Helping procurement folks review agency production costs.

We are frequently asked by clients to assist their procurement folks charged with reviewing agency production costs. This can be easy or difficult depending on the depth of engagement we have in the production process. If we’re simply asked to look at the numbers and see what we can do, our impact is greatly reduced.

The way we operate is to engage with the agency teams, especially production, throughout the creative development and production process. Because we were agency production folks, we understand the thinking and uncertainties inherent in any production and identify most strongly with the producer/project manager/production manager tasked with executing the project.

Our largest impact is usually early in the process, shaping the agency thinking around expectations, affordability and options. Our agencies often push back on costs and many times win the day and get additional money. We see our job as setting the choices as candid business decisions for our brand teams.


Where there has not been a production process in place or enforced, most often we find that normal best practices are generally not followed, the simplest being triple bidding… real triple bidding. In these instances our impact is significant, often greater than 25%, as long as marketing and procurement support us.

Audi’s welcome focus on gender bias

I spent some time over the last year consulting with Audi and was impressed with their agencies and work. As the father of a teenage daughter, the son of a determined mother and brother of three strong willed sisters, I have been heartened to see Audi’s recent focus on women’s issues. Here is their equal pay ad that ran during the Super Bowl.

And here is their great online piece on gender stereotypes.

It's great to see confident global advertisers out front on important social issues.

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!

Should advertisers manage their own production database? Not really, no.

Over the years I’ve worked on and built a number of databases for clients and production consultancies. Some were large scale animals where production management was just a small module of a much larger media behemoth. Others were simple legacy systems that needed updating to the cloud.

The interesting ones for me are the small scale production consultancy databases, as these are tools I work with every day and have a direct bearing on my ability to manage workflow. I keep my own database in a constant beta state, making small improvements all the time as I learn more development tricks.

A sticky question that comes up repeatedly from clients is the question of ownership. Should the advertiser own and administer the database or should they allow their consultant to administer (usually the consultant designed database) while they retain ownership of the data?

I readily admit that I have a strong bias towards consultant administration. I believe that sentiment comes from a large CPG procurement client who weaponized the data against their consultants – including me. We went from reporting about 10 key data points per project to over 70 points per project including incremental breakdowns of how we saved them money. They ultimately took everything internal, including my job!

For most advertisers, I don’t think direct ownership of the database management is a good idea.

Last summer I worked with a large global advertiser who’s procurement lead insisted on complete ownership of the data and the data management process. I think that like many procurement folks, she felt that procurement methodology applied to the creative process would yield a standard deviation from the cost norm which she could use to beat production vendors into submission with. What she got was a firehose of data being input by folks who didn’t really understand the data, including very inexpensive personnel ‘scraping data’ from bids into the database.

I have seen this reflexive approach many times. Another advertiser insisted that they receive all bids in their original Excel format, so she could import them directly into her database for analysis - exactly the same purpose.

Keeping the database management in the hands of subject matter experts I feel is the best approach. The data is kept cleaner, the nuances are not lost and the areas of maximum benefit to the advertiser are kept in sharp focus.

The ANA plays favorites

This morning brought a tweet from the ANA, the first in a series of self promotion articles by Jillian Gibbs, the founder of Advertising Production Resources, aka APR.

Now I know, like and respect Jillian and what she has built, but this article bills her as "ANA faculty." That seems a rather extraordinary designation for an outside vendor; since outside vendors cannot be members or otherwise gain sanctioned access to ANA members.  I note that no other production consultancy has anything remotely resembling the intimate relationship that Jillian has built with the ANA.

It seems as though there has been a strategic decision by the ANA to allow APR and no other production consultants to shoot fish in the ANA barrel.