Back when I started in advertising in Australia, I learned my director trade by making commercials from within an ad agency. I even set up a midsize production company within its walls. Funnily enough, the post was always handled with outside editorial. Flatbeds, and video post especially, were too complex and cost-prohibitive to even consider an alternative.
Since then, in-house fortunes have fluctuated as agencies created and folded in-house production and post. All the while, the democratization of production and post accelerated. Powerful workstations became cheap. Software for editing, color, VFX, animation and design moved from an expensive purchase to cheap monthly licenses.
On the production side, much-reduced lighting requirements combined with inexpensive high-resolution digital cinema cameras made shooting broadcast-quality video accessible to all. (Even the iPhone 12 shoots 4K HDR.) Exploding demand for video content has led to the development of sophisticated, yet easy to use, production tools like camera dollies, Steadicam and motion control at minuscule prices.
As this was happening, brands confronted an explosion in content needs. From a handful of deliverables, agencies now require literally hundreds of pieces of content for TV, online advertising, websites, out-of-home, social media, hundreds of digital video outlets, content embedded in retailer sites… the list goes on.
What didn’t change? Advertising budgets. So, the per-unit cost of content had nowhere to go but down.
One solution has been to bring some of this content deluge in-house. Agencies responded to their clients’ budget dilemmas by building their own production and post capabilities. Some work moved offshore, although that, in turn, brought quality and supervision challenges. Brands also faced a quality and consistency dilemma. How could they ensure that brand identity remained consistent while passing through wildly different levels of production and post talent? Agencies, long used to choosing from an incredible depth of production talent now had to achieve similar — or at least consistent — quality from their in-house production arms.
While there is no easy answer, it is clear that there needs to be real creative collaboration between the high-priced team that makes and posts TV spots and the in-house team that produces the myriad additional content for the same overall campaign. This requires an understanding that in-house — whether within agencies or brands — has a vital role to play. In many ways, it supports the sustainability of the expensively produced TV spots. In-house teams keep the cost of other deliverables low so that the campaign budget can afford those award-winning spots.
What are the practical steps? First, an acknowledgement that in-house is not there to wipe out outside production and post companies, but rather to collaborate. To make the relationship work better, key outside creative talent involved in the broadcast spot could be paid to consult with in-house teams without being seen as “giving away trade secrets.” Similarly, in-house creatives could attend, virtually or actually, the broadcast production process. Key props and wardrobe could be made more readily available to in-house teams. Occasionally, key resources like color correction or animators could work for both sides.
Ultimately, instead of belittling the work of in-house teams, production and post companies should feel a sense of accomplishment from campaigns that are truly creatively integrated.
Finally, many creative competitions include awards for best commercial production, best low-cost production, best student production, etc. In-house creatives have their own awards. How about merging them? Pie in the sky, I know — but worth a thought.
Peter Corbett has been a founder and/or partner of more than a dozen agencies, production and post companies including Bonfire, Click 3X, Heard City and Sound Lounge. His latest venture, WrkFlo Solutions, builds and manages in-house production resources for agencies and brands.