Guest Contributor: Noah Posnick is a Senior Production Consultant at MBC Advertising Solutions

Since I’ve entered the advertising production industry, there’s always been a struggle between a filmmaker (and agency and client by proxy) and the distribution formats they’re required (or should be required) to consider. Not terribly long ago, when HDTV’s had finally permeated homes and overtook 4:3 standard-def screens, creatives rejoiced as their cinematic story and message could be carried through from storyboard to audience eyeballs. But network pipelines were still outdated and required an SD delivery. That beautiful, establishing wide shot that set up the entire spot was now a medium shot and no longer served its purpose. You’d have to suck it up and let go of the unintended results or re-edit the spot. Either way, more money had to be spent and the creative was somewhat compromised.

Today, with the tremendous fragmentation of media channels and ad formats, the problem is multiplied. Media considerations often do not influence production considerations early enough in the process, and this ultimately costs advertisers.  So why are production issues such as format and technical specifications still an afterthought?

Media Considerations Often Don’t Inform Production Plans

Between Instagram and Snapchat alone, we’ve had 1:1 and vertical 9:16 content destinations for over 8 years now, and yet I only see these formats mentioned on half the production briefs and bids that come across my desk. When it’s missing, I always ask, and you should ask as well. Eight out of ten times the response is, “Well, the media plan is still in flux and we don’t know yet.” Well, you can still think about it and plan for it. How likely is it to be on the media plan?  What will you do if it is?  What can you do now to avoid expense or cutting corners later?

Even if these platforms are not in a locked-down paid plan by the time you need to bid out your production, the likelihood that your spots and content will end up being seen by consumers on these platforms is a near inevitability. The question shouldn’t just be, “do we need 1:1 and 9:16?”, but what do we do about it? How do we approach it? Or even, dare I say, how do we take advantage of it?

The first step is requiring that this is a part of the conversation from the initial kick-off so that the thinking continues through delivery. I’m not suggesting you have to make it a top top priority and burn a ton of hours on this.  However, if you know that certain formats are a probability and that substance and form are strongly intertwined, then a little upfront thinking can make for a more creative and cost-effective campaign.

I’ve been on many treatment calls where the agency is pitching their recommended director and production company to the client, and the agency will note that one of the things that led to their recommendation was the way in which the director offered an approach to the cut downs and social deliverables. It is great that the agency recognizes the importance of that kind of thinking, but that shouldn’t just be a plus ... it should be a requirement.

How Poor Coordination Costs Advertisers

If it’s not directly addressed, often the approach is simply to ask the cinematographer to frame for 1:1 and 9:16 safe and shoot on a 4k, 6k, or 8k camera so you have the resolution to play with. The “fix it in post” solution can certainly work. You get your deliverables to satisfy the formats, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best creative solution. A frame is designed by a director, photographer, cinematographer, creative director, production designer, etc. with intention. Creating a frame that’s “safe” for other aspect ratios is exactly that: safe, but it doesn’t necessarily result in the best execution and communication of your otherwise well-thought-out and tested script.

Finding the right way to do this may actually require more money in production (I know, shocker of a recommendation coming from a cost consultant). You may need extra time for dedicated shots and setups, a separate camera and camera crew and different lenses, etc. but if you’re spending hundreds of thousands if not millions on your media buy, the cost of making the creative execution more effective for these additional formats is money well spent. At the very least, have your partners think it through and have the conversation to decide if it’s worth it.  The point here is to plan for it, based on reasonable assumptions or informed guidance about likely media executions.  This may save you resources in other ways, and it may also make your creative more effective.

Inefficiencies Can Also Extend to Post-Production

Where the costs really start adding up is in post-production. To some extent this is unavoidable, but it can be managed better than it frequently is. Recently, the AICP, after merging with the AICE, thankfully updated their bid form to accommodate for today’s landscape and added an entire social post-production section to accommodate additional edits, resizes, and deliverables. Simply having this section is a good, strong reminder that this work (and associated costs) need to be accounted for in the initial estimates rather than coming up later as an overage. Each production, of course, has its considerations, but since these deliverables and costs tend to be a volume game, you should also be evaluating at a macro level whether there are solutions across all of your productions that can be put in place to create efficiencies.

Many of the agencies we work with have in-house studios that are fully capable of doing the re-edits, adjustments, and resizes at a reasonable cost. You may still want to go to a top tier post house for their editors and artists to do the heavy lifting, but if you plan your workflow ahead of time, it doesn’t mean they have to do it all. Many brands don’t even realize they end up spending $600/hour with a Flame artist to pan and scan a spot for social just because that edit or vfx shop did the initial work. Meanwhile, your agency’s in-house junior editor could do the exact same work at ¼ the price. Often, this kind of work gets stuck at a pricey vendor when it doesn’t need to because the proper discussion around creating this kind of work and how to do it effectively wasn’t had before bidding. The same can also often be said for closed captioning, legal line changes, simple title repositions, etc. These seemingly minor considerations are often a low priority and get left off that hour-scheduled call. They can add up to some not so minor cost implications.

While some of this may seem obvious, too often we see inadequate coordination leading to unnecessary inefficiencies and compromises during the production process.  In the context of social deliverables, having a solid grasp of a complete media plan before you begin bidding production and post will always result in better thought out and executed work. When that’s not doable, there are still some safe assumptions that can be made and discussions that can be had to engage in a smarter process.

Photo Credit: © Dragoscondrea | Dreamstime.com