Is Commercial Production a threat - or under threat?
My ad-agency friend Nick never minces his words. “Businesses like yours are becoming a real threat to us, you know? I have clients asking me why they have to pay for our creative when they know a production company who’ll do it for free.” I assured him he needn’t worry (and that I’d NEVER work for free anyway) and we both got on with shot-listing the commercial in hand. Together. In harmony. But the comment, or at least the possibility he might have a point, prompted this bit of soul searching.
30 years ago this month I founded JMS with the aim of producing radio commercials for the still-developing ILR network – in today’s terms we were to be a ‘silo’ or single-channel supplier. But surprise, surprise, my predictions of how much radio work we’d achieve in the first year proved (very) optimistic. Desperate for turnover, we took on the production of a multi-screen video and stage-event which was, in truth, way beyond the limits of our experience OR technical knowledge. Folks, there really IS such a thing as a vertical learning curve.
Four months later, as the extravaganza reached its mighty finale and our dancers took their final swirl through clouds of dry ice, backstage we just about managed to fade the banks of projectors to black before falling to the floor, simultaneously shaking, cheering and weeping with relief.
We’d learned the most basic of business lessons: push your frontiers, diversify and multi-skill. (Oh and get to know an array of talented freelancers. Vital, that one). So as our second year dawned, even as radio production began at last to take off, we felt it wise, and now had the confidence, to embark on filming our first TV commercial as well.
I’m not about to drag you through a year-by-year history (you can read that online at www.jms-group.com) but from personal experience I can confirm the old adage that survival depends on embracing change. And progressively adapting to an ever wider range of technology and skills.
Team members have come and gone; techniques and trends likewise. We’ve upsized and downsized; opened and closed subsidiaries and premises; our audio has progressed from magnetic tape to CD to MP3, and our pictures from film to videotape to 4K.
30 years on, our only silo is ‘production’ itself, which with unlimited formats and channels, and a portfolio stretching from national TV & radio commercials to VoD pre-rolls, video marketing on social networks, short-form clips embedded into apps, motion graphics and info-graphics, etc. etc. is hardly a silo at all. And yes Nick, for some advertisers we can also offer creative.
But, my old friend, we all have to adapt to changing times.
Example – in a fascinating Opinion piece in The Drum (4th Feb) Jono Marcus of marketing communications agency INKLING explored his encounter with a panel of Sixth-Formers “…an audience that has grown up in a converged media culture and cares about great ideas”.
It’s Jono’s contention that these teenage polymaths are set to outdistance current industry practitioners by some margin. ‘The communications industry of the future will still have the odd agency that sells itself on the format of the end output … like only producing print and TV ads … fighting to survive in a marketplace geared to give them lower and lower returns for that narrow vision or skill-set’.
Jono sees a danger to us all from (forgive the simplification) post-college ‘digital natives’, able to think across all media frontiers yet wielding no more than an iPhone and a creative idea or two. The implication being that all of us in advertising and marketing communications better widen our horizons or get out of the way.
So forget any threat from JMS, my agency friend, it seems we all might be threatened from another direction entirely!
But will we really? Don’t all ambitious Sixth-Formers dream of elbowing the old guard out of the way? Thinking great creative ideas across multiple channels will of course come most easily to a young and agile mind, but the challenge of actually making it all happen, telling the story, shaping the finished product (technically and artistically) and delivering it when and where expected is still the product of experience, and the nitty-gritty of agencies and production companies.
So let’s continue to explore the new models of collaborative working and forging new networks even though it will inevitably blur the boundaries between each of us even more. The sooner we stop thinking in terms of threat or revolution and simply accept evolution as one of the most energising aspects of our amazing industry the better.
As JMS and I enter our 30th year of producing commercials together, we’ve both come a long, long way from where we began. But we’re neither past it, nor fearful of extinction – heck, we’re just getting started!
The JMS Group
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