Commercial Production

Production Bidding Transparency

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It’s MRA’s priority to ensure transparency and integrity in the production bidding process for our clients, and we wanted to share a quick post regarding the recent announcement of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation.

Day-in and day-out, our Content Production Advisors advise our clients on best-practice processes and procedures to protect against fraudulent bidding practices like those mentioned in The Wall Street Journal article.

With that in mind, MRA has responded to this week’s announcement by developing additional resources to help you mitigate risk and safeguard your organization against unfair production and post-production bidding processes. We’d be happy to discuss them with you — please request additional information here or call Stacey St. John directly at 513-354-3833.

 

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Can You Spend Your Production Budgets More Wisely?

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You can with MRA.

Check out a few examples of how we’ve helped others spend their production budgets more efficiently:

Recently, a client was pre­sented with new creative work.  The agency recommended producing three :30 spots behind the new creative; total bid for the production amounted to $1,600,000 — somewhat steep, but within the limits of what gets spent for com­mercials in that category.

On analysis of the boards, MRA’s consultant broke down the costs by commercial.  She suspected that a disproportionate share of the ex­pen­diture lay in an unassum­ing-looking set called for by only one of the spots — not immediately apparent from the board, except to a trained eye.

On digging fur­ther, it turned out that this set alone cost $540,000, or 34% of the total pro­duction cost for the entire pool!

When the Product Manager was ap­prised of the facts, she decided (smart Product Manager!) to produce the other two :30s. Total produc­tion outlay, just over $894,000, instead of the originally-recommended $1,600,000.

It’s not easy to see production pitfalls and extravagances in a storyboard.  That takes years of practice, and the experience of working with thousands of commer­cials. The average Product Man­ager, who may produce as many as three commercials a year, can’t be expected to act as his own produc­tion expert. Moreover, negotiating costs is not the optimum use of a Product Manager’s time.

It is, however, the optimum use of MRA’s time. That’s why we work for over more than 30 clients on retainer, and why we’ve done project work for all but a handful of the top 200 adver­tisers over the 35+ years of our exis­tence.

Cost Control: A Blend of Art & Science

Here are a few more examples of the kinds of savings MRA experts make  — large and small.

A major client was facing produc­tion of a large pool of commer­cials, featuring multiple non-speaking actors in each commer­cial.  The agency bid the job in Los Angeles — and also in South Africa and South America. Since the tal­ent was non-speaking, dialogue wasn’t important: looks, acting, and loca­tion were.

MRA has had considerable experi­ence with overseas production and was able to provide valuable infor­ma­tion about the necessity of ex­tended lead-times in scheduling and the placement of heavy em­phasis on preproduction in order to assure a smooth job.

The commercials turned out just fine (thank you!). The client ulti­mately saved $500,000 in production costs over the Los Angeles-based bidder and, coincidentally, $458,000 in reuse fees. The agency feels good about the results and, when last seen, was sporting the commer­cials on its sample reel.

Cost Control: A Blend of Art & Science

Another client had two :30s (each with a :15 cut-down). The shooting schedule called for four con­secu­tive days in outdoor locations in California. Given the potential for rain in February on the west coast, MRA strongly recommended that weather day insurance be in­vestigated; our people were able to recommend an insurance com­pany which had previously pro­vided good coverage at a very favorable price for our clients.

Weather-day contingency costs on this project were estimated at $80,000 per day for a total rain-out. On the other hand, the weather-day insurance premium came in at $28,000 for all four days, guaranteeing that nine hours of each 12-hour shoot day would be rain-free.

As it turned out, one shooting day was drowned out and a total loss. With proper documentation, the in­surance company came through with $80,000 in coverage, the pool of commercials was produced as planned, and client and agency were pleased with the results.

Cost Control: A Blend of Art & Science

Do you always accept the low bidder on production?  We don’t; instead, we look for the “best value” bid­der.

We had a recent case where the agency recommended — and the cli­ent con­curred — with the middle bidder: $25,000 higher than the low bidder. MRA agreed that the mid­dle-bid­ding director would do a better job and then set to work, negoti­ating a savings of $11,693 in pro­duction, casting, and agency travel. What that meant was, the commercial got the best director; agency and client were happy, and nearly half the premium cost was saved by judiciously pruning the production estimate.

In addition, the agency planned to hire nine on-camera principals as actors — four more than the five agreed to in the pre-bid confer­ence. Notified of the additional actors by MRA’s consultant, the client was able to persuade the agency that six on-camera princi­pals would be plenty — with an ul­timate savings of $45,000 in reuse payments.

Net result: the commercial seemed sufficiently “populated” with ac­tors; agency and client were happy with the results, and the client had a little extra cash to put into media or other areas.

 

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Are You In Production Trouble?

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And What Exactly IS “Production Trouble?”

Let’s face it — you may or may not know if you’re in “Production Trouble,” and that’s okay! Heck, you may or may not even know what “Production Trouble’ is. We’ll tackle that in a minute…

You know, when you I was a teenager, being “in trouble” meant I was either sent to my room, grounded from going out with friends, or…heaven forbid…had my car keys taken away. (We didn’t have cell phones back then. If we had, I’m sure that would’ve been first on my parents’ list.)

But what is “Production Trouble?” Well, it’s when you’re wasting precious time and/or money on production — and you may not even know it!

Things You May Be Experiencing When You’re In Production Trouble

  • The production process feels too complex — and rushed
  • You aren’t happy with the quality of your advertising
  • You’re not sure if you’re getting the best value for your production spending
  • You’re producing content for social media and want to ensure you’re getting the best ROI possible
  • You don’t have a central repository for asset management
  • You need to find creative ways to spend less on production so you can reinvest into other things
  • You’re not sure if you’re following best practices when creative is being produced
  • You’re not benchmarking production costs
  • You don’t have clarity on how production partners are selected
  • You work with multiple agencies, and they all seem to work in “silos”
  • You don’t know what different types of deliverable should (or shouldn’t) cost

Did you know there’s an expert resource at your fingertips that can help you with each of these? (Yep, that’s us). We can help you anytime and anywhere — MRA works with clients all over the globe. We’re here anytime…

Tell-Tale Signs You Need Production Help. Right Here. Right Now.

In addition to the list above, you may be in serious trouble (without even knowing it). Check out 6 Things You Might Say When You Need MRA (and shouldn’t go another day without calling us):

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Migraine Med Makes Heads Turn at Cannes

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Excedrin® Migraine, Congrats on the Recent Wins!

It’s thrilling to see a Silver and two Bronze medals in honor of the creative associated with this campaign, and we’re honored to have played a part in making it come to life.

After more than a year of planning, the Excedrin® Migraine campaign went live in April 2016, and the entire campaign wrapped itself around various real stories of people who suffer from migraines.  Four individuals who suffer from migraines tell their story in four different videos. These stories are told in a truly unique manner whereby their partner or family member wears an augmented reality migraine simulator.

The production of this campaign kicked off many months ahead of the launch, since there was so much to plan in advance of video shoot.  MRA was involved from the very beginning when we helped capture the best people for this project — from casting to directors to editors, etc.

In addition to the four videos being shot, a long format video showing what a migraine feels like, science expert videos, preroll deliverables, and print stills were a part of this project. MRA recommended a genuine real people casting agent for the project and also recommended a production company, editorial company, and a talent payroll company to help with talent payments, which proved to be extremely successful.

Throughout the production process, which involved many layers of agency personnel (creative, digital, account, and even some freelance), MRA provided support well-beyond cost control. Many deliverables were produced for various regions around the world, and we were delighted to be part of the team, co-produce, and serve in an advisory role to ensure everyone could do their very best work — at the very best price.

MRA is so very proud to have the opportunity to serve more than 500 brands around the world, and we want to give special thanks to Excedrin® Migraine for allowing us to serve you on this amazing project!

Haven’t seen the campaign yet? Check out the videos here.

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Understanding SAG: What Every Brand Manager Should Know

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Understanding SAG: Live Webinar

This year brings new changes to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) contract with the Joint Policy committee of the ANA/AAAA for all the marketers and agencies who use actors for advertising. The SAG negotiations started in February and the new contract, tentatively agreed upon on April 3rd, 2016, will run until March 31, 2019.

If you plan on doing any type of broadcast advertising – including TV, Cable, Internet, New Media – using members of the Screen Actors Guild union or even non-union talent you should be prepared for and up-to-date with all the new changes in the SAG contract.

With the rising demand for online digital videos, agencies are using more talent than ever. The new contract aims to adapt to these new demands and will bring new changes to the SAG commercial rate sheets (split into TV and online/new media), retroactive payments due to performers, working conditions, the signatory/non-signatory status, off-shore production rules and other non-economic issues like using non-union actors for your production.

Because MRA is committed to helping you through this process, we will hold a live webinar on April 20th at 2pm EST to help you anticipate and prepare for all the specific problems that might arise for you.

This webinar is designed to help you make more informed decisions when storyboards and budgets are submitted for approval, and while this webinar will be most valuable for TV advertisers who also create online videos, any company is more than welcome to attend if they plan on doing any broadcast advertising in the future.

Join us on Wednesday, April 20th to learn more about:

• The Screen Actors Guild, who they are and what is their jurisdiction
• The SAG contract, and how to find out if you are a signatory
• Is it ever possible for SAG signatories to use non-union talent?
• Arbitration: What are your chances of winning
• The experimental Coverage Waiver for ‘Made For Internet and Made For New Media’ commercials

SAG Webinar Registration

Presenter: The webinar is authored and will be presented by MRA’s own Jerry Rice

Who is Jerry Rice?

Jerry Rice has been a Senior Production Manager at Procter & Gamble, an agency producer and a production company owner. Jerry has considerable expertise in advertising production and has served on numerous industry committees, most important being the ANA Production Management Committee and as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Policy Committee of the ANA/AAAA, which negotiates the SAG contract on behalf of the industry.

Jerry has been through four SAG contract negotiations so far and will provide you with special insight into this process to help you smoothly navigate through the changes.

In addition to helping clients capture significant savings, Jerry also brings a wealth of insight and perspective regarding best practices, production business models, trends and innovation.

Click here to reserve your seat!

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How Much of Your :30 Commercial Is Actually Working?

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How to analyze your commercials for better results.

What do you require of your TV commercials?  If all you want is “a little top-of-mind awareness,” click off this page right now.  You aren’t the sort of Product Manager who needs to read this.

If, on the other hand, your answer is “Move some units,” “Build a brand,” “Get prospects into dealerships,” “Convince category users to switch to our brand,” or “Fight off a competitor,” then stick around; we have a simple and useful analytical technique that will help you make each of your commercials work harder.

We start with a principle that posits: the better media buys you make, the better your commercials need to be.  If you have weak, inane and ineffective commercials in great time slots at high frequency, you’ll deliver your insipid advertising to a huge audience with admirable efficiency — thus, blowing your chance to achieve some real career-enhancing business results.

We also start with the premise that the sole function of any of your commercials is to make the audience do something as a result of all the work and money you’ve put out.  Nobody should get a free ride on your advertising; that is, no one should be able to consume your advertising without also trying the product. If all you want is a “little top of mind awareness,” buy some outdoor advertising: it’s probably cheaper.

Determining how much of your commercial is working is simple and easy — and requires nothing more than a stopwatch, recording device, and a reel of your latest brand commercials.

You simply time the “working” scenes, add ‘em up, and voila!  You know how much of each :30 is actu­ally working for your brand.  How much is actually sell­ing, as op­posed to getting ready, preparing a mood, being charming, or other­wise wasting time on irrelevancies.

Be thorough in your analysis.  Check both audio and visual.  Then turn off the audio, and see how much visual selling your spot is doing.  (You might be surprised.)

Here’s what to look for in your commercials:

  1. Scenes (short ones) at the opening of the commercial designed specifically to attract your desired target audience.  Such scenes work to bring in the right prospects for your Brand.  Keep those scenes in.  They’re working.
  2. Opening scenes devoted to “creating a mood” are probably wasting time that could better be used on the product. It’s always a good idea to throw out all “mood setting” scenes (along with the creative group that so volubly defends them in presentation meetings).
  3. Product shots are fine. You should have at least two of them per commercial, and they should take up no less than 20% of the total air time. (God forbid you should have so little product identification that some potential buyer might think your terribly persuasive copy was plugging a different brand — and as a result, go out and buy that)
  4. Jokes, on the other hand, are usually not fine. They’re so rarely relevant to the product or commercial message they’re almost unexceptionably a waste of good commercial time. Chuck all jokes out; they usually ingratiate only the friends of the creative team.
  5. Scenes showing problems of not using the product are okay — if they’re short and segue immediately into scenes showing the advantages of using the product.
  6. Scenes showing the end-result benefit of solving problems by use of the product are always acceptable.  They should make up the majority of the time spent in your commercial.  This is where you pay the rent — with compelling scenes of your product’s benefits and advantages.
  7. Demonstrations of how your product is better, or produces a more desirable result are great. Use them lavishly. Remember that Bounty went from zero to a commanding share in the paper towel category by using :21 worth of demos per commercial — which left only :09 for other visuals (all told, probably not a bad thing).
  8. Immediately reject any shot with flying doves, swirling leaves, or running brooks — unless you’re actually selling those particular commodities.

Okay, you now have timed all scenes, and can arrive at some conclusions.  If your commercial scores in the range of the follow­ing numbers of seconds, you can:

:0-:l0 — Clear a space on your desk for the Clio or Cannes Gold Lion your commercial will undoubt­edly win.  You’ll also need plenty of room on your desk for your resu­mes, which you will be sending out in quantity right after the next share numbers are in.

:10-:20 — Fair; but you’d better call your agency to set up an earnest discussion of strategy and business objectives.

:20-:30 — Good for you.  You understand advertising, and are likely to be successful at it.  Go to the head of the class.

MRA’s experts understand advertising, too.  We work to improve the advertising and cost performance for national and global clients in all sorts of categories.  Interested in learning more?  Let’s schedule a time to chat.

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Communication Objectives: Are Yours Adequate?

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What in the world was that commercial all about?”

How to make sure that’s NOT the viewer reaction to your nice, new, expensive TV commercial.

Advertising is a-changin’.  Radio is shaped to audiences like a glove, internet channels exist for left-handed stamp collectors, and, of course, Programmatic TV is growing like a weightlifter on steroids.

It’s sheer anomaly that, at a time when we can pinpoint the audience better than ever before, we can lose focus creatively.  How many times have you sat through a commercial – maybe even enjoyed it – but been baf­fled at the end, not even able to discern what the advertiser was trying to communicate?  (If you have trouble coming up with a specific recall right after the commercial, you can bet big money that your 24-hour recall will be a mess.)

So, how can you beat the rap of inadequate or absent communication?

Here’s how, in one easy, elementary, most reasonable exercise with your agency, you can be sure the right people will get the right message out of your commercials.

This little bit of magic is called a Communication Objective.  A Communication Objective is a distillation – a tincture, if you will – of your advertising strategy or creative brief.

(If you can’t find, or have mislaid, your advertising strategy, skip right to the part where we tell you who to call to prepare your resume for moving on.)

But, we jest.  Of course, you have an advertising strategy.  It delineates, at its very minimum, who should be interested in your product and what benefit they’ll derive from using it, and why your product alone can offer that benefit.  It may also include some other stuff such as mood or mandatories, but the first three factors are the guts of any advertising strategy.

That’s also the essence of the Communication Objective.  When your agency presents a storyboard, ask “What do we want the viewer to remember from this commercial?”  Generally, communication objectives should not describe the look of the commercial or the way the characters are to be depicted.

While executional factors are important (and you’ll spend a considerable amount of time profitably wrestling with them in your pre-production meeting), they are not the key elements of the commercial that you want remembered.  If you have a Communication Objective that wants the viewer to remember how much fun it is to drink a particular beer, you decidedly don’t want people playing back, “It was a dreamy, fleeting moment, music probably by Vangelis.”

Communication Objectives should be few in number – fewer than five, even four pretty crowded.  If you have more, consider: you’re trying to get a single, focused playback expressing a single cognitive bit from a single viewer.  Chances of harvesting five cogent and memorable communications out of a :30 spot are very slim.

How Close Are Communication Objectives to Scene Objectives?

In that both are techniques for organizing your advertising objectives and clarifying communication, they are closely related.  However, the Communication Objective is a simple, “whole cloth” sort of exercise, to be applied at your commercial’s earliest presentation stages.  In fact, it is a really good idea to ask an agency’s creative group either before or after they show you the advertising, “What playback would you be happy to get from our target viewer of this commercial?”

If you’ve got an ad for a superior-performing cleaning product, for example, you’d be delighted if viewers played back that your product gets out the tough stains – and does it better than competition.

Scene objectives, on the other hand, come in handy when clarifying the net take-away of a specific scene in the commercial: here’s where we establish our mom in an upscale kitchen; here’s where we introduce our product; etc.

If you have multiple Communication Objectives, go through the storyboard and identify the particular parts of the commercial that are supporting each of the objectives.  If you’re having trouble finding a match between storyboard and objectives – well, probably the viewer will, too.

Communication Objectives are useful at the production bidding stage, too.  Smart agency producers will include them in the material given to prospective directors.  This will help the directors to focus their energy in the right direction as they determine what their “treatment” or approach to the production will be, and to help insure that the bid allows for these objectives to be given sufficient emphasis.

Communication objectives should be reviewed again during the pre-production meeting to serve as a benchmark by which all decisions can be measured.

Want to know more about Communication Objectives – particularly as to how you might apply them to your advertising? Contact MRA — we’ll be happy to discuss with you.




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Commercial Production: Critical Guidelines for Successful Casting

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Casting On-Camera Principal roles can sometimes be a difficult part of the production process because so much is riding on a compelling, credible performance.

Want to keep your next casting selection running as smoothly as possible?  Follow the guidelines below, and you’ll be well on your way!

#1 – Casting Specifications

Review and approve casting specifications complete with enough clear, useful detail to define the roles the casting director is being asked to fill.

  • “35-45 male, good looking bot not too ‘Modelly’…” can be interpreted in may ways. Add relevant details.
  • When pinning an age to a role, be clear this is a “looks like” age and not a chronological age. Many re-cast sessions have been called because the callbacks were “too young” or “too old.”
  • Share a relevant and tangible key motivation to the role description as a starting point: “…he is a retail store manager who is authoritative and confident but not arrogant…”
  • It can be easy to have too much style direction, so choose the clearest and most defining.

#2 – Timing

Allow sufficient time for specs alignment prior to casting and for review & approval of agency recommendations.

  • Specs should be reviewed at the pre-bid meeting so there is time for corrections, if needed, prior to the award.
  • The conversation, however, can start earlier as the script is evolving and approved: Consider having the creative team include a profile of who the character is in the original script and storyboard. Will this change over time? Perhaps, but it provides insight into what the copywriter is thinking. You may or may not be in agreement, but it’s a place to start the conversation with a “flesh and bones” development.
  • Establish a regular approval process:  Casting selects should be posted within a set number of days before your pre-production meeting, allowing enough time for review and alignment across all stakeholders.

#3 – Criteria for Evaluation

90% of the performance you will see on shoot day will be present in the casting select files. Establish criteria for what will show the range in delivery. Don’t expect the director to be able to “pull” a performance out of an actor who doesn’t demonstrate an ability to deliver the performance in audition.

  • Reading the whole script vs. select lines:  If the talent read the whole script, remember that unless this is is a one-take monologue / presenter role, the script will be read several times in different scenes with different emphasis.
  • Choose one line and ask it to be read 3 times in a row – with different deliveries and intensities.

Remember, like everything else in commercial production — from creative development to editorial — casting is a process.  If it feels rushed, too complex, or confusing — contact us…we may be able to help.




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