Production Companies: Survive or Thrive
What is the future role for production companies? Linear television and cinema have been dethroned by on-demand platforms, social and eCommerce. The democratisation of technology has also led to an avalanche of new storytellers and makers. The new normal is a very different normal.
Over the last few years we have been talking at length about the role and future of production companies in the context of a changing world for brands. Are production companies still relevant? What role should they play? How do they compete against production agencies and client in-house studios? Independent talent, or rosters? Original content, or asset reuse?
On-demand content is now the norm. eCommerce currently plays a role in our industry so enormous nobody could possibly have anticipated its importance just over a year ago. As we spend more hours than ever before scrolling through social media platforms and streaming, it follows that brands have identified these platforms as the natural end point on many customers’ path to purchase. But these platforms are not going to kill television or print - they are going to co-exist.
There has never been more need for film, video, broadcast, content, assets. At the same time, there is also a new wave of fluent multi-media individuals who ideate, make content, and distribute it. The opportunity is here and so are the change agents.
So where does production sit in this new ecosystem?
The Place Where Creativity Thrives
The role of a production company today should be one of finding and developing creative talent. The best production companies out there today know this to be a self-evident truth. Maybe that is why they are the ones who have consistently performed best in awards shows over the past decade and they are the ones now investing in new capabilities.
The traditional role of the director is evolving to a creative maker. New generations of talent are a lot more interested in being part of the process from the beginning, in collaborating with other creative minds and clients. They are proficient in mutli-media and they couldn't care less about the status quo. Production companies should be the places where raw talent meets and develops.
And so, with that talent at our disposal, we must be able to help mentor them to better apply it in a way that provides value to the client and their creative ambition. I am not suggesting that we all offer a ‘swiss army knife’ approach just about managing to complete any given task with an acceptable level of skill. Rather, I mean to say that a production company should offer a complete set of cutlery with people that understand how to do amazing television ads, long form, social media, features, theatre or music.
Somesuch, Riff-Raff, Iconoclast, Biscuit, Blur, Mass-Appeal, MJZ, Hungry Man, RSA, and PRETTYBIRD amongst others have been leading the way and it is no surprise that they are consistently the most awarded companies.
The companies that will struggle to survive are the ones that fell under the 'facilitation' category. They were production companies whose value was to deliver on the brief facilitating the technical aspects (camera, lights, crew) and bringing a safe pair of hands to deliver the story board. Those companies now find themselves in a place where they are unable to compete with agility against in-house studios or production agencies unable to bring real creative added value.
Taming Complexity and Supercharging Agility
It used to be that there was a clear link between the ads we all saw on TV and our purchasing habits. Not long ago, you’d make a big brand advert on prime time TV, and watch as audiences took to high streets over the weekend to reward you for your creativity and messaging. Consider, however, the widespread behavioural changes we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. For millions of people, ordering anything from clothing to groceries online is not as intimidating as it once was, and we’re used to interacting with brands in an exclusively digital way.
The way for production companies to be relevant is to understand the complexity of producing television, print, social, entertainment and digital side by side. It’s been almost a decade since a campaign consisted of just a television commercial and a print ad. A siloed approach to production means that the focus is on how things will be produced instead of the creative quality.
Agility is vital to a production company’s success and relevance in 2021. Consider how quickly a brand’s messaging might need to change over the course of a campaign. As always, these changes will be led by cultural events. But culture is changing more rapidly than anyone could anticipate from the perspective of a long-term media strategy. It’s incredible to me that, fantastic song though it is, ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac - originally released more than 40 years ago - can briefly become the soundtrack to social media in 2021. to be a truly successful and valued partner, a production company must be ready to serve every imaginable channel (as well as some we haven’t quite imagined yet) as part of a holistic marketing strategy as and when required.
Giving Life to Ideas
So, what would a production company look like if we invented the concept from scratch today? It must be creative, providing a space for new ideas and makers to develop and find their voice. And it must be agile, ready to move with its clients no matter the channel or format required to communicate a message.
In my last column, I spoke about how production is the art of giving life to ideas. In the modern industry, the best way we can do this is to constantly adapt. We must stand ready to create the optimal conditions in which ideas can thrive, be that TV, an Instagram post, a TikTok, or whatever is going to come next.
Change is constant and there will always be a need for production companies, the place where creative talent comes together to figure out how to tell the story of great ideas well.