….. Continued from Part 1

(5) Complacency the main cause of stagnating standards

Almost 5 in 10 polled said crew complacency is what’s causing industry standards to be where they are now, including lacking motivation to improve and wanting maximum pay for minimal effort.

Others cited team leaders accepting and tolerating sub-standard work while some others attributed poor production management as a cause, both areas of which have been covered in earlier sections.

While some cite a lack of training opportunities for crew, others added that even if training opportunities were provided, crew had little incentive or motivation to partake in skills upgrading and training. All fingers pointed squarely at the lack of accountability as the main culprit behind complacency and other problems which surfaced in this survey.

In a system where accountability is absent, failures go unpunished, no clear rating or accrediting of crew proficiencies exists, demand and supply continues to be mismatched, and personal relationships and networking rank above meritocracy,

(6) Grievances about productions here

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When we asked respondents what their grievances were, the exogenous rather than endogenous factors within the production industry garnered the most vivid responses and comments.

In order to make fairer inferences to this and the following section touching on  exogenous factors involving agencies and clients, we consulted with advertising industry veterans, parties outside our industry and what others have written about the advertising industry readily available over the internet.

Most of the ENDOGENOUS FACTORS have been covered at length in the earlier sections. Stagnating skill sets, and unmotivated or lazy crew are all results of complacency, lack of accountability and other causes summarised earlier. Poor production management have also been covered extensively. 

Now, onto the EXOGENOUS FACTORS.

A ex-investment banker friend wrote this in an email about the advertising industry overall:

The main operational challenge is to manage margins. Marketing has become an expensive bottleneck. …… In this regard, marketing has lagged, and is still working on a 50-year old model. There’s a growth in juniors on the client side, a rise in responsibility and a dis-coordinated connection to procurement teams.
With the proliferation of digital agencies and small consultancies, it became a commodity industry.…
However lowering price doesn’t lead to operational innovation. Instead, less skilled people produce lower quality results for a lower price, killing innovation.

That’s the catch. You don’t get paid enough to provide innovation and yet you are required to innovate.

One industry veteran wrote back with a good summation about the current environment in the advertising industry:-

“For as long as company owners and senior management see advertising and marketing as a cost rather than an investment they will never encourage the development of the advertising and communications industry. When clients reward the cheapest work they kill the incentive to create outstanding work.”

Numerous articles have been written about advertising agencies operating on an “old business model”, and why advertising agencies need to re-invent themselves.

Clients’ mindsets have changed: they’re better informed courtesy of the internet, and the whole agency-client relationship built on television and print advertising is disrupted by the digital revolution. Clients are demanding more for less money spent. Agencies are finding it harder and harder to justify the man hours spent on projects, yet are expected to report growth to their holding companies or shareholders.

Why are agencies perceived as being unable to handle clients? Well, that’s probably due a combination of juniors hired on the clients’ side, juniors hired into agencies too, and all of the points mentioned above.

Account directors, who are the most experienced in the team, oversee many accounts and may not be able to attend to every client’s needs, such as attending all meetings at which agencies interact with the clients. The juniors who sit in at those meetings lack the experience or deliberately avoid confrontation or debate with the clients. Referring specifically to pre-production meetings (PPM), we often find agencies not standing up or fighting for the ideas in their creative concepts which were approved for production. Very often, we sit in a PPM with clients still doubting or questioning the script supposedly approved before entering the production stage.

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Properly written, accurate Contact Reports are extremely rare. Even when they exist, we rarely see an Account Executive pull it out to show the client. that a topic the client is revisiting has already been brought up, discussed and resolved with their concurrence.

On understanding the production process, we do have agencies who understand, evident from this respondent’s comment:-

“.. while some agencies only have superficial knowledge, others actually have a very good understanding of the audio-visual production process, but everything fades when the Client Service Dept intervenes to satisfy the clients’ budgetary objectives….. The worst case is one when agencies and clients become unrealistic about the job’s requirement vs the available budget”

We often come across Client Service having to manage the job within the client’s budget, Creatives having to promise the client that the job can be done with less money, yet, when the end results spiral down south, everyone scrambles to find a scapegoat, which invariably land on the director’s shoulders if not the producer’s, and frequently too, the post production facility or editor.

A Creative Director once told us, almost lamenting, that he had to withdraw a board which the client had approved and went back to the drawing board because the budget just wasn’t enough for that execution. But, how many agencies will actually do that these days, and risk rescheduling the whole campaign? The aftermath of such an implosion at the agency is unimaginable.   

About Agencies not understanding the production process

This is a topic most discussed at all levels within PHs. Agencies send boards with 30 seconds main film plus 2 x 15 seconds cutdowns without specifying what those cutdowns are supposed to include. Cutdowns are technically direct cuttdowns requireing no extra colour grading or other post work. Yet clients often sit in an edit and decide they need that other shot from another take to make the shorter version work.

So the client service wants to offer a client several options, the creatives are too busy  to think about what is needed for each of those options (don’t laugh yet for there are many cases of these although no one will speak on record), and the agency producer doesn’t understand the implications enough and half innocently, asks the PH to prepare a quote with the options. The PH producers and directors immediately have negative vibes about that agency; but conclude that it’s just “another agency” or another “zealous producer” doing his/her job. Nobody does anything to sound the alarm bell.

The result? Quotes get revised umpteen times with unnecessary to-and-fro just because the agency producer sends back one-liner emails asking for clarification as and when he/she comes acorss a potential question from their Client Service. He/She doesn’t understand or may not have scrutinised the board, what it takes to get the job done, or simply taken 20 seconds to “browse” the quote while her trigger-happy fingers are itching to send off another email to “offload” her task at hand — most mediocre staff feel they have “accomplished” when they reply to an email or chat message, without regard as to whether the issue at hand has been addressed. 

Many times, the problem starts with the agency producer’s “brief” to the PH not being done with a proper, detailed dissection of the board. And loose ends not tied resurfacing as the minutes tick toward the time of presentation to the client. “It’s pathetic how some agencies and agency producers can’t understand and articulate what is really required of a board” is the common complaint we hear from the “proper” Executive Producers at PHs. 

Wasted manhours, which will eventually result in added costs as PH producer and director will immediately realise that they’re been tossed into the unknown when the job lands, and that they’re dealing with an agency with no clue whatsoever as to what might happen therafter. They go on to, rightly, build in unnecessary (perhaps warranted) buffers into the quotes.   

“They sit in a 2-hour meeting but can’t even write a Contact Report relevant to the context discussed is testament to the dire straits we’re in” is an apt reminder of the state of our industry.

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While the bulk of the blame for agencies’ failure to properly undersand the  production process and their failure to handle clients fall on the agencies, we must not neglect clients’ roles in augmeting the disrespect the advertising industry have attracted in these last several years.

The clients’ attitudes, perceptions of advertising as a cost rather than an investment, and the chemistry between agency and client are all factors affecting the agencies’ effectiveness in managing the accounts. This relationship between the agency and client will also be covered later when discussing clients’ micromanagement of productions.

In the more affluent or mature advertising industries, it’s almost derogatory to call producers and agencies “suppliers” or “vendors”.

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Agencies and production companies are supposed to PARTNER and ASSIST the client in giving the best to their investment committed on an audio-visual campaign, and adding value to the communication. It’s a tripartite relationship whose links cannot be broken. The minute one or more links are broken, the relationship crumbles and is demoted to one of dealing in commodities: impersonal, devoid of passion with no room to accommodate creativity. Colour grading becomes one of “safety first” rather than standing out from the crowd.    

Clients professing to know more than the directors and producers will be covered in more detail later when discussing micromanagement of productions. 

(7) Impediments to making better TV commercials

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On agencies’ creativity, many say they’re stifled by the “old ways” agencies are operating. In that article already referred to in the earlier section “How the advertising industry is wasting talent….”, Andy Grayson and Graham North said: “What’s broken is not our people. It’s our process. It’s a process that has been endlessly debated but not reinvented, and it has not adapted to the changing world around us.” The other side of the equation is obviously the client, as this agency insider points out:

“It takes courage to be the first to approve a new approach. So the agency creatives are not encouraged to be creative, ….clients only approve mediocre, safe and familiar ideas so agencies reward creative people who produce mediocre, safe ideas. That kills the motivation for young creative people to develop and expand their minds and creates a kind of status quo in the market for both clients and agencies.
What is noticeable is that technology and gimmicks are the main drivers for change. Most clients are easily sold on new technology in film and video production because they know this is the latest thing in the world of film. So agencies end up developing concepts to show case new film technology and gimmicks that often have little or no relevance to their brand or consumers.”

It takes two to tango; hence a hot, flaming, new creative idea will be killed if the clients themselves are happy with a safe, mediocre route.

Regarding agency producers’ failure to function as they should, this seems to be, again, a structural issue at the agency. And we’re reminded of the various articles written extensively about the antiquated business models and inflexible structures at agencies. This respondent’s comment summarises the issue:-

“Even people in the agency don’t appreciate how important the role of an agency producer is. A proper producer is crucial and should be as well paid as any other senior position in the hierarchy. So we have a classic chicken and egg situation where producers are not good so they aren’t well paid, and since the job doesn’t pay well, it attracts people who are not up to the job. And since they are not up to the job, their title remains but the expectations of what they are supposed to achieve falls and the trust in that role falls as well.
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Consequently,) we end up with messengers who merely pass on unqualified, and often, useless and more confusing information than when we started.”

The previous section has dealt quite extensively into the changing landscape of the agency-client relationship. While productions have to contend with tighter budgets, agencies have to deal with reduced retainers and agency service fees, and most importantly losing all or some of their media commissions as clients move toward Media Buying organisations which offer bulk rates and discounts compared to what full-service agencies are able to offer.

Clients have to operate in a more competitive and increasingly globalised environment as more foreign enterprises enter the Indonesian market, cater to more discerning and smarter consumers, and adjust to ramifications from the proliferation of tech startups and eCommerce platforms.

Lower margins, higher returns expected from investors, inflation, competition for staff amidst rising pay scales and greater welfare demands from labour, plus a host of other problems unique to each specific industry. The impact: people having to fill roles they’re not ready for; less money available to invest in proper staff training; higher staff turnovers; staff having to take on more work than usual; and much more.   

All these developments have a bearing on an agency’s performance which in turn affects how the agency producers can effectively do their jobs.

All jobs start with a production brief. But, gone are the days of elaborate, detailed production briefs. Many a times, the briefs come with a generalised, all encompassing 18-40 age group with no clue on the CORE target market that communication is aimed at, scant mention of brands’ personalities, and non-existence of well-defined, unequivocal campaign objectives.

Agency producers can’t write a proper brief because they don’t know where to begin or what to ask of the client service team; and client service personnel don’t know what information to provide or may not possess the detailed information so required.

Brand custodians comprising loyal, well-trained and experienced brand teams are rarities these days. Strategies and positioning are topics discussed at seminars and workshops but often fail to be effectively practiced in the real world of fighting for market share, maintaining profit margins and reacting to competitors’ offensives. Redundant theories, till the next annual review and appraisal.

So, is an agency producer’s reticence the result of being overwhelmed by work, OR inadequate training and experience, OR insufficient information filtering into and received by the AV department, OR favouritism, and volunteering information only to their “sweetheart deals” network, OR plainly, sheer indifference to what their jobs’ role mean to a production? It’s normally a combination of two or more of the above.

The agency producers’ effectiveness is closely related to developments in the Client Service departments. Account Management teams have to cope with more accounts than allocated manpower can handle. The clients still expect the same level of servicing as if they hadn’t cut fees and media commissions. This mismatch in servicing standards expected and what agencies can deliver cause clients to lose respect and faith in their supposedly key communications partner. Distrusts, and probably, prejudices sets in.

A combination of the above problems has a domino-effect on productions, and, unfortunately, productions begin in the agency producers’ department.

Without a proper brief, where everything required of the production is clearly expressed, and everyone, producer and director included, clear about the objectives, the job’s bid start on a wrong footing. Hence, once the job is awarded, the production will start the downhill slide. Effort is expended on correcting and adjusting along the way rather than everyone’s attention and effort channeled toward one common goal. A blatant testimony of that is the constantly recurring problem of talents. Most productions only get confirmed talent(s) with less than 1 or 2 days before the actual shoot day; and most times, casting budgets overrun because clients keep asking for options till they have absolutely no choice but to decide, if the shoot is to be on schedule.

On clients’ micro-management of productions, some problems arise from mindset, some self-inflicted, while others are just “people” problems. Here’s what an industry insider has to say about clients:

“As a client you do not have to like the advertising you approve but you must be confident that your customers are going to love it! That is the talent of a true professional marketing person”

The problem is that clients do not 100% trust their key partner, the advertising agencies. A combination of loss of faith, distrust, protecting their own positions, and a “better safe than sorry” mindset cause clients to retreat into their own world of “self-effected-control”.

Clients start empowering themselves with ALL decisions required on a production, not just the key ones they are supposed to focus on. This then spins into the vicious circle of self-belief, which feeds into their control mechanism, which control then fans self-confidence, leading to hunger for more control, and so on. Their resolve is steadfast: their destinies must be in their own hands.

Clients suddenly become creative directors, visualisers, copy writers, producers, directors, stylists, art directors, editors and musicians. Some even meddle into the cameraman’s territory if they happen to be avid photography enthusiasts.  Agencies acquiesce or remain silent for fear of appearing uncooperative potentially leading to an ugly, negative year-end review or loss of the account, which they can ill afford to. Directors are left helpless, paid fees not as rewards for creative contributions but for sheer physical exertion in fighting for what they believe are the right choices throughout pre-production, shoot, offline edit, colour grading, online and audio post-production.  

Hence this classic situation crops up on almost all productions:

Client: “Is there another option”.
Producer/Director: “What is wrong with the suggestion we just made?”
Client: “Nothing. Just wondering if there are better ones”.

The same happens during the shoot when they start asking for options on talent expressions and performance, till the talents are exhausted or dead-panned.

On mindsets, here’s a comment worth a read:

“… clients don’t actually realise the role they have in making sure that the good money they pay for creativity and production must end up being used to buy the best value for them. One obvious example is wardrobe. The confusion and waste of money that haunts the wardrobe department on each production is mind boggling.
Its just one example of how the procedures and the necessity of applying
critical thinking to each and every aspect of production has deteriorated. All these fondly used WhatsApp groups end up in more confusion and money wasted.

Wardrobe is the domain of the director, stylist and agency art director. Everyone else should just refrain from making subjective comments …

Why do clients care whether we use an Alexa or a Red camera? Why do clients think that they can write copy? … Often, I find copy changing so many times in a single production that I wonder if anyone really knows what they want to say anymore.”

Talking about WhatsApp (WApp) group chats will require a bit of delving into. Facebook didn’t pay WApp US$ 19 billion for no compelling reason. On each production, it’s not unusual to see a WApp group chat between agency and client, another for agency and PH, another for client, agency and PH and perhaps one more between various levels in the client’s organisation. The most ridiculous of those groups is that of client, agency and PH. Here clients comment on talent, wardrobe and music (for they are under the illusion that they know best). Or they send photos from their spouses, grabbed off the latest fashion shows and tell you that their spouses are the super-duper fashion critique who know best 

Then there’s the group between clients’ hierachy. You finish multiple revisions of the offline with the brand manager at 8 pm, and the brand manager send the edit via WApp to his/her boss, with director, producer editor sitting around to await feedback. By 11 pm, the brand manager tells you that his/her boss is unable to respond, and everyone heads home.

OR, you finish “supposedly” final audio mixing at 11pm, the client buggers home but ask for a video of the mix to be sent via WApp so he/she can send to his/her superior for comments. Meanwhile he/she tells you that you should hang around for another hour or so, just in case the boss feeds back and further revisions are required.   

In a recent address by P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, at the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) “Masters of Marketing” Conference in Orlando in Oct 2016, he has this to say:

“Let’s also remember that advertising is a creative business, and our agencies are made up of people… The last few years have been admittedly tough on agencies, P&G included. And its time to turn the page. The negative narrative needs to stop, because the people in our agencies are good people, the ones who do good work to create magic together with all of us. Let’s tap into all that positive human energy to create the most abundant explosion of creativity the world have even seen.”
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Improving creativity requires craft that) “belongs in the hands of serious professionals .. Don’t ever accept mediocrity. Don’t be seduced into the crap trap of just getting something out. On every part of the canvas, craft matters.”

Brilliant summations of this unwarranted conundrum we’re in. 

On the issue of too much significance being placed on research, this has been written extensively in more mature industries, and isn’t unique to Indonesia.

In that same Oct 2016 ANA Conference address by P&G’s Mr. Pritchard, he had this to say about research and metrics:

Doing creative work also requires time) “and we have a problem because we’re spending too much of our time on measurement of advertising vs the quality. We’re fiddling with measurement debates while consumers are blocking our ads. Measurement is not going to make crappy advertising better.”

Although Mr. Pritchard’s words are quoted with reference to over-reliance on research’s signifcance, one cannot ignore his mention of ““blocking our ads” instead of “zapping our ads (by switching channels). Pepsico’s Chief Brand Officer is evidently referencing their internet ads. That is an indication of where we’re headed: TV advertising has now become “audio visual advertising” regardless of the media your communication is placed. That is a separate topic of discussion outside the scope of this survey.   

In conclusion, here’s what a respondent said: “To advocate or insist that there is any one major factor is naive”.

There isn’t one solution to the problems we face. To varying degrees, and in different guises, those same problems have infected advertising industries worldwide. The Indonesian advertising industry do learn from industries elsewhere, but Indonesia isn’t learning or adapting fast enough. Agencies and clients alike are slow to react, often citing lame excuses like “our market here is different from theirs” or simply “our circumstances are different”.

A classic example is that of clients’ tendencies to “talk” to their lowest denominator in the SES segment they wish to include in their target market. This was a written response from a director to a client’s comment bout his treatment some years back:

If advertising hasn’t permeated all levels of society, T-shirts emblazoned with Nike, Calvin Klein and leather goods labelled as LV or Gucci wouldn’t have found their way into almost every night bazaar. Aspirations would never have existed in Marketing….. advertising has a social impact that reaches beyond our imaginations …because the messages are largely emotional and engineered to be felt instead of being heard and explained. Emotions are not limited by language or logic. They will apply as long as the viewer is human. 

With nationalistic barriers to competition being lowered faster than ever imagined, the Indonesian advertising industry cannot afford to be complacent. The room for slow learners and late adopters are getting narrower and tighter as economies get increasingly globalised, empowered by affordable technological advances and, the Internet of Things.

Indonesia has recently opened up a host of industries to 100% foreign investment. including the film industry.

Foreign investors are welcome to set up film production companies, post production and other related facilities. Gone are the days when Indonesian companies can isolate themselves, and operate in its own space and at its own pace. “Competition is healthy” will have to be the new mindsets of producers, directors and crew. That will effectively challenge Indonesia to match regional standards of production and compete shoulder to shoulder with the industries elsewhere.

To start the ball rolling, the Government must play its part in encouraging growth and development of the creative industry. Corruption at Customs and Immigration – if impossible to be totally eradicated in the short term – must be reduced or forbidden when it comes to human resource and equipment required for the creative industry. Essentially put into practice what is preached. 

In closing, this quote from an advertising industry veteran is an apt reminder that we can ill afford to operate in isolation anymore:

“Until clients raise the bar on the quality and effectiveness of their advertising and communications objectives, there is no incentive for advertising agencies or communications specialist to try and develop their knowledge and skills beyond the current safe, mediocre status quo in the market. That would be fine if other countries around the world had the same mind set. Unfortunately the global market for advertising agencies and clients puts a premium on new, unique, different pioneering strategies and creative which will make it difficult for Indonesian clients and agencies to keep up”

“To motivate the Indonesian advertising industry will require a huge change in the mindset of clients away from focussing primarily on cost effectiveness to putting the priority on advertising effectiveness. That will put pressure on the advertising industry and communications specialist and motivate them to break out of their current comfort zone. That will be the major factor in developing a world class, professional Indonesian Advertising and Communications industry where mediocre thinking, mediocre creative ideas and mediocre strategies will not be good enough for people to keep their jobs”