FEATURE: COST CONSULTANTS ARE THEY WORTH IT?

Cost consultants have become a fixed feature of the industry. Clients love them and production companies loathe them. As Pliatzky joins the fray, Michele Martin listens to all sides and assesses what’s on offer

Cost consultants have become a fixed feature of the industry. Clients

love them and production companies loathe them. As Pliatzky joins the

fray, Michele Martin listens to all sides and assesses what’s on offer



The thing production consultants shy away from most is being called by

their most common name - cost consultants. Terry Slade-Baker, Mars’s

head of television production for Europe, says: ‘I am not a cost

consultant. I don’t want to screw producers on budgets, I want to help

our agencies get what they want out of a shoot.’ Graham Connor, despite

calling his company Commercials Cost Control, says: ‘We can cut a good

percentage off any budget, but that’s not what we’re here for.’



But any client will tell you that using consultants is primarily a cost

issue, with savings on production budgets at 5 to 15 per cent. Moreover,

the Advertising Film and Videotape Producers’ Association says that 50

to 75 per cent of all clients now use consultants compared with 10 per

cent less than a decade ago.



The name problem reveals a deeper sensitivity. Clients may be only too

pleased to call their advisers all-round production gurus, but to

agencies and production companies, cost consultants are just what the

name implies - willing to sacrifice creative excellence to save a few

pennies. Not calling them production consultants is one of the few

objections they feel they have.



Simon Wells, head of television at WCRS, speaks for many when he says:

‘There are some appallingly bad ones out there who will quibble over the

taxis and bacon butties and ignore the bigger issues.’ Or, as one

anonymous production company head puts it: ‘Cost consultants are the

teachers of the production world. Those who can, do, and those who can’t

become consultants.’



It is against this background that the second Pliatzky committee is

currently redrafting the industry’s 1987 bible on advertising

production. After warranting barely a mention in the first version,

there is now general agreement that changes are needed to encompass a

thriving service.



Cecilia Garnett, chief executive of the AFVPA, says: ‘We haven’t

finished our discussions yet, but everyone seems to be in broad

agreement and our best-practice guidelines will certainly deal with cost

consultants.’



On paper, cost consultants claim a role in advertising film production

to which few could object. Generally hired by busy clients, at their

best they should represent the agency’s needs to the client, while

simultaneously auditing and explaining the process back to advertising

managers and their bosses.



Their task is to check proposed production budgets and suggest

improvements. They should help select the final production company.

Overseeing shoots and post-production also comes within their remit.



Some larger clients even choose to hire individuals on an exclusive

basis. Mars appointed Slade-Baker as a staffer 18 months ago and Procter

and Gamble retains Geoffrey Forster as a full-time freelancer. Because

both monitor every company shoot instead of just ad hoc projects, they

can advise on ways of centralising entire production schedules for

greater cost effectiveness.



However, consultants are more often criticised for being inexperienced,

inefficient, and willing to drop creative standards to make savings.

Everyone has their own horror story, from the consultant who couldn’t

read a budget sheet, to the one who spent four days trying to beat down

a quote, only to tell a producer: ‘I’m worried you’re leaving yourself

dreadfully exposed with this costing.’



Then there are the constant criticisms that consultants only look at a

balance sheet and never wait to see the effects of their cuts on the

finished production.



With so many stories such as these, even some of the more enlightened

clients recognise the problem. Nigel Scorey, Mars’s commercial manager,

is one of the few: ‘The standard of cost consultants out there is

patchy. I sympathise with experienced production company producers who

have their work questioned, threatening quality in order to save small

sums of money,’ he says.



So why do clients persist in using such controversial figures? Firstly,

TV ad production has always brought clients out in a cold sweat. At the

root of the paranoia is a deep-seated client belief that agencies mark

up production costs. Nat-West’s director of marketing, Raoul Pinnell,

may stress that using a consultant was not intended to be ‘adversarial’

to agencies, but even he admits: ‘We all recognise that there is the

possibility of an inherent conflict of interests due to the way agencies

seek remuneration as a percentage of media or production spend. Cost

consultants help to balance the potential conflict.’



Scorey adds: ‘Clients see huge prices on things like carpenters and

painters that a layman wouldn’t usually pay that much for and they feel

they are spending over the odds.’ This suspicion is not helped by the

increasing use of freelance producers, which leaves many clients feeling

additionally justified for retaining an experienced consultant.



Agencies and production companies find it hard to voice their concerns,

however legitimate they may be. That’s why the Pliatzky initiative is so

welcomed by all sides. The report looks set to make two key

recommendations: firstly, consultants should demonstrate on-line

experience as an agency or production company producer, or a solid

client background, before being allowed to practise; and secondly, it is

altering its illustrative timetables, giving guidelines for cost-

effective production schedules to include consultants’ involvement,

suggesting the addition of up to an extra week to accommodate plans.



Such recommendations would please those who believe the two areas

highlight the worst aspects of cost consultancy. WCRS’s Wells speaks for

many experienced producers when he says he is shocked by the standards

of consultants: ‘I’d say only 35 per cent have on-line production

experience,’ he comments.



Mark Andrews, the managing director of Rogue Films and a former

president of the Pliatzky committee, says that delays by consultants

caused by this lack of experience can - ironically - add thousands of

pounds to bills, by preventing advanced bulk deals on securing crews,

equipment and even plane tickets.



Andrews says: ‘There’s almost no lead time on jobs nowadays, yet you

find cost consultants all over them while the client is standing in the

background saying ‘where’s my ad?’ Nobody’s got time to make the changes

to make the savings.’



The hope is that Pliatzky will enable the more positive aspects of a

consultant’s job to come the fore. Even now, not all those on the

receiving end of consultants think they are a bad thing. Nicky Webster,

Grey’s director of TV production, may be in a minority when she says: ‘I

find them fantastically helpful. Most have production company or agency

experience and know what you’re going through.’



All parties agree that Pliatzky is a vital first step towards advancing

these sentiments; whether it can advance them any further is another

matter.



For some, mainly the consultants themselves and the clients that use

them, production evaluation is a permanent by-product of the advertising

business and as such can only grow stronger from formalisation.



But to others, consultants are a sign of the fractured relationships

between an agency and its client, and as such, self-regulation can only

limit the damage.



As Mark Collier, head of television production at Bartle Bogle Hegarty,

says: ‘I don’t think cost consultants cause the problem, they are a

symptom of it. Agencies and production companies should handle costs

effectively and when they don’t, clients are forced to use cost

consultants.’



Whether Pliatzky is a first step towards greater trust or merely a set

of rules of engagement, cost consultants look like they are here to

stay.



Graham Connor



Occupation Production consultant, Commercials Cost Control, which he

founded in 1992



Pedigree Current clients include Kraft, Nissan, Nestle, NatWest. Began

life as an assistant director, then produced for David Street. Moved to

Still Price Lintas as a TV producer in 1989 and had a brief spell at

Film Budget Analysis before starting his own company



What’s his speciality? ‘None’



Agency view

‘Very active, but his understanding of the process is largely

financially-driven’ ‘Mixed press in town. If you keep things from him,

he’ll probably interfere more’



Production company view

‘He didn’t impress me. He didn’t know his way around a production

budget’



Client view

‘Very detailed and thorough. Always able to suggest a more cost-

effective way of doing things’



David Prys-Owen



Occupation Managing director and consultant, Focus on Film

Pedigree Current clients include BT, Camelot and Unilever. Began work as

an account man at J. Walter Thompson, but switched to Avro Films to

become Adrian Rowbotham’s producer for six years. Went to work at Film

Budget Analysis in 1991 before it was taken over by Focus on Film

What’s his speciality? Not specified



Agency view

‘He’s had on-line experience, he’s very good and knows more than lots of

producers and agency producers. He follows the process through’



Production company view

‘Probably the best in the business. Very straight and professional.

Never takes his eye off the ball’



Client view

‘His relationship with agencies is very productive and helpful. He

understands both our issues as clients and theirs’



Ken Vaughan



Occupation Director and founder of MPP Marketing Services



Pedigree Works only with retained clients, including S. C. Johnson Wax,

Argos and Somerfield. Began his career at General Foods, latterly as its

advertising and promotions manager. Left to set up consultancy in 1984

after very short spell at Option One



What’s his speciality? Offers media consultancy as well as production

consultancy



Agency view

‘He’s an old pro who knows the ropes and understands your business’



Production company view

‘Thorough and capable’



Client view

‘He has his finger on the pulse. Very thorough. We point him in the

right direction and he does everything else himself’



Mike Ford



Occupation Retired TV advertising production consultant, ‘but I keep

getting work in’



Pedigree Clients have included Bulmers, Red Stripe, National Savings and

BA. Interest in production goes back to his first job as a director at

the BBC which he left to join the sales division at Heinz in 1953



What’s his speciality? Not specified



Agency view

‘No on-line experience, but pretty good. He was fair and got involved

with the whole process’



Production company view

‘Good and knows what he’s doing. If he’s cross-examining you he asks

fair questions about the right areas. He also goes behind the scenes to

check up on what’s going on with other companies’



Client view

‘Slightly older school, not as experienced as some in new filmic

techniques or post-production’



Terry Slade-Baker



Occupation Mars’s head of television production for Europe since 1994,

incorporating Mars Confectionery, Masterfoods and Pedigree Petfoods



Pedigree Head of TV at D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles between 1984 and

1994. Producer since 1967 at companies including the Annexe, Joe Films

and Trillion Video



What’s his speciality? Co-ordinating worldwide advertising projects



Agency view

‘He’s very helpful and understands quality. We can pick up the phone to

him any time’



Production company view

‘He probably knows his way around a budget, but I still don’t like

Mars’s attitude to buying production’



Client view

‘He’s well respected by all Mars’s agencies, production companies and

marketing people. He’s improved our TV production to the benefit of all

parties’



Geoffrey Forster



Occupation Independent production consultant, works almost exclusively

for Procter and Gamble



Pedigree Began career as a producer in 1957. Started own company,

Geoffrey Forster Associates, in 1966 before moving to the James Garrett

Films for 18 years, latterly as a company director. Went freelance in

1992



What’s his speciality? P&G



Agency view

‘A bit nit-picky but fine if things are presented to him correctly. You

need to take him along with you’



Production company view

‘Anyone associated with the Bold 3 ads deserves a one-way ticket to

hell’



Client view

‘A respected man in the industry with a real influence on the way P&G

oversees the production process’ (P&G itself refused to comment)



John Byrne



Occupation Consultant producer



Pedigree Clients include BA and the Meat and Livestock Commission. After

working as a trainee account man at S. H. Benson in 1954 and running the

TV department at C. Vernon and Son for eight years,among other jobs, he

joined James Garrett Films as a producer in 1967. Stayed for 24 years

before becoming a consultant in 1992



What’s his speciality? Not specified



Agency view

‘A stolid sort of chap-turned-consultant’



Production company view

‘He’s a very nice man who’s done years of pulling budgets together and

has a fairly sane approach.’

‘He knows his onions’



Client view

‘He’s been really useful in helping me understand a production quote and

how they get to what they get to’



Nigel Neads



Occupation Head of TV and film division, Production Link International



Pedigree Clients include Unilever, RHM Foods and Abbey National. Started

his career in medical research but moved into television in 1973 and

began producing shortly after. Became a programme production accountant

(film equivalent of ad cost consultant) in the late 80s and joined PLI a

year ago



What’s his speciality? Combines producing programmes with current job



Agency view

‘He’s got a very fair attitude, but I would suggest that he’s still

learning about the commercials industry’



Production company view

‘Obviously knows what he’s talking about’



Client view

‘Very experienced. Explains the process clearly’



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