intentions, but something that you go into so halfheartedly is never going to make it to the top of the to-do list. It’s a shame, but it’s the reality.

Even worse, when a client spends money on a wasted video like this, that’s a part of the budget that they won’t be able to invest in something with real promise.

They’re trying to seize an opportunity, but the truth is, they’re handicapping themselves instead.

This doesn’t mean that you should never film a one-time, exciting event. It can be a great idea to show off what you’re up to, keeping your supporters in the loop and maintaining or building your relationships with the community. You just need to make sure that you’re doing it right. So go in with a plan: Why is this event important? What does it mean to your supporters? And what sort of final product(s) would help achieve the result you want from sharing it with them?

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars through video-based marketing. You can follow Josh and his team over at and