A Brand Manager’s view of production and post

Everyone thinks that all a Brand Manager does is make TV commercials. The reality could not be more different: throughout a brand manager’s ‘life’ he or she will be lucky to even work on one brand that requires a TVC to be shot. Thanks to Liz Foster, we look at the world of Production and Post from a Brand Managers POV.

What does a Brand Manager actually do?

10Oct/bm/plan7Let me try and set the scene of a BM’s life for you. A brand is like your child. No-one can nurture it and love it like you. You feel every knock and bump; every missed deadline and failed project; every criticism and whinge. You toil over every budget cut and crunch to try and get the best for your baby. You meticulously study its MC (marginal contribution) breakdown, analysing the cost allocation across cost of goods, labour, freight and more to try and find efficiencies and savings. You travel the length and breadth of the country presenting plans that you’ve slaved over to a sceptical sales force.

Most brands have multiple skus (store keeping units), and you manage their deletion, launch and changeover accordingly. This is often an arduous and time consuming process, including the run in/run out of the old skus and associated packaging, forecasting changeover, production timing and approval process – each sku changeover, even for a minor technical or
address change, can cost up to $40,000. You manage multiple internal stakeholders, including Research & Development (R&D), Legal, Technical, Sales, Administration, Logistics and Production, whilst juggling several external ones. You actively monitor your brand’s sales nationally (and sometimes internationally). It’s your job to know why sales are down in WA if they are healthy elsewhere.

A Brand Manager must manage his or her time around multiple lengthy and futile internal management meetings, often called on a whim. Hours every week can be spent managing your brand’s forecasting, requiring month’s of foresight on numbers liable to change at any time, for any unforeseen reason. And then there’s the agency relationships to handle; usually at least two on a regular basis (advertising and design) with many others dipping in and out, project by project. Many brand managers go through their whole marketing life without ever having made a TVC, and given the internal politics surrounding them it’s a miracle you manage to come out the other side still sane.

And then the day finally dawns when you’ve clawed your way onto a brand with a half decent budget and half decent sales, the latest round of budget cuts have been and gone and you’ve managed to cling on to enough money to produce a new TVC. You’re busting with excitement and can’t wait to experience a real life, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually shoot a commercial for your baby.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I recently discovered how Brand Managers are actually viewed by the production team when they eventually reach this final hurdle. Production schedules are not a different version of Outlook; you can’t just pick up and move them around at will, as most BMs seem to think. There is little or no consideration by BMs of time frames and the logistics surrounding a TVC shoot.

BMs are very good at leaving things until the last minute, yet still expecting a high quality and standard of work. Having said that, they aren’t remotely afraid of compromising the quality themselves by insisting on an increased logo size or website URL with their one-dimensional checklist, thus totally severing the emotional connection.


A BM is often just a cog in the wheel

It might help if production companies understand what a brand manager has gone through to get to this stage. After the budget for the TVC has been approved and the agency briefed comes the arduous and protracted process of managing internal stakeholders. Any campaign must align with the overall business strategy whilst reflecting the marketing strategy and corporate brand guidelines. In theory the relevant strategies for any brand have already been written and signed off. But in practice, this is the part where personal opinions come in – and the more management layers that are involved, the more opinions there are – a little like having several judges sitting on one case. Combine that with the significant budget needed for production and media and you can bet that the CFO will suddenly feel that he is creatively qualified.

Robynne Berg, Director at Berg Consulting Group and a client veteran of many TVC shoots puts it like this:

“The TVC is generally one output of a strategy which has many stakeholders and includes many initiatives over a long period of time. The cost can be a significant one for an organisation and thus all elements of the creative will be scrutinised. Adding to these challenges, the organisation’s TVC is the one chance when non-creative, non-marketing members of the organisation have a chance to be creative. And given everyone has a view on the ads they like and don’t, they feel they are sufficiently qualified to give clear directives from the voice over copy, the choice of talent, the locations, the direction and anything else which may make it to the final edit.”

I certainly echo this sentiment; whilst at Nestlé a colleague experienced a situation where the General Manager came into her office one morning and dropped the post-edited, pre-approved TVC for her brand’s new campaign on her desk. “Target market children 12-18 years: Liked. Target market MGBs 25-39 yrs: confused. Target market empty nesters 55-70yrs: did not understand.” Yes you’ve guessed it – he had shown the tape to his mother, wife and children and based his feedback on their responses.

However, it’s true that not all clients are the same, and this is what gives BMs a bad name. John O’Keefe, a Director at O’Keefe Communications who has been writing and producing TVCs for more than 40 years puts it like this:

“Over the years I have dealt with a vast diversity of brand managers / advertising gurus who all thought they had the answers. Clients love to think big so they can boast how much the TVC cost but most of the time expense can be minimized without destroying the big idea. They have no idea of how long it takes from script to final approval/on air.”

Speaking from experience, when an ad agency is briefed it’s often hard to reign in the creatives, despite the fact that budgets and objectives have been clearly briefed up front. If you find the agency creatives difficult to deal with, you can bet your boots that they’re just the same way with the client. As the ad agency briefs production, it’s often hard for a BM to establish a clear relationship with the production company, and very often they are kept at arm’s length. Many BMs find it difficult to actually manage and achieve what they need through their agency: they get along fine on the surface but the agency relationship is hierarchical and frank discussions rarely happen at their level.

BMs are not Spielberg

Brand managers are not film directors and should not act like them. Their role is to ensure there are no strategic conflicts, whilst representing the company. But in the event that something is not right on the day, it’s the brand manager that carries the can. I know of one commercial shoot for an Australian beauty brand that took place in Morocco, at vast client expense. Despite many hours of pre-production meetings between agency, production company and client, when it came to the day of the filming, the clothes selected for the model by the agency were totally inappropriate – gypsy style frills, bells and jangles everywhere, when a simple classic style was sought. The on-set client was able to make an immediate call for the model to wear her own dress, a plain and simple shift – not something that could have been fixed up in post.

O’Keefe agrees that often a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, although not all BMs are the same.

“Some brand managers and internal ad managers are happy to exit once the concept/script has been approved. Others can’t get enough involvement and you’ve heard the one about “too many cooks”. We’re happy to work with either BM’s or ad execs provided we’re both singing from the same page.”

However, spare a thought for the BMs that have changes forced upon them, not because they want to exercise their God-given rights as clients. The process does not end once the script has been signed off, because the BM is ultimately just a pawn in the machinations of a large organisation. Last minute changes to models or international packaging can spring up at any time (the legal department are particularly good at throwing a spanner in the works here with no regard to deadlines or budgets). New stakeholders coming in at the eleventh hour can cause havoc as they bring a whole new set of ideas. And it is quite simply flabbergasting how often executive management or board members can insist upon changes once the TVC has been shot. Berg has also experienced this:

“On one occasion the final sign off was delayed when board members decided they didn’t like the script of a voice over they had already approved (in copy). I had to explain it was too late to change the script in post production of the TVC.”

The trick is to identify which client will turn into a Hollywood-style producer at the shoot, and which one will remain engaging yet professional. Even the least involved BMs will feel aggrieved if they are not treated well.

Both parties need to show mutual respect and recognition for their respective areas of expertise. A marketer does not become a filmmaker simply by producing his friend’s wedding video. Similarly, a production manager can be more concerned with the creative execution of making a short film than with actually creating an ad that meets the brand’s objectives – and yes, one of them at least is usually brand recognition, which will mean that the branding will need to feature somewhere, and preferably not a token pack shot at the end either.

Every commercial has an objective beyond enjoyment

Ads that win awards are all very well but if they don’t move a single product from the shelf then really they’re quite useless. An example that comes to mind is a TVC shot some years ago for Allen’s Kool Mints. The production values were sensational; black and white close cropped shots of Kool Mints rolling around on different parts of a young woman’s naked body, with the tagline ‘Made for Mouths’. By the time the final TVC was cut, it had become a beautiful short film that was wonderful to watch. Unfortunately the nature of a Kool Mint that’s not in the packaging is zero branding. The BM managed to squeeze in a half-second pack shot at the end of the commercial, but it was too late – within a month of airing it was pulled due to post polling confirming its woeful branding. (The TVC went on to win several creative awards).

10Oct/bm/meetingBudget constraints is another area that usually causes conflict. Outside perception can be that big brands and organisations have bags of money, but the reality is that every cent is usually squeezed out and there’s no room to move. Both Berg and O’Keefe agree that a big budget doesn’t necessarily translate to a great campaign, although budgets should not be cut at the expense of good creative. Multiple changes also stack up the costs.

O’Keefe is wary of BMs who just can’t help but get involved by making revisions, but on the whole he is on the side of the client when it comes to ways of saving on production, because that leaves more money in the kitty for media. When managing a TVC shoot he walks a client through costs involved including rates for camera crew, audio recording, talent fees and so on, with all charges totally transparent to arrive at a fixed, firm quote prior to commencing.

Berg agrees that it helps when clients and agency are both on the same page when it comes to budgets, and often bigger is not better.

“Some of the most effective ads I’ve done have been on small budgets with a committed agency behind me. Some of the larger agencies can make you feel that when you have a smaller budget you are not getting the same level of service or attention. Which is one reason I no longer deal with multinational agencies and almost exclusively deal with boutique agencies – their service is just so much better.”

Communication Brief

When briefing the agency, a Brand Manager must cover off the following areas. Many agencies do a Reverse Brief. As a BM I never really understood this, as it seemed to me that it was the agency telling me what they would or wouldn’t consider, rather than accepting or seeking further clarification from me on my brief. The BM’s brief to the agency can include a combination or all of the following:

Consumer information
Who uses/buys the brand?

Product information
Any information specific to the SKUs being featured. New easy open pack? New improved formula? etc

Brand information
Specific to the brand – covered off in guidelines & positioning

Brand guidelines & positioning
Should be readily available for any brand worth its salt

Demographic/target market
May differ slightly between brand and commercial

Commercial Objective
SKU variant launch; short term consumer promotion; build brand awareness;

Where is the product or service being distributed/offered

Competitive Set
Who are the competitors and what is their communication and distribution strategy

What is needed by when

Required response
Call to action? Emotional? Laughter?

Total budget to agency up until final approval after post

Consumer Expected Outcome
Reminder/brand awareness; brand building;

These are the things that MUST be included in the ad, either to meet internal guidelines or for legal reasons. For example: 1800 phone number; website URL; pack shot

Very important to specify so the creative is not wasted if a subsequent campaign opportunity springs up due to future line extension launches

What makes a really good commercial?

An example of an award winning commercial that ticks every marketing box known is a recent one for Old Spice, winner at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2010. Created by Weiden & Kennedy, Oregon, and produced by MJZ in Los Angeles, it was filmed over 3 days in one take. Jury president Mark Tutssel said of the commercial that it was ‘…the perfect film – it took an old sleeping brand and woke it up. Overnight it became a cultural phenomenon and captured the imagination of the planet.”
Old Splice

Common Jargon

Store keeping Units (SKUs)
The individual selling unit of any product. For e.g., Kit Kat bar 45g, Kit Kat Family Pack 14 X 2 finger, Kit Kat Family Block are all different SKUs. Some brands can have up to dozens of separate SKUs for a BM to manage in terms of packaging, forecasting, distribution etc
P&L (profit & loss)
The brand’s P&L reflects its total profit, taking into account all of the SKUs, the total sales and total costs apportioned directly to the brand, such as advertising
Cost of Goods (COGS)
This is the portion of a brand’s P&L that comprises the actual ingredients/contents of the product including the packaging.
Marginal Contribution (MC)
This is the percentage of net profit that each SKU makes, after all deductions for COGs, freight, labour, royalties etc. The MC can vary wildly SKU by SKU for the same brand, usually depending on the amount of labour and packaging involved. It does not include advertising.
Main Grocery Buyer – not necessarily the consumer. 85% female. Also known as the ‘gatekeeper’ when it comes to purchases of children’s confectionery.
Fast Moving Consumer Goods – as a generalisation, products that are stocked in supermarkets
Chief Financial Officer
Hierarchical agency relationship
A brand manager may be ‘the client’ but if a more senior agency representative does not agree with them then they often get their own way by simply going above the BM’s head to the bosses, or even refusing to communicate directly with the BM. This can create nasty surprises for even the BM on the day of the shoot.
If you are marketing an FMCG product then your category’s Grocery Buyer is at the top of the food chain. If they do not like your product’s taste, packaging or marketing campaign then there is a real chance that they will not list it. Often they will not commit before the product has been manufactured and the TVC shot, which can make life very hairy for the BM. And since Woolworths and Coles account for more than 70% of national grocery sales, you really need to get them on board. Some of the old timers do not really understand ‘new media’ and are reluctant to list a product that’s ‘not on TV’, because they do not understand how it will sell.
Marketing strategy
Each brand has its own marketing strategy that may vary slightly according to distribution or SKUs.
Corporate guidelines
The corporate branding and guidelines is the company branding and image that is represented over and above the brand image. For example, Kit Kat is a brand with its own marketing strategy. Nestle, as the brand’s manufacturer and corporate entity, produces its own set of rigorous guidelines that need to be adhered to over and above anything that the BM might want to do for the brand.
Internal Stakeholders
These are the people who are entitled to have their say on the TVC. Situations where someone has not felt the need to comment/alter something, regardless of the consequences, are rare, because ultimately if it’s their job then they feel entitled – if not obligated – to make their mark. As well as the BM, internal stakeholders can include, but are not limited to, the following examples (and don’t forget, each of these people are senior to the BM and may not be located in the same country!):

Subjective opinions aside, the following points are clear branding and marketing stand-outs:

• There’s clear dual targeting with the funny/sexy, between user (men) and purchaser (women). “The man your man could smell like.”

• Frame by frame, the Old Spice appears/disappears from the actor’s hand. There’s continual repetition and inclusion of the brand from beginning to end whilst being part of the storyline, rather than jammed in as a gratuitous pack shot. There’s no chance of anyone talking about ‘that great commercial of the guy in the shower..’ etc without knowing it’s for Old Spice.

• It screams call to action as he talks directly to the viewer.

• The brand’s core proposition (i.e. smell) is integral to the storyline throughout – something difficult to strongly convey in a TVC.

• It’s the perfect blend of ridiculous whilst being actually attainable.

• 100% original

Leo Laporte from TWIT TV, interviewing the creatives at Weiden & Kennedy, agrees that with TV commercials, there is often a danger that you get so caught up in the creative, you lose sight of what they’re selling. But with this one – ‘You want to smell like that guy – be that guy!’

.. as well as the following observations/nice to haves:
• 22,691,388 views on YouTube as of 12th Oct 2010 is a lovely stat for the BM to bandy around in Executive Meetings. Unfortunately it’s not something that can be factored in to the campaign’s media plans at the outset.

• The production budget is obviously mammoth: the TVC was shot over 3 days, including specific sets for the bathroom (including a crane), the boat and a trolley device to mount the horse. Old Spice belongs to multi-national Proctor & Gamble, so the commercial can be used in more than one market. The rest of us mere mortals have to work extra hard to create results that effective on a fraction of the budget.

• The Cannes, this year, all top 3 spots were all international big budget brands.

• Hats off to the BM for not only signing off something that is impossible to visualise in script form, but also for convincing all key stakeholders to sign it off as well

• It’s superb casting – you cannot take your eyes or ears off the star

For all budding or current production managers out there who have had their fill of dealing with BMs, here’s a little checklist to help smooth the process.

Top Ten Tips for dealing with BMs

1. Try and form a positive and direct relationship, independent of the advertising agency. The BM is ultimately the client. This will make them more open to exploring your ideas that crop up along the way.

2. Have at least one pre-production meeting that explains how things work with the client, even if they are a TVC veteran. They will feel engaged and are less likely to cause trouble.

3. Try and find out up front if they are experiencing any last minute budget or approval hassles, so frustrating last minute changes make more sense.

4. Never lose sight of the TVC objectives, in production or post. An execution that you are not 100% happy with may still work. (Yes I’m sorry about this one but it’s true – more than one grocery buyer I have come across will only list a product that is going “on TV.”)

5. Remember you are like the builder undertaking renovations, working for the client who owns the house. When you’ve packed up and left it’s the owner (BM) that lives with the results.

6. As a rule of thumb clients have scant idea of production costs. Educate them. Do not assume that the agency has done this properly, unless you know and trust them sufficiently.

7. Remember the pain they have gone through to get to this point, and that often several other external influences can affect the outcome. Halfway through a TVC shoot for one of my brands, I found out that half of the imported confectionery product had disintegrated in its packaging during shipping transport from the UK. So I had to find the funds to fix the problem from my media budget, as well as of course actually fixing the problem.

8. If you do have a Hollywood-style client on set then do your best to humour them, at least on the day. It will cause less pain in the long run.

9. No-one knows the brand better than a really good BM. Use them as a resource to tap into to help set the tone of the ad, rather than just an annoyance.

10. Brand Managers are just like you – professionals who are trying to do their best. They may not be stars, or experienced in production matters, but they are capable nonetheless. Approaching the relationship from that perspective could help improve the overall outcomes of the job.

So, treat BMs as your friends and allies and try to build a positive relationship with them. They are not the devil incarnate – they’ve been through a lot to get there. And you never know when they could help you in situations when something might come back to bite you on the derriere.