Recently I wrote about the way in which Dannon “sourced” the creative and production through a competition on the Poptent site for its Super Bowl commercial. Since that time, it has come to light that the sound track used in that commercial was “sourced”, from an Australian folk band, The John Butler Trio, without their permission. Presumably, part of the services offered by Poptent includes securing all appropriate rights and clearances (after all they are recruiting amateur talent, so who can be relied upon to dot the “i” and cross the “t”?—clearly no one in this scenario). In the race by the client and this sourcing company to maximize efficiencies and produce a piece for the lowest price possible (paying the “winning” director $10,000 and reshooting for $30,000-$40,000), no one caught it in the process. All appropriate lawyering has and will continue to follow.
Since that time I also heard from a production company that told me that some of the commercials they had created for a client were disassembled and elements were repackaged as spec work for this same client on this same “sourcing website” that was central to the creation of the Dannon commercial.
I must admit, I have always been wary of speculative work in this industry. However, I do understand that when you are working in a talent business, there needs to be a chicken to go with the egg-no matter which you believe comes first. But somehow spec work seems to be creeping into the ecosystem rather than for its true intent to showcase an individual’s talent so that they can demonstrate their potential and be appropriately attached the correct projects in the future.
But even in its truest form, it seems that people believe that part of that showcasing can include taking and reusing material whether or not it is owned or created by others, and running with it. I am not sure what this says for an individual’s abilities or how anyone believes that it helps showcase potential.
This could be a result of today’s technology, where everything is just a couple of clicks away. However, people who are desperate to make it in a creatively driven business are all too aware of what is being created around them…and it can be easier to borrow than create. The real problem is when this behavior accepted and even rewarded.
This industry has helped brands thrive through their investment in ideas and outstanding styles and techniques to showcase them. This requires brands to believe in the work that is created for them and understand the cost and value of developing and matching talent to the appropriate job. But sad to say, in today’s business with downward pressure of delivering creative product for little money, it’s not a big leap to see spec work as a “new procurement opportunity”; flipping the model on its head to entice struggling talent and their resources to fund projects for brands.
Ultimately, however, those who engage in will see that this is not a new model or a path to efficiency. In seeking cheap, crowd-sourced solutions, clients are not creating a less expensive alternative to producing advertising content. Rather, they are engaging in exploitation and encouraging theft—and they will be on the hook for the shortcuts. Worse, they are setting up young filmmakers and creatives -and their own brands – for failure. Advertising and marketing need to be artful messages strategically commissioned by marketers. Commissioning takes money to apply skill and craftsmanship to an effort, period. There is no such thing as short cuts and no such thing as a free lunch…even if it is just yogurt.
This past week, I experienced first-hand a level of public interest in the content of advertising than I have ever seen before. I’m talking of course about the lead up to the Super Bowl. This year, it felt like the feeding frenzy of the media to get opinions and an “inside look” at what marketing strategies and creative styles and/or approaches were right in line with the marketers desire to get a jump on popularity. So appreciation for the creative skills of advertising was hitting new heights — which is all good. After all, isn’t that what this industry looks for—praise for the craft? This also provided the recognition that truly great creative, both conception and execution, are more than just important—they are crucial for effective marketing. Or is it?
With all of this happening, there was one story that stuck in my head and seemed to fly in the face of what seemed apparent that seemed to say that creative really doesn’t matter, only the medium does.
The Dannon Super Bowl spot. So here you have a marketer that ponied up $3.5MM to do their first ever Super Bowl commercial, and for creative they didn’t bring it to their long time agency (Y&R), they didn’t bring it to another agency, they didn’t go to an established director or even an experienced one– they didn’t even consider them. Rather, they put it to a company called Pop Tent. Pop Tent has a network of budding filmmakers that each got the “opportunity” to shoot commercials at their own cost and submit them to the client. If they “win” they get $10K. The client boasted that they didn’t use their agency because they needed something “truly creative” and that they normally would have run the spot as is, but since there was “star talent” they reshot for $30-$40K. Wow, their normal creative partner cannot deliver something “truly creative.” Rather than insult them, they should fire them.
I know what you are thinking, “Doritos has been doing this for years. Well not really. Doritos uses this “crowdsourcing” as a public competition with public voting and huge PR attached for the big prize of $1MM and in addition it’s really a joke, because as we all see on Facebook within our networks (“vote for my spot”)—it’s all advertising people doing this on the side, so the “public” really doesn’t stand a chance—but it still gets the hype—and Doritos still gets its ad for free (unless it pays out, which it has in most years, gladly).
Dannon did this as an “invite only closed competition” and as a clear way to get 31 kids to do creative and production for nothing—with only the promise of giving the “winner” $10K—in the end they “bought” two; and in the end they also got what they paid for– a trite spot that was akin to them bringing a knife to a gunfight; a nice enough spot for perhaps “The View,” but not something you should want to step out with in front of the largest TV audience in history and a public that is putting you under a microscope. But this approach was something that was the lead of their press release— and the ill- thought out concept that it is a truly ground breaking approach designed to “beat the system.” It’s their wasted money right, and missed opportunity–so who cares?
My problem is that this model feeds on the notion that creative and production is a commodity and just about anyone can come up with a “winning idea.” While no one has a lock on creativity– there should be a confidence in professionalism. I spoke with the “winning” 21-yearold director who knows that this is not a way that he can make a living and is really just looking to put his time in and get signed by a production company—he loses money on these things, literally investing in brands (of which he has done seven for major marketers), and marketers are all the happier to exploit his fledgling talents and his shallow pockets. I likened his position to that of an indentured servant waiting out his penance, paying global corporations to look at his talent so that he can get on with his life. He laughed. I didn’t.
The problem is that we are (one job at a time) feeding into this notion that devalues the art and craft of the talented creative community—and not only allowing it to happen, but enabling it. Instead of sitting on the sideline and acting as an “on set consultant,” I wish that Y&R had told their client that they were out of their minds. I wish that Y&R had fired their client if they insisted on bypassing them at this important juncture for their brands development. But these are wishes, and I am not picking on Y&R, because this type of placating of client’s ill-conceived notions about efficiencies permeates the industry—it’s not just with one agency. Clients need to respect the “system’s” ability to find, train and deliver the best talent available– if they continue to think that they can find better talent on the street, shame on us.
We all need stand up and illustrate that we are valuable on the creative side…if not, we are destined to look like bloated soft costs that can be substituted for an “American Idol” system as opposed to “measureable media transactions”. Don’t believe me; read this from AdAge:
“…last week it was reported that even as Unilever hikes spending on media, it’s squeezing agency fees and production costs. ‘We significantly reduced our nonproductive spend during the year,” (CFO) Mr. Huet said. ’As you know, that’s the money we spend on production costs and agency fees, money that’s not directly driving the exposure of our brands to the community and consumers.” ‘
Content is King, right? Not if it is seen as “money that’s not directly driving the exposure of our brands to the community and consumers” and as “nonproductive”. Every Unilever agency should fire their client if this is how their talents are valued… perhaps they can hire Simon Cowell to manage their brands.
Envy…Inexperience…Money…Proceed…Gills…it’s not easy…
I’ve always liked to think that doing the right thing should be reason enough to change behavior—however, as we all know, habits are tough to break and convenience sometimes wins out over “doing the right thing.”
We have all experienced the rise of “reusable bags”— I must have received about a half dozen as holiday gifts this past year, and they are for sale and handed out (logoed) everywhere you go (over the holidays I saw a stack at a funeral home while attending a wake…no thank you). I’ve often carried a few around with me as I shopped, and used them when I remembered, but it wasn’t necessarily a habit — and by the looks of the number of the white-handled single use plastic bags I see every day — it still isn’t for most.
Beginning last spring, in the village where I live, those little white plastic bags were banned. Legislated out of existence. Since then, many neighboring towns and villages have followed suit or are in the process of doing so. Now carrying around reusable bags has just become second nature—and if not on hand, small paper bags (by law, made of 30% or more recycled material) are an acceptable substitute.
All this made me think of our discussions about moving from our annually published AICP Membership Directory (200+ pages of reference material, laminated covers and tabs and a swirling metal and plastic binding) to a mobile based App. Of course, it was “the right thing to do” but would people be ok using it? After all, we have been publishing this book for the better part of two decades, and people await its arrival every year (or so they tell us).
We had discussed moving away from print two years ago, and even did a survey of our members who overwhelmingly said that they might use the App, but still wanted the book—so we left the book in place, and kept working on ideas for the App. As we moved into spending quite a bit of time/energy/resources developing the AICP App this past year (thank you IMC), I kept wondering how to condition people off of the book; it seemed crazy to print one as well as release the digital version, it seemed not only irresponsible, but just plan OLD. Only one thing came into my head. What would Mayor Bloomberg do? When he banned smoking in all New York City bars and restaurants in 2003 (and this past year in public parks), it was the right thing to do, but to some, it seemed that all civil rights had been taken away. Now, you can’t go into any major city in the world where smoking is still totally accepted. Sometimes you just have to do it and let the world catch up for “the right reasons.”
So is legislating something the answer to making positive change happen? If it were only that simple our politicians might be ranked higher in the view of the public (last year, in an annual “most respected professions” poll they were ranked next to the bottom —just above telemarketers and just below sex workers). Some things can’t be pushed into existence; they need development with a practical balance between the right reasons and efficiency. Even with the smoking ban, it was achieved in incremental steps – from smoking and non-smoking sections to smoke free.
That’s why when it came to developing an official AICP Green Production initiative it seemed that guidelines and discussions of “best practices” were the practical approach, rather than laying out a set of rules that MUST be followed for a production to be green (sorry Mayor Mike).
After all, much of what is done in production has a lot to do with a willful collaboration with the agency and/or client in process and in willingness to absorb the costs for “alternative” procedures. So we need to get on the same page — and this is going to take time to find our way to the right balance for each situation. As you will read in this week’s Spotted, a very committed AICP committee has drafted a combination of practical green production initiatives and resource guide for all things green in production.
As we kick into a full launch of these initiatives (an initial peek was available for those in attendance at the AICP Conference in October) we will do so keeping in mind our balance of learning from experience, practicality and effectiveness. At an upcoming AICP Town Hall meeting there will be a forum where discussion and shared experience will rule the evening. There will be a panel discussion headed by Bonnie Goldfarb of harvest—the chairperson of the Committee that authored these guidelines. This will be just the first of many discussions and shared experiences to get us to a place where we feel we are all “doing the right thing.”
JUST SAY NO…
About 30 years ago, many of us were introduced to some of advertising’s greatest work — championed by the First Lady of the United Sates, Nancy Regan(.) I’m talking about the “Just Say No” campaign, which birthed so many memorable PSAs. Of course many of us at the time were the targets of that campaign (not armchair industry analysts), and for some younger readers, who were introduced to it sometime thereafter, it was already American vernacular. It ran for the better part of two decades and was expanded out to many different areas where those driving America just wanted to be clear with our kids that there is an obvious answer when pressured with something that that is not good for you, and is being foisted upon you – especially in your less confident developmental years.
So, it seems so simple that in today’s business environment that I would just tell you this simple slogan when business pressures are mounting and untold things are being pushed from atop the food chain. Well, it isn’t simple now, and you know what, it wasn’t then either.
But one thing is true and absolute – through our actions and through the boundaries we draw for ourselves, we define who we are. We define what we will do, and what we won’t do – each of which becomes habitual.
We are facing so much change in the industry, with new entities representing the clients and telling us that “everyone is doing it,” and that this is the “new way of doing business.” They are applying unthinkable pressure to find “efficiency” and “value” for clients, to do “more with less” and create “new normal.” Know one thing: by bowing to this pressure – or not – together we are defining the industry.
Sometimes we need little reminders.
For the second year running, at the AICP Conference, we had corporate procurement experts on the stage. And for the second year running the same picture emerged. They are not production specialists; they are purchasing people who think in a very methodical way. They apply pressure to a process and to a resource to find the absolute bottom where one can still operate but deliver the best value to them. That is their goal.
Their message has been clear. When you keep delivering quality advertising, with shrinking lead-time, and as they keep applying more stringent cost control guidelines, they feel that they have not yet reached their goal, and they will continue to apply more pressure until they find the point where it reaches diminishing returns…or until you say “no.”
When a resounding “no” is truly understood, that is the point that they understand it cannot be done.
We are at a time of development right now, not unlike adolescence. We are finding things new and possible, we are all working in ways that we never thought we could and are being asked to do things differently. This is all exciting and opens up great possibilities. It doesn’t mean that as a company you need to sacrifice profitability.
I urge you to examine the business situations that are being put in front of you, analyze them for what they are worth and define yourself with your actions.
We all know people who ended up on the wrong side of saying yes…and we all know some who said yes and came out the other end fine – after “experimenting.”
At a time of great change in the industry we are all finding our way…but we are collectively redrawing the boundaries and defining what will be expected of an entire industry.
Keep your eyes open, and observe what is happening to those around you– know what is good for you and what is not– and certainly don’t do things that you know will only lead to bad because you are being told “everyone is doing it”.
We are experiencing the Procurement Age of advertising – an age where everything is “purchased in process,” an age where the feeling is that there is always a better system, and everything can “be had” for less–some how, some way. In production, no matter how many natural efficiencies exist with a competitive multi-bid system, and how much production has already been managed down to a low single digit margin business, there always has to be more to squeeze. This is a time when cost consultants acting as the procurement foot soldiers are taking advantage of this thinking to actively look for new and innovative ways to consult clients regarding new areas for newfound efficiencies in production. One of the recent trends has been to encourage clients to reap the State tax incentives and credits meant to act as revenue generators for the States as one such “efficiency.”
As an example, On APR’s website they list their Top 10 Ad Production initiatives for clients in 2011. Number #7 is:
Put Money Back in Your Pocket with Production Incentives. By taking advantage ofstate‐sponsored production incentives, you could receive up to 30% back on shoot and post‐production costs. A number of states like Illinois, New Mexico and Louisiana offer varying levels of rebates, re‐sellable tax credits and other incentive programs to commercial producers. Not every project is appropriate for shooting in an incentives state, but each project should at least be evaluated for incentives potential during the pre‐production phase.
Hmmm. Doesn’t that say that states offer “incentive programs to commercial producers?” It doesn’t say “to clients who commission producers.” And there is a reason for that. Production companies make production decisions based on budget, creative approach and various other factors .
So now the big idea is “take these credits” and call it efficiency. The question becomes: “whose incentive is it anyway?”
Back in 2002 on the heels of the great exodus of production – when one out of every four shoot days by American production companies was shot outside of the United States – AICP got involved in an effort in Louisiana, spearheaded by AICP member HSI, to create the first state tax incentive program. At the time, the studios and networks were focused on trying to get a Federal tax credit, which in my opinion seemed highly unlikely in light of the national agenda.
Knowing that the states compete as fiercely as they do for low impact, high yield economic benefit — looking to attract industries that support local labor and local businesses – AICP felt it was more likely that state governments would invest in incentive programs for film production, which directly employs several (relatively) high paying positions from a local pool and would lead to further investments in production infrastructure for states (like Louisiana) that didn’t have much film production.
This endeavor also seemed integral to saving the ailing infrastructures of the American production centers, as commercials weren’t the only media leaving the country. Movies of the Week had all but disappeared from U.S. soil. Additionally, feature films and episodic television were taking advantage of many of the tax incentives being offered abroad—especially in Canada – and were fleeing in droves. Many called this a stage of “runaway production.” AICP never used that term as we just saw it as the beginnings of global competition—and that this (incentives) was just one of the aspects taken into account during preproduction financial considerations.
In our segment of the industry, we were all still licking our wounds from the six-month labor dispute with the Screen Actors Guild. Clients had become quite comfortable with the notion of their commercials being shot overseas as more of our companies had developed the relationships and ability to execute complex projects that previously would have only been done outside the country if there was no other choice. But one thing that we understood was that when producing abroad there where many more risk elements, less control, and less of an understanding of the American style of production. And while overseas companies were learning to work with our members, and jobs were being pulled off, it was with much more difficulty – and it was taking a toll on the American business.
Overall, this was starting to drive down the price point in client’s expectations of production values. After all, while production risks were high in many foreign countries, production companies were shouldering that risk, and labor costs were cheap. We started to see a real movement to “meet this price” or “reverse” bidding. “We have $400K, can you do it?” even if the board was pricing out at $600K.
With the current dominant system of “meet this number bidding” (in the most recent AICP Members Survey, 65% of respondents said they were usually asked to meet a specific dollar amount) and the grind for “efficiency,” producers many times weigh in the factor of the incentive as a place to potentially recoup some of the monies that have already been removed from the budget during the bid negotiating process in deciding whether it is worth doing a job. This is a process where the seller and the buyer are negotiating to find an acceptable price. Once determined, the buyer CANNOT come back and ask for considerations that have been weighed in to determine what makes the negotiated price acceptable in the first place.
The States have earmarked incentive and tax credit money for the production companies, who they know make various decisions, trying to make budgets work and trying to compete on their costs and still give the most effective creative solutions and put them on the screen. The State legislators have earmarked these funds to be spent locally – engaging local businesses, employing local labor, and getting producers to consider their locale while figuring out how to best meet their production needs.
Incentives and tax credits are meant to help American companies compete on a very grassroots level, helping small and midsized businesses keep their work at home whenever possible, not to further enhance multinational corporate balance sheets.
Let me start by saying that I am a guy who likes a good party – and I appreciate others who are like-minded, which tends to be many in the industry. It also might be one of the reasons why I get along so well with so many of you. It’s also an enjoyable part of my job to have a great staff to work with in planning fantastic events that celebrate our community and our industry. I love the fact that as a producers’ group, we produce what we are told are the best industry events each and every year in many cities across the country. These events being held in such high regard are a fitting tribute to the work featured in the AICP Show and Next Awards. In fact, the events trade magazine, Biz Bash, has for many years selected the AICP Show at MoMA one of the top events in New York City.
In many cities, starting with the AICP Show premiere in New York, a tradition has developed for companies to throw “AICP Pre Parties “ and “AICP Show After Parties.” While we have nothing to do with these parties and sometimes they create some confusion about our involvement, for the most part I think these are positive continuations and add-ons to the overall vibe surrounding the importance of the Show and say a lot about the fact that people want to expand upon the celebration.
What has been puzzling though, has been that in the past couple of years, as we see more of these parties popping up, they keep eating into the actual event. Pre-parties are ending after the start of the event leading to mass less-then-fashionable late arrivals into the front end of the event (and in many cases the actual screening). Likewise, after-parties are starting earlier and earlier…I have seen some planned for as early as 2 hours before the “main event” ends—and the buzz in the middle of the event turns to “which after party are you going to?”. I refer to these phenomena internally as Premature Inebriation, and Post Party Deflection.
So my question is: “why?” It’s pretty simple…. Pre should happen before; and after should happen, well, after. And after, as defined by Websters is:
Aft´er Pronunciation: åft´tẽr
|a.||1.||Next; later in time; subsequent; succeeding; as, an after period of life.|
|2.||(Naut.) Hinder; nearer the rear.
|prep.||1.||Behind in place; as, men in line one after another.|
|2.||Below in rank; next to in order.Codrus after Ph bus sings the best.- Dryden.|
|3.||Later in time; subsequent; as, after supper, after three days. It often precedes a clause. Formerly that was interposed between it and the clause.After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.- Matt. xxvi. 32.|
If an event is going end after before, it is not “pre”… and if it is to start before after– that would be during…and during to me means conflicting. Why would anyone create a conflicting event for their guests and put them in the dilemma of suffering from one of the stressful aforementioned social and mental dilemmas?
We are heading into another fantastic tour, starting this past week with a stellar event in LA which was a continuation of possibly the most successful of all of the 20 AICP Shows at MoMA— So my advice to you is– enjoy the events as planned– And my wish for you is that you have no peer pressure quandaries that may bring about the symptoms of Premature Inebriation or Post Party Deflection—it could put you on the couch, or worse….
There are a few thoughts I have as the 2011 awards show season draws to a close. I have a unique perspective of what the shows mean for the industry – and what their responsibility is – since the organization I lead hosts one of the most important shows in the world. (I know cocky—but shit, its true.)
The first observation is that no matter what people say, and how they react, people LOVE awards shows. Of course, they love to win. But they also love to talk about winning work. They love to handicap, and they love to critique the judges’ choices. And they love to assess and comment on the state of the industry based on what’s in the shows.
This year there were quite a few opinions, but one thing that’s for sure: there was some amazing work honored by the entire industry for so many different, yet very valid reasons. Nike (bold & ambitious), VW (incredibly charming), Allstate (unexpectedly outside their comfort zone), Target (new experiential ground), Gatorade (inspiring), Levi’s (beautiful and honest). And the list goes on.
In addition to being honored across many categories at the AICP Show, and in various areas at other shows, what is most interesting to me is that much of the outstanding commercial work was recognized as winners in our Next Awards Viral/Web Film and Integrated Campaign categories. While this should not be a surprise, it is too significant a measurement to leave unacknowledged. Clients have been looking to understand ROI and the value of investing in entertaining ideas, and drawing correlations to likability since the beginning of time. There is no more definitive measurement of either than the consumer’s desire to seek out and share a piece of communication. While each piece looks and feels very different, they share one commonality: earned media, which is the modern day holy grail.
So at a time when procurement and cost cutting consultants slice and dice their way through budgets using terms like “efficiency,” marketing oriented clients are finally seeing the payoff of putting out bold, creative and entertaining messaging. Ironic? Yes. Counterintuitive? Of course. Earned media offers real analytics – the type that CEOs truly pay attention to and boast about. And there is never a footnote on an outstanding piece of work crediting how much the budget was squeezed. Clients are starting to respect and cheer for their pieces that come up winners, and are no longer dismissing awards shows as agency and production company ego trips at their expense. They recognize and embrace that brands have the opportunity to be famous—to resonate and become part of pop culture.
Another observation: People love a good party. And, if I do say so myself, the premiere of the 20th Annual AICP Show was one hell of a bash. Perhaps the best in our 20-year history. Why is this important? At the risk of telling all of the other awards what is in our secret sauce, here is what it is: the work is the guest of honor at our event. It is first and foremost. It is treated with respect. It is presented in and produced in a format that is entertaining, beautiful and appropriately respectful – everything from the moment we invite the work for consideration, through all the judging , down to the quality of the annual program, the tickets, the title design, and the party – reflects this ethos. After all, if we don’t treat the work and the evening in a respectful, artistic and well-produced manner, why should people trust us with their work?
Which brings me to my next observation—entries. Entries are the life-blood of an award show. Without the right work submitted for consideration, the judges cannot select the right work that will define a year in advertising. Of course, our project of archiving all of the work in the AICP Show and Next Awards with the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art emphasizes to a greater extent the importance of the right work being considered and placed in this amazing time capsule. But it is always mind boggling how many important creative powerhouses delegate the task of entries to underlings instead of putting the best and most strategic minds on the task. Then, people say “how could such and such not have won in that category?” It’s simple. It wasn’t considered because it wasn’t entered.
I cannot speak for other awards shows, but I can tell you one thing…the primary goal of the AICP Show and Next Awards is to create a collection of work and a celebration that will make each and every one of you walk away from our event reminded of why you got into this business in the first place. Why you love and respect all of those amazingly talented people that you collaborate with every day in all crafts—and to feel that you rightfully celebrated yourself and your ingenuity. An event that will make you say: I can’t wait to get back to work and get myself into MoMA and in front of my peers next year.
I recently went to the VCU BrandCenter for a Board meeting – what amazing energy and creativity; I’ve never come away uninspired! I have many conversations with the students (usually a big source of said inspiration). This time around, one of the students (a first year creative technologist) was telling me why he has a turntable and listens to music on vinyl. Such a novel thought, since he probably wasn’t born when vinyl was the primary delivery system for music, but he prefers the whole experience, including the superior audio quality imparted by vinyl and the types of music only available on albums. (BTW, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his way of saying, “look how fashionably retro I am old dude.”
It got me thinking of the first time that I moved from listing to albums through a tube amplifier to CDs—something seemed different about the sound, but it was really clean, convenient and cool. Now even the idea of a CD seems old-fashioned – we’re so used to mp3s, with their ultra-convenience, portability and unbelievable ease of access to content. But all of us who know even a wee bit about audio technology know that we are giving up fidelity a little bit at a time with each generation of digital high compression. Sound reproduction just isn’t the same, even with the far superior headsets we now blast.
The purpose of pointing this out isn’t for readers to start rolling their eyes about what a Luddite I am, or to think that I could start an anti “i” revolt—don’t worry, I too am a firm believer that “i” stands for “ingenious,” “innovation,” and now, “institutional.” And I’m also practical about the tradeoff of convenience of technology and ease of access to mostly indiscernible quality to most of the music consuming public.
My reason for bringing this up is this overall impression that in the wider world people are starting to believe that good enough is, well, good enough. So I turned my mind to the struggles in advertising today, in particular to new business practices and the friction between many purchasing-minded clients and the creatives. As discussions become based more on bean counting, rather that creativity and quality, the fear is that “good enough” will prevail.
Good enough in our business happens when people stop using the full potential of their creative partners because there isn’t time or money to fully explore the creative solutions. Good enough happens when buyers stop fostering and valuing the full process and look for shortcut solutions.
We are in an industry of artists and craftspeople, not technicians, who always strive for perfection, and who think all aspects of even the most mundane assignment has artistic merit. We will spend hours lighting a bottle of liquid just right to make the shot that much more appealing – because we believe that the smallest details matter and make the end result stand out.
As we move into a world where more of our end product is consumed on smaller, handheld-screens, and not on a “big screen,” and marketers are obsessed with quantity of video product, adapting to a “good enough” philosophy seems to be a very tempting order of the day – after all, it allows for cranking out more material for the endless emerging pipelines more quickly and less expensively.
I am here to remind you that not only is good enough NOT good enough—it’s penny wise and pound foolish. We see over and over again that well crafted communications not only stand out and garner attention, they also get earned media payoffs that only the pilot of South Park ever enjoyed in an analogue world – only exponentially (YouTube alone has 2.5 billion views a day).
Clients are the first to laud viral successes and boast of “free media,” pointing to YouTube hits as a benchmark for “consumer engagement.” But here is the rub: They can’t have it both ways. They cannot institute cost controls that constrain the process by dealing with the creative product as a manufactured commodity and then expect that people will apply the level of detail and attention that will make for a truly well crafted, exceptional creative product worthy of such attention.
Success will never be measured with incremental cost control, but in making sure that the end communication – which is the result of a long line of collaborative research/development, great thinking and superb craftsmanship – isn’t good enough, but is truly outstanding.
It’s funny, back in 1989 when I started working in the Trade Association game at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), there was a group under the ANA Advertising Management Committee (the equivalent to a committee of senior management and CMOs) called the Television Production Management Sub-Committee. It was quickly spun off as its own committee, and morphed (morphing was a revolutionary technique around then) into a group called the Production Management Committee, which is still in existence. The inclusion of the word “management,” to me, was the core essence of that group’s mission. At the time of its inception, ALL of the members of that committee were corporate salaried, staff employees of the client who generally had a good handle on the production process and knew that their role was to productively manage their agency relationships and ultimately make sure that they were getting the best possible work product at a fair price.
What does true effective management mean? From an ideological point of view, it’s identifying the roles of all of the stakeholders; understanding the need for constant communications; the feeling of true cooperation and collaboration by all invested parties; AND, perhaps most importantly, the knowledge that truly effective management is letting those who you have hired to do something—do it.
In fact, the first project I worked on with that group (along with senior and knowledgeable groups from the 4As and AICP) was a flow-chart and a best practices outline for production including a fairly accurate chronological mapping of “events” and important moments of communications– 20 years later this flowchart still has quite a bit of relevance, particularly when it comes to understanding these important realities of truly effective management. (Click here to view.)
In the past 15 years, or so, a layer has emerged to that old linear model outlined in that flow chart. The layer I’m referring to is the cost (“production”) consultant. Consultants started to come on the scene when clients were phasing out those corporate individuals (mentioned above) who had been working as an internal resource to the marketing and advertising services department. Simultaneously, agencies were letting go many seasoned production professionals (Heads of Broadcast, Business Affairs Managers) in favor of hiring 3 for 1 young, inexperienced, (and inexpensive) ones. This left the door open for consultants to fill these newly created gaps and gain confidence at the client (marketer) level by challenging an agency’s ability to ably manage the client’s money, and paint many production companies with a tarred brush as pirates ready to rape and pillage if left unchecked. In many ways, there was a new sheriff in town—one who’s sole job was to instill mistrust and try to create their own value by applying pressure to “manage” costs, not to bring value to the process. These individuals also started to populate the ANA Production Management Committee—which in itself was fairly telling.
Today, consultants are very much part of the fabric, and their role as “consultant” has shifted significantly as the cost mystery of production has all but vanished, and the client’s abilities, especially in cost control, have in many cases caught up and even exceeded theirs. Clients are now back in control of “managing” marketing expenditures including production—not from their expertise, but instead from a procurement philosophy.
So where does this leave the cost consultants? They are now really stepping in for the procurement departments as “the interpreters” and have taken the role of supply chain manager – trying to “translate” production speak into procurement speak so that corporate purchasing professionals can more easily apply buying policies to production.
But are they adding value and do they have a role as more than a hand-holder? They, like many others in this industry, are being forced to examine their own models. Most have turned to the term “production consultant,” shunning “cost consultant” – after all, no procurement person worth their salt needs to be consulted on cost control, right? Most now deny that their primary goal is to save the client money, rather, they are an outsourced “translator” between the client procurement department and the “creatives” to “find efficiency.” They are staffing up with former production company owners and personnel—to try to gain better insight into how the world actually works (or at least worked when these individuals had operating companies)—and to get some creditability outside of their reputation as merely cost negotiators who use slash and burn techniques.
One of the model shift theories bantered around by many consultants (not using the “C” word as a modifier—out of respect) comes under the handle “de-coupling”—and while it sounds more like something that you might “reflect upon” during marriage counseling gone bad, it does attempt to solidify a real position and a managerial role in a radical model.
The theory of de-coupling starts with a basic premise: the agency creates the concept and the production company executes it. Traditionally, this has been a direct, linear and quite interactive relationship. The agency selects and hires the production company, manages the process (check the aforementioned flowchart), the concept and the execution is refined and ultimately completed by ongoing dialogue, even during production. Cost consultants advocating de-coupling believe these roles are separate and distinct, and should be officially separated (de-coupled), purchased and managed individually (and more efficiently) by the client—or more likely, by the consultant on behalf of the client.
I would argue that de-coupling (initially discussed by consultants in a whisper) does not take into account – or at the very least, discounts – the importance of collaboration in creative development between the creative team and the production/directorial team. Merely de-coupling doesn’t bring any new creative value or true efficiency. It merely re-jigs who is doing what and replaces the agency producer and broadcast business affairs function with one re-conceived by the consultant, who would take the expert/consultant position for a much less production savvy, but much more powerful, corporate procurement group. (For more insights on procurement, see this “Advertising Age” article.) Procurement is now very much involved in the purchasing of creative—whether or not they truly understand it, and whether or not the procurement techniques used on purchasing hard goods and commodity items works for the custom creative product that is commissioned.
What needs to be called into question with de-coupling is whether it is truly an added value to the client. While I have discussed shifting business models in previous postings and at many industry forums, and we all recognize and even embrace the fact that relationships are changing and many production companies are starting to work directly with clients on a more regular basis, and many agencies are starting to produce certain content (or certain elements of content) in-house. The question is whether “de-coupling” is a model to work under or is just consultant-speak for “we can have value in this new world too.” If procurement is truly now part of the mix, and they are bringing in-house much of what the cost consultants have done for the past decade or two—what is the role of the consultant? Are they agency, producer, or merely an information resource cobbling together individuals who can make clients more comfortable as they assume their management role—and will they bring true value or are their days numbered? I guess time (and their own true proven value through marketing procurement developed matrices) will tell.
In the dark days of the 2008 financial crisis, Detroit and the U.S. automakers took a real beating – Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy, and received bailouts from the U.S. Government. As all this was unfolding, the automakers’ ad agencies began instituting clauses in their contracts with creative partners (including production companies) to protect themselves from financial commitments being made by their toxic clients. The automakers quickly established Draconian payment terms to help with their cash flow that saw production companies receiving their first payment well AFTER commencement of the first shoot day and final payments months after the job had been completed – this meant these small businesses were essentially providing financing interest free—something no company in this business, big or small, is structured or set up to do.
My reason for bringing this up is not to revisit this horrific time for our industry and the nation’s economy – one that we are all now much more optimistic about, with the crisis in our rearview mirrors – but rather to point out that despite emerging from bankruptcy and government protection, the carmakers are still insisting upon these types of payment terms, which are designed to have their vendors bankroll their financial commitments.
Both Chrysler and General Motors are expecting to be profitable in the coming year (as they have been in recent quarters), and each automaker has ramped up its marketing budget, including their lauded spots in the Super Bowl last week. General Motors had five ads in the Game (the most of any marketer), while Chrysler bought two minutes of time (the longest spot ever in a Super Bowl broadcast) to air an homage to Detroit’s tenacious history.
Good for Chrysler and General Motors – they weathered a tough time, and seem to have come through it as better-positioned companies—and the country and this industry stood by and cheered them on. (We won’t discuss the fact that the federal government still holds tens of billions of dollars in their stock). They are once again relying on strong marketing communications to let consumers know that they are back, with better products and a desire to succeed. They illustrated that they should be viewed as world class companies by broadcasting exemplary messaging on the most important stage in American advertising. That is true grit. That is strength. That is confidence. Clearly, they are back in the fast lane (or at least have their blinker on).
So if this is the image that they are looking to portray, it’s time for these marketers – their procurement executives and their agencies – to step away from the war-time policies that got them through the crisis, and get their business practices back in line with the industry norms; practices that are indicative of doing business with fair minded clients, and not ones that are teetering on the cliff’s edge, with their hands out.