LIVE ISSUE/PRODUCTION COSTS: Will pressure from creatives cut the cost of ads? [SH] Agencies are determined to get the best value from budgets, John Tylee writes

Want to see evidence that life exists elsewhere in the universe? One cynic suggests you should be in London’s Belgravia when the cream of the UK’s creative directors face the financial facts of life.

Want to see evidence that life exists elsewhere in the universe?

One cynic suggests you should be in London’s Belgravia when the cream of

the UK’s creative directors face the financial facts of life.

’If I were a client I would be asking what planet these guys have been

living on,’ commented one creative director not among the chosen


’This is 1997, not 1992, which is when these discussions ought to have

taken place.’

A tad churlish perhaps. But better late than never that creatives are

posing pertinent questions about how much commercials should cost, why

headhunters’ margins seem out of touch with reality and why some awards

festivals are merely money-making machines (Campaign, last week).

Indeed, it is a measure of the new financial probity gripping senior

creatives that one was moved to remark after last week’s meeting that he

was no longer prepared to pay through the nose to subsidise ’some

commercials director’s second farmhouse in Tuscany’.

Another is no less scathing. ’It’s true to say that production companies

have got away with murder,’ he claims.

How different from the mid-80s when agency creative departments and

production houses vied with each other to spend like pools’ winners.

Today, attitudes have taken an about-turn as advertisers draw on their

increasing knowledge of the ad world to put the thumbscrews on agencies.

’I’m under more and more pressure from clients saying that production

costs must come down and asking where the money is going,’ the executive

creative director of one Top 20 agency says.

’This matter is only being leveraged now because there’s a reason to do

so,’ Jeremy Pemberton, DMB&B’s executive creative director, says.

’Clients’ awareness of production costs and the need to control them is

a constant and so is the pressure being exerted on us.’

Contrast that with the hedonism of the mid-80s when creative directors

ordered their secretaries to ’fix Cannes’ for themselves and a dozen

agency cronies. Or the financial shambles that used to pass for the


In part, the Creative Directors Forum, headed by the vociferous Leagas

Delaney chairman, Tim Delaney, is doing no more than respond to the

rising levels of cost consciousness apparent right across British


Keith Holloway, who, as Grand Metropolitan’s commercial affairs

director, was one of the UK’s most powerful clients, says: ’What’s

happening is very healthy and further evidence of agencies identifying

themselves with clients’ aims. But it’s also just the way of the


More specifically, it stems from a lingering mistrust of production

costs which remain alien to many clients. John Hooper, director general

of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, notes: ’Production

costs are constantly under discussion. A typical marketing person

doesn’t make many ads and is easily bamboozled by the creative


Others suggest the initiative is no more than enlightened self-interest

on the part of senior creatives as financial indiscipline crashes

head-on into creative freedom. And if it has taken longer than it should

for creatives to get real it may be because their departments were

protected more than most from the recession’s worst affects.

’Creatives are tired of being told by clients that ’it’s a nice idea but

I can’t afford it’,’ declares Jerry Green, the former executive creative

director of McCann-Erickson and now its deputy chairman. ’If it’s

starting to affect their output it’s inevitable they’ll put pressure on

their suppliers.’

Nor is it a coincidence that the charge towards greater accountability

among suppliers is being led by creative directors who are also

commercially literate. ’Most creative directors are either owners,

partners or shareholders in their agencies,’ Frank Lieberman, the Abbott

Mead Vickers BBDO head of TV, says. ’They know what it’s like to battle

with clients over commission levels.’

Some, however, ascribe baser motives to the creatives’ collective call

for transparency.

’Peer-group jealousy has certainly got something to do with it,’ Gerry

Moira, Publicis’s creative director, claims. ’With so many ex-agency

people becoming directors, quite a few salaried creatives are resentful

of former workmates earning up to pounds 500,000 a year.’

While that may be true, it’s clear that creative directors have been

emboldened by the changing demands of agencies on production


Ken Mullen, Leopard’s creative chief, recalls the days when top

directors would almost hold unfashionable agencies to ransom before

agreeing to shoot their scripts. Not any more.

’There’s a ’back to basics’ move among commercials makers,’ Moira points

out. ’A home video advertising Swedish condoms is as likely to take a

gong at Cannes as something by Paul Weiland. And it might well have been

made by a kid fresh out of film school.’

What’s more, creative directors can expect to exert even greater

financial muscle with suppliers as cost pressures lead to the

exploration of creative routes that wouldn’t previously have been


’In the halcyon days creative directors made commercials by hiring the

best people and paying them accordingly,’ Mullen says. ’Now they’re

under pressure not only to make it good, but to make it for