Editorial: Production companies need to show flexibility

The stand-off between Bartle Bogle Hegarty and some of the UK's best-known production companies looks like a classic example of emotion overtaking common sense. The agency wants to pay editors directly instead of via production companies. The companies claim this may lead to creativity being undermined and their profits being hit. A suitable case for compromise, you might think, especially since the sums of money involved are not huge.

On the contrary. Production houses are threatening a boycott of BBH's TV briefs and BBH is sticking to its guns. So how did it come to this?

The reasons go deeper than either party might confess. The production companies view what is happening as the thin end of the wedge. If their right to negotiate contracts and fees on an editor's behalf is taken away, what other areas of their activity will agencies seek to control? And while BBH talks of offering better value for money to clients, there is little doubt it also wants greater control of the ads it creates.

The production companies' threat will almost certainly turn out to be empty. For a start, establishing a united front may prove exceedingly difficult. Who will be able to resist the next offer of a Lynx script, for instance? And no-one seems to have thought about the long-term effects.

The mutual ill-feeling would take a long time to disperse.

However, a boycott could be potentially damaging if BBH was forced to look beyond its regular pool of talent to get its scripts shot. As one leading creative director says: "You risk losing a massive competitive advantage."

Of course, it has always been hard to apply strict cost controls in an area where much depends on the right chemistry between director and editor.

But it is equally certain that while the market is over-supplied (and the best players still make a good living), production companies may have to show more flexibility in the way they do business.

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