‘There are so many things that just keep getting chipped away’: Confessions of a production company exec

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Agencies and production companies work in tandem to create content for brands — but lately, that relationship has been more tense, thanks to extended payment windows and a lack of communication. In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from a producer who handles bids and works with agency clients about the disconnect between production and agencies that has made the job more difficult.

Extended payment windows have impacted agencies. Has it also hurt the production-agency relationship?
It was something a lot of production companies fought with agencies about for a long time. It’s something I’ve heard about for the last three or four years. At this point, for the most part, that’s just kind of a standard now. It used to be more a point of contention, but now it’s the standard. Some agencies have fought it. But we do see it. It’s annoying but it’s not something we dig in our heels about anymore. There are so many things that just keep getting chipped away. Production company markups used to be 35% in the golden age of advertising. Now, most production companies aren’t getting near that and getting asked to reduce them for every job.

Are there other issues between agencies and production companies?
I talk to agency producers, and I’ll get bidding specs from them. Then I’ll put together the bid and a giant five- to nine-page bid letter explaining what’s included in that bid. Part of that is covering explicitly what’s included and what’s not included. We find sometimes that agency producers aren’t even reading the bid letters. They’re just going off of conversations we had or the treatments that they receive. So when we get into things, we’ll get questions about what is included and what isn’t included, things that were assumed that are not included. I’m not sure if that comes from the fast pace of working at an agency, but I feel that it’s possible that people are moving up the ranks really quickly and that sometimes there’s not a level of experience and guidance along the way that may help inform their producer role. [There’s a difference] between what agency producers who’ve been in the business a long time understand about the process and ones who haven’t been in it very long don’t understand. At times, it can be a lot of hand-holding.

What is the impact of that?
I’m working on something right now that’s for an event rather than a commercial shoot. It’s all digital content. In the bid letter, I laid out what could happen and what’s included in the costs and how that differed from the initial pitch. We went over several budgets over the course of a few months and then finally were awarded the job. Now, more questions are coming up from the agencies about what we’re going to be doing that probably should’ve been a conversation earlier on. In some ways, it may conflict with a little bit of what was presented in our bid letter. Things that come along with that, which are always figured out, whether that’s money or creative change, it just slows down the process a bit. A lot of things that are client management or talking with a producer come down to these little conversations that could have been easier if the letter was read or could’ve happened earlier. That way, going into the project, we’re all on the same page.

Is this about something bigger?
I think that it’s been an evolving task put on production. Years ago, as an agency, you were sent a bid, and it was your job to understand that and to be able to go line by line and understand what those items were. Over the years, we’ve added bid letters to it. It’s possible for some people they were there from the beginning, but I don’t think they were as prescriptive as they are now. In a way, a bid letter is like a mini-contract that is not binding in any way, but it’s an agreement of what you’re getting into. As things progress and people aren’t reading bid letters or aren’t continuing to pass information downstream from clients and agencies to production, there’s a disconnect at times between what the production companies are trying to achieve and what the agency and client are expecting.

What are the results of that disconnect?
It can become more difficult in ways in terms of prep. Usually, a commercial only has two weeks of prep and that’s a comfortable amount of time nowadays, you’re lucky if you have three weeks. So any time spent on these conversations about what someone was expecting versus what someone’s been told they can slow down that process of getting approvals, and then it can also make production companies shoulder additional costs if they don’t want to argue with agencies over potential future business. There was a project where there was a disconnect over what a set would look like. Because my bid letter was not prescriptive enough about what exactly they were getting, it was on us to give the agency exactly what they wanted, which was way more costly and we had to shoulder that cost.

What would you say is the overall effect of this disconnect between younger agency producers and production companies?
You approach a job differently if you can suss out that it’s a younger or more inexperienced producer. You know going into it that you may have to explain things a bit more and that you’ll need to talk more about the specifics of the approach because people may not read your bid letter entirely. It becomes more conversations when you’re working toward [winning the production business from an agency] to walk them through exactly what they’re getting instead of sending them [the bid and bid letter] and having a creative conversation and letting them read what they’re going to get.


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