10 Things Only The Industry’s Best Know About Reducing Content Production Costs
A lot of businesses that don’t understand production are likely to undervalue the roles of production and downscale service to clients. So much so, that a lot of clients are starting to take their productions into their own hands thinking it can’t be that complicated – set a budget and get 3 suppliers to quote on it…. easy! Or is it?….
The biggest fallacy in the business right now is that people think that if they are meeting budgets their productions are on track. It doesn’t take brain science to get suppliers to meet your budgets – anyone can do that from the personal assistant, to the marketer direct, to the assistant in the production department. Even the industry’s best auditors are there to help you know if the price is right. What is of real value to you is to be sure you are buying the right solution for the right price, that the value will end up on the screen, that people are not taking advantage of your ignorance (I can assure you they will be doing so even if they don’t mean it maliciously – they’ll be self serving at best).
1. Not all suppliers do everything well
It is easy to just call up a production supplier who is the friend of someone else who happened to produce a great production for someone else once upon a time or even following the trend and hiring the one who won the best award last week, or the ones that look the coolest in their PR. The thing is that they may not actually be the right people for this particular job at all, the makeup of the business may have changed and the team may be completely different since that last production, the people that did the production for that supplier were actually all freelance anyway, and each brief has a unique set of challenges and each job should be reassessed on its own merit and the right suppliers chosen for the job.
Deep industry knowledge of the supplier market comes with people who specialise in that area. Having the right production supervisor on your job who knows what to look for in suppliers is your assurance and insurance, that the best combination of craftsmen are on board to execute your project with you, for your budget.
Many production services are claiming they are one stop shops right now, but the truth is they are not doing everything that well. The ideal situation is to mix and match suppliers to be sure that you get the very best people for every step of the way.
2. Choose the right production technique
Even the very best industry production auditors will only tell you if the methodology chosen is at the right price, but what the very best industry production experts will be able to do for you is to make sure that the methodology chosen for your project is the right one for your brief, that every step along the way is keeping your production on track both financially and creatively, and that those crucial decisions every step of the way are the best ones for you and not just solving problems for the suppliers or creatives. The production methodology not only affects your bottom line financially, but it has an even greater impact on your brand values if not chosen correctly up front and then managed throughout the job. The very best solution is to have someone working on your behalf without a vested interest in any particular creative or production methodology.
3. Meeting budget is not the same as getting the best value
I’ve already talked about how easy it is to get suppliers to meet your budget but the real issue is whether the solution is going to be on brand, creatively the best possible value, that all the money is being spent going where it should and that there is no wastage in the processes involved. This value judgment is not something you can learn very easily or by flicking around a company’s website unless you have a highly trained eye. You want the success rate of your work to be foolproof and not hit and miss, so use the industry’s best production expertise to be sure you’re getting the best value – not just the best price.
4. Cheaper hourly rates don’t mean a better price
There are some suppliers that when you compare against another you think their hourly rates are more expensive and you can even spend a lot of energy negotiating with them to drop their fees. This is misguided if done improperly or without understanding as to their ultimate value. Knowing the individual suppliers and their expertise, their speed, their seniority and past work helps to evaluate if the hourly price is right or not for what you get. Ultimately, you should be more interested in the final solution and the total project cost as a value judgment and not just be about the hourly rate across the board.
5. Look for new ways of doing things rather than screwing people down
The industry’s best are often responsive to industry changes and provide solutions for the changing market. Rather than screw people down on their margins and expecting them to work the same old way they have always worked. This is a recipe for disaster; that’s for both sides of the fence – if you’re a supplier continually agreeing to be screwed down you are going to find yourself going broke and for clients that’s not a sustainable solution and a lot of lost opportunity for the best result too. There is a production solution for just about any budget, so work on finding the solution and not screwing each other down or screwing up the industry. The skill here is in knowing how to think creatively, to resource many years of experience in production to draw on different methodologies, and to be innovative in coming up with new ways of doing things to get the solution you need.
6. Get a breakdown of costs and know what to look for
Many times creative and production providers don’t have transparency and often the clients or agency don’t know what they’re looking for anyway, particularly if the project is coming in on budget. Understand that every cost item is a reflection of a particular production process – every dollar tells an experienced production person a multitude of things including what is NOT covered in the budget as much as what is. An inexperienced person can focus on the small details like how much the runner gets or how much is in the petty cash budget and lose sight of the overall picture. Production auditors do a great job at this level ensuring that you are buying right – but don’t forget that this is only one part of the overall production process and the real value in the job is achieved once the production begins.
7. Treat production as your baseline not creative
Many clients who are doing project work are losing control of their assets and missing out on their buying power as they think these things come further down the food chain (so to speak) than the creative. They think that this is stuff that only the creative agency can do for them. By moving the production focus up to the top of the chain you can achieve some consistency across the brand, be on strategy more consistently, have more control over your talent and assets and also consolidate your buying power. What this move in thinking does is also move your production costs up the tree – consolidating all your production into one place with the least possible distance between you and the suppliers, reducing the margins involved at every step.
Importantly the creative can be briefed out as an execution of the overall media and strategic brief delivered through the production team, and you will also be more likely to have the creative and the budget meet up! It takes a very experienced production expert to brief this way – to be able to determine the parameters of the creative brief so they have creative freedom and yet still make budget. This way you also get the best creative people for each of the deliverables, and the overall ‘big idea’ can also come from anywhere – including the client directly, the digital agency or the media agency. Additionally this allows for a more integrated solution. This breaks the reliance on the old agency model and opens up the ability for the smaller, more niched service providers to work together more coherently with a production supervisor across the whole job to keep it all on track.
8. Buy in advance
This isn’t always possible but if you can anticipate a total campaign, a year’s worth of work, or some other kind of grouping of work you will be able to get better prices and consistency across your work. Even simply buying up the paper stock for a collection of projects will help you take advantage of your own group buying power. Creative Services Manager, Glenn Birznieks from ICS, suggests that clients have saved around 30% in printing costs by buying up paper stock in advance as just one example.
The only thing better than this is to consolidate your buying power with others. Big agencies can do this fairly well (unless they keep that value for themselves) and typically clients that do project based work miss out unless they can utilise the power of a group buying service or production service.
9. Producers are not all the same
Many clients are hiring freelance producers because they are given a good reference from someone else they know. That’s great, and there are some great freelance producers out there. Producer’s skills can also be very niched as well – eg. a visual effects job would have different needs from a producer than a film company job, an agency producer is a different skillset again and often under-estimated by those that don’t have an understanding of what they do all day (trade press lately suggests that’s largely the case with post production people claiming they can do it all themselves). There are specialist skills that people across all kinds of production services can only bring to the job. Getting the wrong person can cost you financially, creatively and sometimes that isn’t tangible if your only measure is if they got in on budget or not. Producers can also present the figures in a way that works within the limitations of the system available to them and unless you are smart about catching it they can give a false impression. (I’ve seen projects go massively over budget but because no one is properly tracking costs the lost value is intangible until too late!)
10. Sometimes you have to spend a bit of money to save money
This comes from my own experience over many years and also the key team members I work with every day. There are people that are highly experienced at what they do, however there is a fee involved in their time. Often it is a misconception that cutting them out of the mix will save you money when in fact we’re proving that even with the fees of the experienced people in the mix it is still possible to make massive savings on productions of 25-30%! So, paying for the very best people will ultimately save you money – or alternatively make sure the money goes into the production and not someone else’s pocket at your expense.