Production companies sit at the sharp end of change

After a Cannes-soaked few weeks immersed in what's hot - data, technology, PR, stunts, small-time charity ads, healthcare spots - it's wonderfully indulgent (if rather unfashionable) to spend time reading about some great TV commercials from some of the world's best directors.

Traktor joined Rattling Stick earlier this month and we’ve asked the directors to choose the best ads they’ve ever made and tell us what made them great (page 30).

I remember the first time I saw every one of them – proper hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments. There aren’t enough of those now. Brilliant big-budget TV commercials are no longer the (only) apogee of creative achievement, and commercials production must accept its new natural place. Yes, brands want more and more video content, but they want to pay less and less for it. Meanwhile, the old natural order of production companies working closely with creative departments is beginning to crack, and the production industry finds itself at a turning point.

Production sits at the sharp end of clients’ relentless drive to cut costs and rationalise suppliers. Last week, we ran a letter from the Advertising Producers Association chief, Steve Davies, calling on M&C Saatchi to pay the production, post and editing companies it works with "on, or even close to, the date on which it agrees to pay them".

M&C Saatchi is far from being the only agency to pass the squeeze down the line, but the letter does highlight growing tensions in what should be a collaborative creative process. It’s harder for agencies and production companies to work harmoniously together if one of them feels cheated by the other.

At the same time, more agencies are moving into production themselves. Marketers have a raging thirst for content, content, content (most of it unwatched and unwatchable), which requires cheap, fast production, so more agencies are launching their own in-house production departments to take advantage while protecting their existing business.

Then there’s the whole issue of decoupling, with some clients keen to separate production from the rest of the creative process, mostly so they can subject production more directly to the brutal demands of their procurement departments.

All this leaves production companies in an interesting place. The smartest are bringing in the strategic and broad creative skills traditionally found in ad agencies, embracing the content bandwagon and actively seeking more direct client relationships. There’s a lifeline here for those canny enough to grab it. But it puts a further wedge between production and advertising creativity. And it becomes harder to see how ads like those in our feature will get made in this new future.

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