ROUNDTABLE: Agency Heads of Production

Some of the leading agency production players speak their minds on big ideas, big challenges and "making it happen" in production today.

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The editors of Creativity recently sat down with the heads of production from different agencies to talk about the state of the business. Participants in the roundtable included Dave Rolfe and Rupert Samuel of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Peter Friedman of McCann-Erickson/N.Y., Matt Bijarchi of Young & Rubicam/Chicago, David Perry of Saatchi & Saatchi/N.Y., Jennifer Golub of TBWA/Chiat/Day/S.F., Dane Johnson of Berlin Cameron/Red Cell/N.Y., Nancy Axthelm of Grey Worldwide/N.Y., Clair Grupp of Cliff Freeman and Partners and Colin Pearsall and Sally Ann Dale of Publicis/N.Y. A transcipt of their discussion follows:

C Having heard all of your backgrounds (Sally and Colin having produced extensively in Europe), let's briefly touch on the differences in the production process in the U.S. vs Europe.

SD I think the whole broadcast production department structure is very different. Here you have production managers, you have planners you have traffic and all of that. It's totally different than in the U.K. where you have you and a PA. Even the production company role is very different here -- and it's all much more structured, more business, more money involved. So that was the biggest difference for me. In post production -- how you employ an editing company that books all your post and your sound and you order your dubs through, I find that all quite bizarre -- because obviously it's all very separated in the U.K., where you as a producer would book everything individually then negotiate all the costs. You'd also check which editor the director wants to work with rather than choosing yourself.

RS We don't care over here (laughs).

CP One of the differences that I've always noticed and I've noticed working over here is that it's a bigger industry so there are bigger structures within the agencies. But the mentality of the production companies and the post production companies is different too. It's much more of a service mentality over here.

SD Which I find amazing. I was just bidding in London and L.A. and one was just so professional. The difference was amazing.

PF Is it because it's bigger here? I'm curious about the roles. Because what you said sounds like the producers in Europe, London specifically, are in more control of the job and do more facets of the job the way producers used to do here. Is that because it's not as big there, there are not as many support people, or not as much volume, not as many spots?

CP Just not as much money to support that group. Advertising grows to fill the boots that it's given. And when there are buckets of money...

DJ It's a more handmade feel in the U.K. too as I recall -- a bit more time to craft it.

PF Which is more productive?

SD I find it much more enjoyable being more hands-on.

RS We still do your hands-on side though. We will separate out the offline and take the post side of it and deal with that ourselves -- we made deals with a lot of the companies to do that. We have a satellite system down in Miami now where we can do all our color correction and our online down there. Plus instead of saying "This is how many hours in the day; you have to do this thing," it's like, "No, I have this amount of money and this is what we have to complete--are you going to work with us?" Once you go through the offline company you lose a certain amount of control over the deals you get and also the control you have in terms of the people.

SD How do they react to that?

RS It's tough. We've established really good relationships with a lot of post companies and they want to work with us I think more than anything from a creative standpoint -- that's our currency. So based on that, that's what we go out and do. We never have that much money. We spread ourselves thin across the whole board but that's pretty much the way we operate.

DR We find that the offline companies, they are only nominally resistant to it. They are still happy with the work and they understand the process. Sometimes I think there's a point where they don't want to be encumbered with the process when we have a difficult post stretch. Sometimes they honestly might treat it as a bit of a relief.

C You guys (CP+B) do have a rep for being tough, in terms of budgets and what you demand from the production side. . .

DR I think there is a general thing with everyone that the budgets are lower so you have to push, etc. But the one thing I would say about our budgets, though, is that they are low or difficult not necessarily because they start that way, but because, frankly, our agency is the cult of our creative director; it's small enough that it can be that way -- it's Alex Bogusky -- it really is. The point is that our vendors know that Alex will push us until the end. It's not that our clients are strapping us, it's that the creative will be pushed and pushed and evolve and evolve.

RS All the way through. What starts off as a 30-second spot ends up as a ten-minute DVD, four :60s and three :30s.

NA We just started scratching the surface in all of that, but the idea is that the same amount of money just goes further now.

RS You have to have a client that can deal with that.

DR And the idea has to be strong enough that the vendors are attracted to that process.

PF But more than that, you have to have an agency that has a culture set up for that. A small agency like you come from. I used to work with Wieden and it's the same kind of venue. But there comes a threshold where you cross over and become too big to do it. But our agency is such a big place. It's ungainly.

NA That's why we separated ours into villages.

C Everyone in the industry has a mandate now to do idea-driven work, integrated, media neutral, whatever. To the bigger agencies: to what degree are you embracing that?

PF Here's the difference between a McCann Erickson and a Crispin. It's so basic. My agency is part of this multi-conglomerate as most of us are. We all have these silos or other companies that are responsible for product placement, responsible for live events, responsible for the internet and all this other stuff. For the last year I've been pushing and banging and scratching to get people to try and do multi-level, multi-platform work -- true integration. All I've run into is nothing but barriers. Finally people came to me and said, "You really can't do this because you're taking the food away from this company, you're taking the food away from this place or that place." You guys (CP+B) don't have to worry about feeding anyone else. You're contained. You want to do an internet project and you go out and shoot a piece and you multipurpose, multitask whatever you shoot. But you think about it up front versus us in the bigger agencies that are so afraid. It makes me crazy when I sit down with the media people and I say, "Let's do a thing for the internet for so and so." They'll say, "You can't do that, that's what this other company does." Well, if that's what they do, why aren't they doing it? We need to sit down and talk to them. You will never in a big agency that has all these other silos be able to get three people in a room from three different companies. It's impossible.

NA These silos exist and they have their own clients. So as much as you try to bring everyone together, like in a business pitch everyone plays nicely and it works quite well, but it's not the day to day way of doing business. One of the big changes for us is that we have a new British creative director, Tim Mellors. He feels the biggest change he can make is this new thinking. The villages run the day to day business, they are successful and it's all working. He's not there to undo what's working. He's there to say, "I'd like to do more of THAT."

DP Not every product or brand is going to be able to work in every niche, or be able to do the "non-traditional" things. There is no "Subservient Chicken" for Spray 'n Wash.

MB I think the marketers would disagree with you. I think they would say we are all charged with looking outside the 30-second media. It might not be as popular as "Subservient Chicken" was, but it's about a niche.

C You can't force it, but right now it seems that there is a big opportunity to do interesting work for so-called "boring brands."

RS Well I can tell you, when we first won Burger King everyone in the agency was concerned that we were taking on a big fast food brand. We had Mini, we had Ikea, Virgin, a wonderful set-up going on, and suddenly we have Burger King. But we have a positive vibe going on at the agency -- it's like Why not? Why can't we turn around a brand like this? Let's try and do something. When we first started going out and bidding our first jobs with Burger King everyone was like, "Oh, they sold out," etc. However, we used Martin Granger, we did the office spots, which started off the whole thing, we did "Subservient Chicken" and suddenly everyone was like, "Wow, this is pretty cool." Next thing you know, everyone was calling and saying, "Is there any more Burger King work?" No one even wanted to bloody touch it in the first place. I think that part of our job is to turn around a brand as well.

NA You've proved it.

DR The irony of it is, the Burger King client is the best client we've ever had. I'm not saying they're easy. I'm saying they are smart, they've helped us.

JG The best work does come through great partnerships with clients.

C What about Coke? It would seem to be a coveted client and they seem to be saying they want to do different things. Are they?

DJ We've had a lot of success. We've developed this "Real" campaign and it was kind of bumpy in the beginning to buy into that kind of premise because traditionally it's been a fairly glossy brand and they were a little reticent to change. But at the time the chief marketing officer was raucous enough that he let us do it. And it's been very successful. We shot a campaign with Traktor that made the left turn for them. And from then they've trusted us. It's a difficult client but they've trusted us along the way. We're about to do a whole new six spots for the new year.

JG For me, I try to do three or four public service pieces a year.

RS You choose to do it yourself and say, "Let's do this?"

JG Yes, I say "I'm doing this -- is it OK?" Personally what I get out of it besides feeling whole is realizing how much you can get done with really very little. And it keeps me disciplined. And when I get the larger assignments and I get a bid from an editorial company saying, "If you're going to do a :90 and a two-minute it's going to be this this and this." I say, "No, what are you talking about? The footage is there. Everyone knows your first cut's a two, then it's a :90 then it's a :60 then it's a :30. So just hit the save button, that's not another $30,000."

DJ Gee, I heard she was good...

JG It's just the truth. And everyone wants to do it because it's exciting and it's fun to explore other formats and other lengths and other mediums. I think it's an enormous opportunity because we have huge shooting ratios, the material is there, the talent is there. So it's like lets just show this and share this.

PF If it was Tide they'd charge the $30,000 to cut that :60 because it's not a project that anyone wants.

JG I've produced my share of Tide.

RS An editor is inherently going to cut down as they do. There's going to be their long version, their medium version and their short version. So I always say, "Keep your long version and your medium version and we'll take your short version and we'll tweak it a little bit."

DJ If you're buying the premise that you start at two minutes you go to a minute you go to 30 seconds and the idea was it's going to be a 30-second film, and you say, "Well hit the save button," are the two-minute and the one-minute really that good?

DP It'll never run anyway so it could be a one-minute and 27-second idea.

RS Our philosophy is that we don't do agency versions or director versions. Whatever is there is what everyone loves.

DJ It's a wonderful discipline. We enforce the same thing.

PF How hard do you push back though? This is a classic question. I'm sure Alex pushes harder than most. It depends on each agency and each brand. How hard do you push when a client says, "I want the animatic." I'm doing this now. I was just in Australia, New Zealand, I went over with a client -- it was the first time he's ever done anything. We spent $2 million on the production and the client made the director sit there with the photomatic and match frame by frame the commercial. I said, "I traveled 20 thousand miles to do this?" The guy said, "You're going to shoot this or we're going home."

CP I think it depends what your support is like back at the agency. At a place like where you guys (CP+B) are there is a mandate. There is one creative leader. So it's huge. How many leaders are there, how often do they communicate about what's actually going out? How often do the people at the end of the line creatively actually see what's going out the door and what's been approved? I've witnessed that time and again where the guys who are at the top who really have the vision who are really trying to lead for creative improvements don't see it til it's on the air. That can happen.

RS We will never do an animatic to show a client for that same reason. The only thing they ever present is a script in writing.

DJ We do animatics but everything we ever present is only written.

DR Some of the bigger clients, is there a way that a bigger company can take on a particular brand and establish a relationship early on based on the assumption that we will be pushing with this brand?

PF We did that with Mastercard. When we first got the business the first work we did for them, we went out and shot a commercial they hated. They said they didn't want to do it, it would test poorly. It tested poorly. They said, "We're not going to run it." We said, "You are going to run it." It was the Tony Kaye spot with the little kid and father at the baseball game. It was a classic. They listened to us and trusted us even with the test scores being as bad as they were. It turned their business around.

DJ Does the agency get into the position of being able to parlay that to other brands?

PF You try. It's based on trust. And it's based on people being afraid. So many of the clients we deal with today whoever it is -- we have the same problems with beer as we do with drug accounts -- the fear factor is, there's always someone above them and if you don't shoot what's on this board and if you don't bring that back, you're dead. Out of all the accounts we have, which are 50-plus accounts, I would say that maybe one or two only we have a relationship where the client will actually listen. Joyce (King Thomas) goes in and says, "This is the right thing to do," and they listen. The rest of them will fight you and test it.

DJ That's the interesting thing because it's not dissimilar I would think to any business in that it all starts at the top. It's the philosophy, what do you stand for, what is the soul of what you do? Whether you make glasses or potato chips or whatever it is.

NA We have this window of opportunity with a new CD, this small window. In every big agency you don't get that many chances to start again.

C How will CP+B maintain the culture, and the control excercised from the top as it grows?

RS The answer is that Alex elects creative directors who still report to him on a daily basis, who he trusts and are very smart. They go through about a year or two at a time under his wing before they even become creative directors, waiting to see whether they are going to be able to fit in that philosophy or not.

DR A new thing for us and it's just evolved is that we have Andrew Keller and honestly, a year and a half ago he was an art director who was smart and now he's a creative director, but he's really a right hand man to Alex.

RS We're at 300-plus now. Our number one job at the agency is to be purveyors of the culture at the agency. Anyone we hire or deal with or becomes part of us, they have to not go out there with a cocky attitude. Humble is the main word we keep in mind.

CG I think you also have to have a pretty strong account side and strong leadership on that side as well because that's your main communication to the client. That's where I see a lot of great stuff happening -- people who are really smart and see things evolve and are willing to go to that length I think that's a big part of it.

C In terms of having the strong personality at the top -- to Sally and Colin -- do you guys feel that with Droga?

SD Yes, he's the big personality at our agency. He's worldwide but based in New York and he's hands-on.

PF Does he look at every rough cut?

CP He looks at a lot. And he doggedly follows it -- from the moment he sees it and has an opinion about it he will hound you every time he sees you to see it again and again.

SD He's right up on the directors. And the production companies and the dynamics there. He is relentless. And he is very involved with the clients.

C How many people here actively produce? (Everyone raises hand)

DP The reason you produce is not for your reel, not to get out of town in the winter. It's to show to the people who work for you that you're willing to do the same things that they go through every day.

CG I like to build relationships with the directors and production companies.

DP You never know a client unless you're on a job with them.

PF I think I should have cards for when I go to pre-pro meetings that say chief sanitation engineer. That's our job. People come in every day and dump garbage on your desk at 9am and by 10 at night, you hope that that garbage is moved out and then the next load of garbage comes in. If you don't produce and expand your mind you'll end up just being the sanitation guy who puts garbage out every day and that's at a big agency -- that's what my and Nancy's and David's roles are.

RS How many people are in your department?

PF 106.

RS Jesus.

PF 57 jobs went through the shop this month.

C How has the production department changed to deal with different kinds of work?

DR We are implementing a change. And I really think in order to implement change you have to be able to change the way people think. We still have producers who watch Rupert and me every day and, as an example, I was talking to one of them about the interactive element of her job. She really was like, "That's not me." I said, "Of course that's you. That's what we do. Right next door the guy who's way under you who's 23 years old is doing the most enviable job in the department. It's a strictly interactive job and it's 47 seconds, or it's a minute and nine seconds, etc. It's funny, it's got swear words, it's great." We're thinking that way. So we have to project that thinking to production companies, to editorial companies in terms of the expansion of the work and the different facets of shooting we might do. The point is is that we don't want to isolate producers into broadcast, interactive or art buying. So we're eliminating broadcast from our department. It's now going to be called the integrated production department. All of interactive, all of art buying -- these are going to merge.

RS In a nutshell, we have broadcast, which is the model of what we all know, then you have interactive in which we are becoming more and more enveloped with all the projects we're doing. Then you have art buying which is intellectual property and these things that are joined together, all the things you have to do from a business affairs standpoint and also from a production standpoint, all are molding together these three factors. We decided to create an umbrella, the integrated production department, and put everyone under one roof. The communication process between the three departments is much better now. You can shout out to your interactive producer or look at the print side and say, "What's going on over there?"

DR The reason why Alex wanted to do this along with Rupert and myself is that he wants us to be able to communicate this standard to the outside world too. I want to make it so that producers enveloped in this broadcast shoot relate to our interactive needs. We need certain facets of this production to help us with the interactive component. It shouldn't just be with interesting brands like "Subservient Chicken." The model for us is simple, I use this every time. I shot some spots with Rocky Morton, the next day with the producer we planned a little shoot on the side. We got the Stan Winston chicken, we took the chicken over to a buddy's apartment, shot some shit and we were done. That Saturday became Subservient and that web site trumped the spots dramatically. The point is we all have to learn from that. I think it's important to try to relate that from the beginning of a job and to also not just relate that internally between account service and client and creative but also to relate it to the production company too because I think they can help on the way. It's about an idea not a 30-second spot.

JG I think it's about the spirit of play and exploration that can't be so tightly compartmentalized.

C Are production companies stepping up in terms of being involved in and understanding all of this?

RS An example is what we did with We just did "Chicken Fight," which is an extension of what this whole thing is going to be. This is a DVD, a whole web extension, a whole scenario where basically as a producer you have your nuts against a wall because you know you have a certain amount of money and are reaching the end of our fiscal year with BK and wondering, Oh shit, what's going to happen here? So we know what we've got, we go to Glue Society who we love as a directorial team. We really like these guys, let's get treatments in, etc. as a company with all their facets and philosophy with Outpost Digital, and everything they have there, we go to Frank (Scherma) and say, "This is what we have going on, this is a project that is going to expand into all hell right here, what do you want to do? We're really interested in Glue Society let's talk about it. This is the amount of money we've got, this is the expanse, this is the breadth we think it might involve, and if you're interested let's do it." So, he's like, "OK, let's get it on." From that point of view, we had to get a line producer on board and all these people right off the bat that knew this thing was going to develop into all different ways because creatively it was one of those things that you didn't know how it was going to evolve. You get your production company involved, you get them very much on the ground level.

DR It starts with relationships though. Someone like Steve Wax -- he's such a dreamer, he really wants to do all this. With this Sharp ("More to See") thing, Errol did the spots but I think it's great that Steve said, "I want to carry the rest of this thing. Someone did the spots but we'll create the different web components, etc." He loves that stuff and that's very forward thinking and there are other producers who are doing that as well.

NA In many ways production is all about relationships with production companies -- because directors come and go, they are at different places and while they are incredibly valuable and I love them, the relationship is with the company that's willing to go down that path with you.

C Aren't they very eager to go down that path?

DR They are but they are the ones that are interested. What I tell my producers is that when people say no, say congratulations. Please say no -- because it's difficult. You have to find a particular thing that a production company or a director wants.

C Agencies should say no too ...

RS Agencies never say no ...

C What about agency spec work? What about a scenario where an agency can go ahead and produce things -- build it into their budget?

MB We do it. The company has made a commitment to put a certain amount of their dollars every year into doing spec work that they try to sell the client. And we've had some success. We've had success with Miller and it really makes you look good. Because you're committing to their business -- if the idea is good. If the idea is solid, you are going to have a much less difficult time selling something.

PF Just existing clients -- not to bring in new business?

MB We're doing that now actually. Mark (Figliulo) our ECD has talked about this -- it's something that he's trying to push as a new way of doing business because it's so competitive. Miller is one of our clients, we do some of our best work with them, but we are competing every time against five other agencies at least.

C What do you look for in new talent?

CG I've been bringing in some people experimenting from the production side of things and trying to bring in people from the production community that really understand what it takes to get it done. I find they get really under the rocks. My business manager was a producer and ran a production company. It's helpful because our budgets are getting smaller and smaller but it's creative and they are right there with you. I find, no offense to anyone out there, but there are a lot of people who are so just guided by what's the norm, whereas you get people from the production side and they're just so used to getting it done no matter what it takes.

RS And they have the business affairs side. We're looking for someone in that realm.

JG That's the toughest category of all. They're just the most valuable people.

C What about CP+B Productions -- what is that?

RS CBP Productions is a whole different scenario which is purely revolving around protecting intellectual property for the agency. It allows us to have an area where the company doesn't have to be associated with our clients 100 percent and they can have a position where if we create an idea then it goes into CB+P Productions, so at this point we're not producing anything there. It allows an outside source for our agency to go out and produce things, make films, do whatever we want to do but protect that intellectual property and invite clients in to be part of that rather than be in an environment in the agency where you're suddenly already enveloped in that whole scene. It's inviting clients in rather than being in their bed already so to speak.

C Anyone else seeing any new opportunities for new revenue streams, an example being Leap, the in-house music publishing arm that BBH London set up?

CG We have an in-house edit facility and we've been doing a big chunk of our work in house. We've been bringing in graphic artists and finishing work.

MB How do the creatives feel about that?

CG Well, for the right jobs when the budgets are small and you want to get creative. It helps too because we're small and the creatives are working on so many projects that sometimes it's beneficial, but it's a project by project basis. We have the facility and the resources.

RS Can you bring in a big time editor?

CG Anybody. You can experiment with things and ideas.

JG There's also value in this scenario in that, for example, a lot of my young creatives are also now young parents so it's really stressful. It's hard for them to be on the road for a long time and it's given us an opportunity to bring in talent, an opportunity to develop local talent because they get their hands on work that they otherwise wouldn't have access to. And also leading back to the conversation about exploring other formats, when it's your own kitchen and you have someone there with chops, cut the half hour version, cut the 15, let's really explore this.

RS The whole thing you're talking about creatives with kids, that's why they have that satellite on our roof now. We can finish from the agency. We can work with Company 3 and Riot and we have a satellite live feed and we can work with a telecine artist in L.A. or New York and finish the whole thing in Miami. It's not really operational yet because the satellite we have is too small, so if there's a cloud going over it goes black and white. But that's going to alleviate some of those pressures.

C What kind of work are you doing in-house?

DJ We cut everything. Three of the six new Coke spots we're cutting in-house. We bring in different people -- we have two or three who are there pretty much year round because we do so much stuff. But the "Summer Games" stuff, we did all of that in-house. It's such a big volume. And it can be delicate. You don't want to force a particular project on a particular writer ...

JG You never force. As long as you don't force they come to you.

DJ The other thing is that the the editors develop their own relationships with the creative team and that's the thing that I encourage more than anything. Don't let me do that for you, go out and make your own relationships with them.

DR Rupert and I have discovered, we have this dude in our department that does music. He's incredible. The creatives discovered it before we did. One day we said, "What are you doing?" and he's like, "Well, I'm doing this music for this..." We knew he did audio and music but creatives uncovered it because he's an adept guy and now he's part of the reason we became integrated productions. We realized that our production guy who is supposed to be half dubbing guy half audio guy who's good at music now spends all of his time doing interactive music. He spends all day and all night and all weekend coming up with music for all our interactive projects. So since then we've started a music department.

DJ In a way the creative people can be more involved and more creative depending on the project if it's cut in-house. You can do it if the chemistry is right you can do it in-house and they can visit the project all the time.

PF It's all in the editor you bring in.

DJ It's the talent but it's also the philosphy, the relationship, just like any of the other things we do.

CG A couple editors are willing to come in and do that same thing though. They are willing to come in from their shop and edit in-house and you work out a deal. I don't discount those people either.

RS We have it set up in our new space where we have three big suites and one big Avid suite that's purely going to be there to bring people down. That's going to happen in the next couple of months. That's our plan. That's why I ask how hard is it for you to bring in top end editors.

CG Anyone will come.

DR We've done it but we've brought them to different edit facilities.

CG We're also experimenting doing editing while we're shooting. We did that with a recent Snapple campaign that doesn't air until January. We brought an editor with us who had a mobile unit.

C What makes you take a chance on newer directors?

RS One thing definitely has to do with the money you have. Because you are going to have to leverage something. Two is the creative side of it -- what happened with Glue Society is that they bid out some of the bigger directors based on their treatment and the call we had. And thirdly, it's really based on chemistry between us and them. With Glue Society, also they were used to shooting a proliferation of scenarios. That was one of the big reasons we went with them because they are not going to be shocked when we say we have a 12-page DVD script, instead of the normal narrow minded commercial director.

DR It also contributes an aesthetic difference too. That's why we went after Stylewar because we had the confidence in them, they had done interesting work and in the end we ended up having a very distinctive style that we wouldn't have had if we went with someone who was more established.

CP Every once in a while you find someone new that has a really a completely new vision or technique for something. Sometimes it's hard to believe because of the profusion of directors you think it's the top 25 or five guys you want but every once in a while someone new does come along and they are unique.

DJ We're big on using unknown talent. The thing I think that's equally interesting is finding a director who does a certain thing and does it over and over and have him do something else completely different.

PF But then you have to sell that to your creative people if they don't see what they want on his reel. Then you have to take a short reel to the client and say I know there's nothing on this reel that you're looking for but trust us.

JG The defining moment is the treatment. That's where you know you have a connection.

DJ With Vogel Villar-Rios, we did it based really on a couple of Nike things they did. It was based on that and our conversations with them. They flew to New York and it was all kind of low key. It kind of worked the other way with Traktor -- they are or were at the time known for all this subversive work that they had done. Could they work on a brand like Coke? That was even a harder sell.

C In terms of other things in the process -- like AICP guidelines -- what's your wish list for change?

PF I'd get rid of the form. I'd have two forms. One form you'd have a number and you'd work backward from the number, a one-page bid form. If I have $300,000 and you want to do the job give me a piece of paper that says that I'm going to do the job, I don't care how you do it, I don't care if you make money on it, thank you very much. If you don't want to go plus plus then you do all the other nonsense. But you'll never have that happen. You have the cost consultants on the outside who have to justify their job so it becomes ludicrous.

DP The only thing I'd like to see with the AICP is that the price of the MOMA show was less than $700 -- But Peter is right, it's here to stay, it's factored in to the way you do business.

RS I'm in agreement with what Peter said ...

PF It's not going to change. Because there is the trust factor. Clients don't trust the agencies so they have these cost consultants that do nothing. When you have X amount of money and you work backwards from that number, why do you need a cost consultant? If someone says I'm going to do that job for this amount of money ...

RS I'll give you an example of what we did for BK. BK internally has cost consultants working for them. Our client was getting pressured every day to come to us to come up with changes. So we say to them, "OK, how much do you need to save as opposed to what you spent last year?" They say, "Well they want to take ten percent." So we say, "Give us your whole budget, take ten percent and then we'll do it but forget the cost consultant. Let's just do it." So then they were like, "OK. . ." and then suddenly that's the deal. So we're not dealing with the consultant anymore we're just going down the road we're going to save them money ... on our onus. But at least you don't have to deal with the bullocks every day that you do in that situation.

JG I just worked with a wonderful cost consultant -- Natalie Ross. She's a producer. For me, she was someone who completely understood the subtlety of the craft of numbers. And there is an art and craft to structuring an estimate so that you have enough infrastructure there to guarantee the work and enough flexibility to manage risk and really it was lovely. I don't get to share this with anyone, it's a very sort of private exercise and I was delighted to share my stuff because I'm proud of my stuff.

RS Was she hard on the client side?

JG She was hard on the client side and she was great because she was able to go back and articulate to the client as their advocate the value of the process and that facilitated expediting the job. It goes to show it can really work. There needs to be intelligence and experience.

DR There should be enough attrition between production and agency and AICP, etc. that really it could affect the client enough to change the cost consultancy business so that more of them are like that. I feel like that is happening.

PF I feel the opposite. What I'm hearing and I know for a fact is that there are cost consultants now that go back after the agency has done all your numbers. You've pared it down, and they have gone to the client and said, "You know what, I can do it cheaper than McCann Erickson, I can do it cheaper than Chiat/Day and we have a guy from Canada we can use." And that's what they're doing. You have consultants that are now in the production business. The company we worked with on a certain account did that with a client. They went behind a certain agency's back and they went to Canada to shoot the job for less money. And P.S., the job stunk and they had to reshoot it.

DP The inside client people are much better than the independents.

C With the enormous changes the industry is going through -- economically, the media landscape, consolidation, etc. -- what is the biggest factor for you, in a nutshell, in the production world?

PF Two words: time and money.

DP I would say more work and fewer people.

RS I would say that our agency has been lucky enough to continue to win a lot of business over the last few years and keep growing. So we as a department have been having to work out ways to facilitate that and also the expanse of what we're dealing with on the content side and the content scenario and trying to manage all those things. We're still developing

DR I just say build or establish your culture and try to nurture it. Then try to spread it whether it's with a simple production or a big idea. Think of it that way and I think that it can extend itself. That's how we began and that's how we're building and again I think it's something you project and it can be very effective when you project it to the vendors and what have you.

MB Produce relevant content outside of the 30-second commercial.

JG I actually don't think it's changed. The essence is make beautiful things and when you do great work you build trust and the agency only grows and prospers through great work and trust.

DJ I agree. I don't really think it's changed. I think it's still protecting the philosophy of the agency. That's the single most important thing and we're there to produce ideas. We don't do production, we produce ideas. It's still the same as it was 30 years ago. It's harder.

DR I think ideas are bigger now. I think ideas are growing in terms of how you have to relate them. An idea can grow internally, internally, internally and then you send it out and it's very concise and compartmentalized and everyone knows what you're doing but now the idea can grow after and during the process.

DJ I think there has to be a shepherd of that idea and that has to come from the author of the idea and not from the director, the best editor, the coolest music company that has the best capuccino. It's all subservient to the idea. Every person from the idea down is subservient to the idea.

CG It's the ability to create an environment that you can evolve and in which you can stimulate the people you have. You get to that point not just on your own but with the stimuli out there in the world.

NA Mine's very simple. Production is all about not getting it done but making it happen. If you can make it happen that's what you're doing every day and in every different medium and all the different possibilities and of course keeping people's heads above water.

(This article appears in the January 2005 issue of Creativity.)
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