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Managing Marketing: The Opportunities for Optimising Global Production Capabilities

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.

Jonathan Samway is the Managing Director and Executive Producer at Established Media. But Jonathan has a long and successful career producing high-quality content on a global basis and he shares his belief that many major advertisers and their agencies are missing out on the opportunities for improved quality and performance from their production investments by taking a fragmented and often short term narrow view of their requirements. Jonathan believes that by thinking global and packaging production requirements marketers could see significant returns on their production investment.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudTuneInStitcher, Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I’m sitting down with Jonathan Samway, the Managing Director and Executive Producer at Established Media. Welcome, Jonathan.

Jonathan:

Hi.

Darren:

Jonathan, you’ve got quite a high-profile career in production. You’ve had jobs on the production company side and the agency side. I imagine you’ve seen huge changes in the industry, not just from technology but also the way people work.

Jonathan:

I have. I started in the mid-80s at a time when agencies really only had television or print as their creative output. Obviously, since that time it’s splintered into a million different areas. I think the big changes that have come with that are where agencies have modelled themselves on 1950/60s models and so had production companies.

I think in the last decade we’ve been in a period where production companies, in particular, have to now more so than ever break out of a mould that they’ve put themselves into. Invariably most production companies follow an English production company model.

It’s filled with one of two senior producers who are the owners. It represents a group of creative film directors that are not on staff but they exclusively represent them in the territory. And then they’ll have line producers on staff to manage the day to day production.

As this now evolves that’s no longer a working model.

Darren:

One of the things about that model is that there were very close relationships between the production company and the agencies, and particularly the creative department in the agency. The creative and the directors had very almost intimate relationships, didn’t they?

Jonathan:

You could be a very successful Sydney director and you could eke out a living in Sydney. That is no longer the case and those relationships have gone by the by because it’s an international game now.

A director living in Sydney must have an in to a New Zealand market, some sort of representation to the South East Asian market. It would be crazy to not have representation to the American market, the U.K market and then into one or two markets in Europe. That’s how quickly that has changed.

That has come about in the last 10 years. That original model where creatives, directors could go to a restaurant on Friday afternoon and talk through creative briefs and there was a trust built—that’s no longer the case.

Darren:

That infers to me a fundamental change in the business dynamic. I remember the mid 80s where producers and directors in that model you were talking about would often have people ownership or both directors whereas now it seems like the model is much more like a talent agent in that the producer is often representing the director talent and a director could have relationships in different markets. Or is it still that very close relationship?

Jonathan:

No, I think there are enough directors out there who have full ownership of production companies whether that’s shown or revealed or not. The power is certainly back in the director’s hands. They are, without doubt, the most valuable asset in a production company.

Darren:

The talent?

Jonathan:

Yes, the talent. I think that’s why the number of production companies has expanded exponentially but recently it has started to contract quite considerably and consolidate but the production companies that are left have grown. Where before there were companies that represented 2, 3 or 4 now there are companies that represent 12 or 15.

And of course a lot of those are off-shore because visas are easy to get, and international phone calls, conference calls—they were all mysterious things 15 years ago but that’s just part and parcel of producing. No one blinks an eye that a director has to fly in from the United States.

Whether that’s merited or not is another concern but directors realise that you cannot just rely on one market; you need to have a stake or something in this market and possibly get represented somewhere else.

Darren:

It has become a global market for talent on the production side but, interestingly, on the agency side it’s not quite as global is it? I know there are big campaigns that become global but those big campaigns are still coming out of New York and London, occasionally Auckland.

Jonathan:

I agree. Creatively it gets back to directors getting involved with a production that will look at it. Financially it’s got to be viable but at the same time they are weighing up which, creatively, is the best project to pick. And the better projects that were here are now everywhere else in the world.

That’s why you must have a suitcase as a director. Part of me feels sorry for these bigger-name directors who literally just live out of a suitcase because you follow their Facebook or Instagram accounts and they’re shooting in one Eastern European city because it’s a low-cost centre, down to South Africa because it’s another low-cost centre, off to Mexico because it’s a low-cost centre, and then off to Buenos Aires because again it’s another low-cost centre but they’re just constantly travelling.

Darren:

But you’re a big believer and champion of Australia’s ability to compete.

Jonathan:

Oh, god yeah. Everyone says this about their own country but I firmly believe we have the world’s best in Australia. I believe if you can’t find the location here we can build it. The studio systems here, everything is world class. Of course,  when we compete globally to bring production here  and need to compete on cost, we can’t.

We’ve got a country not even 3 hours flying time away: New Zealand, which runs 10 or 15% cheaper than us year round. However, I do believe in the infrastructure here, the crewing, experience, and we keep promoting that. That’s what brings the bigger productions here, the Marvel series and there are the government incentives. That runs the top-end of business.

Darren:

But that’s almost like a table stake because almost every country, and in the US even state by state.

Jonathan:

True but at the same time we’re very lucky that we’ve got actors and actresses that have forged their way into the United States. And therefore a one-stop flight between LA and Sydney allows that ease; that’s why we’re successful. That’s why South America or South Africa just doesn’t have that.

They’ll pick up the commercial production but they just won’t pick up the bigger Netflix or Disney productions that everyone wants to develop.

Darren:

Now, you’ve jumped to what I call long-from. Commercials were traditionally called short-form; 30, 60, 90, maybe 120. That’s changed a little bit with the internet format; it can be almost any length you want it to be. From your experience, running your own production company and even before that, what was the tipping point when production companies went from being able to exist just on advertising to having to be long-form, short-form or were they always like that?

Jonathan:

There has always been a very healthy delineation in Australia between what people are doing. It’s interesting; I started my career in France where you would work with directors and crew that would one day be doing a television series, the next day a feature film, then a TV commercial.

They were almost agnostic; it was a camera and they just turned up. In Australia we never had that. TV world was always you do TV because it was electronic, video and we were pure in the sense that we worked 35mm film and then we had the feature films. And never the twain mixed.

Obviously, there were people coming up the whole time in the commercial world because that’s how they got their break especially DOPs and others like that that broke that ground. But it wasn’t until the late 90s that that ground became way more. That was the introduction from my point of view of the big American series coming out to Australia because they had to be crewed at a level that we’d just never seen before.

The Matrix, for example, when they came out—they couldn’t get their crew from their traditional source of film people so therefore they went into the commercial world. And when the ebb and flow of the commercial world became more apparent during the mid 2000s, people would accept less because again we had this weird structure in Australia where crew can get paid over quite a few different pay scales depending on the project; feature film, music videos, commercials.

But a lot of people chose to do feature films simply because of the longevity of it. It got away from the project to project.

Darren:

You’d get weeks and weeks of work rather than a few days.

Jonathan:

Also the fact that there was an explosion. It was the mid 80s that the communications courses were introduced to the universities and communication became an area that people were really interested in. The creative industry really exploded. When I first started there were probably about 4,000/ 4,500 people in the early 80s that could actually say I work in the film industry.

If you were to look at those numbers now it would be times 30 or 40 that number if not more who are reliant on the film industry.

Darren:

Part of that is it’s become so much easier for people to work in the film industry because I hear a lot of people talk about how the technology, the digital technology has made it easier for people to shoot things. But it still comes down to talent doesn’t it?

Jonathan:

That’s right. I remember listening to an interesting lecture not so long ago, the Keith Richard principle; when Keith Richard’s mother brought home a mass-produced Japanese guitar and that was the only way Keith would have been able to learn the guitar. Therefore it became musical instruments for the masses.

But, at the same time, you still needed to have the ability. We’ve gone through this revolution; digital cameras have become cheaper and cheaper to the point where we can go out with SLR cameras and film everything. But having worked with some of the best.

Darren:

It’s not the equipment; it’s the person using it.

Jonathan:

That’s right and we all know that.

Darren:

Do we know it? Have we done a good job of informing advertisers because I’ve sat in a room where a marketer has actually played their 15-year-old son’s music video for his friend’s band and said, ‘look he’s shot that on his iPhone and look how good it is’.

Jonathan:

I know. God bless that 15 year-old.

Darren:

And it didn’t cost him anything.

Jonathan:

But at the same time, I do really believe, with the explosion of the Netflix’s, the Hulu’s, the HBOs, the Stans, people are understanding what good storytelling is and what good production values are because they can see it.

You can see that the commercial stations in Australia—7 out of 10—they have to up the ante. The production values they bring in are suddenly way out of it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a programme that I’m not particularly enamoured with like The Block but I can still see the production process in that.

That is a massive production process that would go on behind the scenes to produce 5 couples renovating a house. But if you take that all the way back I do believe it’s a slow education process. And at one particular point you’ve got cinemas only filled with mega blockbusters of Marvels and that whole franchise.

That whole middle area of feature film has disappeared and you’ve got small independent films. But at the end of the day we’ve all gone though ‘I’ve got someone who can do it cheaper’ but the end result is always, as we know, it’s the storytelling.

Darren:

You would have seen budgets for Australian advertisers producing commercials in Australia decrease over time.

Jonathan:

Decrease or remain exactly the same. When I came back to Australia in 1996 I was handed a budget at George Patterson Bates where I worked. I’d just come back from Paris where I was working on very big budgets because they were worldwide campaigns. And I understood the process.

However, the budget at the time was $250,000 to produce a 30 second TV commercial. I fast forward 25 years and that client is still spending $250,000 to produce a 30 second commercial and nothing’s changed in 25 years.

I think it’s miraculous that it can still be produced to the level of expectation that the client wants but I marvel at how production companies have had to adapt to a landscape where a precedent was set but 25 years later it’s still the same precedent.

Darren:

Well something has changed and it’s the part of the mix that even the creative agencies don’t acknowledge, which is the client’s media investment behind that TV commercial has dropped in real terms. Because in real terms their marketing budget’s the same but now with the same money they have to not only to do TV media and production but also the Facebook media and production and everything else.

There are so many more channels with the same amount of money and this is what’s putting pressure on this—fragmentation.

Jonathan:

Fragmentation—I get it but at the same time I came from an era, and I worked for a very big agency, McCann-Erickson, Paris and you literally had a handful of people who were running a worldwide account because it was television and print and you could all sit round the one table and make decisions based on all of that.

And they were running clients that would equal the revenue of close to the top 30 agencies in Australia. They were big, big numbers. But they were the only channels available to people at that particular time. But I have sat round tables recently where you sit, the client gets introduced, there’s PR and experiential, direct marketing, production and as it goes round everybody is, quite rightly, putting their hand out and saying, ‘I need money for it’.

By the end—it’s still only going to go back to what is produced at the very end and that has always become as I’ve observed during the last decade the poor cousin to it all. I feel that production has been pushed further and further down the chain.

There’ll be other people who disagree with my observation but I still remember going to the Cannes advertising festival in 84, 85 and it only ran for 30 minutes because it was only film. And these were the bronze, these the silver and they gave out 5 or 6 gold and there was no best of show and that was it.

But the films, filmmakers, thoughts, and campaigns that were there; there would only be one campaign in a year. And I’ve worked with Rémi Babinet who is still executive creative director at BETC in Paris and he still maintains that ethos of keep it all together and just do one campaign. Canal + is a very good example of that or Evian, which we worked with him on quite a few years back—the rollerbaby campaign.

Just one campaign a year and they spin and craft and they keep working it and get scriptwriters in. All of that to get something at the very end that when it did come to the PR or experiential or direct marketing they had something to push.

Darren:

That’s a philosophy which is get the core premise right, execute that well and then it will amplify across multiple channels whereas the other way is here’s the money from multiple channels now let’s come up with something that we can feed it.

Jonathan:

Again it’s disheartening when you do that because you realise (I just talked about the production area) that not all the time you budget – time wise you just don’t have the tools now to realise what everyone sitting round the table is envisaging in their heads. I hear what you want but this is what we’ve got on the table and it does not answer. It can’t do the heavy lifting you’re asking it to do.

Darren:

I just want to change direction a bit, Jonathan, and talk about the different ways that marketers and agencies work with production companies. I’ll give you the two extremes. One approach, which is very popular with consumer packaged goods, is they’ll get the agency to write the scripts, do animatics, they’ll storyboard it then they’ll literally hand it to the production company to make to the animatic. That’s the first way.

At the other extreme is where increasingly we’re noticing agencies will come up with an idea but then they will choose a director to really bring that idea to life. The script could change significantly from what’s presented to the client to what appears on the screen because of the input of the director.

Is any one of those ways going to deliver better value or is it horses for courses?

Jonathan:

One is far more definable. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end and only just recently because of U.S clients where a storyboard and then an animatic and the animatic is cut and the timings are all done. There is no guess work.

Darren:

It’s purely a production process.

Jonathan:

You are purely looking to replicate that in a real world situation and from a price point of view you can literally send that to 5 production companies and you would hope they would come back within one or two per cent of each other because they are literally reading a how to manual.

The next one, which is creatively the one I enjoy but it requires a steady hand. You can’t set a budget to creativity especially when you’re giving  a  more vague brief. It’s almost impossible to start writing something at the same time envisioning in your head and thinking I’ve got to fit this all into a 2-day shoot so take that out, put this in, take that out.

You’ve just got to write it and at the very end of it then you’ve got to explore the possibilities of how you would execute that and that’s where the surprise factor comes in for agencies. Hang on this is double what we had in the budget but we love it but be careful what you ask for because you just may get it.

If you put a good talented director at the starting place and said run with this and see where you get to, unfortunately, in Australia we’re still in a crewing situation where after a certain number of hours of the day we get into 15 minute increments, and times that by 40 or 50 people. If you make mistakes in that area it’s costly.

Production is expensive. It’s not a cheap exercise to bring 40 people together for 3 days in a location and at the end have a guaranteed piece of communication that will drive sales. That costs money. So when you go back to those two solutions, the ones I get from the US they’re animated. They could literally be put to air because they’re animated pieces.

But there is no derivation from that but you already know that has been backwards and forwards, in focus groups, link testing. And it’s colour-coded to the company’s logo, everything where the other one that’s the hope of desire. I have very rarely worked with something from an animatic that has gone on and built a campaign, gone on to number 2 or 3.

It comes from a client who understands the process but also financially everything there is no surprise. In fact, there is almost no need to even turn up for the shoot because there’s the animatic. We’ve seen the talent, we know the locations; I don’t need to be there.

Darren:

Well the way technology is going you might be able to just programme it in and the computer can generate it for you.

Jonathan:

We hope not. I agree but I’m all for the creative process but that’s where my frustrations occur in allowing that creative process. In a creative process when an agency sends out a storyboard to a production company the first thing they ask for is a telephone call between the director and the creatives. They all discuss it and we understand the parameters and the background for it and this has been worked on for many, many months to get to this particular point. And the client has signed off on this particular piece of creative.

Great and at that particular point you also realise that the writer or art director has a very specific look, feel or outcome in their head. And that’s why they have chosen the 3 or 4 directors to pitch on it because of the styles. However, once the director writes the treatment it’s very difficult at that particular point because a treatment is really just a creative vision but at that point a production company (in Australia) has got to nail and maintain that cost.

Darren:

So they can actually achieve it within the budget.

Jonathan:

Here I’ve written a book, 8 or 20 pages but here is an absolute cost; this is the part that never gets discussed because an agency will have a very fixed cost in their head. And a creative team will read a treatment. We all know this and we love it, the imagery, I can see it but there is a reality. And it’s not that this director has gone off on a tangent and is trying to be silly about it but it’s a competitive world.

How do you wedge that back into this cost that was derived over here? And sometimes that’s easy; shave a bit of this and a bit off that. But other times it’s very difficult because, as the producer on a job, you’re sitting between a director who has a vision and only wants to do the job because they’ve got that vision and the creatives who love his vision but I’ve got to talk behind the scenes to someone who’s only got x amount of dollars.

Then it becomes our responsibility, everyone’s or the post-production company’s responsibility to squeeze it all in to get that over the line.

Darren:

Isn’t part of this an inability for people to write to budgets. It must be frustrating for directors to get a great script and then be told the budget doesn’t really support the script.

Jonathan:

Yes and no.

Darren:

Not within a dollar, I’m talking about degrees of margin. I’ve seen so many amazing scripts but the budget was set on day 1 at say half a million dollars and there was no way that script could ever be delivered for half a million dollars so why was it presented to the client in the first place?

Why was it put through research? This is the first fundamental stumbling block for me.

Jonathan:

I couldn’t agree more. Having started in the agency world and moved into production it is a frustration. This has given rise to finding cheap places in the world to shoot. Qantas is the only winner out of all this because they’re non-negotiable in their airfares. But suddenly we’re in Kiev, Chile or places that you wonder why you’re here. You’re here because it’s cheap.

You can dress it up and it’s all location or whatever but it’s cheap. That is driving a lot of South African, South American, and a lot of East European production. Eastern Europe, Prague has exploded in the last 15 years because of that. And it’s because of the expectation and production companies trying to maintain turnover but also profit margin.

Darren:

I’ve rarely met production people that are not trying to put maximum value onto the screen. Directors and producers, in most cases, because they’re so judged by their last campaign. Agencies, you’ve got the creative people that are trying to put the idea onto the screen but then there’s the business part of it that’s also trying for the agency to keep the money they need to stay in business.

And then you’ve got the client at the end of that who is sitting there going I don’t have enough money to do any of this but hey the agency told me they could fix it.

Jonathan:

I’m with you. For good production companies it’s a very stressful process because you attract the talent, the directors to stay with your company because they believe you will bring them quality scripts. If you’re only throwing around $50,000, $100,000 scripts no one of quality is going to stay with you; they just won’t.

So, you’re looking for the high-end car, alcohol commercials that have travel, 3 to 4 days of shooting, that allow good post-production techniques to be used and good production values all the way through.

You can also be caught out that you’ve shown a director a script and it’s not always announced on the same day (and this is another problem) what the budget is. I get a lot of ‘we’re just working through final numbers and we’ll send it to you’. Now, you’ve already sent that to a director. A director looks at it and goes ‘oh my god, we’ve got to pitch on this’ because of the creative.

And suddenly you’re getting messages late at night –we can do this or that, shooting in LA and I’ve looked at it and as soon as I see a script I can tell you within a dollar how much that’s going to cost and then you wait for that phone call—‘we’ve got half that amount of money’.

Of course you don’t want to go ‘oh this is ridiculous, how dare you send it to me?’ Because again, this is a business where you’re servicing a client the entire time so you’ve got to be seen as can-do. And can-do is ringing the director—‘maybe not LA, what about Broken Hill because it’s got that look or we could go down’.

You are constantly negotiating one up or one down. There is no TV ad that is displayed with a disclaimer that says, ‘this ad only had $250,000 and 4 weeks pre-production’. They all play and everyone thinks they had unlimited budget and time. That’s how you see it.

So when people show their work it has given rise to the director’s cut because a director will finish it and then go back and those 4 shots they took out I need them to be post-produced, which is a lot of work and money that someone has to put in somewhere along the line and then it’s only shown on a reel.

Darren:

That’s the director’s vision not what ended up being produced.

Jonathan:

And that’s not always the case.

Darren:

We’re at a very interesting point from my perspective because I’m starting to see so much more flexibility in the approach to production. Part of that’s been driven by technology, part of it’s the money around, and part of it’s the new formats. Streaming is driving longer term formats, YouTube channels and things like that. On the other way we’ve gone to 6-second ads.

It’s also meant we’re increasingly seeing new ways of thinking. We’re now seeing a lot of production companies working directly with advertisers, some of these companies collating or brokering a whole lot of production talent through global platforms. We’re seeing agencies building or trying to bring more production capabilities in-house. The marketers have the money so ultimately they have the most influence on the future of this production. Are there some things that marketers should be thinking about?

Jonathan:

I can give a snapshot of the last 3 months of the projects I’ve been working on. They involve big agencies and you can see why the client has gone to a big agency because they have a lot of direct marketing, PR, a lot of things, not just a TV commercial or a piece of content they’ve got to produce.

For them to move out of that big full-service agency model just wouldn’t make any sense at all. But there are increasingly more clients that are looking for fillers or a collection of companies that can interact with each other but not be under one roof.

I certainly have been part of that where a client will come to me directly. They have taken the creative from someone who is just providing great creative for a piece of content and there is a trust there.

Darren:

The option of cutting out the middleman?

Jonathan:

It requires a client who is hands-on and who doesn’t need lots of handlers around them; somebody who understands the process. In some of the campaigns I’ve looked at the amount of money that has been put into production because it didn’t go through the original way has been 50 or 60% more and therefore everything from the talent all the way down it sheds a completely different light on what they get at the very end.

Those types of clients are in the minority but I do think there are a lot of brands in Australia that have been run out of the US and Europe and I think there are people, marketing directors in Australia who are looking at how do we do this differently than previously?

Darren:

I often find especially marketers; they don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know what to ask for or what’s even possible because they are so used to working in a traditional way (going to an agency). And yet there are now marketers who are using creative collectives to generate creative ideas—deconstructing the process so they can build something that works specifically for them.

Jonathan:

At the moment I get the feeling that that is marketing director specific as opposed to once that person leaves that can flip back the other way. But I’m seeing more of it. Our office in Surry Hills, when I moved in in 2002 there was nothing there. Now 18 years later every 2nd building in Surry Hills is a creative company.

So there has been a lot of fragmentation and clients experimenting with lots of different ideas on how to do it. That doesn’t always lead back to my area which is content production. But it gets back to what you said before which is production companies having to break away from a very established idea of what that model is—executive producers, directors morphing into companies that can creatively take on talking directly.

There was a long time when production companies wanted to talk directly to the client—I can just solve all this but they don’t realise that there’s a lot more.

Darren:

The politics.

Jonathan:

Not even that. Clients are not just looking for a piece of content to be produced; they are looking for other things to come up with. That said, the production companies have now realised that they need strategists and account services involved but they’re careful because they only work and have only ever worked on a project-based business model. They can’t take on all that overhead.

But people have to multitask and they have to be very strategic about when they bring people on or they have these affiliate companies around them—a bit like the village square in old England where people would all come together to go out and slay the dragon.

Darren:

Which is a more agile way of working. And that’s what everyone is talking about; how can we make the whole process of going to market more agile?

Jonathan:

I have been in meetings where the person who has made the introduction white labelled everybody else in the room. And everybody else walks in and nobody walks in with their own business card—there is a set protocol of everyone sits around and everyone takes the brief and then it’s discussed after the client leaves. We all know our working conditions and how we can contribute so it looks cohesive.

But the wonderful thing is I’m not just reliant on being in this meeting with this group of people because this is happening with many groups around the city.

Darren:

Jonathan, we’ve run out of time.

Jonathan:

Thank you.

Darren:

It’s been fascinating and thank you for making the time and coming and having a chat.

Jonathan:

Not at all.

Darren:

One last question. What is the single piece of work you’re most proud of and you would most want to be known for producing?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes 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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