The Role of the Agency Producer – The Beak Street Bugle
If they hadn’t invented Agency Producers in the 60s, would they bother to invent them now?
The dour conclusion, based on current attitudes and economic imperatives, is no, of course they wouldn’t.
Account directors could talk direct to the production companies, creatives could call up the director for a chat about Storyboard Frames and Heights and Angles, cost controllers could make sure no-one is getting ripped off without getting involved with those pesky creatives, and let the finance folk do the adding up.
Clients could arrange for the right amount of the correct product to get directly to the shoot, reels would watch themselves, voice-overs would just be waiting at studio on the right day, and Asset Management should easily programme itself to send POs and do the rec.
And all those grown ups ought to be able to organize themselves to get to a meeting, board a plane, request a link, order a takeaway. Surely.
And it could and does happen, but it is a MESS. Tempers are frayed, vital bits of information are lost, and time is wasted. In many cases huge fees are paid to nameless companies who in theory are taking on the production role, but without the conviction and loyalty of a dedicated AGENCY producer.
To take the pain away, there needs to be someone at the fulcrum of all this, on site and involved, to act as conductor to a disparate orchestra, each of whom believes their instrument takes the lead melody.
Who is this person? What is their skill set?
Jack of all trades, master of none (except communicating), they must have creative sensibilities, they need some modicum of maths, they need to be client facing, and be fearless. They need to haggle, be able to sell and be manipulative. They need to be good on the phone, computer literate, smart with jargon, master finance systems, understand technology, and be articulate. They need to cut to the chase without missing a single detail. Like a swan, they are calm and serene on the surface with their flippers paddling like the clappers underneath. Coiled springs on set, diplomats always. Nurturing and tough, quick witted and patient. They don’t need to know anything, but they must know someone who does. And find out. Assimilate and pass it on. Clarify and counsel.
They ought to smash it on The Apprentice.
Unlike all their surrounding professionals, Producers have no agenda:
Directors want to direct great work;
Production companies want great reels and a great reputation;
Post production wants a happy client and a decent workflow;
Agency Partners want to keep existing clients sweet and entice new ones;
Account management don’t want to be shouted at by Clients for something out of their control;
Finance Departments want to balance the books;
And Creatives want great work and to not be humiliated in the pub by their peers and pals from art school;
Everyone wants recognition/awards and a decent lifestyle.
But a producer just wants the project to run well and everyone to be happy.
It is a producer’s remit to make everyone feel as if their needs have been satisfied, to engender compromise where no one feels compromised. To keep the peace and the momentum going.
It may seem to make no sense to pay for someone to wrangle, to co-ordinate, to be a middleman, but without someone with an overview, there will be chaos. Details will be overlooked, directors unseen, calls not taken, sessions missed, cabs unbooked.
In a world where time is as much a commodity as money, an agency producer will ensure that time is as well used as money. They will cut to the chase, call meetings when meetings are needed, cancel them when they are not. They will get everyone from A to B in the most efficient way, have hissy fits when required and purr like a pussycat if more appropriate. They are there to get the best thing the best way in the right amount of time for an appropriate wad of cash.
And where money is as much a commodity as money, an agency producer needs to ensure the wad of cash is spent wisely. That of course means getting the best possible cost to Client, but not exposing client and agency to shoddiness, corner cutting, cheapness and empty fees.
By being at the heart of the production a producer can appreciate when costs are inflated or being channelled in the wrong or right direction. Whether the Money Shot is indeed the money shot. They are in the best position to see consider the implications, what will or won’t affect the vision and if it matters. And communicate that. Again the compromise without compromise.
Producing is like shopping. You get what you pay for and you are rewarded for good buying. Nothing is for nothing. And sometimes it is worth spending on a designer belt to make your Primark pullover look like it is from Bond Street.
Sometimes you can get a BOGOF. But often you don’t even want one, so no point in buying one and getting one free if you didn’t even really want the first one.
Or building a house. Sometimes cheap materials work, sometimes you have to spend money on things that you don’t see. Lose one wall and you could either enlarge a room or have the whole house fall down.
Creatives shouldn’t really have to worry how that outfit was put together, nor whether their house is actually secure. Clients don’t need to know what is rayon or cashmere, just that it looks good, and they should assume that the joists are secure.
The producer is everyone’s personal shopper and the foreman.
So in fact Agency Producers (in this humble Agency Producer’s opinion) are a vital cog in the wheel. They should be supported and treasured and rewarded. We should thank our advertising forefathers for coming up with them.
They are The Safe Pair of Hands.