Are you getting value from your agency production services?

This post is by Jodi Randall, senior consultant with TrinityP3. Jodi is an ATL & BTL production management specialist with extensive experience and brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into production efficiencies and effectiveness across the breadth of production services.

As a client are you increasingly questioning the production value and quality of work produced by your agency?

Are common agency responses such as “it’s passable”, “it’s OK”, “it will do”, “no one will notice” and “there are now extra charges” becoming the norm?

If this is the case ask yourself if you’re happy for your agency account executive, traffic manager or any other non-production trained personnel to make commercial and quality decisions on areas such as printing, photography, promotional items, mail houses etc. – probably not!

Importantly, ask your agency if in their opinion your company is receiving expert production direction and value across all requirements?

Office accessoriesIs there a lack of experienced production managers?

Recently, I was chatting to a senior representative from a major printing and services company about some of the issues currently challenging our industry.

This individual was lamenting about the lack of experienced Production Managers in todays ‘new’ lean agency structures. He went on to state that a large number of agencies operate with very loose internal production procedures resulting in unnecessary ongoing errors across a range of production materials produced.

The variety of errors includes:

  • incorrectly sized artwork
  • wrong colour specification, proofreading oversights
  • wrong paper stock specification
  • generally providing incorrect information resulting in an inaccurate estimate

This situation creates issues for this representative’s company especially when attempting to recover additional costs for rectifying agency errors and also providing extra services.

Who pays for these errors and extra services?

Whatever you think the answer is, (usually the client), it affects someone’s bottom-line and it should be a preventable expense. It’s evident that some agencies are down-grading the Production Manager (PM) role but still charge for this functionality at a more than reasonable level of cost recovery.

Why is there a diminishing role for a dedicated PM?

Over the last five years we have seen several trends emerge as a result of agencies striving to achieve leaner and more profitable structures.

  • Mid size agencies are dispensing with the dedicated PM role and integrating the function amongst account service and to some extent art department personnel
  • Larger agencies on the other hand, are replacing experienced PMs with a less expensive multi-tasked production/traffic manager

In both the mid-sized and larger agency scenarios the notable complications are that the mainly junior to mid-weight personnel with the production responsibility aren’t sufficiently trained in production processes – nor do they fully understand and appreciate client and agency cost structures.

Is this good economics or shortsighted management?

There is a welter of examples of projects going horribly wrong as a result of agencies trying to maximise profitability by utilising ‘cheaper’ staff in a pseudo PM role.

One that comes to mind is of an inexperienced staffer who commissioned a photo shoot with ‘real’ people and never bothered to ensure that talent clearances and waivers where completed. Later, parents of one of the teens included in the photo shoot demanded their child’s image be removed from the campaign after more than 50,000 posters and 100,000 brochures were printed and delivered.

Another concerning occurrence is the trend to put the onus on suppliers such as printers, mail houses and photographers etc. to assume additional production duties on behalf of the agency. The suppliers do the groundwork on the project, the organising, the trouble-shooting and they run with the monetary risk if something goes off the rails.

The solution is an experienced Production Manager

An experienced Production Manager’s role involves detailed planning, coordination and control of the whole production process.

They need to ensure that goods and services are produced efficiently with the correct level of quality and at acceptable market rates. If this occurs then clients should be prepared to pay market rates for this service.

What client’s shouldn’t pay for are full agency rates for production services that have no dedicated and experienced PM in place. Clients need to be aware of their agency’s chargeable cost centres and rates and agencies need to think clearly about the quality of production service they provide and its resultant effects.

What production quality are you buying?

Let us know your thoughts.

 

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About Jodi Randall

Jodi Randall is an ATL & BTL production management specialist with extensive experience. As a Creative Services Producer with strong client facing and project management background, Jodi has consulted for the last 13 years with advertising agencies, Direct Marketing agencies, designers and Marketing departments within large advertisers across multiple categories. Read Jodi's bio here
This entry was posted in agency solutions, interesting observations, marketing process optimisation, marketing procurement, print production, return on investment, social media & digital marketing, television & electronic production and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Are you getting value from your agency production services?

  1. Pam O'Connor says:

    The thought and essence of this production article could also tbe said of media departments/agencies. Simply substitiute the word production for media and change the terminology and technical issues……Voila!

    • Jodi Randall says:

      Thanks for your comments Pam. With media departments operating on low margin, high volume structures I can certainly understand the similarities.

  2. Mark Andrews says:

    Hi Jodi, I agree with the thrust of your article on every level. Well written and certainly spot-on as far as the London business is concerned. Agency production departments seem to be largely staffed by 25 year old groovesters who are willing, cheap but inexperienced. This is very dangerous because they are also pumped-up by being ‘deeply-digital’ – “we don’t bother with any of that old-fashioned ‘production’ nonsense – we’re cool”.

    • Jodi Randall says:

      Hi there Mark, thanks for your comment also. Agency commitment to production training could certainly improve outputs for all parties, but if they are not going to invest in staffing with experience, they are hardly going to invest in training. Also, clients need to take a hard line approach with their agency when they provide poor service and charge them full rates.

  3. Paul Martinsen says:

    Hi Jodi, your article is very timely indeed – my colleagues and I were having the very same conversation – we're in the "old fashioned" ink on paper game! Our biggest gripe is the inexperience in some of the PM roles and the inaccurate outgoing information resulting non-apples-for-apples estimates. Enjoyed your article.

    • Jodi Randall says:

      Hi Paul – I appreciate your comments.

      This situation certainly appears like it will be an on-going dilemma.

      Maybe it's time for several of the key industry bodies to get involved by offering and promoting training and in addition encourage agencies to upgrade their staff skill levels.

  4. gr8connection says:

    Such a good article Jodi, and Paul is spot on too. Affordable, enthusiastic, but somewhat myopic staff can make it a nightmare for everyone. Production is the boring part of the business but someone has to do it. I see small agencies and in-house departments put themselves at the greatest risk and at the mercy of inexperienced staff thinking it will be a cost saver, yet the annual cost of mistakes and easily corrected errors goes up and up. Suppliers are expected to cover areas that should be covered by production, so they are squeezed as well.

  5. Jodi Randall says:

    Hey gr8connection,
    A lot of unified agreement on this topic! Thanks for your response, you've provided another foundation for a new piece for me to write on this.

  6. Great article. I am especially interested in your points of the main errors and the cost of correcting the errors. If you order a special paper and then decide, that was not the right paper and that can really add to costs. Getting the colors correct from the start of course is very important, and that is where the person doing the ordering has to communicate properly with the graphic artists.

    • Jodi Randall says:

      Hi Sam – thank-you, your points are very valid.

      Agencies need to acknowledge that their suppliers also operate a commercial business and therefore also need to achieve a viable return on all the work that they do – this includes recovering costs for fixing internal production errors!

  7. Hi Jodi. I have been on both sides of fairly expensive errors. Working in the printing industry, it is so important for the customer to make sure that their design and colors and paper are all exactly what they want. Having to re-do a job can be frustrating and expensive. If unique paper is used, it can also take longer to order the paper again and longer for the order to be printed.

  8. Jodi Randall says:

    Hi Sam,
    If you're talking print, it's the old adage -plenty of time to reprint but no time to check all specifications are correct prior to print!

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