“Who needs an agency/production company/post house anyway?”

What is the biggest single change of the fast moving media world in the last two years?

The dissolving of the traditional structure:


And why not?  For so long the traditional route seems so cumbersome and expensive, cutting out one of the processes surely means more money to those left, as technology has moved on, seems only sensible to streamline the process.

Many of the clients we work with, and those that I grade with, have made that decision.  Agencies have bought their own editing systems and installed their own After Effects software, they’ve found good Directors to work with, as Production Companies have shed their own, and with a couple of freelancers in the mix they can take the initiative and remove the Production Companies from the equation, sometimes they don’t even see the need for a Post Production Company for some of the jobs.

Production Companies have become an Agency too.  Makes sense, handling the client can’t be that difficult, and if the Agencies are not going to bring them the work, then it makes sense to seek out the clients and produce the work themselves, they too have got their Final Cut Pros, and more importantly they have the roster of great Directors and Producers.

Finally, there is the Post Production Companies, who see work drying up from both their main suppliers, so they set up their own production arm, approaching new and existing clients and offering to cut out the Production Company, and maybe even the Agency.  The client is winning, the campaign is cheaper, and there is more money for those left in the food chain.

But there are problems.

A short clip from Mad Men demonstrates the fantastic character of Don Draper at work, pitching to Eastman Kodak for a new product, in a time (1960s) when things were done the old way, and have been done that way since now.  Don is a master.  Who then, takes on this role, in a Production Company or Post Production Company?

Here then is the rub.

For those Production Companies that have become Agencies, the shock, the true shock, is the hand holding that clients need.  For years, an Agency has taken all the responsibility for feedback, explaining to the client that now that they’re in the grade that its not possible to put a new pack shot in because it was never shot, the client is educated by their longstanding Agency Manager.  Production Companies now have to handle all of this, chasing down the key people, understanding the client’s brand, what they are doing in their other media campaigns – suddenly, the Production Company instead of just executing the best possible work for the Agency, and taking their guidance, are waiting on emails, Marketing Directors are in meetings, the CEO doesn’t like the edit, but isn’t sure why, the Creative Director thinks the music is wrong but can’t explain what he/she really wants, and no one can get them all in a room or on a conference call at the same time, that was the job of the Agency bigwig, they knew them all and could ‘make the call’ – enter Don Draper.  The end result, a final product that the client isn’t that happy with, the Production Company has wasted literally hours waiting for feedback when they could be looking for new work, they end up reluctantly doing the audio and grade in-house because they have run out of time, even though they had to confirm bookings on audio and pictures suites in Post Production Companies and incur cancellation fees from all angles.  All because the client wasn’t sure if they liked it or not, or if it was what they wanted in the first place.  That then, is what Don Draper and the Agency does.

Agencies then surely don’t need Production Companies.  They can hire in the staff that know about Production.  They can buy the editing and graphics kit – it is after all as cheap as chips.  Sometimes though, the freelance Line Producer you like to work with isn’t available.  Unfortunately, the in-house Director you have isn’t really cutting the mustard for the client, the work is, a little substandard.  The Agency needs a bit more creative edge, a fresh look, but how can we ask for ideas from Production Companies and their experts because we’ve cut them out of the equation, we need to make the right markup on the job.  Well, the Agency know the brand well enough, and the clients, so surely its not that difficult.  Only problem is, the quality of content goes down, the edit goes wrong because the rushes weren’t supplied right, the Agency Junior Production Manager hired the wrong drives and none of the monitors in the whole building seem to be calibrated right – why does it looks so dark?!  Now everything has been encoded wrong – its not her fault, what does she know about film shoots and camera equipment?  In the end, they fix it, don’t really make any money on the job, but its done, and if a Production Company and Post House had been involved surely they would have made a loss?

Ah, but is producing average content, really the big loss?  Does a good campaign breed another?  Does a failed campaign encourage or discourage further investment for the next?

If Post Production Companies are to try the same ideas, do they not come up against all the same problems as the other two, if not worse?  If, as a Post House, you find yourself winning a job over one of your regular Agency clients, you can’t be surprised if you suddenly loose their whole contract – why hire a competitor?  If a Production Company steals a client away from an Agency or vice versa, don’t expect to have them booking you for work in the future.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you just to get a nibble on something else.

Sometimes in life, things have been the way they have been since the beginning for a reason.  Sometimes the chain is there because that meant everything got done properly.  Yes there was cost wastages, yes, sometimes the process was over complicated, but most of the time, the process worked because everyone was able to focus on their core abilities.

My predictions?  In a few years, things will start to return to the older route, CLIENT, AGENCY, PRODUCTION COMPANY, POST PRODUCTION COMPANY.  The ‘content’, which to me always sounds a bit like ‘web filler’ will be done by everyone, but great work, great work which clients really see value in, still needs all the right people involved.

Thomas Urbye


The Look


  1. An interesting article, Tom.

    I suspect the reason the traditional structure is ‘dissolving’ is because many have had frustrating times with a stagnant and bloated system. And by this I mean incompetence and over-promotion at every point in the process. My personal viewpoint is governed by my own experiences of course, and often my biggest problems are the result of incompetent agency execs who don’t actually know what their doing. No doubt the agencies get annoyed with some post houses bullshitting them, overpricing, and being inefficient. Production houses probably have their own frustrations which I’m ill equipped to imagine… I wonder if this is why people mistakenly think they can fulfill the other roles in the process? However, when you encounter amazing agencies, production houses and post houses – the whole process is a dream.

    I truly believe the traditional model you describe can work better. Everyone really just needs to ‘pull their socks up’. Be brilliant at what you do, and adopt an honest, transparent and hard working ethos throughout all your work.

    We would also do well to respect each individuals craft skills – so many times I see people asking for things such as an ‘editor/motion designer’. It would be tough to be exceptional at both these skills. Hire a good editor. Hire a good motion designer. There’s a reason why we’re not all ‘generalists’ – some of us are striving to be masters.

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