Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Avoiding TVC construction blowouts

I have a friend, Scott, who is having a major renovation done to his house. At least when I say he is having it done, I mean he plans to have it done. You see, after many months and tens of thousands of dollars in architect’s fees Scott still has no idea what his renovation will cost. His architect is from a prestigious firm and can’t give him any clues to the final cost. Indeed any queries about cost are greeted with a certain disdain and dismissal.

The creative process goes like this: the plans are hammered out between architect and client, then the council makes whatever changes it and the neighbours deem necessary, then those plans are handed to a builder who prepares an estimate. At THAT point Scott will know whether his dream plan will cost half a million or 5 million dollars. If it’s too much they start all over again … and so do the fees.

I found this story incredible. Then it hit me that this was very close to the way the Ad industry creates TV ads.

The creatives (architects) don’t ‘do’ money. They ‘do’ the script (plan). The idea is developed between agency and client, then goes to research and or head office (the council) who usually want a few changes. Then after many months, quotes are called for to make the finished script (plan) a reality.

As the quotes roll in it often becomes apparent that this well loved script is either going to cost way too much to make properly or will have be drastically ‘simplified’ to fit the budget.

It’s a crazy system. Here’s how you can fix it.

1. You, the client should give a realistic budget up front. Many clients are coy and would really rather not show their hand so early. They are the ones who end up in the mess described above. If you can’t trust your agency enough to tell them a budget, fire them and find one you can trust.
2. Make sure that ‘understanding the budget’ is a key component of the creative brief. Write it in the briefing document and talk about it at the briefing meeting. Make the creatives tell you what you can expect for this money. They will resist because creatives, like architects, are encouraged to pay scant regard to such mundane issues as cost. Go no further until you have them verbalising, no matter how generally, what you can expect to see on film.

For example $100,000 should get you one speaking talent, in a location such as a house, shot over one day, with a 15 second cutdown. If you do this, the agency will know that you are serious about your budget.

3. If the agency is smart they will now realise that the budget is the budget, and they will write the script accordingly. If they are really smart they will talk to directors and producers as they go.

4. When scripts are presented ask if they have been ‘ball parked’ by a producer or some other responsible person. Ball parks are unpopular with agencies and production houses because too many clients think a ball park is a quote. It’s not. It’s a ‘plus or minus 25%’ thing. BUT, at least all parties know that what you are discussing is ‘in the ball park’ and won’t be twice or three times what you expected to pay.

5. When the job is formally quoted there should be no surprises. When you think about it, why would there be? Budget was part of the brief. Budget was part of the creative development process. And budget was part of the script presentation.

All you have to do now is sit back and watch as the experts build your house, sorry, shoot your commercial.