OPINION: High production costs due to inferior agency process

The agency, through its inability to appreciate the real value of a budget, is the guilty party in the current debate over production prices, Mischa Alexander writes.

The agency, through its inability to appreciate the real value of a

budget, is the guilty party in the current debate over production

prices, Mischa Alexander writes.

I’m fed up - and, more pertinently, the clients I talk to are fed up -

with the constant bickering between agencies and production companies

over the level of production costs and the inability of both sides to

make any progress towards improving matters.

This is particularly irritating because there’s a very easy solution

through which production costs can be lowered.

As an agency manager, you might expect me to be critical of the

production company world. However, while there have been - and, I

suspect, still are - rogue production company operators, the real blame

for the level of prod-uction costs that clients have to pay lies with

the agencies.

At the heart of the problem is the process that most agencies adopt in

developing TV advertising ideas.

This process not only allows, but actively encourages people to develop

ideas that are completely divorced from the commercial reality of a

prod-uction budget which the client has for the task in hand.

Typically, agencies act like ostriches sticking their heads in the


The thorny and uncomfortable commercial issue of production budgets is

put to one side by account management teams until an idea has client


Yet how can an agency find it acceptable to present an idea that a

client can’t realistically afford?

On most agency briefs, an arbitrary budget figure is regularly written

down by the planner or account director with no real understanding of

what that amount actually buys in ’production currency’.

Only with the confidence of an approved idea do agencies then try to

tackle the task of getting the idea made.

At this late stage, problems emerge because all the production companies

can do is quote for the task in hand.

Invariably, the quote exceeds the client’s budget because the process

has not allowed the idea to be developed in the context of the


The agency then tries to persuade or bully the client into increasing

the budget with the feeble defence that, despite all the agency’s best

efforts, they are still faced with dealing with a production industry

that operates some kind of cartel-like pricing structure.

This is ridiculous because it’s possible to do things differently. You

don’t have the luxury of blaming production companies if you don’t use

them and, instead, have creative partners who can both create the ideas

and then realise them.

As a result, an agency can deliver ideas that it knows are within the

budget that has been agreed with a client at the start of each new


While combining agency and production company functions allows a unique

degree of control, a key aspect in the process is one that any

conventional agency with good and experienced creatives could adopt.

It’s easy to be explicit at the start about the size of the budget.

Moreover, it’s easy to develop ideas at pre-agreed budgets. All you need

is to have a team of planners, creatives and production people working

together at the earliest pre-brief stage so that there are clear

parameters defining the brief and a proper understanding of the sort of

ideas you can afford to make.

After all, if you understand your budget only runs to a one-day shoot

with one principal artiste at a modest day rate, you aren’t going to

develop an idea that involves shooting at a dozen locations around the

world using the Spice Girls.

It’s time that agencies stopped looking to production companies to cut

costs and started to take a proper responsibility for their role in the

production process.

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