Overcoming the negative gravitational effects on production timelines

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

There is a saying in advertising production that goes “There is never enough time to get it right, but always time to fix it”. It is interesting because one of the features we observe on a regular basis is what I like to call the Gravitational Effect on the Production Timeline.

The production scenario

Here we are a few months out from the on air date and the marketer briefs the agency on a project. Because we are months away from the deadline (BTW do you know why it is called a Deadline? Because that is the line that if you cross it you are dead) and everyone is feeling pretty relaxed. Concepts are developed and media strategies proposed and everything appears to be moving along nicely.

Lets jump forward a couple of months. Now it is a week from the deadline, the media on air date, and the agency producer and the production house are complaining there is not enough time and they will need to book the edit facilities on Saturday at double time to get the edit done and the client will need to approve the edit on Sunday morning so dubs can go red hot urgent and at 20 times the cost to be on-air Sunday night.

Okay, maybe it is a slight exaggeration to make a point. But the question is “how did we get here?

The gravitational effect

Somewhere between the briefing and the deadline gravity took effect. Now gravity has two meanings and both are relevant here:

  1. The invisible attraction between masses – the force of gravity
  2. The measure of the importance or gravity of the situation

You see, the two masses are the project and the deadline and as they get closer together the rate of attraction increases by the inverse square. That is, it increases exponentially. Likewise, the gravity of the situation is increasing and so decisions and actions become exponentially important.

The pace of change seems to increase compared to the more leisurely iterations of the creative work, with the time to explore and consider alternatives. Now there are many more decisions to be made on directors, talent, locations, wardrobes, treatments etc. Each one heavy with import and consequences if made without due consideration.

Why production gravity?

There are two stages to the development of most advertising. The first is conceptualisation. The second is production. Conceptualisation is taking the brief and a blank piece of paper and coming up with an idea. Or two. Or three. Or for some marketers 27 concepts, because the marketer wants to be sure they have the best idea and they can only do this it they explore all of the possible territories. Each step takes time and resources and money (but that is for a different discussion).

Then the marketer may concept test one of more to ensure they have the right idea or send it to regional or global head office for final approval or both. Only then, when we have the final approved concept, do we get to stage two.

Now there is no point rushing stage one, because what is the point of getting the concept on time if it is not the best idea? Far better to take time to really explore the option in what is rather a low gravity environment. After all the deadline is months away before the on-air date and how long does it take to make a television commercial anyway. A week or two at the most.

Now at stage two the production people get involved and the first thing they do is prepare a production timeline with every step of the process mapped out with roles and responsibilities. I often wonder why this was not done at the briefing stage? The quote is prepared and suddenly the gravity of the situation rises. This is going to cost money. The fact is the cost of the iterations of conceptualisation are usually a hidden cost – hidden safely in the agency’s retainer. But here in stage two for most advertisers it is a tangible cost. And guess what? The less time you have to produce the concept the more it will cost you.

Do you want quality, cost or time?

There is another old saying in advertising production and that is “Do you want quality (high), cost (low) or time (on time) because you have to have any two for a successful production”. Now if you have allowed gravity to take effect and you are now four weeks out from an on-air date and the television production is not underway, then you have no time. If you are a retailer you can possibly lower the quality, or otherwise you have to accept the higher cost.

The gravity of the situation

With the timeline under the pressure of production gravity, suddenly the marketer is in a grave situation. The agency and production company require on-the-spot approvals to meet the deadlines. Suddenly there is no time to reflect, consider or collaborate with colleagues and superiors at the various approval stages.

Sure, it is easy for the agency to expect you to make a decision on an off-line edit (what ever that is) as they have been working with it for the last three days, according to the production schedule. But you walk into the edit suite and see it for the first time. Your heart sinks as you wonder how hundreds of thousands of dollars in production could look so ordinary and why is it nothing like the Creative Director and the Director promised?

There is no time to really discuss or consider the consequences, as the agency producer looks at you expectantly reminding you that if you do not approve the spot now, the only option is to drop and charge the first week of media. Is this any way to be making decisions?

How to avoid the gravitational effects

You cannot get rid of this completely, but you can minimise the effect with three simple steps:

1. Ask the agency to get production involved earlier to set up a timeline at the briefing stage or as soon as the media production requirements are known.

2. Have the agency producer / production manager prepare an agreed agency timeline for conceptualisation and production and present it to you well before you see the first concepts.

3. Share the timeline with all internal stakeholders and make sure everyone involved in the approval process puts essential dates into their diaries. If there are any conflicts or issues resolve these up front and adjust the timeline.

And of course finally hold yourself and the agency accountable for sticking to the timeline.

What do you think? Would that work for you?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to Overcoming the negative gravitational effects on production timelines

  1. Anne Miles says:

    Having a couple of approval dates booked in advance can help too to avoid the last minute panic when the first round isn't approved. Getting all levels of approval together in the one space is often difficult at short notice.

    Loved a bit of a laugh over this. It is a big issue but I enjoyed the fun of it.

    • TrinityP3 says:

      Hi Anne, I agree that booking in approval dates in advance is important, it does not seem to help completely as the gravity of the process overcomes these dates and the whole thing slides. Approval dates seem to be a variable that can be shifted under the force of production gravity to slide towards the ultimate deadline being the on-air date.

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