Agency production: The soup and the nuts

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Don't be a TV snob. Truly take into consideration what a client's needs are and how we can find their audience, writes the head of production at BBH New York.

I am head of production at an agency and my husband is CMO of a startup in Brooklyn. Which means that as I was recently figuring out how to make a 2-minute spot for $1.5 million—and struggling—he came home and told me he got a great director to shoot two pro athletes in two European cities all-in for under $100,000. Great.

Next, he came home after dinner and excitedly informed me the video from Fatherly that has tens of millions of views cost less than $300. Even better.

With media fracturing and screens multiplying, the number of companies looking to provide content solutions to our clients is greater now than ever before.

But the truth be told is running production at an agency doesn’t mean these facts have to be scary.

What’s scary is pretending these stories don’t exist. Pretending that CMOs and brand managers leveraging networks and in-house production capabilities into more output for lower cost. Pretending that production companies don’t see the benefit of going direct to client. Pretending that media companies aren't looking to bring production dollars their way. Pretending that brands everywhere aren’t looking at spend and trying to figure out how to allocate less to fees and more to output.

So, does all this competition mean that agency production has nothing to stand on? I don’t think so. I think it’s a challenge. And it’s exciting.

Why? Because, as agency producers, we can make all this. 

In a good client and agency relationship, the agency is the creator and cultivator of brand strategy. We know our client’s business, their targets, their positioning. We know their history and what they’re looking to do. We should know them just as well as they know themselves, if not better. And we should pour every ounce of that knowledge into our production. 

That means our production should be—pound for pound—smarter than any other possible partner. 

Should we be able to make your $2 million film? Yes. Should we be able to make your $110,000 digital activation and OOH take over? Yes. A spot for $5,000? Getting tight, but yes.

The question of what you need to spend to produce something depends on what you need it to be. There’s a reason the Fatherly spot can be made for $300 and PlayStation’s "The King" can’t. The Fatherly spot relies on found footage of extraordinary kids in their ordinary homes. The PlayStation spot requires a medieval king, fantastic worlds, horseback riding and photo-real CG spaceships. 

Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. They’re just different.

We can’t be TV snobs. We need to truly take into consideration what a client’s needs are and how we can find their audience. Not only strategic and timing needs but also engagement, media and budgetary needs. 

We must be smart. We can never lose sight of creative integrity but within that we need to ask how we can capitalize on experience and resources. Where we are putting together a live-action shoot, can we take the cast, set-ups and run B-camera for social? We just did this and it was great. The content is good and the client is getting so much more as we bring their film to life. Twenty-five pieces of content for—essentially—the price of one. 

We need our clients to be honest about their budgets and parameters. Equipped with that knowledge we can better consider where we leverage production spend and where we are more cost-efficient. 360i’s Super Bowl win for Oreo? Spotify’s "President of Playlists"? Effective? Yes. Expensive? No.

That’s not to say spending money—and in certain cases, a lot of money—doesn’t make sense. There are times when big, beautiful, complicated film is the right solution for our clients. And usually big, beautiful, complicated film costs money.

But, do you need to spend over $1 million on a film to get your agency excited? No. 

As agency producers, we’re excited to make this work. We got into this industry to make things. We love making things—scrappy or not. Are we still working out exactly how to do some of the scrappy stuff? If I’m perfectly honest, yes. And if we’re not, our lawyers are. I don’t think this sort of production is for the risk-averse. That’s one of the reasons the social arena has been ripe for disruption. It’s the fearless ones who have succeeded. 

But, as agencies we can’t stand on the sidelines and personally, I don’t want to. 

I want to sit at dinner on Monday and show my husband the smartest Instagram campaign he’s ever seen. And on Friday, I want to show him the most amazing 2-minute PlayStation film he’s seen in years. 

Because that’s what we, as agencies, can do. 

—Kate Morrison is head of production at BBH New York.

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