Ad agencies in-house production and post capabilities have been at the center of some debate and investigation recently. The federal kind of investigation. But this isn't a new conversation. Agencies' bidding practices, in regards to in-house production capabilities, have been in question since the early 2000s and even before.
At every company that I've worked at over the past 20 years, there has been some version of in-house production, from small agencies with one edit bay to bigger shops with varying degrees of high-fidelity offerings like in-house directors, shooting stages, a stable of editors, finishing, 3-D animation, VFX and even the ability to record and mix 5.1 surround sound—all under one roof.
Some of this comes from necessity. Ad agencies need to be able to service clients quickly and at a low cost. Especially when it comes to quick-strike content creation, or social content that has a constant cadence, or things like sales videos. Often we have an idea that is opportunistic for the brand, so we need to be able to execute that and try and sell it to clients and time is of the essence. Where it gets messy is when agencies turn the ability to make something in-house into a mandate that everything be done in-house at the expense of the work and vendor relationships just to keep profits and production money coming to the agency.
The point was to develop the internal capabilities that allow an agency to make, experiment, and create in order to be the best partner to their clients. Having some essential skills in-house is crucial; turning it into a profit center is not.
Some agencies have lost sight of what's most important: making sure we're delivering the best work possible for our clients. That should mean that whenever possible we are able to engage best-in-class partners that are selected to specifically deliver on the idea on the table—not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Here, the do's and don'ts of internal production & post production:
● Don't mandate using internal resources. Having resources available in-house is great, but don't give client or creative teams no choice in who they work with. It's the fastest way to mediocre work, disgruntled creatives and internal resources that always feel inferior.
● Do build a team of internal resources that can create and build things that your team and the client can be proud of, and which creatives choose to work with. It's better for the work, it's better for the teams. And clients actually feel like they're getting great creative for good production value in return. If you have a content creator or a director have them do storyboards and share a vision with the creative team and client. Same with an internal editor: Allow that person to have a point of view and to build a relationship with the team based on mutual respect and confidence. It's a win-win.
● Don't bid out your internal resources against external partners. This is a no-brainer. And definitely do not ask a partner to do a bid if you're just going to work with your internal team regardless. Besides the fact that it's an illegal bidding practice, it completely alienates production partners who we count on for best-in-class directors, editors, animators, VFX supervisors, etc. These types of practices damage relationships and make the agency and client look bad. Just don't do it.
● Do build out the best internal team possible to service some of your clients and creatives needs. It's better for everyone if the creatives and client are choosing to work in-house because you have found great talent and don't feel like they are being forced to work in-house because of a bottom-line number. Some of the best editors in the biz started out as internal editors at an ad agency.
● Don't force all your editing in-house. Editorial seems to be the thing that most shops try and pull in-house first—it's the easiest to justify. And some agencies like to use the excuse of not wanting their creative teams out of the office for weeks and weeks at a time. This practice doesn't allow directors or creatives any say in telling the story they have both worked so hard to craft.
● Do have a great editor on staff that you can count on. I realize everyone is meant to be multitasking every moment of the day and it's hard to let the creative teams out of sight for the time it takes to sit in an edit bay and help craft a story. So it's important to have someone great as an option to keep edit in-house. But again, this is an option.
● Don't give clients a reason to bypass the agency and go directly to the production company or post house. Clients are smart. Many large and small brands have CCOs from the agency world at the helm of creative decision making on the client side. As an agency, your job is to bring objectivity, creativity and value to every stage of the process.
● Do spend time building relationships in order to be able to work with best-in-class partners. It's the key to having a well-rounded production offering. Great internal options + great external relationships = being able to help guide the creative and production process to the best possible outcome.
● Don't be a jerk. Consider yourself lucky to have such a cool job in advertising.
● Do be kind and considerate. This is a small business. Treat everyone with respect and consideration. Karma is king.
We have a responsibility to our clients and ourselves to make the best work possible. It's shortsighted to think you have everything and everyone you need to make world-class work sitting in your office, agency, or in-house creative department. Have the foresight to know when to work in-house and when to call on those relationships you have spent time nurturing over the years.