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Managing Marketing: The benefits and complications of production decoupling

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Justin Ricketts is the CEO of Hogarth Australia and recently shared his thoughts on the media and creative agencies recombining, while still recommending that the resultant production should be decoupled. While decoupling production has been common in the UK for decades it is still a hot topic in many markets and he discusses the benefits and the challenges of getting it right.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’m sitting down for a chat with Justin Ricketts who is the CEO of Hogarth Australia. Welcome, Justin.

Justin:

Thanks, Darren, good to be here.

Darren:

Mate, the reason I asked you to come in is that you wrote something on LinkedIn where you’re supporting this idea that creative and media should come together again but you think production should be outsourced. Why?

Justin:

The article you’re referring to, I think, having worked in both creative and media agencies, that when it comes to creative and strategy it makes a huge amount of sense for that to be integrated and come together.

But when it comes to production; production is something that increasingly needs to operate at scale and it’s a sort of horizontal offering that if you try to integrate into a single or combined agency you end up with a side offering that doesn’t have the scale and the technology and the ability to compete and deliver what clients are looking for in today’s marketplace.

Darren:

I agree with you. De-coupling or outsourcing has been around for 2 or 3 decades. I can remember back in the 90s they were talking about this in the U.K. so why is it such a hot topic here in Australia? What is it about Australian agencies or marketers that everyone has resisted this?

Justin:

I think you’re showing your age if you’re going back to the 90s.

Darren:

Well I’m a lot older than you and therefore wiser and you should respect me.

Justin:

Ultimately, the important thing to recognise is that de-coupling production has been driven by clients. It’s not something that was created by agencies or specialist de-coupling production companies. I think clients have typically driven a demand for a different way of producing things.

My understanding is that the key wave of de-coupling came in 2008, in the GFC, and a large amount of global clients were looking for more efficient ways to create their global campaigns and deliver them locally and the core service was then around trans-creation and local adaptations.

So, Hogarth, where I now work, that’s where they got their first wave of demand from clients. I think the second wave that we’re experiencing, not just in Australia but globally, is being driven by the fact that most clients are now having to create more content to fill more channels with much greater agility. And funnily enough their budgets aren’t getting bigger; they’re getting smaller.

Darren:

They’re doing more with less.

Justin:

So, if you’re having to create more with less and you don’t want to affect the quality of your advertising content then the reality is something has to change, and the model has to change.

And what we put to the market is that the old way of doing things through relatively small, siloed production offerings inside agencies, which worked in the old world when we were just looking to make a TV and a print ad, are no longer sustainable.

Darren:

A year for each brand not just a week for each channel of social media.

Justin:

This isn’t a crack at the agencies. The agencies are now coming up with so much more content and therefore you just need a different model. What we offer to the market is a specialised, consolidated production offering that can operate at scale but invest in technology, automation, AI, workflows and ultimately eliminate all the inefficiencies or duplication of account handling and actually put more craft on screen and deliver a more efficient model.

Darren:

We’ve been involved in projects of de-coupling production for clients and I’ve had the most virulent, personal attacks over this. People in agencies and especially creative people get really angry about this. Why do you think it is?

I get it from a financial point of view and I’ve seen agencies that are taking a haircut on things like retainers and fees for account management and creative and strategy so they’re trying to make their money on production and if you de-couple that where are they going to make money?

So, I get the financial side of it but what is it because with the financial people you can have a conversation and go ‘I understand, and we’ll balance it out with topping up your retainer and things like that.’

But the creative people go like maniacs. They spout all sorts of lies and mistruths. They go around spreading gossip and rumour. This is clearly something that has gone to the very heart of these people and terrified the life out of them because they are overreacting. What is it?

Justin:

Do I have the answer to that? One, I acknowledge there is a lot of emotion and tension when it comes to de-coupling. It’s fair to say some agencies have adapted their production offerings but most simply don’t have the scale or the technology or the capability to deliver a better offering.

The reality is what we’re asking agencies to do is to disrupt models that have been around since the 90s and before, back to the 50s, and it’s change. And in my experience, having been involved in Hogarth here for about 12 months, anything that’s talking to change at this level is going to create emotion and angst. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s much more than the fact that we’re dealing with change.

Darren:

But change is inevitable. We’re seeing change in every part of the business. So, it’s actually the change to the creative department isn’t it?

Justin:

Yes, it is.

Darren:

Supposedly the most innovative and creative part of an agency doesn’t like change.

Justin:

You’re right but in their defence, the creative department are passionate about the quality of the ideas and they want to see their ideas that they spent a lot of time creating executed brilliantly. The misperception, which I actually put back on us, is that we are still a low-cost adaptation production business.

We were an adaptation business in 2008 where we were literally doing trans-creation and localisation. We are now as involved in primary production as we are secondary production and I’ve found that once we established that we actually complement each other.

In Hogarth we don’t have strategy. We don’t do origination creativity; we just make stuff. We are as passionate as creatives are about making great quality content. We are probably one of the biggest hirers of production specialists in this market globally.

What we do complements the creative agencies and our job is to; 1.) showcase our capabilities and the fact that we’re actually able to work with amazing talent (which is what they’re actually obsessed by), they’re really keen to work with the best talent in the market. We can access and work with that same talent.

We can create great quality content with more efficiencies and actually once the partnership is formed you establish clear ways of working, I’ve actually found there isn’t any tension. It’s just the perception and fear of the change that’s causing all the angst.

Darren:

I had a head of the Communications Council summon me to a meeting because of some of the criticisms of de-coupling. First; it’s going to destroy the production industry. I was asked to explain how de-coupling—one client—was going to destroy the production industry.

Is the production industry really that fragile? And by the way we were de-coupling it into production companies—it just wasn’t the production companies that the creative people necessarily wanted as their first preference.

Justin:

I understand the question, but I don’t really understand the assumption behind it because if you think about it what we’re actually needing to do as an industry is produce more assets not less assets, so nothing is deemed to be declining. And if anything, I think de-coupled production agencies such as Hogarth are actually a growing industry.

We are investing in talent, we are investing in technology and we are investing in innovation. Yes, it’s a different model and yes, the industry’s had to change mostly to meet client’s expectations but actually we are feeding the industry that everyone sort of feared we are apparently destroying.

Darren:

Okay, so the next criticism I got is, this is all about cost production and cheaper production means worse quality outcomes, worse ads. You can’t argue, I mean the whole reason we were doing this was to actually allow the client to get more for the money by building relationships and eliminating what was waste.

Justin:

One of the key components of our business is cost but the other component of our business is quality content so in our proposition if I simplify it is the best quality content as possible given the most efficient way possible.

What I believe our business does to deliver best quality content is eliminate all the unnecessary duplication and all the inefficiencies and that enables us to invest in better talent and more talent and better technologies to get better products.

I fundamentally disagree that de-coupled production means low cost production. There are a number of tactics and strategies we apply.

Darren:

Generally, the rule of thumb is that every time someone is de-coupled they end up at a lower cost because you get all the efficiencies, you eliminate the inefficiencies of having to bespoke create something from scratch.

You get all the economies of scale because you build relationships with high quality production people who are willing to not charge the same as they would on a one-off, one time only because they know there is going to be a succession of work coming through.

You are going to get economies of scale because your processes are going to be finely honed because they are doing this day in day out. All of these things don’t actually damage quality.

Justin:

No

Darren:

But they do deliver savings.

Justin:

They do deliver savings and I would argue when you have, I use an analogy of media agencies and our media agency group is group M, they have leveraged their scale when it comes to investment through group M. The product is no better off, they save their clients’ money, but they are buying.

Darren:

They save their clients money.

Justin:

Yes, but they have also got better technologies. Because production has been traditionally inter-mediated through the creative agencies, clients haven’t had visibility and transparency in terms of the assumptions being made around production. At the moment the perception is that we give transparency because we have loads of line items or give three quotes, but the reality is that doesn’t provide transparency.

The assumptions that the production company are making in terms of how they calibrate investment into an asset and there are always three or four different ways to create a piece of content. At the moment clients have only seen one way to produce something. The other thing we will do is show different ways and there are different budgets not just different directors that can create that output.

Sometimes it is a matter of categorising production; maybe we have a black, grey, white sort of approach or framework and sometimes you try and find real efficiencies via white briefs which enable you to spend more money and lift the quality of content when you are focusing your black briefs. It is not always cost savings that go back to the client. Sometimes it is working out campaigns where you can be super-efficient which enables you to invest in better quality talent or better-quality assets.

Darren:

The third criticism laid at my feet (to Ansell) was; I’m taking away the choice of who the creative people work with and therefore limiting the opportunity for creativity.

Justin:

Is that relating to?

Darren:

Because we had a panel of directors all selected from production companies that the agencies have previously worked with (in the past twelve months). It wasn’t like we were bringing in ring-ins; they’d all worked with them and we were just saying instead of a choice of fifty, you’ve now got a choice of twelve.

Justin:

I’ll say two things. Firstly, de-coupled production does not mean all production is consolidated into one provider. When we are working with clients direct or through agencies we are not trying to insource everything. We are always contracting with directors. We are actually working with production companies; the whole market place is a freelance market place.

We always provide options. We transparently work with both our agencies and creatives and our clients and work with them to decide what we produce in-house and what we outsource.

The second thing is, I think where that problem may have come in, is if you go back in time a lot of great talent was coupled to production companies and therefore if you were operating a de-couple model your access to great talent was limited.

Our view of the market today, both again this market and globally is that most of the production world is operating on a freelance basis and we’ve demonstrated this since we’ve been alive here for eight months. We’ve not had any issues in finding others to work with.

Darren:

You can book almost anyone can’t you?

Justin:

I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job. We’re only six months old in this market. Hogarth hasn’t been in this market so there’s a perception of what we were mostly in 2008. I think we’ve got a job to do to try to explain to people we are actually partners.

We don’t actually compete. If you think about what a creative agency is predominantly doing, it’s creative in its strategy. I still like your analogy and I’ve sold it that many times where you talk about prototyping a car. And we see the creative agency as creating, ideating and conceptualising and prototyping an idea and we are the manufacturer of those ideas or those assets.

Darren:

Look the reason that metaphor works for me is something you said earlier. Ten, twenty years ago an agency got a brief to come up with a TV ad and maybe three or four support channels like outdoor or press or something. Okay? And they made very specifically those outcomes.

The same brief today is yes, we need a TV ad and we need it to work on Facebook and other social media channels. We also need a whole range of images that we can put on our Instagram account but with different memes and stuff we can put into display. Now there’s two and a half thousand pieces of work from the one brief, not four or five; thousands, literally thousands.

Now am I going to get the designer of the car prototype, the person who’s going to come up with the shape and the styling of the next Maserati to then hand manufacture every single one to the customer’s needs? Or am I going to get them to build one and then build the most efficient and effective way of producing every colour, every style, every combination to the quality that that designer expects?

Justin:

Every single time.

Darren:

At the lowest possible cost because I need to make a profit on it.

Justin:

Funnily enough your analogy goes back to when cars were made back in the 40’s and 50’s, it probably was the case because there was such a small volume of cars that the prototype designer probably was involved in making the handful of cars but when they are now making thousands of cars, funnily enough they are using factories in Asia to produce it.

So, I think it’s a very good analogy. In fact, your analogy works in virtually every other scanario. Where’s the perfume that’s being conjured up in L’Oréal? I’m sure that’s probably coming out of some very smart people in Paris, but I doubt those same people are bottling.

Darren:

Going into the factory and actually hand blending it themselves.

Justin:

No. To your earlier question is, where is the tension? The tension is in the handover and I’m sure there’s some tension between the person who’s prototyped a car and seeing that first car. So, the tension in our business is once we’ve got someone who’s got a concept, obviously how we execute that first concept, and this is the primary production, is where the tension is. And that’s where we have to work really well together.

That’s where we as specialists in production need to deliver, I think, to the vision that the creatives have got but we also have to bring in the fact that we have a client ultimately that we are both trying to make a concept for and they have to prioritize where and how they spend their money.

To be really honest we work every day with virtually every creative agency in the market. We find once we are working together we don’t find there’s any tension. The tension is around where people haven’t yet experienced it and it’s the fear of what it’s going to mean.

Darren:

The fear of doing something different. Isn’t that innovation, creativity? Creativity is doing something different because apparently, if you steal an idea from an old Cannes awards reel and put it up again as a new idea the creative industry howls them down as just ripping people off.

So, they want innovation and they want creativity and they want uniqueness except when it comes to the way they do their work.

Justin:

I think the easiest way to break through this is when it comes to digital; most clients that we’re speaking to really want to personalise their communications with digital. They’ve now got their data. They now trust their media agencies and buying platforms. They’ve got this ability now to use programmatic advertising to really personalise. Now the problem is the creative hasn’t followed.

Your analogy of where we used to make 5 we now make 1,000; if you think about the ability and the opportunity to develop and serve dynamic creative, and there are 15, 30, 40,000 iterations. There is so much of a shift in expectation and that can’t be done with humans.

They are using AI in automation but to do that you need to build a platform. And to build platforms you have to spend millions of dollars and that’s why you need scale, locally and globally to be able to invest in those platforms.

Again, it’s totally complementary so in that world we work absolutely hand in hand with creative or digital agencies to come up with the right strategies and templates. Then we build the templates and roll out all the creative optimisation of those templates. And I don’t think anyone finds that at all disruptive, but I think it’s when it comes to that primary production and looking for efficiencies there.

Darren:

I think the agencies bemoan the price pressure they’ve been under for the last ten years, that there’s this constant downwards pressure on fees and yet they’ve done themselves a disservice. They haven’t done themselves proud because in actual fact if they’d embraced technology and actually delivered the efficiencies to the clients they could have held on to this, couldn’t they? Or do you think that scale would bring every agency undone?

Justin:

In today’s marketplace I don’t believe that any single agency…

Darren:

Even a big network agency. Even the Monkees were bought by Accenture; they must have deep pockets to invest in technology or is there just not enough volume for one agency?

Justin:

You don’t have the volume and its technologies because it’s not just digital technology; you’re trying to automate and find efficiencies in print. Videos are obviously a key focus, so you’ve then got to have post-production capabilities. Increasingly, our model is we have an onsite inside an agency or a client and an offsite, which is usually in close proximity to the market and offshore.

We’re finding most of our global clients, the expectations and the need to drive price down can’t be solved in a single market. We are needing to put work that can be offshore into a low-cost delivery centre and that can be post-production, large volume print, or digital bills—again, potentially a global network agency.

But again, I think it’s scale. It’s no different to your manufacturing analogy.

Darren:

I think the sad part is that they stopped charging for the creative idea and for the strategy and tried to recoup it in production. And then you come along and start offering a viable alternative that takes that away from them.

Some of the biggest complaints and jobs that we get; I had a client and they made a TV ad and needed some pre-rolls. And the agency had 12 hours for a creative team to work out how to cut that 30 into a 10 and a 6 second pre-roll. Gee, that’s a hard job.

Justin:

That’s a hard job. But the bit I don’t know, which is your area, is how do they turn that around? They need and should be getting paid for the quality of strategy and creative. It’s not my area but I can understand some of the financial pressures.

Darren:

So, you’re saying this is a trend that is gaining momentum? You’re getting clients in this country definitely and openly considering this as a viable alternative?

Justin:

Absolutely. And when we started Hogarth here, in June last year, the perception in the market was that de-coupled production was a global trend happening in developed markets in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. and it wasn’t really going to be relevant here.

Darren:

So, Australia is an undeveloped market? I was told de-coupling has failed in America, U.K. and Europe. Has it failed?

Justin:

I’m new to Hogarth and when I look at our client roster (and our competitors) they are mostly some of the biggest, most successful, and most sophisticated marketing brands that have de-coupled and continue to de-couple production, mostly with the same de-couple partner for many years. Most of our clients have been with us since 2008. If this isn’t working why are all these big sophisticated marketing companies continuing to de-couple?

They’re creating great work in partnership with other agencies. Our wave in growth here has been fed by global clients that were looking for a better solution locally. I think the piece that everyone has misunderstood is that there are a lot of local clients that are, understandably, having to look at all of their costs and production hasn’t been a thing that people have looked at. So, production; there seems to be a wave and it will flow around.

Darren:

Well this is a long time ago; I’ve been doing this for about 18 years, so this would probably be about 15 years ago. I got called by a client who said, ‘I’ve just had the account director on the phone from the agency and they’ve warned me that if Trinity P3 (we were called P3 back then) keeps being involved in the production the magic will disappear.’

And I went, ‘I want to come and meet with your agency and see the magic trick that’s going to disappear’. This is the sort of emotional garbage that gets pedalled as trying to stop change.

Justin:

We’re reliant on that. It’s ironic that you’ve got an industry that’s all about creativity and innovation but we’re resisting.

Darren:

Especially because everything we do is different. The thing that I see as an ex-creative person is that if I can find a more efficient way of producing the idea then I don’t have to do the pre-roll or the online video as a cut-down of the 30. I could actually even have a budget to make something different, to shoot something that makes me a 30 for TV but then has a whole lot of other materials that tell a further story online or as a pre-off.

Justin:

Whilst we deliver cost savings off them it’s not just costs but they also want to create more content. So, if they want to create more content and they need to be active and do some DCO or they need to be on social often we’re not actually taking production away; we’re just getting more for less.

Darren:

Is there Cannes lion for pre-roll? Could you get a titanium for best pre-roll?

Justin:

Possibly. I saw one that was quite good.

Darren:

Apart from de-coupling we’re also seeing big clients take production in-house (now that’s sort of de-coupling). In fact, Unilever say they save 30%. They have publicly said they’ve saved 30% on what production costs them with their agencies. They’ve brought that in-house. I don’t know if they’ve built it or they’ve outsourced someone to come and build it for them.

I know this is a tough question and I’m not asking for any names but what efficiencies (not savings) could an advertiser expect. If they’ve got $100,000 now, what could they turn that into by de-coupling? 120,000?

Justin:

You’ll think I’m avoiding your question

Darren:

Yeah, I know you will because if you put a price every client will turn up and go, ‘I want that price’.

Justin:

If there was a global client that wanted to create a global campaign working across multiple agencies and markets it’s very different to a local client with a local campaign working with one agency.

Darren:

You have to have a volume of work to justify it.

Justin:

It depends on the nature of the work and the craft. There are different savings delivered on motion, print, and digital.

Darren:

There could be clients with no savings?

Justin:

I’ve yet to find one.

Darren:

But what you’re saying is there could be?

Justin:

I would say there are savings between 0 and up to 60% if you want a headline. What it depends on though is how inefficient the current process is, how willing a client and their other stakeholders are to embrace new ways of working, new technologies, automation, off-shoring.

The reason is it can be literally nought if they don’t embrace any change and they’re super-efficient right up to a big number but it’s slightly up to them.

Darren:

Of course, that’s one of the things isn’t it? It depends on the amount of change that you’re willing to embrace. And that’s the amount of change the marketers are willing to embrace because a lot of inefficiency in the production process is because many marketers don’t understand the implications that their decisions have on the cost and the time it takes.

Justin:

And, in their defence, they often don’t have the information available to even be able to make those decisions because often they’re just given a number. They’re just told that this script or idea is going to cost $300,000. I challenge the concept of triple bidding.

Darren:

You mean in the procurement process making sure you go to three separate suppliers to tender and put a response?

Justin:

When I say we have issues, we will triple bid and if we do one of the things that people misunderstand about businesses like ours is that if we were to run a triple bid we would not participate in that triple bid because clearly if we run a triple bid and we’re one then it’s not fair.

Darren:

That’s what people have got into trouble in the U.S for.

Justin:

So, that hasn’t been happening and it isn’t what we do. We will triple bid but the problem I have with the concept is I actually don’t believe it gives clients what they want. I think they’re looking for options. Typically, what they get when you do a triple bid is three prices that are all the same; usually all 10% over the budget the client has given you. All you’re getting is three different directors doing it.

Darren:

We used to call it check quoting and you could always tell which director the agency wanted to work with because that was the only one that came with the director’s treatment. Because the director at a production company will not do a director’s treatment if the producer is just putting in a quote to make up the numbers. They’re not going to do it to themselves.

I mean it’s a creative process to actually put a treatment together. The other thing is I think the whole idea of that tendering process can damage the creative enthusiasm a director has. If you sit down with a director and work through all of the cost issues and say, ‘here are the parameters we’ve got to work with’, they can bring millions of dollars of extra value just by rethinking rather than trying to make it as cheap as possible or hit a certain number.

If you go the other way and reasonably and independently assess the value, then you can work with a director to actually deliver beyond that in intangible ways. But agencies don’t do that.

Justin:

I don’t think they do.

Darren:

No, they don’t. Believe me, I’ve seen 100s of quotes and it doesn’t work that way.

Justin:

We might try and provide three options and the three prices would be very different. The client might have in mind a budget of 200 and we would typically come back and say, ‘well this is what you’ll get for 200, and this what you’ll get from 100, or 300’.

So, you’ll get three different prices and outputs. So, your middle one you might get your TV spot, a couple of cut-downs and pre-rolls but one of them you might get a whole bunch of social content and some photography, so we look at different options. We find we need to sit down with the creatives who are the stakeholders and the clients and make some decisions.

And that needs to be done collaboratively. I don’t believe a triple bid does anyone any favours.

Darren:

I think the other issue is where the clients often brief work without providing a budget and the trouble with that is that it suddenly becomes this whole open field. We had a client; new brand manager, they briefed the agency.

The big mistake they made was they wanted a bigger better idea than the last campaign we ran three years ago so they immediately go more expensive because a bigger idea is more expensive. And the agency presented ideas and put the idea through link testing, so Millward Brown said ‘yes, this is going to work its bum off on TV’ (I don’t know how they know that but anyway).

Then it got quoted and it was almost three times what they’d allowed. And the only way they could afford it was to eat into their media budget, which means a lot less people would see it.

Now, there was this huge argument; media is going, no we need people to actually see the ad, and the creatives are going ‘no, this ad is so good they’ll only need to see it once’. And it was a huge disaster and we got called in to see if we could do it cheaper.

Most ideas; three times it doesn’t work. By the time you get to a certain point you lose quality.

Justin:

Back to your car analogy, if someone’s prototyped this amazing car and they haven’t brought in the manufacturers to consult on how they’re going to do it you’ll have the same scenario. They’ve got this amazing car they want to sell at $30,000 a pop and produce 15,000 of them.

But you need to bring in the production specialists earlier to that process. Again, the production specialists will know very quickly; they’ll be able to ballpark that. I had a case (I won’t name the client or the project) but there was a script that required a shoot in New York because it had talent based in New York. But the range that we were able to give for that was literally from 150 to 900.

So, it’s not a small range and the big thing was how you approached it. If you approached it as a TV ad and you had a TV director and entourage the reality was it would drive up costs. If you treated the same script as a documentary director they would naturally want to shoot more authentically with smaller crews. You literally got an 800,000 difference, and both using beautifully high-end directors but totally different treatments.

That I don’t think you’d get through the traditional approach. You ask what savings can you get? If you gave me that brief I could give you an 800,000% saving.

Darren:

We were asked to look at a production that was shot on a tropical beach. The agency and the production company were recommending Mauritius because that’s apparently the best coloured water (I don’t think they’d heard of Telecines or colour grading). And of course, no infrastructure there; it all had to be boated or flown in.

We’re talking a multimillion dollar production and we recommended two or three alternatives, still shooting on a location just not Mauritius, and not even in Australia (still shooting offshore) but certainly a lot cheaper because the infrastructure was there.

But after all that process they still shot it in Mauritius because the brand manager wanted a one-week holiday. Absolutely, why not? So, there are some people– you just can’t save them any money. Even if they want it.

Justin:

Absolutely.

Darren:

How much for a Mauritian holiday? You must work much closer with marketers then when you’ve de-coupled production. You’d be working with the agency, but you would also be working with the marketers directly, wouldn’t you?

Justin:

Yes. It slightly depends on whether you’re talking primary or secondary production. When you’re talking primary production, making a new TV spot, I think we are still working very closely with the creative agency. When you move further down to the long tail of marketing assets the concept is that’s when you’re not needing as much creative involvement if any creative involvement.

In this case we’re usually using online work flow tools that enable clients to brief direct to us through technology where they can approve the work online and we can then implement that work directly into market at a fraction of the cost and time. But it depends on where you are in the process.

Darren:

When you’re working with primary production does the agency send along their producer, and you’ve got your producer, and some clients have their own producer—are you having a bit of a producer fest?

Justin:

Ideally, no. If you’re implementing a de-coupled partnership in primary correctly the answer is no, we’re actually reducing the amount of producers. The only time in our world you’d have more than one producer is if we needed a digital producer and a motion producer.

We would never have a situation where we would need an agency producer, a line producer, and a client producer in one room. We typically try to recruit what I call a hybrid producer that can manage the agency side but also do the line producing so actually it’s eliminating a role.

Another stakeholder (going back to the earlier discussion of change), the agency producer role has changed because the agency producer role in the old days was to procure 3rd party production through their contacts. That has changed as companies such as Hogarth have been built where you’ve got these scaled operations so the need to only procure 3rd party production is no longer really the core role.

The core role of an agency has changed. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great agency producers but the great agency producers that we continue to work with or that have moved across to Hogarth are the agency producers that also understand how to make content and effectively do the production company production role.

Darren:

I saw a production that had 4 producers on it. I just wondered how they were going to get along because there was an agency producer, a facilitation producer (they were shooting in Europe, so a facilitation company had their producer) then there was the local production company producer and then they had a visual effects producer (because there was a huge amount of visual effects, so they had to be on the shoot). Because they were all speaking different languages it would have been quite entertaining.

But I imagine from a client’s point of view when there’s a festival of producers they just think why am I paying for all those people?

Justin:

If they are then that’s not on. That’s not the model operating efficiently. I think it gets worse in your scenario in an off-shore shoot but if you’re shooting here what you can have is an agency producer, the producer looking after the TV content, another producer and in fact another production company looking after the social content, and you’ve got another team looking after the photography content.

The approach we try and take is consolidating those needs and trying to take a holistic view of all the content we’ve got to create and all the different stakeholders. And the reality is good hybrid producers are able to line produce and agency produce and effectively the agency producer is just managing all the stakeholders.

The smart agency producers have developed their skills and learnt how to line produce. All the agency producers I’ve met, the bit they enjoy is getting out and making stuff. It’s a matter of training and up-skilling some of the people in the agencies.

Darren:

So, you’re not going to have this duplication of roles because you’re bringing a lot of those siloed approaches, because production is still largely a linear approach isn’t it? Like the production line in a car factory; you can’t put the engine in until you’ve got the chassis, so it has to follow a lineal approach.

But the thing that always amazed me was that to get that coordination so that you could have multiple lines running in parallel and coordinating so they can get to the end of the process and deliver everything. The best example was always when you wanted to send a still photographer or videographer to capture the behind the scenes, the director would always be ‘I’m not having people running around my shoot’.

Justin:

So, you have to have, in that case, one producer who’s delivering to the needs because the photography need is just as important as the TV need. You might have a director who is only focused on the TV, but the producer’s role is to make sure that all assets are captured from the shoot as efficiently as possible and to make the compromises.

You can’t have four producers all saying the same thing. I don’t think that what we do is that common yet. We look at the way things are being done and I think production is as old fashioned as the advertising industry. What we’re doing is trying to look at all the bad habits that we’re not used to and find ways to disrupt them and to find efficiencies.

But every single person in Hogarth, what makes them turn up to work is they want to create great work so this theory that we produce low quality work is just codswallop. It’s the exact opposite.

If you walk around the building we’ve got people that are passionate, they’re craftspeople and that’s what makes them turn up to work. That’s what makes them stay late. So, it’s not about low quality; it’s just about finding a way of creating great quality content as efficiently as possible.

Darren:

I always try to explain to marketers and advertisers that there is not a single good production creative person in the world who wants to turn up to work each day and produce crap.

All you need to do is to set the parameters and the framework and let them go to work to produce the best thing they can within that framework.

Justin:

But there are some things that don’t need high craft, high touch and I go back to thinking of a black, grey, white brief and there are some things and we are guilty; it could be us, an agency or a client, that are guilty of over-calibrating.

Darren:

Over-engineering.

Justin:

And I think the best example is social. You do the analysis of when stuff goes up on certain channels, it’s got a lifespan of 7 minutes or one hour, and there are still people applying the same process and methodology around that piece of content that’s going to last 7 minutes to something that was going to go on TV and have $3 million worth of spend and live for a year.

So, you have to recalibrate and make sacrifices and compromises so that production is fit for channel and is fit for the investment and the return it’s going to get. It just requires different thinking. Yes, you will spend less money and you will find real efficiencies if you’re going to create something that’s going to last on social for 7 minutes. Why would you spend the same money?

Darren:

Justin, when I asked you to come in and have this conversation I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. Thanks for making the time.

Justin:

A pleasure, my first podcast.

Darren:

I’ve just got one last question. Do you ever enter any of this work you do in the Cannes awards?

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

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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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