How We Leveled Up & Got Better Clients

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Patrick Ortman, PLUCKStudio New York & Los Angeles

Today I’m going to tell you stuff that most people wouldn’t ever admit to publicly. If it helps one or two of you it’s worth it to me. This is a story about figuring out who you really are, and then taking steps to change things for the better.

Let me back up a little. I’m Patrick Ortman, and I’m a principal at Pluck. We’re a creative studio.

We didn’t start out that way. We started out under a different name (mine), as a straight-up video production company. We’d do pretty much any kind of video project we were offered,  outside of weddings or adult videos. No offense if those are your bread and butter. We did a lot of pretty good work and even got a stellar reputation in certain circles. Most important to me as a new dad, we eked out a profit a lot of the time.

But we had problems. We were totally dependent on the whims of any potential client who’d come through our doors. Because, to most of them, we were completely interchangeable with about 50 other decent production companies in our big market. We were a cog. Disposable. A commodity. 

It sucked. It was pretty normal to walk into a project that we knew should be an $X project, and be told that their budget was really $X divided by two. And then, after delivering our proposal being told that they found a company willing to do it for $X divided by four. Of course, the lowball company would stink it up. But most of these clients really did not care.

Meanwhile, pretty much everyone on our team felt creatively underwhelmed a lot of the time. Sure, we’d get the occasional awesome project that put a real spring in your step. But doing mediocre work has a way of making you feel… mediocre. 

Things needed to change. What’s more, it was clear that if we wanted these changes we’d have to change ourselves.

So I wrote a manifesto. It was pretty crazy, think wall-of-whiteboards covered in barely legible handwriting. Don’t worry. I won’t go there, because what it really boiled down to was:

  1. We will only do creative projects.
  2. We will always do the best work possible. 
  3. We will treat clients like we want to be treated.

It was a little ballsy. I mean, look at it — number one, about only doing creative projects? That meant turning down a lot of work! Number two, always doing your best meant we’d have to put more of the budget onscreen instead of in our pockets. And our pockets had needs. Painful! And number three? Well, I’d like to think we always treat people well but this was about going the extra mile. And that’s not easy. All in all, this manifesto required a lot of courage to implement.

But the benefits were immense.

Focusing on the kinds of videos we wanted to make and turning down stuff that didn’t fit simplified our sales and marketing like you wouldn’t believe. Looking at previous years’ results, we’d spent a ton of time chasing projects that weren’t right for us. Which, after all that effort to land, we’d rarely get anyway. Maybe for you it’s not about focusing on the type of video you do best. Maybe it’s about focusing on a specific industry. But focus, however you do it, really helps in a crowded competitive world.

Always giving our best helps us be more mindful. And it doesn’t always mean turning down work if the budget’s low, because sometimes there’s circumstances where it’s perfectly OK. Maybe the client is a nonprofit organization with a message that aligns with your values. Or maybe you see true potential repeat business potential. Most important, by always doing your best your portfolio will fill up with work that really represents you.

Finally, always treating clients like you want to be treated helps build trust. Trust is earned, not given. When a big part of your business rests upon your client trusting your creativity, processes, and pricing, trust matters. 

So that’s what we did. But make no mistake: none of this happened overnight. It’s been almost a year. We’re getting there. 

We realized that these sea changes in our business required changing our company name to something that’s more “us”. We chose Pluck because it means heart and courage. 

We needed that courage to let a lot of old clients go. We turned down a raft of potential new projects, too. Some of which still provoke the occasional second thought.

And we landed our biggest client, ever. And we got representation, which is huge.

All it took was years of struggle, which I hope you can at least partly avoid. Plus some deep thinking and self reflection. And a bit of courage and heart. 

It’s almost the holidays, now. It’s a great time for some deep thoughts about where you’d like to be this time next year. I wish you success, and a happy and joyful holiday season.

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About the Author

Patrick Ortman
Patrick Ortman
Patrick Ortman is a principal at Pluck, a Los Angeles & New York creative studio that’s worked with 12 Fortune 500s and global brands, plus smaller businesses and world-changer nonprofits.

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