High performance content by ‘Working for the idea’
‘Working for the idea’ is my mantra. This is my core driving force in everything I do. I’m obsessed with getting the best possible value on the screen and for all wastage for all parties to be removed or put where it is best serving the idea. From my experience I can say categorically that there is an element of ‘magic’ that comes from a good process in a production that directly converts onto the screen in some tangible way.
This sounds ‘fluffy’, I know, but it is real and it has a profound effect on the end result. In turn this impacts all parties – for the client for having more effective communications, the budgets are better spent, the experience more pleasant and business objectives met. For the creatives they have a better experience and work that they are truly proud of. For the suppliers they achieve the best possible result without being pushed into chaos and in having to redo work over and over and in frustration everyone giving up or in chaos unable to put in their best efforts. In my ideal world, all parties are passionately working towards the same goal – to make the best possible result for the idea at hand as the only focus. This is achievable and I have experienced it many times. I see clear patterns to achieving this and this forms the foundations of the way that ICS works to ensure those important aspects are in place for the sake of the idea. Process is a fundamental part of ‘Working for the idea’.
Here is a summary of some key areas where process has an impact. With or without ICS you will be able to take from this some actionable steps yourself:
1. Plan Ahead
Review your year’s marketing budget including all the possible broadcast and video productions. Consider the types of communications you may need and set some budgets for each tier, allowing some room for the unforeseen like weather issues, rollovers & copyright renewals for existing work, last minute PR or Community Management issues to respond to, or other regular needs established historically for your marketing department. Consider a tiered structure. Thinking of your marketing communications like a house is inspired by one of the industry’s most clever Creative Director’s (Nigel Dawson) and I’ve messed with his original thought to keep up with an integrated environment:
1. Re-Use – what can be re-used from the previous year that is still on strategy?
2. Tent – what kinds of temporary and disposable communications do you need? (eg. PR issues, digital/social content, user generated)
3. Renovate – what can be used in part and re-purposed for a new communication? (eg. change voice over, update products, re-edit, change music, new animated product sequence)
4. Extend – what can be filmed or add to the existing communication to make it work?
5. Re-Build – how many new ideas do you need for the year? Are they a corporate/brand/product/major event/minor event/sales activity/daily communication?
6. Community – how many communications do you need to consider that are for the wider community or the wider business?
The importance of planning ahead means you are clear when you brief suppliers that they will be producing work that fits with your overall business objectives, that the business plan is what drives the execution and not the whim of the creative or the creative supplier, and you can also negotiate across a number of projects to be more cost effective. An essential part of this is also allowing the necessary time for each project and the scale of the work required through the year in order to produce as much together as possible, to negotiate economies of scale and to plan for all tiers of work to have a consistent branding and brand look/feel.
Planning like this allows for the most naturally integrated communications across platforms.
2. Involve an experienced producer who represents the client
There are many producers of different kinds to make a job go through smoothly, from the bottom of the project to the top. A lack of understanding of each different kind can have a lot of clients caught out. (See my earlier blog on the difference kinds of producers). It is essential that the client has someone working on their behalf to protect their interests and meet their overall business objectives. These producers are typically called an ‘agency producer’. A good agency producer is a very specific skillset and mindset. The challenge with using inexperienced producers, non-agency trained, or other staff as producers is that there are so many costly things that can go wrong. A good agency producer should be paying for themselves in the project let alone saving you the risk of massive over-runs.
3. Creative written to your budget
So many clients have creative work developed in isolation to the budget and it is a misconception that they are driving the best deal. (See my earlier blog on this). If you have a producer on board that is working for you and not for a creative supplier they will be able to manage this process for you. Many of the bigger agencies employ producers to buy well and to manage the creative process in order to protect the client’s best interest.
My belief, and experience, is that there is a solution for every budget. The essential element to achieve that is making sure the creative execution is created to suit the budget and the brand positioning at all times.
4. Ballpark first
Rather than seek exact and detailed quotes from suppliers which takes up everyone’s time and can be an expense to your job at the end of the day, your agency producer should be able to ballpark projects for you for a basic feasibility before getting committed to the creative and the production execution. This means you can seek buy in, in broad terms, from all parties. Usually the quotes are reasonably within scope of the final budget give or take, and in my experience usually come down with negotiations after this point.
5. Choose the right suppliers
Your agency producer will be able to choose the right suppliers for you to ensure that they are within expectation for the production quality you need, that the tools that they plan to use are relevant for your budget and expectations, that the work will be done within schedule, that they are proven and reliable suppliers who will deliver on time and on budget as agreed, that they are aligned with your way of working and expectations about process, that they are a cultural fit to allow for the most open collaboration and the actual execution is on target. A good agency producer will choose the right supplier for the job and not just who is top of mind or who was used last time. There’s a lot to consider when choosing suppliers. The list is very long!
As an example, the ICS database covers all of these possible suppliers just in Australia alone to give you an example:
• Creative Agencies: 217
• Film Companies: 1040
• Producers of various kinds: 1007
• Post Production Houses: 224
• Sound Recording Studios: 150
• Digital Agencies/Website Builders: 82
6. Quote with transparency
There are many decisions to be made in production and my belief is that all of these should be made in conjunction with the client and with full transparency. It is their money. If you are given a summary of costs only without full disclosure and without full understanding of each charge in the budget then you should not be approving it. If you have an agency producer work on your behalf then you will more likely be protected, however even so they should be able to explain away every dollar to you and the value that it adds to the overall communication and brand objectives.
Three quotes should be a mandatory, but not because of price but because of value. Each supplier will have a different approach for each project and coming back to them automatically each time is not always the best approach. More than three suppliers quoting means that the agency producer is not quoting like with like or unable to determine the real value in the suppliers.
7. Allow for creative contribution
The concept stage is the start of the way forward. Many clients force having the whole job completed before the job is even assigned to a film company or post team. It is important that just the right amount of clarity on concept and general treatment is communicated without stifling the process or committing to a creative treatment without fully exploring it within pre-production. The full potential of the job will be achieved where each party is let to bring their expertise to the job – within reason of the communication and brand objectives. The agency producer should be the gate-keeper to ensure the right amount of treatment is determined up front and the right amount of freedom is left open.
8. Manage approvals
One of the most important aspects of any project is working with the many layers of approval within the clients business and with all stakeholders at the right time and in the right way to ensure the job keeps moving and without costly impact to both time and budget. It is important to foresee how each crucial stage of the job will be approved and that all parties know what they are in for and who’s responsibility is what should things not go to plan. An experienced agency producer will be able to manage this up front and anticipate the key stages of a job. Those with experience across all facets of production like animation, filming, how to manage weather issues, and post production will best know how to manage this and prevent costly over runs.
9. Establish the right process
This is a massive topic in itself. The process that each job takes on has a direct impact on the creative result. Leaving the decision about how the process will run to the whim of a supplier is not with the client’s best interest in mind. The supplier will be thinking about their own business demands and availability of their own people. It is important that the agency producer drives this and if need be even changes suppliers based on meeting the client needs. The type of production that is involved will have a very different workpath – whether it is a job requiring a shoot, library footage, still photography, motion graphics, VFX, 3D or 2D; they all will have a very different path to take for the most effective end result. Aligning these processes with the approval process is crucial.
10. Be flexible with a ‘Yes, but…’
Whilst chaos is certainly counter productive, there is a certain amount of the unknown that comes up from time to time in the creative process. A new idea or execution that adds value to the process can be worth considering at times. From my experience the best way to manage exploration and developing the creative is by first ensuring that all parties deliver what is promised to the client but additionally showing how it could be done to improve it. Simply ignoring the client’s direction, and what has been agreed, is downright disrespectful and unprofessional even if well-meaning. Many creative suppliers will be very tempted to develop work that serves their own needs and folio, and some may feel they are doing their best on behalf of the client but without the full information available to them. The agency producer should be experienced enough to know when to draw the line and to protect the clients best interests, and to manage the many levels of approval and expectations.
As much as it seems like pampering to egos, it is really important for creative people to have feedback and closure after a project. What this does is allows for the creative process to close on a neurological level and for them to be open to the next project. Given that during the creative and production process there are many aspects of the job that rely on individuals’ performance and a degree of intangible ‘magic’ that translates into a better result on the screen this step is crucial to your work maintaining standard and consistency. This is particularly important for those individuals or suppliers who work on ongoing projects or future projects for you. You may not know if that supplier is going to work with you again … so invest in the fact that they may. Having the agency producer manage this on your behalf with small gestures like thank you emails, delivering some product samples, or including them in internal comms about the project success are highly valued in the industry. The days of an expensive meal is long gone but good manners and some respect for the team’s input goes a long way.
Of course this blog totally simplifies a very complex ecology. The ultimate driving force to ensuring this all stays on track is the agency producer. Get the right one and problems will be anticipated and avoided, creative problem solving with experience to call on will be behind them, and the rest will naturally follow.