Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cutting All The Wrong Corners

Years ago, I did a TV shoot in Coral Cables, Florida. My art director partner wanted a pinkish dusk sky with big bulbous booming clouds in the background. This was before Photoshop or CGI, so the only buttons we could push were the ones on the telephone.

To call the travel agent.

We were there for a week. At one of Miami's swankiest hotels. We ate at Joe's Stone Crab. And after a hectic morning of tech scouting, we often lazed around on a yacht that sailed us by Key Largo.

Those lavish days are long gone.

Now every production (at every ad agency) comes under the scrutiny of hard-nosed cost control consultants who nickel and dime every line item until they've separated the boon from the doogle.

"Oh you want two 10K lighting packages? I think you can do it with one"

"That director would be nice, but this fellow is cheaper. Did you see the campaign he did for Sizzler?"

"We can't afford the Sheraton, unless the agency creatives share rooms. There's a Red Roof Inn just down the road. They have ice machines."

But all this rigorous penny pinching ignores the larger issue at hand.

It's as if the crew of the Titanic called all hands on deck to fix an overflowing toilet while the hull of the ship was being torn apart by a razor-sharp iceberg the size of Delaware.

The best time to save money isn't when a key grip is taking the lens cap off a 35mm camera. The best time to save money is when a planner cracks open a new marker pen to discuss the strategy.

This is the elephantine money pit in the room.

If I've seen it once, I've seen it a thousand times. The lower level marketing team, the ones hoping to become higher level marketing execs, decide the strategy should be one way:

"The car is more innovative…"
"The beer has fewer calories…"
"The flick flacks have better confabulation…"

And then the agency will dutifully chase that direction, pouring thousands of man hours into the effort. Including weekends, late nights and forgotten wedding anniversaries that will send many a teetering couple directly into the greedy hands of a divorce lawyer.

When the decks are printed, tweaked and reprinted, about 100 times, they will be presented to the next level up. Where, higher level marketing executives, also eager to climb the corporate ladder, will exert their power, pee all over the work and declare:

"The car is more fuel efficient…"
"The beer tastes better…"
"The flicks flacks are plated with titanium for better confibulation…"

Sending the ad agency and their marketing partners back to the drawing board to do it all over again.
And again.
And again.

Sure you can eliminate the craft service smoothie drinks or stick your employees at the back of the plane across the aisle from the broken potty that has spitting blue water into the air since takeoff in Detroit.

But the people wasting the most money are not the worker bees. The folks frittering away the greenbacks like some coked-up Pentagon Purchasing agents are the ones at the top of the org. charts. And their indecision, mis-management and myopic fear is costing billions of dollars, not millions.

Of course that's just the wasted money we can easily identify.

What about the incalculable costs generated by the children of overworked and under-reimbursed art directors and copywriters who, in the very near future, will be sitting with high-priced therapists and wondering why their mommies and daddies are not in any of the birthday party pictures.


Bob said...


Bob Sanders said...

Sigh... great point! Ever since the clients noticed how much revenue agencies were generating with media they put cost consultants on the job. Clients are focused on the production and out-of-pocket cost (relative pennies) and not paying attention to big picture... long history of this going on for years.

Agencies must rethink their business model so they can prosper in this new environment. Focus and discipline, while still being creative.

A few thoughts here on ways to change some of this!

Thanks for the reminder! And insight!


george tannenbaum said...

When we started in the business, agencies weren't paid until work ran--they got commission on media.

Today, agencies stop being paid when work runs.

That's the difference.

Anonymous said...

It's much easier to count the pennies. Especially in a nice spreadsheet, with colorful charts and graphs. Which is costing more than what an average art director would be charging per hour to create.

And unfortunately, this goes beyond just the ad agencies. I see it everywhere.

Well put, sir.