THE CONSULTANTS: COUNTING THE CREATIVE COST - They are far from popular, but cost consultants are not going away

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?’.

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

particularly popular.

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

Bryner, says.

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

the 90s.

’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

the director.

’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.

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