Sign up here for the latest articles
By Ayo Hughes
Ayo Hughes sets out what a ‘Mid-Tier’ advertising production solution looks like. Developed specifically to deliver high quality branded content for marketers that sits between Tier 1 and In-House
The Procurement department sets it up. The Marketing department runs it. Mid-Tier gives you a faster, cheaper comms route to market
We’ve come a long way from the time when Marketing films were either TV/cinema commercials or that ill-defined beast – the ‘corporate film’. The latter incorporating everything from the BP Film Unit to BMW dealer television to myriad David Brent style creations filmed by the local wedding video company. Back then, there were only a few TV channels where ads could appear and as a result, these commanded huge audiences. As a brand, if you were on TV, you’d made it and life was simpler, if no easier, for the Brand Marketer.
Nowadays of course, video is everywhere and, as delivery platforms continue to proliferate, merge & blur, moving image content is the medium of choice for brands to communicate with audiences. However, now the largest brands have to compete with agile start-ups for the same engagement metrics. The demand for campaign content is relentless, success is hard won and victory increasingly fleeting. And yet marketing budgets are ever more constrained & scrutinised.
Little developement in the production model
Which makes it all the more surprising when you consider how, amidst all this change & disruption, the film production model itself hasn’t developed much at all. In fact, it’s still pretty much exactly the same as twenty years ago when London was still the pick of the creative advertising world and ITV was king. I find it remarkable that the vast majority of ad campaigns are still produced via a route 1, ‘top tier’ advertising production company touting a roster of hotshot ad directors and equally premium post houses creating glossy ad campaigns alongside Oscar winning VFX for Hollywood movies.
Now don’t get me wrong: this tier one route is fine for high-concept, director-led, high budget, high profile campaigns. Top dog campaigns win awards, shift the dial and build careers. But 70-80% of campaigns aren’t awards entry potential. They’re heavy lifting, everyday ad campaigns that have real world marketing objectives to achieve. And that’s it, period. The vast majority of these campaigns don’t require a directorial superstar or a hot production company to execute them properly.
No incentive for change
In fact, there’s potentially even a certain conflict between an overly creative interpretation of a script and the real world-marketing objective. The cold truth is the ad director and the agency creatives want a great looking film for their respective portfolios, which means the product story, the how-to and the call to action etc aren’t as high on their list of priorities. In my career as an Agency Producer (full disclosure, in Soho) I lost count of the number of times I had scripts declined by directors for being ‘too product oriented’.
I recently completed a review of the marketing content production of a major global fmcg group whose brands are household names. Around 80-90% of their advertising production went this ‘Top Tier’ route, irrespective of the profile or strategic importance of the campaign or the size of the media budget. The result, regardless of preferential rate cards and volume discounts, was endemic ‘over-production’. Tactical, in-market, digital or sales activation campaigns produced using the same partners, workflow and cost structure as flagship, global, award-winners.
Of course the reaction to this, has been the rise of in-plants and internal creative / advertising production departments and as many of you will know already, this has been a mixed success. The promised cost savings have proved difficult to sustain and the constant challenge of flexing resource while delivering quality output in a timely fashion has been hard to achieve satisfactorily, as many have found.
So what’s the solution?
Actually that is pretty straightforward, at least in theory: what’s required is route one, high-end production values but without the premium price tag. Or the schlep into Soho. Or the lead times associated with completely separate shoot and post operations, often in different countries.
We want to have our cake and eat it. We require the ‘every one different’ bespoke creative output that the more production line oriented in-plants typically struggle with. But we don’t want the over complication, the high cost and the longer lead times that are associated with Tier one.
So what we’ve developed at Sandstorm Films for instance, is a creative advertising production solution, geared specifically to deliver marketing content that’s high quality, cost effective and highly efficient.
The Mid-Tier solution
We call this emerging solution ‘Mid-Tier’. This is what it looks like:
1. High end kit & crew, with few compromises on quality: we use Arri Alexa, Alexa Mini, Phantom 4k Hi-speed cameras, Cyclops & Technodolly state of the art machine control rigs/crane. In post, we use everything: Final Cut Pro, Avid, Premiere, Maya & After Effects etc etc. In the past, cost & complexity (& sheer, bleeding edge unreliability) meant the high-end stuff was only for the big boys. The continuing pace of digital technology means that’s simply no longer the case.Despite those ad campaigns apparently shot on iPhones & GoPro’s, I’d still advocate high end, cinema quality cameras for an unmistakable high quality feel but everybody & their intern shoots on a Canon or a Sony 4K digital handheld these days which is absolutely fine – it’s horses for courses. Being clear-eyed about where money is spent is the key to delivering ‘affordable high-end’.
2. Shoot & finish in one facility or as part of a single operation. Not in separate countries. Not shot on location in wherever and then finished in post at £600/hr in the wilds of Soho. Shoot today, cut tomorrow – or even, in some cases, shoot this morning, first assembly this afternoon.
3. We believe a team should be dedicated to producing branded content for marketers – not editorial or TV programming or feature films, as we do at Sandstorm. It may not sound like a big difference but trust me, it is. To produce high quality advertising and marketing content & get it right first time requires specialisation and experience. We need to think like marketers as much as possible and it is important not to dilute that focus.
4. It’s probably an out-sourced, not an in-house, solution. To get that tricky combination of creative spark & workflow efficiency requires a careful juggling of talent, resource & workload. That’s very difficult to maintain in a corporate setting without developing a ‘sausage factory’ mentality producing cookie cutter output. ‘Every job different’ has to be the mantra.
5. Don’t fire your creative agency. You need your brand champions. Your Strategic Planning and Creative functions stay exactly the same. All you are doing differently with this model is optimising the creative production stage. That may require some repositioning but in practice it helps define and clear up agency/client relations that are often mired in self-defeating and time-wasting wrangling about lead times and advertising production mark ups.
6. It’s probably not a global solution. Controversial point maybe but in our opinion, creatives, producers, crew and project managers all working on different continents in different time zones adds a layer of complexity that creativity, spontaneity & efficiency aren’t going to survive too easily. Don’t build in difficulty when you don’t have to. This is a hub (or concentration) model not a spoke (or distributed) model. You’re building a centre of excellence. And anyway, who is to say you can’t have one hub per region?
7. Cost efficiencies are just the start. Sure you should be looking at c.30% saving off ‘tier 1’ rates. Possibly more. But the real efficiencies are in process and productivity. Getting work done more efficiently & faster means you can create more of your marketing comms wish list than your already squeezed budget would otherwise allow. So that means not just the hero creative asset like your TVC but a whole suite of social media campaign assets as well. All out of the same budget and created at the same time. Clearly, there are also huge gains in brand consistency, in look & feel, in tone of voice to be made here as well. And finally, it decouples you from iterative creative advertising production as you have the scope and the means to consistently refresh & update your content without going all the way back to the beginning of the process.
8. Competitive advantage. The Procurement department sets this up. The Marketing department runs it. Mid Tier gives you a faster, cheaper comms route to market. So use it. Create a feedback loop to blow your competitors out of the water. Create, produce, broadcast, measure response, refine, revise & repeat. Version, test & learn in the data age.
What’s surprising is that so far how few organisations have found a way make this advance. It’s way overdue and it’s so clearly superior to the current legacy arrangements, it hurts. It’s therefore reasonable to assume we’re going to see more and more players come into this space in the not too distant future. And there’s also no doubt that the advertiser/marketers that seize first mover advantage will reap the greatest rewards.
About the author
Ayo Hughes worked as Head of Production at several major Advertising & Digital agencies before setting up a full service DRTV agency running TV & digital campaigns across Europe. He is currently a freelance Executive Producer & Marketing Consultant and Strategy Director at Sandstorm Films
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Producers & Procurers iQ or imply endorsement from the publisher