End of story. But also the beginning of what is rapidly shaping up to be the next wave in agency production capabilities-and in clients' rational expectations thereof.
The Power Behind the Chrome
But let's back up a minute. There's a reason that keeping the whole production process under an agency's own roof is now eminently more possible and more economically feasible than it was just a short few months ago. That reason is the Power PC.
Unless you've been wintering in a hut on Guam, you no doubt know that Power PC is the newly arrived RISC-based microprocessor developed jointly by Apple, IBM and Motorola. Strategically designed to wrest market share away from Intel's superchips, particularly the Pentium, Power PC's technological purpose is, in one fell swoop, to boost Macintosh computing power by several orders of magnitude.
To enjoy this new level of performance you've got to buy one of Apple's new Power PC Macs, but the good news here is that these aren't particularly expensive boxes, whereas they operate at speeds that will
not only blow the dust doors off your garden variety Quadra, they're at last sufficient to make the transport, manipulation and engraving of ponderous, 15 to 30 MB color files a truly efficient proposition.
At our house, for example, we start by scanning in the color image for a given ad on our Di-Nippon drum scanner. This is the class of scanner you'll find at today's top-rank color houses, and the drum system of "reading" guarantees a scanned image of such accuracy and clarity as to be virtually indistinguishable from the original. (How critical is it to generate a scan that precise? Let me put it this way: there is no later point in the production process at which you can "cure" a shoddy scan. So unless you ensure an impeccable image at the start, you've already lost the quality-control battle.)
Our scanned image is then networked directly onto a file server, in this case an Apple Power PC that acts as our agency artwork gallery. Once there, the image can be retouched in Adobe Photoshop and put into layout with Quark-both of which products, incidentally, have just brought out upgraded versions that are capable of taking advantage of Power PC's accelerated processing speeds. At various stages, we'll make interim reality checks by turning out a test print on our 3M dye-sublimation printer.
Once the ad, with final type and finished image in place, has been blessed by one and all, we send it downline to our Agfa Imagesetter, which shortly turns out the four-color negative film. The final step consists of running the film through a 3M MatchPrint system for color and registration checks. When all is deemed well and good, we simply send the film off to the publication. It's amazing how quickly it comes to seem almost routine.
The Amazing Expando-Budget
Ultimately, though, the "how" of all this is less interesting than the "why." For here we have one of those decreasingly common business scenarios that redounds to the benefit of all.
True, an agency must begin the process by making a capital investment that will, like any capital investment, have to be structured so as to pay itself off within a fiscally reasonable time. But once you've dabbled with the economies involved here, any monetary concerns should wither. The fact of the matter is that producing color film internally produces enormous savings in production costs. Now, how an agency chooses to deal with those savings-whether to fatten its own production profits, pass it along dollar for dollar to the client, or steer some middle course-is a decision that every shop will have to make for itself. But suffice it to say that the economic room to maneuver here is huge.
Our answer has been two-pronged. On the one hand, we help our clients to plow a lot of this "found money" back into their media plans. And to a client who may have only $500,000 to spend for the year, getting, say, an extra half-dozen insertions in its favorite vertical pub or newspaper represents a monumental bonus.
Now, admittedly, by shifting dollars from production into media, an agency (assuming it charges less than the once-hallowed 15 percent on media placements) will be sacrificing some direct income. But to us, it's the longer view here that's critical. After all, if we can offer our clients the chance to "expand" their budgets painlessly, what are the ramifications? The ads run in more places.
They presumably thus generate greater sales volume, which in turn will tend to warrant higher ad budgets next year, meaning still more placements, and still higher sales, and, well, you get the picture.
But every bit as important as the effect on media budgets is the turbocharge to creativity that production savings can trigger on what might previously have been accounts laboring under severe financial restraints. Suddenly, a creative team's big ideas don't have to be scrunched down into skimpy little units, nor is color automatically downgraded to b&w. Campaigns, and creatives, can be freed to soar, not settle.
There are other "soft" virtues at work here, too. Consider the issue of time. Assuming that you have your layout already conceived, your artwork in shape and your copy approved, the in-house production of even a four-color spread from the beginning of the first scan to the shipping of final film can take as little as four hours, or about a sixth of normal outside-supplier time. What's more, the agency retains direct quality control every step along the road to the finished product.
In the end, then, what all this technology really buys an agency is a client better served and better satisfied, and a client's product better sold. And that, whether in good economic times or bad, can't help but translate into a client far more inclined to remain loyal to you and yours. All in all, then, is this an investment worth making? Better to ask: Is this a failure-to-invest