Stripping the value or a positive trend? The evolving nature of creative production

With the evolving nature of creative production, increased in-housing and emerging production hubs, Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan speaks to industry experts on how the models for creative work are being impacted, and who they may end up benefitting.

After Mumbrella reported that Suncorp Group is shifting its creative production into a centralised hub at Hogarth last week, the question turns to how the traditional model of creative production continues to evolve.

While it is not a new trend, the nature of creative production has changed over the past few decades, with more channels than ever before, meaning more volume on production, and more output.

This has resulted in more clients streamlining their work in to specialist production houses like Hogarth, or increasingly taking many of these services in-house, to help the bottom line.

“It is definitely a trend that’s increasing”, says CEO of Lution, Chris Maxwell, on brands moving more of their creative production away from their primary creative agency partners.

Maxwell: Finding new production models a trend “probably accelerating”

Maxwell says research conducted in July last year, through the in-house agency council (which he chairs), found that 67% of Australian marketers have some form of in-house agency doing creative production or media for them already, and that “half of the remainder are thinking about it”.

He says that alongside in-housing creative, there is a shift towards new creative production models, and that the trend is “probably accelerating”.

“Certainly if you look at what’s happening over in the United States, in a way we’re falling behind them. That’s been an ongoing trend there for ten years or so.”

Analog Folk managing director, Matt Robinson says that this is not quite a “wholesale change happening across the industry”, but rather Suncorp’s recent move is “just another example of the model and eco-system of advertising and marketing continuing to evolve”.

“Put simply, creative agencies have to be open to the multitude of new ways that work can be produced – and approach production strategically based on the brief at hand,” he says. 

Robinson says creative agencies have to be open to change

The argument put forward by some industry figures, and some interesting discussion in the Mumbrella comments section, is that this increasing trend is changing the way creative work is valued within this industry, that creativity is increasingly being seen as a commodity, and that it is “watering down” the final product.

While clients are perfectly entitled to take whatever route they see fit, an industry executive that wished not to be named said that as a result, based on current rates, the initial creative ideation will become so unlucrative that it becomes an unsustainable practice. 

They noted that traditionally, the value from creative thinking is reliant on the revenue that follows from the production and rollout of the campaign.

So the model for creative production is becoming increasingly fragmented, will creative thinking be valued differently?

One creative agency that is making a big splash is the independent, Bear Meets Eagle On Fire (BMEOF). The agency has done tier-one work and design for brand’s including IAG’s Rollin’, online brokerage, Stake, and Optus.

BMEOF launched Rollin’ and its character, Larry in 2021

Managing director, Toby Hussey says BMEOF has been approached and declined several projects, “where some sort of model is in place that production has to go through another party”.

“In honest truth, we feel that strips a big amount of the value we deliver out of the discussion.”

Hussey says he understands why some clients and agencies are going down this route, but for them, “it doesn’t work like that”.

He adds that a huge part of why people go to BMEOF is the “shared ownership” of a strategy, idea, and a “made thing”, and that breaking that up, for him and the agency, “strips value out of the process, means you have less ownership, less skin in the game, and you’ll end up with work where you’ve got a few too many people involved, but no one really, really caring through the process.”

This is coming from an agency with “3-4 full-time staff”, in a model which “operates lean”, taking shape and scaling around projects.

He admits he doesn’t know specifically how different creative strategy/production arrangements are structured, but that drawing the line between coming up with ideas and then handing them off to someone else to make “doesn’t feel right”.

MD at Bear Meets Eagle On Fire. Toby Hussey

“We use contractors and have a black book of talent where we bring people in for projects.

What this does mean, he says is that the agency has to be very selective around what projects it takes on, and that finding those right projects and scaling around them “is always a challenge” in finding the right people.

With this way of operating, BMEOF has found is a “better way of delivering value”, and that as a result, certain types of projects “tend to come to us at the moment”.

So with many of WPP’s agencies increasingly shifting their work into Hogarth’s hands, and Publicis’ Prodigous, Clemenger Group’s Eg+ and IPG’s Milk Money, to name a few, all having the potential to grow into the same space, will this see the indies benefit?

It is important to note that several group agencies were contacted for this article, each either declining to comment, or not responding at the time of publishing. 

Take another independent, Thinkerbell, for example. The agency has refocused the way it approaches “creative work”, heavily moving into the PR space, further greying the space between what is PR and what is creative.

The agency’s LinkedIn page listed its staffing numbers at 60 in February 2020, now two years later it has grown to 123. This also resulted in the agency taking home both the creative and PR agency of the year gongs in Mumbrella’s 2021 awards show.

Asked about this on the Mumbrellacast last year, chief thinker and co-founder, Adam Ferrier framed creativity as not being solely limited to the accounts which the agency has “creative remit” in.

He said one of the “really cool things” about the earned space, is that it “does away with so much bullshit. It is much faster and more efficient.” He said that the agency learned to work creativity like this, on speed and relevance. “So we got more skilled at that type of thing,” and that it only works if you have already developed a “really strong strategic/creative platform” to begin with.

“It is all the same thing,” said Ferrier, regarding the differences between PR and creative. “The only real difference is that earned ideas are often better than non-earned ideas, because they create their own momentum”.

Different clients, different solutions, different agencies

Analog Folk’s Robinson notes that different clients are always going to have different ways they engage agencies, and approach creative work in general.

“On one hand, you have what Suncorp has done, but then you look across at their competitor IAG, who (via CGU and Thinkerbell) have just commissioned the Jim Henson Company to create a nine-minute animated short film“.

“Every brief, and every client is different – some clients will be more focused towards the bottom of the conversion funnel, and need volume production solutions aligned to their precision marketing tactics. Others are focused on fame generation which leads to very different production considerations. There will always be a need for high-end craft, just as now there is always a need for scaled, high-volume production built to suit the multitude of channels and screens that make up the media mix.”

Founder of Mumbrella, Tim Burrowes wrote last week CMO of IAG, Brent Smart “has made a hallmark of his tenure putting a greater proportion of his budget into the creative execution”.

He said that Smart’s rationale is, if the work is distinctive enough, it will live beyond the paid placement. 

This is helped by IAG having a roster of creative agencies, which includes both Thinkerbell and BMEOF, as well as The Monkeys, Colenso BBDO and CHEP Network. Each have been engaged for the most relevant project, in the same way that Suncorp has tapped Ogilvy, The Hallway and Ogilvy for its recent campaigns.

Burrowes continues: “Those who’ve seen the culture he has built within the IAG marketing team over the last five years are impressed. And his agencies appear to feel respected, but also see him as demanding. Which is no bad thing. CMOs shouldn’t be buying everything their agencies put in front of them.”

And this goes directly to Ferrier’s point, that the value of quality creative or strategic thinking is that it “creates its own momentum”.

This is helped by IAG having a roster of creative agencies, which includes Thinkerbell, The Monkeys, BMEOF, and CHEP Network, each being engaged for the most relevant project, in the same way that Suncorp has tapped Ogilvy, The Hallway and Ogilvy for its recent campaigns.

What is the upside?

Robinson argues that moving forward, creative agencies are going to need to be agile and open to new ways to produce work, “and approach production strategically based on the brief at hand”.

Another question arises from this. If creative agencies are increasingly being engaged for their deeper creative and strategic thinking, will we begin to see more outlandish and daring work? And start charging more for it? As creative partner at Deloitte Digital, and former CEO of Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, Nick Garrett says, it can only be good for the industry.

Garrett was a former winner of the Mumbrella Awards Leader of the Year

“Why would a brand continue to use agencies for the smaller stuff – and by that I mean high volume and high intensity – when companies who are designed for it exist and Hogarth is one of several who can do it faster and quicker?”, he questions, while posing that the tier one work that drives brand differentiation and impact will remain with the more creative agencies, who should still be responsible for the execution budget on the big plays.

Maxwell agrees (with the caveat that Garrett has a stake in Maxwell’s Lution business), that depending on different agencies’ specialisms, this move “could be positive for them, in that they get to focus more on the things they are brilliant at”, those being “coming up with creative concepts and ideas”.

“If they can reposition themselves in that space, that’s a good win for them,” he says. “Financially, it may be some short-term pain, but potentially long-term gain and in the future, if they can set themselves up as the owners of brilliant ideas and figure out how to work with these new models.”

Robinson says that creative agencies “stuck in an old model where production is the primary profit generator”, should be worried

He says that rather than looking for ways to “replace” the revenue that is shifting elsewhere, he and Analog Folk are “always looking to innovate our business, to create new offerings that clients need and offer a point of difference in the market”.

Garrett says that if this is the way forward, it may be to the advantage of creatively driven indies, that can “continue to do high-end creative work, offer fresh ways of working, access to creative leaders and don’t have the capabilities to compete in that space anyway”.

“It has the potential to be a positive thing for the industry in the long run”, Garrett says, in that it will result in a rebalancing where smart teams and agencies can charge more for great strategy and big creative ideas.”

He insists there is a greater need now than ever before for disruptive ideas and creativity. “There is no place for brands and marketers to hide now and tech is an accelerator not a differentiator. I can really sense this is becoming clear to the industry and in the boardroom.”

Hussey says that the old agency model of having a huge team sitting around “waiting to be utilised and passed around based on what projects are going” doesn’t deliver the best work for clients. Rather agencies should be bringing in the best-fit talent to fit the projects.

“To be honest, it just makes sense [for clients], whether they’re in-housing, or decoupling or even offshoring, it’s going to continue to accelerate,” says Maxwell. “And the agencies that will win are the ones who figure out how to work with the new models and clients in different and flexible ways.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.