Chris Hirst, CEO, Grey London
Chris Hirst, CEO, Grey London
A view from Chris Hirst, CEO, Grey London

Nose to tail marketing and the 'central production event'

'Nose to tail' marketing creates efficiencies for brands and will lead to better, more effective, work, argues Chris Hirst, chief executive at Grey London.

Each year has its new trend, its dominant buzzword or phrase. In 2013, this was undoubtedly "content creation". Changes in audience behaviour and media consumption led to enthusiastic promotion of content as the binding campaign ingredient but, as a marketing industry, we ended up creating so much that was wasted.

So much that was ill thought through or poorly executed and had little to do with an essential brand or campaign idea. Producing content-rich, multi-faceted, campaigns is challenging but opens a potential new way for marketers to work with their agencies. An approach that will help to make each part of the communications mix as juicy as the next.

Think of this as "nose to tail" marketing, a play on the culinary vogue for attaching a high value to each part of the animal. Applied to communications, it’s about valuing each part of the campaign, not just preparing the fine cuts of the TV activity and then treating other channels as neglected offcuts.

Quality content

This is important because emerging channels are maturing, requiring greater quality in creative and production. A client might have good reason to allocate a £1 million TV production budget, but also knows that the remaining £50,000 is insufficient to create quality online content. How do they reconcile that?

Emerging channels are maturing, requiring greater quality in creative and production

The solution is both philosophical and practical. Philosophical because it requires an open-minded view of communications that rethinks siloed, linear, models. Practical because the starting point is allocating a seat at the table, an important strategic role, to production.

This approach brings the production expert, let’s call them the production strategist, into close contact with planning, creative, media and client.

An upfront production strategy allows as much as possible of a campaign’s collateral to be planned, scoped and produced early and leads us to a "central production event", in which content gleaned say on a photo or film shoot, is tailored, sliced and diced, for all the channels that will feature.

It means production meetings take place at the start of the project asking "what are we likely to need to make?" - and makes sure the content is developed to suit the broader strategic goal. The content created locks together seamlessly, whether it involves posters, PR, TV, online, or instore. The "whole pig" can now be used and each part has equal value. Nothing is wasted and there are no after thoughts.

Strong idea

Brands that operate in this way get bang for their buck. Some strong recent examples are Land Rover’s Hibernot campaign, which disseminated content across channels behind a strong idea, as did Cannon’s Project Imagination in the US. Red Bull, which frequently uses events to create assets that weave their way through various channels, also does it well.

Closer to home, at Grey London we're embracing these principles in our upcoming work for Volvo and The Times. And it's worth keeping an eye on the outcome of recent pitches such as British Airways, which seem to place greater emphasis on a content-led model.

Nose to tail asks us to imagine what we will be making at the end of the process long before we get there.

The feast that is the World Cup should serve up more examples, but the truth is, there are only a few brands currently doing this really well. It's difficult because of the historic working cultures of both agencies and clients. It demands flexible, best in class people, but it can be made to work even within siloed structures. The concept of nose to tail has become a catalyst for cultural change within our business and a way of creating dialogue with our clients to also create change within theirs.

In terms of budget, let’s be clear. Nose to tail encourages efficiency not cost savings. Clients who adopt this approach as a way of saving money will miss the point. It’s about making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, making content sing in each channel while keeping budgets within a realistic sphere.

Importantly, this demands a rethink of the linear campaign process towards something more "circular". Nose to tail asks us to imagine what we will be making at the end of the process long before we get there.

The explosion of online content should focus minds. Nose to tail marketing creates efficiencies for brands but, vitally, will lead to better, more effective, work. It will provide the nourishment to feed popular culture by ensuring that nothing is secondary and can help alleviate what currently seems like the need to make production quality compromises.