Brand teams struggle with an agency production group

A global advertiser asked recently us to review and make recommendations on production workflow issues with an agency (holding company) production group scenario.

The advertiser had an agreement to default to the agency holding company’s production group. When we took a look at the process structure they were following it was easy to see where some of the issues were coming from.

The production group was decoupled from the agency, this was a selling point. There were many potential issues that flowed from that structure.

1.       The project’s producer did her best but seemingly worked for the production group first and foremost, second in line was the client brand team and third was the agency creative team.

2.       The brand team’s relationship with the agency teams had become fraught as many of the production issues were being negotiated in their full view and with their participation.

3.       The production group controlled and minimized the relationship between brands teams and their production consultants. This was the first time I have seen this.

The production consultancy was engaged, but the workflow, sold and managed by the production team, had the consultant operating in a very narrow window of responsibility -- only reviewing costs. The consultants were not present the process from start to finish, which is our preference.

The client ultimately decided to hire an in-house executive producer to ensure that brand's concerns and expectations were met.

We were left scratching our heads with that decision because having spent careers as producers, project and production managers, we normally cover that role. C'est la vie.

Who are production consultants?

I recently met with a prospective client’s head of procurement and described our value proposition to him, in part by juxtaposing our production management experience with a few of our competitors. I summed up the differences by saying “our consultants have all been directly responsible for the work”. This seemed to have no effect on my prospect’s thinking, although to me this one idea is huge, it affects all my relationships.

I produced at BBDO NY for many years managing some large, national and global accounts. I had relationships with many production consultants. Several, including Al Tennyson at Lever Brothers and Jack Walp at Gillette, were especially generous with their time and projects in my early years as a producer. I thought very highly of them. I later found that production consultants come in all different flavors with different backgrounds and different areas of focus.

After agency producing for two decades and owning a post production facility, I have since mostly consulted with smaller consultancies, though I was recently a managing partner at a global consultancy with about 68 consultants around the world.

You can download the ANA’s list of US production consultants at the bottom of the page here

In general, the larger consultancies seem to favor hiring specific types of expertise which could be broken down into general categories:

  • Marketing driven – largely staffed by ex-marketers
  • Business manager driven – largely staffed by ex-agency business managers
  • Production company driven – largely staffed by ex-production company executive and line producers

I found the marketing types were often big picture folks. Their critique of a project was often that it should cost x and not a penny more. I had many intractable problems dealing with this my-way-or-the-highway approach.

Business manager types often seemed to grab hold of individual costs like a terrier and seek to bring down costs by negotiating individual line items that I thought amounted to the small stuff.

The production company types seemed to me to be the most up to speed on the story the bids and agency estimate was describing about the plans and approach the agency was advocating. However, internal agency machinations and pressures did not seem to be their forte.

Not surprisingly, we recommend a mix with a strong background in production and agency experience for consultants dealing with ad agency projects.

Production consultant’s decoupling conundrums

I have been giving new business presentations a lot lately to a variety of companies that could benefit from our services. One thought that has been resonating is integrity. It comes up mostly in the context of decoupling; there is a lot of production decoupling going on these days.

In my role as a production consultant, I am asked to render all kinds of judgements, mostly, relating to whether or not a production budget is optimized for the approach the ad agency is recommending. On occasion, my client’s brand manager will ask - can this project can be decoupled? What kind of savings could we expect if we were to do so? In previous positions this question has set some of my partners and employers hearts racing. Their thought being an opportunity for quick profit on the production.

In my view, this can be a clear conflict of interest for the consultant. Production consultants are asked to share their views on the viability of plans and validity of the costs in the agency’s approach.

Could it be produced for less? Of course.

Could I or one of our consultants produce it for less? Probably.

Many years ago, my agency’s music department was popped for embezzlement, two music producers were fired with cause. My management spoke to me at length about how our holding company was basically auditing all of my work because of the nature and volume of the major accounts I worked on.

In other contexts, I have heard of production consultants making ridiculous sums on decoupled projects, because no one was keeping an eye on the trusted consultant.

Both experiences have long ago reinforced my view that integrity is central; one has to pay strong attention to your inner compass.

My solution is to candidly discuss conflicts of interest openly with my brand team and work to find appropriate solutions. When there is no conflict, most often because there is no agency, then yes, we take a hands on approach and produce or assign the work to a producer, project manager or production team. I act as production consultant on those costs, being sure our brand team has a clear understanding of the cost structure and validity.

This may seems simple, but I can tell from experience, conundrums abound!