The Insider's Guide to Production: Overview - Adapt or die

The UK production industry's record in adapting to change and the quality of its people will keep it at the forefront of producing ads.

Adapt or die has become a mantra for advertising. But what does that mean for commercials production? What are the challenges and new opportunities it must adapt to? How is it responding? And what is the Advertising Producers Association doing about it?

The starting point is that London continues to be a centre for commercials production that is at least the equal of anywhere in the world. The foundation for the quality of British commercials is British television and British cinema.

The output of British TV, historically, in the shape of the BBC and ITV, has been of consistently higher quality than most other markets. That has reflected a culture of creativity and humour which commercials were born from and had to reflect to be effective. The formula for production was firmly based on that of the feature film industry, where the skills in cinemato-graphy, sound, art and production were all world class.

Agencies responded to that challenge through the likes of Collett Dickenson Pearce, which both attracted and developed brilliant creative talents enabling the then new medium of TV advertising to flourish.

Commercials directors in London grew out of that same culture and have consistently demonstrated a level of talent that has given them the highest reputation internationally. Producers, too, are of the highest quality.

Production companies in London are, unlike some other markets, run by working producers with in-depth knowledge of every area of production, ensuring the closest control of the entire process.

Post-production in London is an important part of that picture. London now offers visual effects and post-production which is a match for anything in the world. That is reflected not just in amazing work in commercials in London but in the amount of film post-production being done in London and the success of London post- companies that have set up in New York. The UK's art department, editors, cameramen, music and sound designers are all top drawer, too.

London is helped in maintaining that eminence by talent from around the world. Agency creatives and directors are attracted to London by the quality of the work and a sense that to come to London and be a success is the ultimate step for talented people.

Confidence in London and its ability to adapt to changing markets is boosted by the manner in which the city has transformed itself from a mainly UK-based business centre to one that can set up a manufacturing plant anywhere on the planet at a moment's notice. At a recent production conference in New York, the hot topic for US production companies was "runaway production". How could they stop US ads being produced in low-cost centres? UK production is one step ahead of that. Commercials for the UK have runaway: they are made all over the world but they are still produced by UK production companies.

Advertisers have gained from lower production costs while retaining the benefit of the critical skills from the UK market. Agencies continue to select London production companies for those skills - to have a producer they know will manage the production and the unexpected and accept the risk of shooting in new countries. It is the best form of guarantee because, for the London producer, non-delivery is not an option.

Yes, we have a solid basis for future success. But there is no chance of complacency. The real competition for a London production company, post- company or commercials editor is its local rivals, not overseas markets.

The broader threat is to the TV ad as a medium. Personal video recorders are affecting the way TV is viewed, while the variety of methods of communicating with consumers is growing.

The creation of Thinkbox by commercials broadcasters is vital in ensuring that advertisers are fully appraised as to why the TV commercial is a uniquely effective medium. While we believe the threat to the TV commercial to be overstated, it is plain for all to see that advertisers are finding new ways to reach their target audience. This led us to set up the APA branded content group, which has two aims. First, for APA members to be fully informed as to what the opportunities are; second, to ensure the advertisers and digital agencies who are commissioning most ads in this area turn to our members to produce it. The message we communicate on their behalf is that they are the experts in producing audio-visual advertising content.

The objective of the APA chairmen John Hackney and Lewis More O'Ferrall, the council of members and myself has been to transform the APA into a pro-active organisation. The APA has launched the APA 50, a showcase of the 50 best commercials of the year; subscribed annual Master Classes to contribute to a well-trained future generation of film and agency producers; replaced out-of-step, out-of-time trades union agreements; developed mutually fruitful relations with the IPA; expanded our membership to include editors, post-production companies and, now, music production, ensuring that we represent commercials production as a whole, and sent a delegation to Tokyo to instigate relations with an unexploited market.

So, we face the new era with confidence rooted in the expertise London offers and its track record of managing change successfully, and with excitement as to the possibilities new markets for our members' services offer.

- Steve Davies is the chief executive of the Advertising Producers Association.

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