Production Rosters – do they work?

Posted on  |   by MCA Editor

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I am quite enjoying tackling some sensitive areas of our business and hopefully this one might just help clients decide whether it’s a good thing and also for production suppliers to choose whether to respond positively to a roster RFP.

I have been involved in so many roster initiatives over the years now that I think I a have a pretty good idea whether they work or not, from the original P&G rosters when I was client side, heading up a TV department in an agency, and through to helping clients at MCA.

It’s a big conundrum for a production company, post house, print production house etc. whether to agree to participate. Why is the client doing this? Well there may be a message that the client wants consistency, a speedier way of doing things, or to keep all our collateral/ assets in one place, but lets be honest…its all about the money. These programmes are always with very limited exceptions driven by procurement, in the pursuit of finding financial benefit.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, lets look at the consequences of doing this from both sides.  Can it really work?

For the clients, they can begin to dictate the terms of participation, the mark-ups, the transparency and right to audit the line items, bundling jobs to drive even more efficiency. The participating vendor can agree, or not to the terms and be excluded from the roster.

For the production supplier there’s the carrot that is tantalisingly dangled in front of the companies of high volume of work. BUT, is there truly a guarantee of huge volumes of work? In all the roster RFP’s I have been involved with, not once has there EVER been a guarantee of any volumes.

The only guarantee that a rostered supplier will significantly increase their volumes is through a closed roster with a small number of companies on that list. The competitive bidding then is between roster companies only.

If the client is still relying on their agencies to manage the talent search often they are given an amount of flexibility to use non roster companies ‘if its right creatively for the job’. Miraculously, every job falls within that category. Agencies WILL never use a roster company if they can break the rules or avoid being pushed into a way of working. No matter how great the talent is within the roster.

So the outcome in these situations is that a roster company bids a lot (costing time and lots of money), but never gets the work, as they are never the agency recommendation. I applaud the participating production suppliers by the way as they realise that the future lies working directly to client, not with the agency. The landscape is changing and I believe that clients will be designing their own production execution structure that suits their requirements. In addition, the roster companies have worked very hard to get on the list, and it takes a lot of thought to get the RFP response right. There can be many rounds of chemistry meetings and budget rule discussions, you have to ask if its really worth it.

The other side effect of being on a client roster, is that everyone quickly becomes aware of it in the community, and the instant perception of the production supplier is that they might be second rate, which in most cases simply is not true.

When it works, we do see a significant financial benefit, but there has to be a strong partnership, and buy-in from the highest level client stakeholders, not just procurement. Without Marketing buy in, then it will be doomed to fail. The only thing Marketing care about is doing the best work that builds business results, and the agencies use that to their advantage when telling them the roster companies are not up to scratch for the project in question.

So this all seems to add up to a not very positive view of production rosters for either client or the production supplier.

Well not necessarily. I would advise both sides to think carefully about the rationale and viability for doing it. Has the the planning been well thought out, and what has it been set up to achieve? As a client, how can you incentivise your agency partners to make it work for you? (Related to KPI’s, agency fees, bonuses etc.), Has your agency been involved in the adjudication process? Can you get the quality of production supplier to participate? For the production vendors, ask yourselves, is this a closed roster? Is Marketing genuinely on-board? What will it do for my reputation i.e. do I want to be associated with this client in this way? Is there an agency involved? Does the agency like us? Will that change if I do this?

So food for thought, and frankly setting up a roster is a long haul, tiring to get right with no guarantee of success. I still think that true, fair and honest competitive bidding in an environment where there is plenty of choice with genuine contenders is always the best way to get what you want though. With the plethora of great companies old and new, there has never been a better time for clients to get really interesting talent to create content all who are willing to sharpen their pencils for you.

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