Danny Rosenbloom
October 14, 2021

Can Transparency Put Creative Back in the Driver’s Seat?

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Advertisers working with production companies, agencies and other professionals in the industry want to know what their getting before, during, and after the bidding process, and too many times this process seems overly opaque. For the modern advertiser, transparency is everything. 

But transparency can do much more than offer peace of mind to the buyer of creative services. When an advertiser truly understands what they’re getting – and how the money being spent will provide it – the conversation changes.

Because even if they believe they are thinking beyond the confines of the budget, there’s only so many times an advertiser can hear that they’re saving money by spending more on a 2nd unit, or that drones need operators, despite the fact that a drone is a robot. 

And so, their heads continue to spin.

The very real truth is that commercial budgets have been shrinking steadily for nearly twenty years, and along the way, everyone has felt the squeeze- from agencies to production houses, down to the talent, with most budgets fixed before ideas are even fully baked. The truth is simple: creative hasn’t driven budgets in what feels like forever. 

And so, given the restrictions necessarily imposed by fixed and shrinking budgets, directors and other creatives are already working within an increasingly tight set of boundaries. And, yes, while this has occasionally produced some gems, it just as often has killed great ideas (or worse, forced talented directors to try, and fail to deliver).

With bidders squeezing every last drop out of their budgets and clients asserting increasing control over the awarding of work, it becomes ever more important for those who write the checks to know what these numbers mean.

Education can bring procurement and marketing into a productive conversation about why the value is there and help to give them the confidence to provide good creative ideas with the support they need while reaping the greatest return on investment.

The trade off between art & money

When it comes to creative, one could argue that rules can sometimes be a friend to the process: Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler on a 30-day deadline to settle a debt, and almost anything painted in 15th century Italy had the grade and hue of their blue paint contractually mandated - sometimes even the amount used. In the same way, a limited film budget can aid in the brainstorming process: knowing how much money you have to spend before you start writing can and sometimes does, drive creative into unexpected, and innovative territory.

So, creatively, it’s not all bad: and honestly, not respecting realistic restrictions can also lead to sloppy decisions. For every artist handcuffed by a stubborn producer, there’s a director’s cut that could have benefited from a little more studio meddling.

But there’s a limit to the value of budget cutting when it comes to the creative.

The law of diminishing returns holds that there will come a point, once too much has been bled out of the project, that everyone’s  in jeopardy of wasting what little money people  are willing to spend.

Certain ideas just cost money, and the advertiser needs to be able to understand how a bidder may actually be doing the brand a favor by sticking to their guns on a given resource.

You don’t need to know much about production to understand that a car chase costs money. From stunt drivers, to cars themselves, to EMTs, to insurance, you can quickly see the monetary scope.

But when it comes to union fringes, minimum staffing requirements, lenses, or the art department, the costs are less obvious. This, in turn, can lead to difficult conversations. 

Because of these limitations, the “creative” really doesn’t stop in the treatment. Producers, heads of production, and freelance bidders must provide the necessary guardrails while finding ways to achieve things that really ought to cost a lot more.

Sometimes this requires a producer to nudge the creative in a certain direction; other times it means strategizing on how to do more with less. Occasionally, it means pulling the trigger on ideas that are just too good to let an arbitrary budget target kill. 

Knowing the difference is vital. Because knowing the difference allows for a different conversation, one that, one day, may occasionally see creative pushing the budget again, and budgets punching above their weight when it comes to their ROI.

Smart buying and the need for transparency

While the onus might be on the entertainment industry to provide better education for the buyer, its importance can’t be overstated. Only a truly informed buyer can understand when there is value in  rethinking overly aggressive budget cutting when it runs the risk of diminishing the project’s ROI. 

While smart bidding means thinking beyond the estimate, so does smart buying. 

Ensuring that marketing and procurement teams are adequately educated about what they’re buying can be the key to understanding why, sometimes, the money shouldn’t be the deciding factor when pushing a brand’s image to the marketplace. Only an informed buyer, armed with a realistic understanding of where the money goes, will be able to know when the cost is justified, and quite frankly, when to walk away. 

Smart buying is the result of transparency....at every level

Obviously, this is what everyone says they want, but that doesn’t make living with it easy.

For the advertiser, it seems only natural that every aspect of the process should be within their field of vision, after all they are paying for the product and the product only exists to serve the needs of their  brand. But transparency can be helpful when it flows in the other direction as well: from the producer’s perspective. Knowing what the true limitations and preferences are, the honest state of competition, and that their work will truly be presented as intended and fully understood allows them to strategize and ideate most effectively. 

Not to mention no agency producer wants to surrender the critical role they play in interpreting the creative as it applies to the financial approach, guiding treatments and budgets in the right direction. 

After all, agency partners have to have a deep knowledge of the pain points both their client and production partners experience in order to do their job properly---that is, to take an idea from inception to delivery while maintaining its integrity. This is only possible through honest communication. 

Certainly, no creative team wants to see their vision arbitrarily cut back based on a number without first weighing in on the options to save what matters in their idea and which, as the authors of the original concept, they understand best. I have never seen an idea get worse as a result of conversations between talented creatives who know how to stay in their lanes while brainstorming an idea. They are the ones who have to actually solve the problem, so giving them the information they need to do it in the way that’s best for the brand is critical.

Transparency can get you 90% of the way there, but trust has to carry you over the finish line 

And while all players can benefit from transparency, that doesn’t mean that each party in the process doesn’t occasionally need the freedom to operate without doing so in broad daylight as well. At the end of the day this boils down to trust, plain and simple. 

It’s necessary for production and post teams to trust the client and be comfortable enough to give greater insight into their process. It’s necessary for advertisers to trust their agencies to do what’s best for their brands, and for agencies to trust that their clients and their producing partners can effectively increase their mutual level of communication without compromising the agency’s relationships, the chain of command, the integrity of the original creative and the strategy which drives it, or their role in the process writ large.

Like any relationship, letting down one’s guard and sharing openly requires trust and trust can only be built through transparency. Trust and transparency are siblings who need to hold hands, and believe that when they jump off the dock, the water will be deep enough to absorb their impact.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.

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About the Author

Danny Rosenbloom
ABID President

For the bulk of the last two decades, Danny Rosenbloom served as Executive Producer for many of the commercial industry’s top design, animation and production companies including PSYOP, Brand New School and Interstate (which he founded in 2014 with director Yann Mabille). In 2018 he joined the AICP as VP for Post Production and Digital Affairs and in 2020 he became President of ABID, the AICP Bid Management Platform, a transparency and analytics tool for advertisers’ use in the procurement and production of marketing media and historical ad spend analytics.

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