Production Cost-Cutting: How Low Can We Go?

Five Tips to Help Save Budget and Creative Concept

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As marketers increasingly use video to engage with customers and work to keep a steady stream of relevant and engaging content in the marketplace, conversations about production costs are reaching a fever pitch.

With advances in technology, marketers are seeing amateur camera buffs capturing some pretty impressive footage with their smartphones, GoPros and remote-control drones. So why aren't ad agency and content provider production costs going down faster?

Ad Age recently reported, for example, that in an effort to trim more than $1 billion from its marketing budget, P&G had reached out to NASA "seeking a new way to produce moving images for TV commercials and digital video at costs significantly lower than today's averages."

Looking to a different industry for fresh ideas is interesting in theory, but great commercials and content won't come from Excel spreadsheets and process documents. Rocket scientists are clearly some of the smartest people around, but finding the right balance between cost and quality really comes down to these five simple areas:

1. Trust the client/agency relationship. Our best client relationships have a high degree of trust. Some of our best, most cost-effective experiences are when we work with the client at the beginning of the year and develop and work with their year-long budget together. Oreo is a great example of a client that approaches production budgeting this way. We work the brand at the start of the year and plan out the production budget based on the marketing and media calendar. We bucket money for specific initiatives, discussing where we can make creative choices that can save money in some areas to make sure we fund others. We even budget for working with musical artists, such as Owl City, Kacey Musgraves, Tegan and Sara, Chiddy Bang and others. Working this way, we took the client's previous budget and doubled the number of executions.

2. Create tight concepts. We regularly try to focus on ideas that are based on one location and can be shot in one day to try to contain costs. Our most cost-efficient productions come from getting specific parameters in the beginning and then letting our creative teams concept accordingly. But even when parameters are tight, our best clients allow us some flexibility on set to take advantage of impromptu takes and grab additional content as it presents itself.

3. Remember that spending less means more risk. Choosing to work with tight production budgets often leads to more risk in the finished product. Opting to go with a director who has been shooting for years and has a track record of success is more expensive than choosing a novice just out of film school to direct. Can that new director shoot an amazing spot? Hopefully. Will you save money shooting with him or her? Yes, but the amount of risk you and the client take on goes up with this approach. We can make choices with our clients to reduce budgets, but everyone needs to be clear about the risks that come with those choices at the beginning.

4. Know that change orders are expensive. If you've ever been involved in a construction project, you know that contractors use a little device known as a change order for each deviation from the original plan. One change order for every single change, including the additional cost. Big changes at the pre-production meeting or on set are expensive, too. Changing the script at the last minute puts everyone in a risky position to be able to do the best work and bring the spot in on budget.

5. Crew size can affect the work and the cost. Some believe that the fastest way to save money on production is to reduce the crew size. But this choice typically results in one of two things -- a spot that looks less polished because there were fewer people to light and tweak the set, or fewer options in the final edit because you had to agree to fewer shots and fewer camera setups. Some creative concepts work fine with a smaller crew -- just make sure you're choosing crew size for the right reasons.

Great content comes from talented people understanding a core insight for a brand and communicating it in a way that connects with its target audience. How something is executed and how much you spend is a choice that agencies and clients have more control over than they think.

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