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Commercial Production: the Cost of Rushed Timelines

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Rushed production is like a junk-food binge — everyone knows it’s wrong and bad for them, but they do it anyway. Many have said for years that the ad production process can be good….and/or fast…and/or cheap — you can pull it off with two, but it’s pretty darn rare to score all three.

Over the last 36 years, we’ve worked with 1000’s of national & global brands; we’ve seen marketers time and time again with the mentality, “Well, we don’t have time to do it rightright now. But we’ll have time later to do it over if we need to.” Hmmm…do you see anything wrong with that thought?

Advertising Production: The Wretched Waste of Rushed Timelines

The cost premium for rushed production is 15%-25% — or more. Most Product Managers would be in serious trouble for missing any of their other marketing numbers that badly.

But chances are…you, yourself, have authorized rush production at least once during the past year. There are times when rush production may be warranted — such as responding to a competitive pressure. However, 90% of rush production is totally avoidable.  Ad production that is rushed is nearly always the result of inadequate planning or discipline.

Consider this…right this very moment, you likely know several dates in the coming year when new advertising is due. You know when new markets must be opened…when print media closing dates are scheduled…when your dealer or bottle meetings will be held…when research findings on new creative have to be in.

In your marketing timeline, you may have penciled in a period of 8 weeks for producing your TV commercials or print ads (and likely 12 weeks if your spots have special effects or animation — or for global production).

And while you don’t plan on compressing this timing…if you run behind on any of the other functions that lead to new copy, you end up squeezing the production schedule — because the air date or insertion date doesn’t move.

Yes, you can rush production. But you’ll also be taking a dreadful creative chance in the process. Here’s how:

1. Bidding

In a rush situation, none of your three best directors (or any other vendor, for that matter) may be available. You’re stuck with “what’s out there” – be it fourth choice of talent, or sixth, or twelfth. Your agency may very well say, “Because we’re in a rush, we have to single-bid this job” — and you lose all the advantages of competitive bidding. And normal competitive bidding can save 10%-20% of your production company costs.

In any case…rush will insure that whatever production company is invited to bid, realizing this is a tricky and not completely defined, will load up the estimate with an additional 15%-25% worth of time and materials so they can be covered.

2. Preparation time

A client in dire straits decided to improve his chances of securing good talent on a rush schedule by simultaneously casting in New York, Los Angeles, & Chicago. Obviously, that builds in a waste factor of 66% for casting expenditures, since the client likely threw away two-thirds of the effort.

Additionally, on a rush schedule, preparation of color-corrected packages can carry a premium of 50%-100%. Extra locations are scouted. Extra props and wardrobe are bought. (“I don’t know which she’ll like better, the yellow or the blue. Get ’em both.”)

3. Actual production

Everything will be hopelessly padded and overproduced. Extra setups are shot (“Well, we may need to cover.”) And hasty decisions aren’t normally well thought-out…well, considered, “quality” decisions.

What really hurts you is the attitude that pervades every facet of a rush production. Everyone is so absorbed with “getting the job done” that no one is thinking, “How can we do this better?”

4. Finishing

Try opening an editorial house on a weekend or on a national holiday. That has cost many a client a bundle. Rushing editorial or retouching can add 25%-50% (or what the traffic — that’s you — will bear). Hope you have deep pockets.

And how often have you heard this, “We’ll fix it in post!” Lack of proper preparation time can cause a false sense of security that all shortcuts can be fixed during post production. And in many cases, post production costs and retouching costs can escalate significantly due to the very fact that “fixes” need to be made.

What Can You Do About This Wretched Disease of Rushed Production?

Well, you can’t cure it — but you can certainly inoculate against it!

Right now, sit down and look at your advertising plans. Keep in the 8 weeks for TV & print production (12 weeks for global or spots with special effects and/or animation). Now, add in additional weeks for creative development, copy testing & research analysis, management approvals, and legal snarls — and every facet of marketing development which you know, through experience, you’re going to run into.

And then stick with your new resolves! Keep after your agency to make deadlines, not to slide by them. Keep the pressure on suppliers to outdo themselves — while they still have time left to come through with maximum performance.

Beat the rush production — before it beats you, financially. Or worse, before you miss an important date.

Want some help on the specifics of rush, and how you can preclude them from infecting your marketing operation? Contact us – we’d be happy to help.

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3 Money-Making Principles for Brand Managers

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Commercial Production Costs: It’s amazing how simple our business really is.  Here are 3 unassailable principles:

  1. There is absolutely no relationship between a commercial’s cost and its “creativity.” Further, there is only a rudimentary relationship between a commercial’s cost and its production values.
  2. Commercial production cost-cutting is not the most appropriate goal for an advertiser. Instead, a better goals is the elimination of waste in the production process. Do this well and you’ll save 15%-25%.
  3. The most effective way to spend less on production is to buy less. The only way to purchase wisely is to know what things cost.

Now, a few variations on the above themes:

 #1 – There is indeed no relationship between cost and creativity.

First, the most extravagant commercial — irrespective of cost — is the ineffective commercial. Whether it cost $100,000 or $1,000,000 doesn’t matter; a bum commercial is a total loss. Beyond that, some of the greatest television ideas are essentially simple ideas. Many products that use television extensively are basically simple products, consumed in a kitchen, used in a bathroom or drunk at a tavern.  One of the most memorable tire campaigns on TV eschews running shots, road races, and expensive location shooting. Instead, it stars only the client’s tire…and a baby. Talk about visualizing the end result benefit! None too expensively, either.

For the most part, extravagant production costs are generated in the execution of commercials, not by the basic strategy or selling idea. Execution is what wins Cannes Gold Lions. Concept is what wins share of market numbers.

We are clearly not constructing a case for making “cheap” commercials; we are instead promulgating an argument for putting the heavy-duty creative work against the selling idea. There is absolutely no predictable or discernible relationship between the amount of money spent on a commercial and its “creativity.” And, beyond a well-spent budget, there’s virtually no client-perceptible or consumer-perceptible difference in production quality. If you can’t see it in the screening room or your customers can’t see it when viewing at home, why are you spending money on it?

#2 – You can realize a larger share of potential savings not by cutting costs but by eliminating waste

Define “waste” as “something you go to the trouble and expense of producing — but which the viewer never sees.”

Overbuilt sets are an example. Once, we had an agency argue endlessly and mindlessly for a 32-ft. wide set.  The middle 12 feet of the set were all that ever appeared in the commercial. Two-thirds of the set — ten feet on both sides of the television frame — which was constructed, erected in the studio, painted, propped, and lit (the reverse process of striking and disposal costing an equivalent amount of money) was total waste.

We once saw an Art Director hold up a shoot for a half day, insisting that the table (concealed by a tablecloth) in a food shoot was the wrong period furniture. That was waste: under the tablecloth, the viewer couldn’t see whether it was a Louis XIV table — or a tray on top of a sawhorse.

Commercial production is an inescapably wasteful business.  It is populated to a growing degree by inexperienced buyers, and all-too-experienced sellers of production.  The selling posture of production houses is, “Whatever you want, you got it!” and that’s a heady experience for a young Art Director.  But there’s a tremendous price connected with that sort of “cost-is-no-object” operating principle, and of course the client is the only one to pay.

It’s not surprising that responsible agencies today are calling for better planning, more thoughtful allocation of elements, and better estimating in both production specifications and sets, film, time, crew, props, and wardrobe.

#3 – If you know what your production elements cost, you may buy less — and therefore spend less

The important distinction lies between what things cost, and the prices agencies are asked to pay for them. This item needs more attention than it gets. For example, everyone knows what percentage is charged for Crew P&W:  We’ve seen overrides from 7% to 35%!  But what’s the true cost?

In addition, it’s a rare agency producer (and virtually no creative) who can tell you at any moment what an average sound day on a set will actually cost in Prague, Toronto, Mumbai, New York, or Sydney. The charges, however, run from $20,000 to $200,000.

I once sat in a pre-production meeting in London with a top agency and first-rate client, and absolutely no one in the room (except for the interloper American) knew the cost of any of the elements in a board which had been parsed within an inch of its life. Not to know these costs, at that late stage in the commercial’s life, was unprofessional and unforgivable.

There have been instances where U.S. agencies have installed mature and experienced former producers as heads of their Production Departments. This may be the best way to buy the knowledge so critically needed in the business.

One of the world’s largest TV advertisers once set up and ran a carefully-controlled mirror-image production test; and, as a result, discovered the true cost (not the selling price — as above, there’s a difference!) of the most common elements of production. That knowledge made careful, thoughtful buyers out of that advertiser’s staff people.

You CAN do that…

…Or, you can call us

The business we’re in is helping clients buy production more thoughtfully and less wastefully.

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