Role Call: The New Management Chain
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.