What will come of Free the Bid? Ask Sweden

October 31, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The Swedish advertising industry introduced the same initiative two years ago. So has it worked?

Free the Bid is the latest move towards gender diversity for the advertising industry. The initiative, founded by B-Reel Films director Alma Har’el, encourages advertising agencies to include one female director in every three-way pitch on their scripts.

It’s a bold gauntlet to throw down – a chance for agencies to put their money where their mouth is on gender diversity and pledge to at least consider a woman’s vision to bring their ideas to life. Some have taken the pledge very publicly, others have quietly slipped their names into the hat, but the majority of agencies seem to have either ignored or not noticed the scheme so far.

It’s caused a lot of conversation, not least Alma’s discussion today with David Reviews Editor Jason Stone and the APA. But one point not everyone is aware of is that it’s already been tried elsewhere.

Sweden introduced the One of Three initiative in October 2014 to try to address the shocking gender imbalance in directors making commercials.

Devised jointly by the Swedish agency and producers associations, it set out the same guidelines for the pitching process – that at least one director on a three-way bid should be female.

To find out how the Swedish market has changed after two years with this guideline in place, we called Henrik Eriksson, a producer who was Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association at the time of One of Three’s introduction.

The Beak Street Bugle: Has it worked? Do you feel there are more women directing stuff?
Henrik Eriksson:
Absolutely. The amount of female directors is better than what it used to be. There are more female directors active, there are more female directors available and there are more female directors pitching. So it has changed a lot. I think companies here feel that the rest of the world is contacting them now to use their directors. There is something moving.

The attitude has absolutely changed. The demand is out there. Representing female directors can lead to scripts on the table or more pitch possibilities. It doesn’t mean they always win, but at least they get a chance.

And I don’t think it’s just Sweden. The demand is increasing everywhere. We made a change with this concept and it’s continuing elsewhere. It’s great to see this happening in the US and the UK.

BSB: Did the Swedish agencies all commit to One of Three two years ago?
HE:
It’s a recommendation, not a hard rule. We launched it together with the Swedish advertising agency association [Komm], saying this is our recommendation. We were pointing the way to a better industry.

It hasn’t failed, despite what some said at the beginning. People did have their reservations. I know that in the beginning the female directors felt they didn’t want the spotlight on them because of their gender. They didn’t want to be seen from that perspective. They wanted to just be directors and judged as such.

It was a feeling that we had to challenge internally. We had to convince people to use this chance. From my perspective the only failure was that people did not understand how much work we did to change people’s minds to think differently. And it’s different today.

BSB: There was a concern when we first covered the initiative that female directors would get signed and would get to pitch on scripts, but would never win those jobs. Has that been the case at all?
HE:
If you feel you will lose, you will not win. If you think you will do the best film, you have a better chance to win. From the beginning we should always invest in talent and if you don’t believe you are investing in talent – no matter what gender – then you shouldn’t do it. Good production companies wouldn’t sign a director without talent, just because of her gender. But if you think you can get work done as well as make the industry more diverse, this is one way to do it

It actually put the spotlight on producers to show that we care and we want to be leading, creating great films. Companies also got attention for caring, thinking and being creative.

It’s natural but people got very defensive when we launched it. I was quite surprised: ‘It’s not going to work.’ ‘We can’t do it over here.’ ‘It’s not Sweden.’ It was a change and people are following it now. Unfortunately the move is still very slow. We could have done better, but we still made a change which we are proud of. We are happy that other countries are following.

The female talent has always been there. But we needed to create a demand for it. And it worked to push it. You need to work hard as a production company to get scripts for new talent and this was one way to get new talent working. That’s the producer’s job – developing new talent.

BSB: Will the guideline still be necessary in the future?
HE:
I think it has to be there to remind people until we all are satisfied. We have to remind ourselves when making films that we are showcasing what the world looks like. We need to do that in front of the camera and behind the camera. We have to have that proper mindset every day in all divisions. This is one subject and then there’s ethnicity, class, disability – all these other ways we need to improve.
 
When you talk or write about it, it feels so big. I don’t see it as big. We made an impact and it changed the industry slightly for the better and we still work with the subject. And of course UK as a leading creative center has a big responsibility to care in all levels, and this is a great opportunity for any company to do so. If you don’t care and don’t like women, don’t forget, it´s just a recommendation.

A Pint With… Andy Brown

October 27, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The man at the head of Jogger Studios UK is excited to be living in the future.

The last piece in this series saw me break out my Soho comfort zone, but this is my first international A Pint With…, accompanied by the beauty of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. A few hours after I landed for the Kinsale Sharks, The Spaniard was heaving with familiar faces from London’s advertising community. But I hadn’t actually met Andy before so we were going in blind.

Having awkwardly identified each other, we went to the bar and made an attempt at drinking Irish – a Guinness for him, a pint of the even more local Murphy’s for me. With so many friends out in the sunny beer garden it was hard to conduct a one-to-one chat, but we managed to cover some varied subjects be-fore the party engulfed us.

“…It’s natural to be suspicious of change. But there’s nothing we can do about it. Everything is constantly moving. It doesn’t stand still, although there are some con-stants. People still come out to Kinsale every year and have a few pints of Guinness and a chat in the sunshine.”

“…But it’s good to challenge yourself. A few months ago some friends who are keen open water swimmers suggested we all do a 10k swim, twice around Lake Butter-mere. That’s farther than I can run. I eventually agreed to do the 5k. I thought I was going to die about 750m in. But, eventually I got round. Not last. Didn’t drown.”

“…It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube. I’ve been trying to learn more about photography. From people teaching you how to use a feature on a specific camera to lectures from whole photography courses. It’s all out there for free. So empower-ing.”

“…YouTubers are more talented than you might think. The people who are successful on YouTube do the things right that have always been true about telling stories. They’re engaging characters, they’ve shot things pretty well and spent time on mak-ing good pieces of work.”

“…It’s amazing what you can create on a phone. I was recently asked help someone out and shoot some footage of a yacht for their website. One of the things that makes video footage look home-grown is camera movement, so I got a handheld gimbal stabiliser. It’s so good. It made such a difference. We shot on my iPhone 6S from a little speedboat and circled the yacht and it turned out really well. There’s so much know-how that goes into a piece of kit like that.”

“…Smaller post houses are possible now. We wouldn’t have been able to do this ten years ago because it would have been too expensive. Now it’s within the realms of possibility. You can set up several suites and compete with the bigger companies.

“…We take images and try to improve them. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a 30-second commercial, a short film, a music video or website content. Budgets may vary but it’s all the same discipline, really.”

“…I hate how algorithms think they know me. I don’t want to be predictable. I like to think I have fully eclectic taste in music, spanning every genre, so it’s really annoying when Spotify gets it just right.”

“…It’s easier than ever to do trans-Atlantic post production. We’ve changed our iden-tity to become Jogger Studios, to link ourselves up with our partners across the globe. It’s surprisingly easy pinging builds and footage back and forth over the Atlantic. Ge-ography doesn’t slow things down anymore.”


Andy Brown is Partner at Jogger Studios (formerly Four Walls).

What Do Production Companies Do?

October 27, 2016 /

By Laurence Green

An Agency's View

They build brands.

I’m a creative agency leader, though I took the road less travelled. I’m an account planner turned leader, a rare species. (Account men like to lead. Especially the account men who are men: it’s in their genes. And so most creative agency leaders spring disproportionately from their ranks.)

And because planners get involved at the front end of the creative development process, skip the messy middle bit and re-engage at the back end, I’m probably one of the least well-placed people in adland to answer the question, “What do production companies do?”

Sure, I’ve been the strategic midwife as several great ideas have been born… but rarely seen them through to the production sharp end. I didn’t go to the Skoda ‘Cake’ shoot. I didn’t go on the Cadbury ‘Gorilla’ production journey. I didn’t spend a few days in sun-drenched San Francisco on the Sony ‘Balls’ shoot. (I know, I know.)

Then again, maybe that distance means I am one of the better-placed people in adland to offer a perspective on what production companies do. Because while I don’t know what you technically do, I do know what you actually do.

“In the factory we make cosmetics. In the stores we sell hope.”

Charles Revlon’s famous dictum still pops up reliably in planning Powerpoint. Legendary marketing professor Theodore Levitt’s variant, “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole”, runs it close in service of much the same point: that results are the things to work back from, and not necessarily products and features. They remind us to wear a consumer hat when we think about what we do, of what market we’re really in.

For all the recent fog in our world, I believe creative agencies are not in ‘the advertising market’ – or, worse, the content business – but rather the time-honoured business of building clients’ brands (and thus profits).

A stronger brand is our clients’ ‘quarter inch hole’, the outcome they seek, since brands deliver not just short-term sales spikes when they advertise but a flow of future revenues as our partiality to them endures.

It’s a truth that has echoed down the post-industrial ages. Indeed, over a hundred years ago, John Stuart, then Chairman of Quaker Oats, reasoned: “If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar - and I would fare better than you.” He’s been proved right ever since, as even the sceptics have been won over by branded companies’ superior returns and valuations (Deutsche Bank the latest to board the brand gravy train.)

And because short-form film is our best friend when we go about building our clients’ brands (counter to rumour, TV remains the pre-eminent brandbuilding medium, this thanks to its unparalleled reach and ability to stir the emotions, the wellspring of brand goodwill) I believe commercial production companies remain critical running mates for agencies in that endeavour.

So what do production companies do? The same as creative agencies: they don’t make adverts, they build brands.

Perhaps you think I am being too generous? That as a planner I should be more circumspect about the value production adds compared to the mighty contribution of the strategist? Value the message more than the messenger? I think not.

The best planners inspect not just their results but others’ also, and so see the effectiveness contribution that great film makes. And the evidence is actually becoming more pronounced, not less, that great ideas given brilliant expression massively outperform less distinctive or engaging work.

(As L’Oreal might say, here’s the science bit.)

No lesser body than the world’s leading marketing science practice, Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, has recently proposed that the most effective advertising copy works between ten and even twenty times harder than the least effective. 

Our very own IPA’s peerless Databank proves it is fame and emotional appeal - typically the fruits of what we shorthand as ‘creativity’ - that drive that superior return on an advertiser’s hard-earned cash.

And better work doesn’t just drive higher purchase intent. It also impacts on the price people are prepared to pay for your product (and, in time, on the price they actually pay).

According to Ameritest, one of North America’s biggest pre-testing companies (no, really), a pool of 11 different Tylenol commercials not only demonstrated significant differences in claimed purchase intent for this relatively prosaic product, but an 18% swing in price expectation also.

The authors of that report conclude: “What is interesting is that it is not just the rational features and benefits being communicated that drives price expectations. In fact, the rational statements that the message was important or that the viewer learned something new are less strongly correlated to price expectations than the statements that address the emotional component of the advertising. Having an involving story and ads that are worth telling friends about boost price perceptions. A commercial that is boring and ordinary will cost you.”

This, then, is what production companies do. They expertly realise creative visions that - in the words of Richard Flintham, my running mate for 18 years - “could still be shit” in order to create superior advertising effects and stronger brands for our clients.

I may of course have overstated my ignorance of the modus operandi of the production company earlier.

I know that Chris Palmer and Gorgeous employed the skills of the Royal College of Icing (seriously, who knew?) to build a replica Fabia from marzipan, liquorice, jelly, Cadbury’s Flakes and Lyle’s Golden Syrup before the studio lights melted it all.

I know that Juan Cabral and Blink undertook what by anyone else’s standards was an insane pre-production expedition to find exactly the right gorilla suit.

And I know that Nikolai Fuglsig and MJZ were buying up pretty much every coloured ball they could lay their hands on in the days before the ‘Balls’ shoot in a steadfast refusal to add more in post.

These are the production stories that reach even the planner’s desk. But they are not in themselves the point.

Gorgeous made a commercial that endeared a problematic brand to millions, moved Julie Andrews’ estate to release ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ for commercial use for the first time (the night before we played out as it happens; squeaky bum time) and was even named Autocar’s Ad of the Year.

Juan and Blink combined to make British advertising‘s first mass market viral, a commercial that is still being talked about and spoofed today, and which resurrected Phil Collins’ ailing career (sorry about that).

Nikolai and MJZ broke the very mould everyone else was working to. Uploaded by onlookers to Flikr as the cameras turned, ‘Balls’ turned advertising into event, arguably the first commercial to properly mine the then nascent social media.

More importantly, of course, Skoda enjoyed record sales for a relatively incremental model; brand leader Cadbury sales spiked an improbable 9%; and Sony had to take their commercial off air while they built another factory to satisfy demand.

It wasn’t the messages we sent from the manufacturer that created those effects, it was the impression we created on their behalf in our audience’s heads and hearts. Impressions (lasting ones, as it happens) that sprung ambiguously from brave ideas, shared visions and ambitious execution.

The best production companies keep agencies and their clients honest because they work unapologetically back from the audience rather than forward from the brief. In doing so, they help advertisers to the disproportionate effects that many of them crave and that all of them should.

 

Laurence Green is a Founding Partner at 101.

Signed: Jodeb

October 27, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Prettybird have just signed an effortless storyteller with an eye for the exotic.

Jonathan Desbiens, better known by the pseudonym Jodeb, is a Canadian filmmaker hailing from the small town of Shawinigan, Quebec. He started doing his own VFX at 12 years old, while making skateboard films with his friends. This natural passion for filmmaking saw him continuing to helm short films and music videos through his teens. Jodeb later opted to tackle fine arts at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières to enrich his style rather than go to film school. It is within this parallel—the balance of simultaneously studying classical art history, literature, painting, sculpture, and glasswork while continuing to hone his self-taught skill for directing, editing, colours and visual effects—that Jodeb developed his creative voice.

Jodeb has spearheaded music videos for the likes of award-winning artists Skrillex, Imagine Dragons, Swedish House Mafia, the Weeknd, Cypress Hill, Zedd, Porter Robinson, Deftones, Tinashe, Halsey and A$AP Rocky. A self-proclaimed “dreamer,” he often channels a love for exotic locations and cultures in his works.

Jodeb displays his flare for cinematography and character development in his long-form music videos for Point Point’s Life In Grey and the 21-minute promo for Skrillex titled Still in the Cage.

Since garnering the attention of studio executives (in particular for his Skrillex and Point Point productions), Jodeb has begun developing his first feature film.

Watch some of his work here:

It’s Not Easy Being Green

October 26, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

AdGreen founder Jo Coombes knows it’s hard. But green production is coming and it’s getting easier.

If you ask them, most people in advertising production would say they care about climate change and sustainability. In their personal lives most people probably recycle as much as they can, buy locally sourced organic produce and try not to take long showers. But in their professional lives so many still jet around to shoots on every continent and throw mountains of on-set waste into landfill.

AdGreen founder and freelance production manager Jo Coombes knows how daunting the prospect of greener production is because for the past two years she’s been pushing against the way things are done, challenging unsustainable practices. AdGreen exists so that others can join her in this crusade: educating the ad industry on climate change and sustainability, and supporting production companies in acting more sustainably by developing best practice.

If you’ve ever wondered what you can do to take on climate change, the AdGreen website is a great place to start. We sat down with her to find out why.

The Beak Street Bugle: Why does production need initiatives like AdGreen?
Jo Coombes: Producing shoots is particularly wasteful - anyone who’s been on set would agree. Catering waste, sets and props, throwaway costume, drives: almost every department is responsible for something!

And of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended): BAFTA’s albert initiative has concluded that the three biggest culprits in terms of emissions are waste, energy use and transport. Waste is something we can see, and easily reduce, but energy use is harder to make a dent in without more education (and innovation) around alternative fuel sources like solar generators, and more energy efficient lighting. Luckily, in advertising I would say that transport use is probably not as intensive as in film and TV, but it’s still a big factor (until Uber Electric arrives of course!).

Talking to crew on set I hear some real horror stories. Someone told me about a shoot for [a clothing brand]. They used two studios – one for the shoot and one for styling and catering – and they carpeted the whole studio, just to make it nice. At the end they pulled up the carpet and threw it away. This is [a brand] who have an ethically sustainable policy. Yet under their nose, their money is being spent on this kind of wasteful behaviour. It only takes one person to notice how wasteful their shoot is and they’ve got some really bad PR on their hands. I can’t believe in this day and age they’re not being more accountable.

I see it myself too - on a recent shoot, unusually, the pack shot had been relatively forgotten about. After a last minute trip to B&Q, we set up a small infinity pool using a cement mixing tray and some pond liner. I’d worked with the art director from the start of the job to make sure the main prop make had a home to go to, along with 400-odd lemons, and now I couldn’t help thinking ‘what’s going to happen to that?’ This was something that was decided at four in the afternoon and we ended up shooting until midnight. What’re you going to do with all that stuff when it’s gone twelve, you’ve been up since 5am, and everything is covered in mud? Sometimes there’s only so much you can do, and that’s incredibly frustrating.

BSB: How did it all start?
JC: When I was growing up, my dad used to call me ‘Sting’s right-hand man’. I remember my school collecting recyclables, and I tore off a bit of tin foil so that I had something to donate – not quite the right idea of course! I always said I was going to be vegetarian except on Sundays and that I’d ride a bike everywhere. Now I’m vegetarian even on Sundays (except for fish… it’s a work in progress) and I ride my bike almost everywhere.

I love working in production but I’d become more disenchanted with it due to the waste. I was collecting water bottles and call sheets on set and taking them home to smuggle into my recycling. In February 2014 I read an article about global warming which was really terrifying. It took a good few months to shake it off and convert that fear into something positive.

At first I didn’t really have the confidence to speak up about the issue – I was a relatively new freelancer at the time, and had not long moved up to production managing. I didn’t want to piss off my new producers with my eco-rantings. It wasn’t until I went on holiday that September that I thought maybe I could do something. I sent some emails from my sun lounger and arranged to meet the guys at BAFTA to find out more about their albert initiative, which works with the TV and film industry to calculate and reduce emissions through practical tips and tools. They really inspired me to try and apply their experience and knowledge to our industry. I got some people together – a few production folks and some suppliers – and we sat around the table at the APA and eventually came up with a sort of environmental risk assessment.

BSB: How did you refine that checklist once you had it?
JC: The first draft was far too involved and detailed – it would’ve taken about a week just to complete! But it was a starting point. We’d seen that some of the productions using albert’s guidance were issuing ‘green memos’ to crew at the start of their jobs, to communicate what was being done throughout the process, and what was expected of them. We realised that we could adapt these and create some copy-and-paste text to help production teams relay the information quickly to their crew and suppliers. We linked these up to the checklist, to make those points easier to accomplish. As we moved forward, I tested various ideas on my shoots, and other production managers did too, feeding back on what worked and what needed a bit more refining. Each time something worked well, we added it to the checklist along with any relevant resources. We recently found out you can recycle Nespresso pods for example, so included that on the list, along with details of where to get the free recycling bags, and a sign to print off and use at the tea table.

It’s trial and error. And it’s about breaking down the barriers that make doing these things difficult – mostly by making them less time consuming to accomplish. Telling people why something is being done works surprisingly well when you come up against resistance. Few people argue with saving the planet! Constantly reminding also helps. I feel confident in what I’ve got on the checklist because I know that I’ve done it and it’s worked. Not everything can be done on every job, but it’s a good place to start.

BSB: What have been some of the challenges?
JC: The main resistance is that there’s not enough time. If you’ve only got four days of a production manager’s time for a two-day shoot, you can only achieve so much. It also takes time to digest what’s on the website, to have crew read things, to ask extra questions, to follow up for answers, to order the extra bits and pieces to help you do things better, to think of how many 19-litre water containers you need instead of bottled water... For me, these things are now habit, but it’s taken a few months.

You also have to make people feel comfortable discussing these issues. There might be runners or production assistants who want to be greener but feel that they can’t approach their superiors because they don’t want to rock the boat or stand out. Whenever I start a new job, once I’ve read the treatment and gone through the budget, it’s the next thing I’ll discuss with the producer. Putting it out there at the start of a job also means crew and suppliers understand that sustainability is important to the production company, and that there is space for them to contribute.

BSB: What are people’s misconceptions about green production?
JC: The main one is that it costs more money to be green. There are so many studies that show it really doesn’t. When I get asked this, I generally give a threefold answer: 

There are things we’re not doing and they’re going to cost more to do properly like recycling for example.  There are also things that will save you money – we recently used water coolers instead of bottled water – they definitely came in cheaper and saved a fair amount of waste in the process. However, it’s a shame that rubbish collections aren’t priced in a way that saves money – being charged per collection rather than per bag doesn’t incentivise people to consider how to produce less waste. Perhaps if it was then we’d insist on water coolers all the time – and crew bringing their own sports bottles to refill.

Lastly, you’ve got bigger costs that should be discussed with the agency. Ethical disposal of sets will take longer than just skipping the whole thing, and therefore will cost money in studio and crew time. This is why we need agencies on board, and we need to embed sustainability discussions in the pitching process. If everyone knows there’s a big build, make sure your bid includes costs to dispose of it sustainably, and reference these costs in your bid letter. Not only are you highlighting why your bid might be higher than someone else’s in this area, you’re showing that you are considering environmental issues, which is likely to be something their client cares about.

BSB: How can you involve clients and agencies?
JC: I think the key is to help agencies understand what is possible at this point in time, what needs more development, and what things might have cost implications. The fact that more isn’t required of us is also indicative of a disconnect between client and agency in this area too. If a client asks for a 24-hour security to guard a product we’ll organise it (and likely extra-charge it if it’s a late request). Theoretically they have the power to ask for whatever they want. If a client wants recycling bins, we can organise that, but I wonder if the conversation is even being had? Perhaps there are also assumptions that these basics are already in place, as it’s 2016.

BSB: How do you feel about what you’ve achieved so far?
JC: I think about that article that I read now and it still terrifies me but not in quite the same way. Since I read it, there have been some really innovative developments – solar planes, kinetic bike paths, ridding oceans of plastic with a giant vacuum cleaner; and public figures from The Pope to Leonardo DiCaprio are raising awareness of climate change in a big way. These things give me hope that we’re moving in the right direction in general, and people are becoming more and more engaged with the issue.

I know that I’m doing what I can and taking control of a part of the problem (albeit a very small part). It won’t change the world. Bigger changes need to happen a national and international level, but for now it’s a start and as those bigger changes come in, hopefully we’ll be in a better place to handle them.

What Do Production Companies Do?

October 20, 2016 /

By Rosalind Healy

A Client's View

They create value through creativity, productivity and innovation.

 

During my 14 years as a marketer and product innovator in the drinks industry (on brands like Smirnoff, Guinness and Baileys) our world has changed beyond recognition. Hardly surprising, then, that we are having this debate because ‘what production companies do’ for brands is necessarily changing too. Let me first outline my own experience in its starkest terms, then I’ll attempt to go deeper to unpick a more useful level of insight.

Until three or so years ago, the spine of most annual marketing plans I worked with was the big campaign film: a high quality, high cost film asset designed to build brand fame and inspire consumers’ love. An annual blockbuster, scripted for 90 or 60 seconds then adapted to shorter formats. I was privileged to be involved in many interesting, often complex shoots with brilliant directors and producers (a challenging week filming for Guinness in rural Lagos, led by the fearless Benito Montorio and outstanding team at Blink, is worthy of mention because it taught me the lengths to which a production company will go, and the risk they take on, in pursuit of their craft).

While I don’t claim that one size fits all brands, there are common themes emerging across the industry. Fewer brands are investing in a big campaign film every year. More brands are creating versatile content that prioritises reach and consistency as much as quality. For the festive peak period in 2016, Baileys (my marketing life for my last 4 years) will produce four unique campaign films for TV / OLV and multiple pieces of digital content, for less budget than we spent on one Baileys Christmas TV ad in 2012. Even my job title has changed – to be entirely beyond my mum’s comprehension – from ‘Global Marketing Director’ to ‘Global Content Creation Director’.

Many of you may recoil at what you perceive as more symptoms of a depressing new age... The devaluation of creativity and craft? Stripping out cost at the expense of quality? Quantity over quality? An unfairly competitive landscape open to anyone with an iPhone and a few thousand Instagram followers? And who invited this bloody philistine to contribute to the debate anyway? But please bear with me; I’m optimistic that this story has a happy ending for anyone invested in making it so.

It must be tempting to imagine clients and agencies rubbing their hands at cost saving or new business opportunities. But these outcomes reflect massive shifts in our worlds too, many of them painful. The nature of business is fundamentally altering, as established conventions are torn down, big companies disrupted overnight, and new opportunities for growth created. We’ve had to let go of some myths about brands – about how they grow – which had provided a false glow of security for many years. We’ve had to look hard at ourselves, our marketing beliefs, how we spend, how we make decisions. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that the most difficult challenges to the status quo often precipitate the most exciting vision and innovation, and unleash opportunities previously undreamt of. Those that uncover insights, evolve and adapt will thrive.

So what insights from my world might help point the way?

Firstly, framing this debate as ‘advertising production’ or ‘content creation’ (yes mum, in spite of my job title), will produce answers that are unlikely to excite. We are in the business of creating value for brands – or, rather, value for consumers that we (brands) can convert to commercial sales and profit. And what constitutes ‘value’ for people, and how they derive it, is radically evolving. It is these underlying dynamics that need to be understood, however inconvenient, if any of our industries are to secure a bright future.

I would highlight three dynamics that are, in my view, having the biggest impact on what we do. They are redefining who we need to reach to drive growth, and how we reach them effectively. At face value, these trends may be perceived as a threat to the traditional role of production companies. But dig deeper – seek to understand, not fear – and we find valuable insights that point the way forwards for brands, agencies and production companies alike. Namely, that there are many opportunities to work in partnership to: i) Keep making the business case for high quality creative outputs; ii) Increase productivity (that is, impact vs effort – not to be mistaken for cost-cutting); iii) Innovate in a new landscape of culture and entertainment.

1: The age-old marketing tenet of brand ‘love’ or ‘loyalty’ has been discredited. Who we have to reach to drive growth are many millions of people who care a lot less than we thought. However, while reach and consistency are huge priorities, the need for quality creative is greater than ever.

For years marketing was fuelled by a belief in ‘brand loyalty’, i.e. attitudinal commitment to brands. Many companies used models that described consumer loyalty along a scale, from ‘adoration’ through to ‘rejection’. Professor Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow has been most influential in slaying this sacred cow (I’d also recommend Martin Weigl’s strategic provocations). Data from virtually any category proves that, on average, about half of a company’s sales and most of its growth, come from non-frequent users. In other words, growth comes from us reaching a lot more people who care a lot less about our brands. In the grand scheme of the wonderful, terrible, inspiring, shocking, busy lives of human beings, we barely register.
So why does this matter? Because for years, we worked together to create marketing that was designed to inspire greater loyalty amongst a core base of consumers and – so the theory went – increase frequency of consumption. We prioritised ‘differentiation’ vs category competitors and wrote briefs for films to make people fall deeper in love with our brands. Now the data suggests that advertising works because of its effect on memory and so it is often consistent use of brand assets that works better than creating new ones, i.e. for the vast majority of brands, putting an expensive new ad out every year is very inefficient. Add to that the evidence that growth comes from reaching many more people (who care less), and there is an inevitable pressure to get ‘more bang for buck’ and to prioritise ‘un-sexy’ marketing that has more direct impact on sales, i.e. making your product physically easier to buy to as many people as possible.

This is the emerging reality behind many marketing decisions today but it shouldn’t depress us, for there is huge opportunity as well as risk. We need brilliant creative outputs more than ever because without interesting, provocative, beautifully executed work, what chance do we have of the millions of people who are not paying attention to not only notice our brands, but be inspired to action? As Martin Weigl puts it: “Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm but overcoming indifference”, and that requires the stuff we put into the world to be extraordinary. Adequate won’t make our brands memorable. Adequate won’t drive reach, no matter how much media we buy. Adequate won’t drive growth so it won’t get the money to be made. Good news, surely.

I admit there is a risk some budget-holders might lose sight of the relative importance of creativity in the mix as they chase numbers to get reach. So we must keep building that case together: measure the impact of our work and the difference expert decisions can make in eliciting the right response from an audience. Write the case studies and quote them. Historically, perhaps, clients have paid less attention to the science of advertising effectiveness but, as agencies pore over IPA papers in pursuit of awards, so too now do clients as we increasingly have to prove return on investment for our marketing decisions.

2: Productivity is high on client agendas. It is a mistake to see this as cost cutting at the expense of quality or overall spend. It is about marketing efficiency and effectiveness – impact vs effort. Production companies are experts here so can be vital partners.

There can be very few clients who are not under pressure to meet productivity targets. For any healthy business, this will not be a matter of reducing spend per se, but delivering efficiencies that can be reinvested to drive growth. Of course new competitive and commercial pressures have precipitated this but, really, it is only what marketers have always been tasked to do. We are entrusted to invest millions of pounds to drive sales today and build brands that will still be here a century from now. That requires both creative judgement / flair and the kind of rigour in decision making that comes from data, analytics, and a solid grasp of commercial reality. 
Production companies are uniquely placed as partners because you make that bridge on a daily basis. You are bilingual in the languages of creativity and commerciality. Help us be efficient and focus on the things that create most value. Teach us how to save time (we know we are good at wasting it) and invest more wisely, and we will have more opportunity to expose consumers to great work, and to drive more profitable growth. Also, of course, be more efficient in how you package your own services and outputs. I’m not best placed to tell you how to do that but, as a client who has run between multiple buildings approving elements of a film in production, it seems clear that opportunities exist.

3: Finally, technology and the re-framing of our competitive landscape from ‘category’ to ‘culture and entertainment’ are driving the need for fast-paced innovation in how we reach people.

In looking beyond a core set of users within a narrow category of brands, our competitive landscape radically changes. Throw in a technological revolution and all bets are off. Where we once sought to stand out amongst ‘alcoholic drinks’ or even simply ‘gins’ or ‘vodkas’, we compete in the space of culture and entertainment. Decades-old conventions in how people socialise and consume are disappearing. Holistic trends, alternative thrills (do you vape?), the blurring of boundaries between social spaces. You’d be as likely to drink in a book shop, works-space, hairdressers, parking lot or garage in many markets around the world as you would a bar and the pop-up industry is now worth £2.1 billion to the UK economy. People are still going out but are as likely to be snaring a Zubat as they are a date, or heading to a Pokéstop as they are the corner shop (150 million Americans play games, four out of five homes have gaming devices). Digital ubiquity, e-commerce and location based services allows us to make or change plans in seconds or buy anything, anywhere with a thumb-click. In South Korea, more than one in 10 people now never visit a physical shop and 50% shop only on mobile (Mintnotion).

While it is true that TV is still an essential part of any media plan (we haven’t yet found a way of delivering mass scale reach without it), breakthroughs are coming and they are less and less driven by traditional media. Mobile, in particular and not just in South Korea (*checks phone*), will command a huge proportion of the content we need to reach people. That alone will require different production capabilities in terms of design, text, graphics, interactivity, gaming and technology to grab attention while consumers are socialising or shopping. It is just the kind of content I described being produced by brands like Baileys today (indulge me for pointing out Europe’s first social soap opera, ‘When Coffee Met Baileys’ on Instagram, produced by Mother and Indy8: one small example of the new style of efficient and innovative content that has contributed to the brand delivering +11% growth in the UK this year).

So here we all are, trying to figure out at breakneck pace how to distribute, sample, sell and communicate with all of those people who could care less and whose attention is more distracted and fragmented than ever. What an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime challenge that is. I cannot envisage the day when we won’t need to produce brilliant creative content that stirs a response, and to do so efficiently. But, increasingly, we will need to execute it via more innovative, interactive formats, versatile enough to trigger a response in many and varied places, be they real (product in hand) or virtual (click to purchase). It will require a new approach to production, a re-purposing of skills and the acquisition of new ones, the ability to recognise and develop the best talent working fluidly across multiple mediums. Above all, it will reward those who embrace change with vision, pace and enthusiasm with perhaps their greatest ever achievements.

 

Rosalind Healy is Portfolio Marketing Director, Europe at Guinness (formerly Global Content Creation Director at Baileys).

What Do Production Companies Do?

October 20, 2016 /

By The Beak Street Bugle

An Introduction

The advertising production company is under threat. A number of factors are involved, most of which are known widely enough by anyone reading this that they don't need re-stating. The most obvious is the rise of in-house agency production departments.

Being threatened does not mean the worst prognosis will come to pass, but it does demand a response.

The Chinese word for crisis translates as 'dangerous opportunity'. This is not a moment of crisis, yet, but it is foreseeable that it could soon be. Production companies certainly have a dangerous opportunity. That is the opportunity to define themselves and what they offer in strong rather than weak terms. To be bold, and confident, rather than defensive. To face challenges head on rather than wish them away.

When the water outside is inexorably rising, there are broadly three options. One is to stand around bemoaning the unfairness of it all and questioning the morality of floods. Another is to build higher and higher walls of sandbags, trying to plug the gaps as they appear. A third is to build yourself a boat.

The first of these is clearly disastrous, and when the flood in question is technologically driven, as this one partly is, two doesn't have a great record either. Notable examples of industries that took this approach are music publishing and book publishing, both of whom are still recovering 20 years on from that strategic mistake, trying to belatedly fashion their boats while the remnants of their gilded houses float around them.

Production companies were once the only people who had the proper relationships and expertise to get a film of any kind made. They are not anymore, and that time is not coming back.

It is now cliché to say that 'anyone can make a film these days', but the often unspoken obverse of this is that not anyone can make a good film. In fact this is very hard, and it's what production companies do brilliantly.

The straightforward question put by this series may seem almost facile, but quickly provokes a surprising range of answers, some conflicting. Answered correctly, it can help to define production companies for the next 30 to 40 years, rather than trying in vain to turn the clock back to the last 40. Are they to be merely gatekeepers to good directors, hoping to stem the flow of talent outwards to agents and independent reps, or are they to offer a genuinely irreplaceable service?

The APA believes this service already exists, and it's called producing. It is rarely if ever properly defined, and as a consequence is woefully undervalued by many agencies and clients, which is how they have come to think they can do it themselves with no great loss of quality.

This is an error, and they will come to realise it, but there's no reason this has to happen before they've killed off the industry and skill base they're underestimating. As Britain has found out to our cost in other sectors, recovering a skill base after it has been dismantled is virtually impossible. British agencies and clients have a clear vested interest in British advertising continuing to be among, if not the, best in the world, and if they only protect production companies for selfish reasons, this will at least be a display of intelligence. It is not an excuse that looking to expand by land-grabbing revenue from every possible supplier is what agencies do. They will need to stop doing it in this case if our business is not to become one big Scorpion and Frog parable.

With this series of essays, we hope to open a big, frank and provocative conversation about what producing is, how to do it well, and why production companies are still the best possible repository of the most vital skill in the making of the moving image.

It is a conversation we need to have, and for it to be productive, it will also have to be unflinchingly honest about what production companies do badly, or may in future not do at all. In that spirit, we welcome critical opinion from inside and outside the production world, so long as it recognises the above as a fair assessment of our shared interests. We are happy for contributors to remain anonymous if it helps them to say what usually goes unsaid.

Some of you may not want to have this conversation, but the water is rising.

 

What Do Production Companies Do?


A Client's View
By Rosalind Healy

 


An Agency's View

By Laurence Green

 


The APA's View
By Steve Davies

 


A Production Company's View
By James Studholme

 


A Director's View
By Anonymous

What Do Production Companies Do?

October 20, 2016 /

By The Beak Street Bugle

An Introduction

The advertising production company is under threat. A number of factors are involved, most of which are known widely enough by anyone reading this that they don't need re-stating. The most obvious is the rise of in-house agency production departments.

Being threatened does not mean the worst prognosis will come to pass, but it does demand a response.

The Chinese word for crisis translates as 'dangerous opportunity'. This is not a moment of crisis, yet, but it is foreseeable that it could soon be. Production companies certainly have a dangerous opportunity. That is the opportunity to define themselves and what they offer in strong rather than weak terms. To be bold, and confident, rather than defensive. To face challenges head on rather than wish them away.

When the water outside is inexorably rising, there are broadly three options. One is to stand around bemoaning the unfairness of it all and questioning the morality of floods. Another is to build higher and higher walls of sandbags, trying to plug the gaps as they appear. A third is to build yourself a boat.

The first of these is clearly disastrous, and when the flood in question is technologically driven, as this one partly is, two doesn't have a great record either. Notable examples of industries that took this approach are music publishing and book publishing, both of whom are still recovering 20 years on from that strategic mistake, trying to belatedly fashion their boats while the remnants of their gilded houses float around them.

Production companies were once the only people who had the proper relationships and expertise to get a film of any kind made. They are not anymore, and that time is not coming back.

It is now cliché to say that 'anyone can make a film these days', but the often unspoken obverse of this is that not anyone can make a good film. In fact this is very hard, and it's what production companies do brilliantly.

The straightforward question put by this series may seem almost facile, but quickly provokes a surprising range of answers, some conflicting. Answered correctly, it can help to define production companies for the next 30 to 40 years, rather than trying in vain to turn the clock back to the last 40. Are they to be merely gatekeepers to good directors, hoping to stem the flow of talent outwards to agents and independent reps, or are they to offer a genuinely irreplaceable service?

The APA believes this service already exists, and it's called producing. It is rarely if ever properly defined, and as a consequence is woefully undervalued by many agencies and clients, which is how they have come to think they can do it themselves with no great loss of quality.

This is an error, and they will come to realise it, but there's no reason this has to happen before they've killed off the industry and skill base they're underestimating. As Britain has found out to our cost in other sectors, recovering a skill base after it has been dismantled is virtually impossible. British agencies and clients have a clear vested interest in British advertising continuing to be among, if not the, best in the world, and if they only protect production companies for selfish reasons, this will at least be a display of intelligence. It is not an excuse that looking to expand by land-grabbing revenue from every possible supplier is what agencies do. They will need to stop doing it in this case if our business is not to become one big Scorpion and Frog parable.

With this series of essays, we hope to open a big, frank and provocative conversation about what producing is, how to do it well, and why production companies are still the best possible repository of the most vital skill in the making of the moving image.

It is a conversation we need to have, and for it to be productive, it will also have to be unflinchingly honest about what production companies do badly, or may in future not do at all. In that spirit, we welcome critical opinion from inside and outside the production world, so long as it recognises the above as a fair assessment of our shared interests. We are happy for contributors to remain anonymous if it helps them to say what usually goes unsaid.

Some of you may not want to have this conversation, but the water is rising.