MCA Founder Pat Murphy had a conversation with Little Black Book about benefits and drawbacks of brands working directly with independent suppliers.
The situation is simple. We’ve all come to understand that the way brands budget for ads has changed radically over the last few years. Brands don’t have more money to spend, but they do need to create more content. So, the question is, how are brands going to manage that task?
Ad agencies have historically always had their hands around the costs of production and post production. But there’s nothing to stop production or post companies going directly to the client anymore. Creativity and ideas can come from anywhere: it doesn’t have to be an agency, and we are seeing some companies having huge success by combining a creative offering with production or post.
As a result of this, clients are far more open to having a discussion with independent suppliers. They are actively looking to spend a greater percentage of their budget at the coalface where people are making content. That’s not to say they aren’t willing to buy ideas. They are. But often they are looking much closer at the execution of those ideas as much as they are for strategy. For years, this hasn’t been the case as clients have often regarded this a just a mechanistic stage of the process – the part where they transform the strategy as embodiment of the script (which they no doubt researched to death) into just a delivery vessel for that strategy i.e. a film. Now they realise that when you get the execution right, it’s possible to really move people. With all the new media channels, the opportunity to have a closer one-to-one relationship with their audience is greater than ever.
Clients want to spend their budget where it is going work hardest and have the biggest impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean going straight to production companies. There are often good reasons to have an agency as the curator of a project, but the lines are very much more blurred than they once were. It’s important for brands and production / post houses to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of working directly with each other.
• Good Project Management is key – Agencies have always been good at managing a process (although with less experience now that’s even under threat) So you need to ensure if you’re going direct to supplier that you have someone who understands the process from start to finish overseeing the job.
• A good checklist – Ensuring that all the potential requirements are captured along with usage rights, options, and that all variations and versions are documented clearly prior to bidding. The best way to do this with the ever-growing list of media requirements is a shit-hot pre-bid meeting.
• Brilliant pre-production – Often we hear the phrase ‘fix it in post’. Well a much better phrase and far more suited for budget conscious clients is ‘fix it in the prep’. You spend months doing research and strategising, don’t scrimp on the production prep stages.
• Getting to know ‘brand speak’ -Hearing phrases like ‘advertising idea’, ‘brand equity’, ‘comms objectives’ are completely alien to a typical creative supplier. So, getting to know how a brand operates and some of the language is a great idea, and not a bad thing for some agency producers too.
• Things don’t happen overnight – Most independent suppliers (and some agencies) cannot understand why it takes so long to get decisions made in a brand organisation. The fact is that there are incredible pressures on people at most companies and often budgets are held by inexperienced people who spend much time deliberating or getting approvals up the chain of command. There is plenty of fear out there, so helping your client to sell in the ideas, understand the budget and visualise what the creative outcome will be, all goes a long way to building a terrific ongoing relationship.
• Who is your key contact? – If you are to work directly with a brand, it is absolutely critical that you have someone who is empowered to help manage the job. This might be an independent project manager, or an internal resource at the brand end. It will always be best that is not the brand manager or marketing contact. Whoever they are make sure you cast correctly at your own end so there is a seamless flow of communication. This will manage expectations, timelines, and what feedback you want at critical times.
• Creative guardianship and continuity – Agencies are great at this and often the agency knows more about the brand than the rotating cast of characters at the client end of marketing folk who generally have a shelf life of around 13 months. Once you know this then you can understand the nervousness of clients to take a leap of faith working directly with YOU. Give them the comfort that you have deeply understood their product and their brand and how you might manage a relationship beyond a one off project.