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Media Proposal Checklist

The process of evaluating media proposals presents unique challenges. Since few foundations have media programs, it is rare for a foundation to have internal guidelines for assessing media proposals.

This checklist identifies ten frequently asked questions about media proposals. It also offers assessment guidelines. You might use the list internally with colleagues or you may distribute it to grantseekers. Feel free to copy this list as-is, or alter it to suit the particular needs of your foundation.
  1. Does the program fit within the mission of your foundation?

    This is the question first and foremost on the mind of any program officer. If the subject matter, the target audience and the intended impact of the project all match your foundation goals, it is a proposal worth reviewing. If it is not a match for your program specifically, perhaps it is of interest to a colleague within your organization.

  2. Is the project original?

    The producer needs to have researched whether or not there are similar or related productions already in existence. If the topic has been covered before in significant ways, how will this production differ? A complete proposal should include a short section describing the producer's research into existing media.

  3. Has the producer carefully defined the audience?

    Often proposals are general when it comes to audience using phrases like “the audience for this film is PBS viewers.” The producer needs to be specific about the demographics of the target audience in terms of such items as:
    • age
    • gender
    • economic background
    • ethnicity
    • religion
    • geography
    • size of potential audience

  4. Does the audience need the programming?

    A strong proposal will include quotes or letters of support stating the need for the program from individuals and from organizations that serve the target audience. If the proposal does not include this information, program officers can contact grantees directly to see if the project is of interest to them and their constituents.

  5. Is the distribution plan solid and realistic?

    Again, proposals are often too general on the subject of distribution. In some ways this is understandable because producers cannot get commitments from end-users until they have seen the finished work.

    However, proposals can and should be specific about distribution and discuss options. For a documentary intended for broadcast, the producer should address cable outlets and international sales-not just PBS. If the program is meant for educational distribution, who are the specific distributors that serve the target audience? The proposal should include quotes or letters of support from potential broadcasters and distributors.

  6. What is the outreach and promotion plan? How will the project attract its target audience?

    Every media production is in competition with a myriad of voices (in the media, the home and workplace) vying for the audience's attention. What specific strategies, tools, resources and partnerships will the producer use to draw people to this production?

    For example, if the project includes a Web site, what are the specific steps the producers will take to promote the site? What is the plan to secure free advertising, reviews and links? Will there be any paid advertising? If so, where will that appear?

  7. Work Samples: Does the mediamaker (and her/his team) have the appropriate talent and experience?

    The resume of a veteran mediamaker speaks for itself. That of an emerging or younger media maker may not. Previous work samples are the most important indication of whether the producer can successfully complete the proposed project. Program officers do not have to be experts or critics to evaluate work samples. If you like what you see, that is enough.

    Producers often create a sample tape specifically for the proposed project. This is meant to give potential funders a taste of the content and style of the production.

    Sample tapes can be confusing to program officers as these are often works in progress. It is rare for producers to have a big budget for sample tapes. Therefore, the technical quality of the sample is often not as high as it will be on the final production. In terms of content, while making that sample tape the producer often learns valuable lessons that inform the final production. This gap between what the sample tape looks like and the written proposal can be perplexing to program officers.

    Producers should address this head-on in the proposal. If there were budget limits that impacted production quality, producers should say so. If the focus of the program has sharpened, producers should identify these changes.

    If, however, the producer does not address these issues, the program officer should not hesitate to ask the producer specific questions about the sample tape.

  8. How to evaluate the budget?

    In the eyes of many foundations, media projects are expensive. There is a certain amount of “sticker shock” when the budget for a documentary is as much or more than the annual operating budget of entire organizations that the foundation supports.

    But when evaluating the budget for a media proposal, it is helpful to look at the budget in comparison to comparable media projects—not other types of projects or services. For more details on evaluating budgets, go to How to Read a Budget.

  9. How to assess the time line?

    Not all media projects have an extended time line, but large-scale projects, like documentaries, usually do.

    On average, it takes a filmmaker about three years to raise the funds for a documentary or film, about a year to produce the film, and about a year to get the film into distribution. Some projects take much longer. There can be unforeseen challenges that extend a time line beyond the producer's initial projection. Producers need to be realistic in creating production time lines.

    It is worth noting that films have a long life span once completed. After the initial broadcast or launch, a film can have steady videotape sales and be rebroadcast for many years to come.

  10. How to assess the impact of a media project?

    There is no easy answer about evaluating the impact of a media project. Media projects create impressions and stir emotions in ways that may change lives forever, and there is no way to tally that.

    However, there are methods for doing quantitative and qualitative evaluations of media projects. A proposal should include realistic quantitative targets: How many potential viewers will see the program? How many tapes will likely be sold over a five to ten year period? How many people will visit the Web site? How long does the project expect the average visitor to explore the site?

    Qualitative evaluation can be done by the creator, a presenter, or an independent contractor. It usually involves interviews and surveys with audience members.

    It is important for producers to address evaluation in the project proposal and budget.

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