That’s a pretty big statement but there are no qualms that this is easily achievable, by breaking a few industry conventions and being a little lateral with our thinking here and there. It is the micro-decisions through the creative and production process that will achieve massive improvements in efficiencies, and potentially to improve strategic alignment and creative quality too.
Chase the dollar to your advantage
Right now, Australia is performing at around 80c to the US dollar. When pulling a production together the costs for each individual and each service provider is roughly aligned dollar for dollar in most western cultures, but when you overlay a currency shift there is an immediate additional value without compromise to the quality. This is even before any of these further suggestions below, so a 20% saving is actually conservative. Yes, there may be additional travel costs for your team and if efficient about that, and potentially adding some streaming services into the mix, you are likely still well ahead. Australia may not always be the best option, but right now this is worth considering. The talent in Australia is world class, and coupled with a whole lot of other smart ways to work – the value is there.
It is likely that many global brands are outsourcing various parts of the creative process to a bunch of independent services all with their overheads applied, and the impact on your time and the agency’s time to supervise them all is adding further to the expense of your projects. A recent project for a medium to large brand saw multiple service providers involved in a campaign, and for the agency to keep integration on track they just increased their head count in meetings so everyone was kept up to speed. One meeting alone had a head cost of around $20,000 AUS, and all those hours would have been applied to the bill to the client (directly or indirectly). The fact that the hours were spent on the client’s business was the agency’s justification that they were warranted; just validating the process. There has to be a better way.
By using centralised services with more kept under the one roof keeps everything on brand, but the costs are also impacted when using multi-talent services and individuals in many ways. Whilst agencies may be worrying that this is breaking their income streams, that’s not the case at all. They will have more to go further in fact. There are not many brands who are cutting their marketing budgets, but just about all want to be smarter about what they do with it. If we can execute more great ideas for our clients just by being more efficient, we’re growing the client’s business, reducing unnecessary time sheet write offs and putting more ‘on the screen’ so to speak. That’s a win/win all round.
Creative and production don’t have to live together
If your global agency is driving the strategic direction of your brand, there is no reason that creative concepts can’t come from a more efficient region even in the big agency networks. There is no question that even with the dollar conversions that having an Australian arm of a big multi-national agency could offer some efficiencies and still deliver world standard work. Many Australian agencies these days will work on concepts by project fee with no expectation to produce the work. The ideas are the asset to be executed where the market value or efficiencies are.
Often the big multi-national agencies purchase concepts from each other and the global clients are none-the-wiser, so there is no reason a global brand with project based creative can’t shop outside their backyard to make the most of the efficiencies and have a fresh look at the brand. Likewise there are many independent creative teams that will deliver world class concepts on a project fee, directly also.
Likewise, an international client can surely be free to have a production service in other (better performing regions) to produce these ideas, with or without the local agency.
Avoid the agency ‘Gang Bang’
Excuse the expression, but this is an industry-wide term for multiple creative teams who are given a carte blance brief for a brand’s campaign, to come up multiple with ideas. Agencies like to do it because it gives everyone a chance to ‘play’ with ideas, it keeps everyone competing with each other (and hungry), and also the volume of ideas means they think there will be better ideas. That’s all good, except for one thing… the client usually pays for the head hours somehow or the agency can never recoup the costs and has a massive write off as a result (sometimes to slowly recoup on other projects bit by bit). There are alternatives that still produce amazing ideas, and in the end the agency will actually be reducing their own write-offs and overspending to retain more profit.
On a recent project the result of an agency ‘Gang Bang’ meant that ideas were approved by creatives who didn’t understand the brand and multiple teams working independently putting their own personal flavour in each execution, and the result was the work was off brand and certainly wasn’t even close to a ‘one brand voice‘ suite of work.
Involving a select few production partners at this early stage is also a valuable way to flesh out the production execution and any storyline issues to avoid wasting time working up concepts that are just not viable or ultimately flawed. Having these ‘Gang Bang’ processes mean the production department can’t keep up and they often don’t even cast an eye over the job before it goes to the client (a recipe for disaster).
Matching a select few talented creatives who deeply understand the brand’s business, and are the right culture fit with the client team, can be really effective and cost efficient. If a good creative team can’t come up with the right idea then they shouldn’t be working, or maybe the brief or strategy is off track.
Avoid expensive scoping costs
Many agencies spend incredible hours accurately quoting up each project with the head hour count for this adding to the time sheet charges. Many inexperienced agency personnel need to source accurate and specific external quotes from multiple suppliers in order to know the impact of the execution and the costs for each concept. An experienced producer is likely to be able to give an early indication of budget range with around 5-10% deviation to accuracy very quickly, without much head hour cost. To provide a quote ready for signature with every dollar accounted for, takes a lot more time and often may just be rejected – being a total waste of time. It is like that expression by Thomas Edison ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration’ only ‘Viability is one per cent perspiration, and accuracy is ninety-nine per cent perspiration”.
Many clients don’t ask for viability and budget overviews first and instead ask for a ‘quote’. Some agencies don’t think about viability first either. There is certainly a head cost for this luxury.
If the agency team were able to work through ballpark costs and execution earlier, at concept stage, there is also the opportunity for clients to understand the cost of each concept before choosing a final one too (therefore not backed into a corner).
Don’t get attached too soon
It is common that the idea lives in the ad agency for some time before coming to the client for approval, and the longer they are attached to that idea the harder it will be to have them let go of it, if it isn’t right or if it is too expensive. The agency can be tempted to work up the concepts over and over and into fine details, with well presented artwork and presentations. That certainly adds to the costs, when a genuine tissue paper session with a client can flush out the most viable concepts without adding to the costs.
There is always a creative concept or execution for any budget and if the agency is pushing hard for a concept that is out of budget range then everyone looses. It is ignorant to think that there aren’t other ideas where that one came from (…pretty sure it was Bill Bernbach that said something exactly to that effect).
Often the production teams are not consulted before the agency and the client fall in love with the script, with production struggling to deliver the brand values at the end of the day and pushing jobs over budget. So, don’t get attached too early.
Global doesn’t have to polarise local
Many brands are rightly concerned that global campaigns don’t always work in local regions, as that very important strategy and customer profile is often different for different regions. That may be the case regularly, but not always. It is common that many clients and agencies don’t ask this question and just assume it wont. Shooting content that works for global use is certainly going to deliver cost efficiencies, and if done right there is the opportunity to ensure it works for the local market too. Many agencies and clients alike think if it ‘wasn’t invented here’ that it can’t work. Let’s open the question up and make it a conscious decision, rather than just blindly assuming it wont.
Production in Australia is a brilliant opportunity for global work, with one of the most multi-cultural communities on the planet. It would be difficult to find a nationality or culture that couldn’t be depicted effectively.
Budgets don’t have to be the same year in year out
There are lots of wonderful creative agencies that genuinely care about adding value to their clients, and respecting the financial ebbs and flows of the client’s business pressures. Sadly, it is often that clients can be pushed into spending money they don’t need to, with the agency purely reflecting back on what was spent in years past as justification for the costs. Many agencies have a vested interest in what they sell, some times this is innocently done because they don’t know another way or always worked that way.
Many marketers only have the expertise to evaluate a production budget based on what they spent in previous years too, and the agency uses this to their advantage. If a brand wants to set a lower budget for creative and for production because of business pressures or to maximise growth, then the agency actually does have the power to write and produce effective work for a lower budget and to be respectful of these boundaries.
If anyone in the production chain says it can’t be done, then they’re not being creative about problem solving on the client’s behalf. Some of the most amazing and inspiring work has been produced over the years without a massive budget. There is always a way.
Don’t pay for people sitting in dark rooms all day
The way that the creative process works is changing. Traditionally agencies have sat in editing suites, colour grading sessions, and sound studios for days on end all at a head hour costs to the client’s budget. Sometimes there are rooms with 10-15 clients and agency members in there for fear of every hour they are not involved in the job adding thousands to the production budget in revisions. We no longer need to work this way with many remote services and also smarter suppliers who work independently without the expensive suites with luxury catering, on site barista, and the open bar (yes, there was a time the agency was served coffee bean martinis in a colour grade).
Many marketing teams feel they need control and want to sit in every session too, which in turn means that the agency have to turn up too and additional people that wouldn’t normally be involved in the production process as well. This all further adds to the head hours.
It is possible to do more by allowing the experts in what they do to get on with their tasks without every inch being supervised. The agency and client can be assured of production quality and creative direction by establishing key criteria in shorter working sessions, and then leaving the production team to deliver to that brief. Key frames for colour grading or voice submissions can be shared widely with the group with consolidated feedback coming via a producer who knows what they’re doing to get the best result.
A crucial strategic process that is missing in our industry is providing the strategy documentation to the suppliers and creatives who are actually making the work. Often the strategic work stays with account service or the strategy department. If there had more understanding of the strategy and audience there would be less need to be monitored every inch of the production at an expense (More on this here in a white paper ‘Strategic Production – 5 Imperatives to close the strategic gap in marketing communications “)
We no longer need to work the way we used to, which means we open up the global opportunities to do things in fresh ways, both creatively and cost effectively too – for both the agency write-offs and for the brand’s marketing efficiencies.
Budget and plan well in advance
Nothing is going to add cost to your budget faster and more significantly than having inadequate time to come up with concepts and budgets. Everyone along the chain in a creative project will have the knowledge and ability to add value or to be smarter about how to produce work for the brand if they have time to work through solutions. If it is familiar to you to hear the agency say to you that the budget they are presenting (that may well be over budget) is the only option, with marketing teams forced to sign off because time has run out – then that’s criminal.
More fore-planning also means that there is more opportunity to look at maximising the content that can be produced within the same budget – like producing stills while on set for the TV, or making extra versions to perform better in other channels, or using different production talent that can do multiple tasks for the same budget, or recycling and re-purposing existing content. Planning well ahead is the one tactic here that may well have the biggest impact on saving costs of all.
The trick is in deciding what you do with that extra time and it certainly wont help the bottom line if that is to add more options, more revisions and spend more time getting it right of course. There’s a sweet spot in making creative great and over-cooking it.
Anne Miles is Managing Director and Executive Producer of International Creative Services, an artist collective and full service creative projects company.