17 October 2011

The Role of Creative Production

Exploding Growth in Media Formats Puts More Demand on Creative Production

It’s a cruel quirk of advertising lingo when financial terms creep into normal business practices and hijack their identity.

One such example is “below the line.” In the days of Ye Olde Marketing most agency invoices were simple calculations of a 15% commission. An accountant, faced with expenses that had to be billed as one-time fees, drew a line on the invoices and listed the non-commissionable items below it. The commission structure hardly exists anymore, but the important work of Digital and Promotion gets stuck with a moniker that connotes second-class status.

Production: "Non-Working?"

In a similar way, Media and Production expenses are defined on some budget documents as “Working” and “Non-Working.” Production is said to be “Non-Working.” More than a few agency producers have complained about this term, especially in an era of tight budgets. Anything called “Non-Working” is just begging to be reduced.

At the very same time in history that Production budgets are squeezed, its role is more important than ever. As a colleague succinctly put it the other day: Exploding growth in media formats puts more demand on creative production.

Production costs were predictable in the past. Each discipline, be it Advertising, Promotion or Direct Marketing, knew what kind of programs they could expect to do. The biggest variable was a higher cost for a more elaborate TV commercial, in-store display or mailer.

Two Kinds of Complexity

In modern times you see two kinds of added complexity. One is that there are many new channels of communication, or as my colleague put it, “media formats.” As we’ve posted before, even “TV” isn’t that simple because it entails various online versions on top of the standard broadcast :30.

The second kind of complexity is that if we truly start a project with a channel-neutral or media-neutral approach, we won’t know ahead of time what mix of old and new formats we’ll be producing.

How to Cope with Exploding Growth in Media Formats

Here are a couple of suggestions on how to cope with this new dynamic.

Consistent Brand Voice. If your brand reinvents itself every year or every quarter, you not only risk confusing your consumer, you make creative production less efficient. Even the most routine IMC program these days has many moving parts across Advertising, Retail and Digital. A consistent approach will make it easier to produce things on the fly. To be clear, the goal is not cookie-cutter creative, it’s running a tight strategic ship.

Plan ahead. A digital agency creative director joked to me once that IMC stands for “I already Made the Commercial.” Too often, TV artificially drives the process. Instead, use to your advantage the long lead times demanded by retailers. A good client-agency partnership will plan one year ahead of time for best synchronization of efforts.

Media neutral production. Starting a project with a consistent brand voice and one year of lead time is useless if you then just assign production silo by silo. How can the various specialists help one another? At some point each one has to tend to her own work, but starting everyone from the same place makes it easier to synchronize.

Be a cost-control maniac. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: That’s why God created Procurement. As marketers, however, we have a responsibility to deliver great work at a reasonable budget. Challenge yourself and your colleagues to find new ways to save money. (At some point in the near future we’ll elaborate on this point.)

Any other experiences, suggestions or questions?


  1. Thanks Steve, a solid post with some sharp suggestions.

    I'm looking forward to your future elaboration on point 4 (coincidentally this is also on my list of "future posts").

    More specifically, if you really go deep into cost efficiency you have the potential upend the whole table.

    Plan ahead, be media neutral, have a consistent brand voice...all very sensible - but if you then manage to produce at 50% of your traditional costs, you open a whole new window of opportunity, risk and complexity, which blows the first part of the cycle wide open.

    And in today's world, that's not an empty promise. You can very often get it done for less, you just have to understand how to manage it.

  2. Steve:

    A really nice article, particularly the history and the current perspective. I would just point out to help address Martin's question of understand how to manage costs you have to, as you indicated, plan ahead. An expensive TV commercial is one thing, the same price (or nearly that) for a TV, online viral, in store, print, etc., program is an entirly different thing. Clients will always, and should always, be cost consious; it is our job to show them the value in their "non working media" or whatever better term we come up with for production.