2014 Predictions: The year ahead for...Production

The best content will be created by companies and directors bloodied in the battle for repeat business, rather than by insulated in-house teams, according to Robert Campbell.

Robert Campbell
Robert Campbell

In the 20-odd years since I started in this business, the landscape has changed beyond measure, and if there is one thing that I have learned during that time, it is that predictions are a mug’s game.

Consequently, here are my predictions for 2014: nothing will change and everything will change.

Let me explain. When I say that nothing will change, I mean that nothing will stop the endless change that makes this business so impressively dynamic.

The world of television advertising – or "content", as we increasingly call it – is in a state of constant flux.

It changes at such an astonishing pace that it is really only possible to see how far we have come by glancing over our shoulders every now and again.

The pace of change can blur the vision and anyone who devotes too much time trying to work out where we will be in a year’s time is likely to give themselves a mild concussion.

I grow weary of all those who continue to gamely predict the end of the traditional TV commercial. Apart from anything else, have not these Cassandras noticed they have been repeating this same prediction for the past decade?

That is not to say they are entirely wrong – they will be right eventually. As I have already said, the landscape is constantly changing and there will come a time when we glance over our shoulders and realise the traditional TVC has gone.

Adapting to evolution

So why won’t we see it happen? Because it is happening now. Our industry does not move forward in paradigm shifts, it evolves.

And when the landscape of the industry evolves, those who depend on its bounty must be ready to adapt to the new demands.

Many of the companies that operate in our world are agile – some more than they realise – and they are constantly readying themselves for the latest challenges.

Some of us have looked beyond the traditional film-production model in order to ensure that we are perfectly adaptable. Outsider is part of a suite of companies that includes Rebel and Unit9 because we recognise the need to offer an ever-broadening range of services to our clients.

We did not make these decisions because we can predict the future, but because our clients were at the point of demanding these services and we were flexible enough to begin providing them.

We broadened their choice by offering them other options and – in my opinion – this is the key to our industry’s hard-won reputation for creative excellence.

Tough times breed excellence

No-one in our business can have failed to notice how much harder it is to compete these days. Arguably, there are too many directors out there. But do you know what? Hard as it is, I’m absolutely convinced that the toughness of this environment ultimately benefits the work.

No-one can get by on reputation anymore. You have to be good – really good – at your job because there is always someone else out there who just missed out last time and will be ready when the next opportunity comes along.

Do I ever get frustrated when we miss out on something? Of course I do. But I accept that it is the price of doing business in a highly competitive environment and – ultimately – it sweetens our successes.

Not everyone sees it this way. Some in our industry believe they can benefit their clients by restricting their choices.

Unsurprisingly, this is not how they would represent their proposition. But the reality is this: if an advertising agency persuades a client that its interests are best-served by commissioning work to be made by an in-house "content or post-production" department, then they are potentially restricting their options.

If an advertising agency persuades a client that its interests are best-served by commissioning work to be made by an in-house 'content or post-production' department, they are potentially restricting their options

These facilities were never traditionally part of an agency. Recently, it was mentioned that post was being repatriated to the agency side. Post was never there. The odd overseas version may have been in existence, but creative post has always been left to those who do it best.

Creativity in our industry thrives because directors understand the importance of their input. Each and every time a director is asked to make a television commercial, they know that they have to prove that the right decision was made to hire them. And the same is true of any other kind of filmed "content" – using a different vernacular does not alter this essential truth.

An in-house team has no need to strive for the creative edge that will ensure it is considered next time around. It is already in the bag. It may be efficient, which in itself is not a bad thing, but that is not the basis on which to enhance creativity.

I am not maligning the professionalism of people in this position but I cannot believe that the removal of this vital source of creativity will have no impact. Of course it will. It may dull the knife. If true talent emerges from this environment, then it does not take long for it to move on to the "private sector" – even though it leaves the safety net of guaranteed salary and work.

The best creative outcomes

So is this what creatives want? Within those agencies that practice this model, it is rumoured that creatives persistently agitate for the right to use external facilities.

Why do they do this? Because they know it will lead to the best possible creative outcome. Years of experience have taught them the value of what we – the film production companies – can provide.

Film production companies are better, quicker and – believe it or not – cheaper.

This is because our costs are contained. We cannot charge our clients more than has been agreed. The same would not usually be said of a department within a large company and anyone who has ever worked for one knows that this is true.

There are all kinds of ways of blurring the boundaries between different departments and there is often a corresponding lack of fiscal discipline. Ultimately, an astute head of department can make it look as though an in-house production possibly cost less, but would it stand up to scrutiny?

Competition may not provide the correct solutions in every realm of human endeavour, but it has served our industry incredibly well and it is crazy to stifle it.

Look, for example, at the emergence of the Electric Theatre Collective. Just two years old, it already competes on equal terms with its bigger rivals – how impressive is that?

Furthermore, let us not pretend that this is not true of advertising agencies as well. It is the start-ups that breathe new life into our industry. Look at what Adam & Eve/DDB has achieved in just six years, and look at the work that Joint is starting to create.

Everyone benefits

Agencies such as these do not just benefit their own clients – they benefit everybody’s clients as the whole advertising industry has to continually raise its game.

The same principle constantly exerts pressure on directors and production companies to do the very best job they can, and while we might occasionally claim to dislike this burden, in reality we would not be half as good without it.

In 2014, whenever "content" (or whatever you want to call it) emerges from this extraordinary process, it will be better than it otherwise would have been.

That is my prediction for the coming year and it will be the same again next year and the year after that, because whatever else changes, that never will.

Robert Campbell is the founder and owner of Outsider and a co-founder of Unit9. He is also the chairman of the British Arrows