News & Views

Opinion / Blurred Lines

by Kate Hollowood

Kate Hollowood, a staff writer at Contagious, on the three things agencies must consider in order to work effectively with production companies

For the upcoming issue of our magazine, I suggested writing an article about how the industry is changing – specifically how production companies are moving upstream and working directly with clients. I have regretted it ever since.

The issue was not finding material to write about. In fact, there's so much interesting work going on.

Take, for example, Stink’s campaign for Yoox that launched earlier this year. Using proprietary technology developed by Stink – a program called Rita that enables brands to create high-quality, personalised films at speed – Yoox served up shoppable YouTube pre-rolls.

The products were removed from Yoox’s website so they could only be bought via the films, which displayed the price of the item and bizarre contraptions about to destroy it (see video, below). Yoox worked with Google to ensure that a viewer could only ever be served each of the 400 products once.

Meanwhile, Nexus Studios has created a tool called VLO that enables animators to work in virtual reality, removing the normal barrier of having to animate 3D characters on a 2D screen. The studio has already used VLO to animate HotStepper, an AR wayfinding app that guides users round LA streets with a jolly, semi-naked man.

So, the difficulty with writing this article was not finding examples of companies doing things differently. It was in trying to make sense of it all. My conclusion is that the right production model depends entirely on the brief. There isn’t a definitive answer or one way of doing everything - the right combination of partners should be brought together according to the specific needs of the client.

Sometimes a production company and client can work together without the need for agency skills, such as Stink’s tactical campaign work for Yoox. The retailer had a capable in-house creative department and a strong sense of its brand. It didn’t need an agency’s deep strategic thinking or interpretation of what the brand stands for.

In other cases, production companies have had to bring in freelance creatives to fill in the gaps and generate ideas for their clients. In fact, none of the production companies I interviewed said they were out to compete with an agency’s high-level creative and strategic thinking. As Stink Studios global MD James Britton explained: ‘At no point would we imagine a brand coming to a company like ours for their big annual campaign idea.’

While there is no single right answer when it comes to bringing ideas to life, there are a few wrong ones. Here are three points for agencies to be wary of when it comes to production:  

Don’t leave production until the end.

Particularly when technology is involved, bring production into the conversation as early as possible. ‘My philosophy has always been to bring production far upstream to engage with what the planners are coming up with,’ says Tom Dunlap, chief production officer at 72andSunny LA’s offshoot production company, Hecho 72. ‘Production can then start to inform the things that might end up being concepted during creative development, creating innovation at a very early stage.’

Don’t work with partners out of obligation.

Nobody wants to be obliged to work with certain partners just because they exist within the same agency network. And just because you’ve got a full-time camera operator working in-house, it doesn’t mean that they should always be the one chosen for a shoot. ‘For me, the best thing an agency can do is allow us to work with the partners we want to work with and don’t force me into using suppliers that I don’t want to use,’ says Isabella Parish, MD of London and LA-based production company 1stAvenueMachine. If you are currently tied into deals where you have to use preferred suppliers (and it's limiting your creative capability), consider how sustainable that model really is. 

Don’t try to do everything.

From Alexa Skills to Google search, when it comes to working with tech platforms it’s essential to work with relevant specialists. Technology is changing so rapidly that it’s impossible for any one person or company to retain all the knowledge you need across any kind of platform. In other words, to harness technology you need specialists, not generalists. ‘If you work in tech, pretty much everyday you look at something and go, “oh no!”’, says Emma Willis, general manager of production studio Makemepulse London. ‘You can’t tame the beast.’ So don't even try.