How consumer goods brands can turn the talent casting process on its head and save.

This post is by Clive Duncan a Senior Consultant at TrinityP3. As a Director and DOP he has an appreciation for the value of great creative and outstanding production values, while also recognising the importance of delivering value for money solutions to the advertiser.

talent casting process

While the headline particularly points out consumer goods brands this approach is applicable to all brands with well-developed strategies and disciplined implementation.

This could apply to all types of categories, but is probably not as applicable to services industries. The reason being it requires taking advantage of longer term planning as a way of optimising the cost and contracting of talent be it actors or voice over actors for the production of broadcast video and content.

What is required is to effectively turn the current process on its head and use longer term processes to negotiate the right talent at the best possible but reasonable cost across a multitude of channels and markets.

In the process it requires process change and contract change, two things that the production industry is resistant to embrace. But it is a change that will have huge benefits for advertisers.

The casting process today

The current casting process is a linear one that requires the development and approval of the script, the selection and approval of the director and production company and then the casting process and the negotiations and contracting with the actors and their agents and management at the very end of the process.

The justification of this linear process is that it is impossible to know who to cast until the script is finalised and the director is able to have their input on the selection of the actor. It certainly appears logical; as most linear processes do, but it causes significant timing issues that often end up costing the advertiser dearly.

Why the current process is flawed

There are a number of flaws in this process, the first being the time pressures often placed upon the casting, negotiation and contracting process. After all you must remember that this is usually occurring as part of the pre-production process that includes location searches, wardrobe, props, art department and a huge number of other decisions that need to be made.

How often is it that the advertiser is asked to approve a casting reel or even just approving from photographs and professional headshots based on the director and agency’s recommendation?

Or that approval is needed on the spot; the first time the advertiser is seeing the casting due to production time pressures? Yet the failure of the actor to perform on the day will require recasting and re shooting at the advertisers cost, making this a cost critical decision.

The second problem is one of intent. In a time constrained situation we have two parties entering into a negotiation. On one side is the agency and agency producer who are working to get the production completed on time and hopefully within budget.

But on the other side is the talent agent or management (or both) who are incentivised with a significant proportion of the negotiated talent fee as their remuneration. They have a significant incentive to negotiate to maximise the fee for their client the actor.

The third issue is the talent contract in most markets requires the advertiser to make a commitment up front to specific media channels and exposure, along with geographies, durations and even media investment levels.

Much of this is not finalised and yet the talent contract will lock the advertiser into these payment terms up front. But if the commitment is not made up front, then the cost of adding them later after the shoot can be significantly more expensive. A case of damned if you do, but even more damned if you do not.

How to turn it on its head

Lets look at what it would take to turn this process on its head. The first would be to know what type of actor you would want before you complete the concept. Not the specific actor, but at least the type of actor.

What we mean by this is that many brands will have a ‘type’ of actor that represents the brand or represents the audience using the brand. The more this is defined by the brand strategy and the execution then the more you are able to turn this process upside down.

The other very popular communications strategy is to use celebrities for brand or product endorsement and this upside down process is the technique used by the more professional and strategically focused advertisers.

It involves starting with the casting brief and using this to identify the suitable actors in the market place that broadly suit, be that an individual, couple, family or a celebrity.

It means that you can also commence negotiations and reach agreement on the terms and conditions of a proposed contract or agreement and understand the cost and therefore assess the relevant value of the casting options.

This is a better approach to using celebrities too. Selecting a particular celebrity and developing the concept around them without ascertaining the cost of that celebrity puts the advertising in a non-negotiable position as the celebrity is central to the concept.

Far better to select a number of suitable celebrities, determining their proposed cost to participate and then researching their efficacy for the brand against the target audience before making a commitment. This leaves opportunities for assessing and selecting the celebrity that provides the best value for money.

Of course this process has to be managed appropriately and correctly to ensure you obtain access to the best and most appropriate talent or celebrity for the job.

It requires a change in the contract

But this is more than simply a change it process. To make this happen also needs a change in most talent agreements and contracts. But this is reasonable. After all there are not many situations where a significant purchase is undertaken by an advertiser with the suppliers contract.

Most talent contracts are provided by the various actor’s guilds, unions and agents without the specific input of the advertiser, or buyer. In our experience, very few advertisers have actually seen these talent contracts, let alone know what the industry contracts contain.

While we are not suggesting that the contracts should become overly detailed, there is an opportunity to leave the general terms and conditions as they stand and then create greater flexibility in the specifics of the project and not require the advertiser to commit completely to the scope for the engagement up front, but can come to a negotiated agreement on these variables at the time of signing.

What is the benefit for advertisers and their agencies?

The benefits for the advertiser are fairly obvious, including the greater flexibility in the way talent are negotiated and contracted and the greater efficacy in this process to ensure a more considered and reasonable contractual arrangement.

But it is the agency that will have issues with this approach. Again, we are not recommending this approach for all advertisers or even for all brands, as it requires some specific circumstances and requirements to work effectively. But it is important for the agency to also appreciate the benefit for themselves.

The most obvious is this becomes one less major process that needs to occur in the already demanding pre-production phase as the talent are already cast and negotiated and it is simply a matter of the agency, director and the advertiser working together to select the exact actor from the pre-cast pool for the script.

It also eliminates the often-difficult process of negotiating (or not negotiating) under pressure. In the case of celebrity talent, it means that the agency can explore a range of ideas with specific vetted celebrities in mind.

What do you do next?

As we said up front, this is not for all advertisers or for all brands. But it is relevant to a greater number of advertisers than simply consumer goods advertisers. To determine if this would work for you need to consider the following:

  1. Does your brand strategy define a particular look or type of talent to represent the brand that could be the basis of a casting brief now?
  2. Do you have a defined executional style or campaign execution, such as celebrity endorsement, or a specific consumer profile that allows you to cast ahead of time with certainty?
  3. Are you investing in enough production to make the effort of changing the model worthwhile?

We have the expertise and experience in the production process and industry to help you determine the benefit to you and assist you in achieving this. All you have to do it ask.

TrinityP3’s Production Management Assessment provides a detailed evaluation of your current production operation, and recommendations to achieve optimal performance.

Why do you need this service? Click here to learn more

About Clive Duncan

Clive has spent all his working life in the film and television industry and was invited to join the TrinityP3 team as their TV production senior consultant. Clive has the unique advantage of having hands on experience at almost every level of TVC production and understands the complex relationships required to produce creative and cost effective TVCs. View Clive's full bio here

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