Mention the word ’cost consultant’ to most ad agencies and
production companies and you’re likely to be greeted by similar
responses: ’ugh’, ’eeugh’ and ’is this off the record?’.
It doesn’t take long to realise that cost consultants aren’t
Why is this?
Their brief is to act as an auditor for marketing directors, ensuring
they get the best deal from their agencies for commercials
This means analysing budgets and seeing where improvements - or cuts -
can be made.
But at the same time the consultant should defend a creative idea on
behalf of ad agencies, informing the client if they are being
unrealistic about a budget or the length of a shoot. They may also be
involved in selecting a production company and attend filming and
post-production sessions. It’s a tricky balancing act which, it seems,
only one or two consultants manage to pull off.
One huge difficulty is the lack of an industry standard for cost
Despite the efforts of industry bodies - the Advertising, Film and
Videotape Producers Association, the Incorporated Society of British
Advertisers and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, - which
produced guidelines within their Pliatzky report and its follow-up,
Producing Advertising Commercials, there is no law about who can set up
as a consultant.
’It’s vital that everyone adheres to the guidelines,’ says John Raad,
director of media affairs at the IPA. The agency should be notified by
the client as to the authority of the consultant - whether it’s just
cost or creative advice. ’This is often not made clear, which can
compromise the agency’s delivery of the creative brief,’ he adds.
Because codes of practice are neglected there’s a huge disparity of
skills and experience: ’There are good ones who understand what we do
and there are the bean counters with no creative comprehension,’ says
Frank Lieberman, head of TV at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
David Prys-Owen, a leading consultant and managing director of Focus on
Film, admits as much. ’There are three types of cost consultant, those
with production and agency experience, those with a marketing background
and, thirdly, opportunists who get clients but don’t keep them long,’ he
A good consultant, he argues, isn’t just there to cut the budget. ’The
most important thing is to have an ad that works, and this is achieved
by giving impartial advice to all concerned.
’It’s easy to save money on a budget by completely wrecking it - by
saying that a Castlemaine XXXX ad doesn’t need to be shot in Australia,
for example. But what’s the point if you just end up with a lousy
Graham Conor, founder of Commercials Cost Control, agrees that budget
slashing is not always the primary objective - which is why he prefers
to be called a production not a cost consultant.
’I take a broad overview of the method of production and ensure there is
a transparent relationship between the client and the agency. I’m not
interested in working with people who say, ’right, how much are you
going to save me?’.’
’I’m not here to beat up agencies but to ask questions like, ’is the
agency’s agenda really the same as the client’s or is its main interest
to win awards?’.’
Conor also agrees that it is essential to have an understanding of the
creative process, as cost and creativity should be inseparable.
’However, you have to be able to justify everything. The age-old
’darling, we have to shoot here because of the light’ doesn’t work
anymore. Clients are under increasing pressure to account for their
marketing spend,’ he adds.
The consultants point out that theirs isn’t an exact science. Every job
is different and should be approached as such, but common problem areas
include overwritten scripts, not allowing enough time for a shoot and
over-doing expensive post-production.
’The key is to flag problems up at an early stage, pointing out areas
that the agency’s TV producer may have overlooked,’ Prys-Owen says.
Many production companies appreciate their involvement. ’If they feel
you’re under-budget or have excessive time pressure, they will argue
with the client on your behalf,’ Cowboy’s managing director, Lisa
Most, however, are not as keen to leap to their defence. Apart from
having to deal with some ’under-qualified’ consultants, many production
companies and ad agencies object to their use because it signals a lack
of trust by the client. It seems the image of 80s excess, when
production companies were accused of padding out budgets, lingers on in
’Consultants undermine the agency’s TV producer whose job it should be
to get the best deal for clients. It suggests that the agency is in
cahoots with the production company, which just isn’t the case,’ says
Chrissie Phillips, a producer at Union Commercials.
One or two clients agree. James Kydd, marketing director of Virgin
Mobile, says he would never use a cost consultant. ’I think it
undermines the trust element. We have very good agency relations and I
think you get far more out of them if you trust them.
’When I have used (cost consultants), the savings I got did not justify
the time and effort involved with managing them, the agency and the
production company. They may be useful for clients who have no
experience of production, but if you have that knowledge, it is just an
abdication of responsibility.’
Many production houses question the role of consultants in today’s
climate of ever-shrinking budgets.
’The industry is highly competitive because it is over-supplied. Add to
that the continuous squeezing of budgets and it seems ridiculous to
employ a cost consultant who will cut the budget by pounds 2,500, but
will charge pounds 2,000. One of the areas always under discussion is
mark-up, which is seen as profit. It’s not. It has to cover our
overheads,’ Adrian Harrison, managing director at RSA Films, says.
BMP DDB’s head of TV, Howard Spivey, believes clients are wasting money
on cost consultants, not because they are no good, but because of the
increasingly rapid turnaround of commercials.
’The best way to get the best price is to get time to negotiate. If the
price is too high with one company, you go to another. But at the
moment, there is no time for bargaining so you’re over a barrel.’
Julia Reed, managing director of The End (London), believes that using
consultants can stem spontaneity and flexibility and limit the vision of
’If, for example, a director suddenly wants something extra you have to
enter a huge debate about whether it’s possible or not, even if it’s a
relatively small amount,’ she claims.
There were many more drawbacks cited in the industry, although most
critics refused to go on the record.
Prys-Owen sympathises: ’When an agency is dealing with someone
inexperienced they are reluctant to confront the client in case it looks
like they’re trying to hide something.’
It’s a problem which seems unsolvable, particularly as most admit the
industry guidelines on the subject are not known or are ignored.
But until the qualification and experience of cost consultants can be
guaranteed, they will continue to be a necessary evil, to grin and bear.