Saturday, February 13, 2010

Behind the Scenes of a TV Commercial

Reminds me of an old Spinners tune, Games People Play....

From the Basic Marketing Blog:

How Television Production Companies Handle Clients

Different Goals, Troubled Relationship

I've been involved with a great many TV commercials (client side) over the years. And I am well aware of the wary relationship between the client (representing the company that is paying for a TV commercial), the commercial director and the advertising agency during a shoot. There are several reasons for this awkward threesome:

For almost all video shoots, the advertising agency selects the director and production company (the client is usually not directly involved in this). Because of this hiring process, the commercial director is eager to develop a relationship with advertising agencies (who can increase his billings) but not with the client who is paying everyone's bills.

From the advertising agency perspective, the agency wants to have many choices of directors that they know and trust. They also want to be known as a company that hires "hot" directors.

However, the commercial director and the advertising agency both realize, albeit reluctantly, that the client company is paying the bills. The person writing the check is typically the most important person in any business meeting. This not true on the set of a TV commercial. The client is the necessary evil, the potential party-spoiler, the great unknown. Of course, this adversarial relationship won't be the cover story on any advertising trade magazine, but it is part of the planning of just about every video production. Where do we put the client? How can we contain client input? Here's how it works.

The arrival of the client at the location

Upon arrival, the client is immediately shown to the "craft services" table (the food). At this point he or she is welcomed by the director and the main advertising representative at the commercial shoot. After this brief meeting, a "producer" is attached (glued, stapled) to the side of the client. The role of the "producer" is to keep the client happy and far away from the set. This is usually a charming young female.

The video production set and the dead dog

It's a joke, but one which is repeated often. The production company puts a "dead dog" on the set, so that the client can make a suggestion that won't ruin the spot. The client tours the set and then says, "I love everything, but could we removed the dead dog? I think it distracts from the visuals".

"Great idea!" Everyone responds. The client has made a suggestion and feels like he's made a contribution. Everyone then prays that that will be the end of it.

They don't really put a dead dog on the set. Most television production companies brace themselves for the stupid client suggestion. The old joke reflects prevailing value of client suggestions.

The client's cave

The client is then shown to a room as far removed from the actual shoot as reasonable and practical. The client is never allowed on the set. They are put in front of a monitor at a distant location so they can see the footage, but are effectively limited in the amount of input they can provide. There is usually some walkie-talkie kind of interface which makes communication purposefully difficult.

The commercial director

The director's goals and the client's goals are different. The client wants to sell product - that's why he's here. The commercial director wants something for his reel. He wants to do something with the client's spot that approaches "art", that demonstrates his skill, and, most importantly, will gain him more business. He also wants to please the advertising agency that hired him. That's it.

Why doesn't he care about the client's success? Even if the spot is wildly successful for the client, there is no assurance that the advertising agency (remember they're the one who hired him) will select his video production company for the next assignment. His goal, for the spot that he is shooting today, is to get his company more business in the future. The route to getting more business is to shoot pretty pictures with lots of new effects that impress other advertising agencies.

The commercial director also realizes that the ad agency doesn't want him to talk with the client, so if the client directly approaches him, he'll get the agency over to join the discussion ASAP. There is very little chance that he will build a separate relationship with the client company during a shoot. As a result, there is little chance for future business from the client.

The advertising agency

The agency representative has two missions during a TV commercial shoot, (1) keep the client happy and (2)limit the input from clients. Typically, they manage those twin tasks by using these magic words in response to every suggested change, "Why, yes, we could do that, it's a great idea - but there will be some costs involved. Maybe an extra day of shooting."

That effectively shuts the client up, and the shoot day is complete.

It's rare that the guy holding the checkbook is handled in this way, but it's all part of a standard video shoot.

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