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30 Seconds of Fame

Thinking about breaking into television? Here are the steps of producing a TV commercial on a budget.

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Q:I'm considering advertising on cable television for the first time. Is there a way to have my commercial produced without it costing an arm and a leg?

A: Television production can be costly whether you're using cable or network television. However, a cable station is more likely to throw in the cost of a basic production if your budget is at all appealing to them. You won't, however, actually own this "complimentary" commercial, and you won't be able to use it anywhere else without paying for it first.

There are a couple of ways to keep the budget for your commercials as reasonable as possible:

  • Have the commercial, or "spot," produced from 5-by-7 or 8-by-10 color photos instead of paying hundreds of dollars an hour to have a TV crew come to your location for a shoot. Whether you hire a professional photographer or do it yourself, the photos must be clear, crisp and glossy, and you'll need six to 10 great shots for a 30-second commercial. When shooting the exterior of your business, watch for things such as telephone poles and shadows from trees or nearby structures, parked cars or sun glaring off windows. Make sure the lighting is good, and think about the content of your interior shots.
  • Get a signed release form from absolutely everyone who will be recognizable in any of the shots, including employees, family members, customers and so on. If you decide you want to use a camera crew, tell them to save all the footage they take so you can use it again to produce future commercials without having to pay them to come back.
  • Go to the production/editing session. You're being charged by the hour, and it will take less time to get the commercial the way you want it the first time than to send it back for corrections.
  • You may also want to make a 10- or 15-second spot to work into your schedule. They cost less to run and can be a prudent way to add frequency into your schedule of 30-second spots.
  • Think about producing a generic 30-second spot with a five- or 10-second tag. A "tag" is a space at the end that can be changed to accommodate special sales or events without having to pay for a new commercial each time. Even less expensive, let the video portion of the tag permanently display your logo, address, phone number or web address, and just have the voice portion of the tag changed when you need to.
  • Discuss copy and music with your cable representative, and let him or her write the script for you. Once you approve a script, ask your rep to have it produced so you can hear it well before your studio production time. Change anything you don't like, whether it's the music, the voice or the way a certain word is pronounced.

Now back your new commercial with a suitable budget so people can actually see it!

Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book, Advertising Without an Agency, was written for business owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy via her website at

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.