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Are London’s Heads of TV Back in the Driving Seat?


CPOs and heads of TV speak about why the London agency world is putting production back in the C-suite, and what that means for the business of advertising, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

Are London’s Heads of TV Back in the Driving Seat?

Across London’s creative agency world, we have been seeing a new wave of chief production officers being appointed and production taking a more prominent seat at the table. This has introduced us to a new generation of heads of production in UK agencies, who are bringing an entirely new and improved skillset, as well as an approach to the agency-production relationship. With production becoming more and more central to the business of advertising, we want to find out what are the most important things heads of TV and production need to understand, and why do agencies need them in the C-suite more than ever.

According to Peter Montgomery, head of production at Droga5, although it is great that more senior production roles are appearing all over the scene, within the ‘most successful agencies there have always been influential production leaders’. “Production is a navigator,” he explains, “tell us where you want to go and we will help you get there.” So, if agencies want an easy and smooth trek towards their ultimate destination, having production on their side is the way to go.

“The production landscape has changed and offers more opportunity for exciting, differently shaped work than ever before. But it has also become more complicated,” continues Peter. “Clients understandably look to their agencies to help guide them, both in terms of managing their production budgets and helping them understand new tech and innovations. All of this places production very much at the heart of what we do.”

And, to him, the most important insight to take into account is that as a head of TV or production, it will often fall on you to present the agency (and client) point of view to production companies and vice-versa. “Doing this clearly, diplomatically and honestly fosters good relationships and gets better work out - facilitating that work, and making it as good as possible is the core of what we do.”

But it isn’t only production that is offering more and evolving at a rapid speed - it’s the entire media landscape, with media plans becoming more complicated than ever, while budgets and time constraints remain tight. For Jess Ringshall, Saatchi & Saatchi’s chief production officer, this is even more of a reason for production to put its foot down. 

“In order to deliver creative excellence with all of this in play, production needs a voice much further upstream than it historically had one - it’s no longer just an enabler for the creative, it’s the new integral part of strategy for modern briefs,” Jessica says. “Emerging tech-enabled facets of the practice - like VFX, for example - are changing the game of how we make meaningful work, and to use these tools effectively, they’ve got to be baked in from the start.” 

For Stephen Ledger-Lomas, CPO at BBH London, those new roles and appointments across the city are proof of that voice becoming more prominent and the creative world’s acceptance of it. “There is a saying here at BBH, that advertising is 80% idea, 80% execution and without creatives and production working symbiotically, that is impossible to achieve.

“The stretch in terms of the expression of those ideas from new platforms to brand experience, as well as a drive towards personalisation puts an even greater emphasis on production having to be a part of every briefing session, and a huge part of the solution to our client’s briefs,” Stephen says.

Jess Ringshall shared a similar sentiment late last year with us, explaining the vital importance of production being present at every stage, from conception up until delivery. “It’s about having the right people in the room,” she explains. “What’s incredible about Saatchi’s is that we have a production lead in each of our ‘squads’. Fundamentally, when a brief hits the agency, four sets of eyes look at it through their particular lens. As much as production elements might come into a granular level much further down the line, the reality is that the response from the creative and strategy will now have a production lens on it too. And it’s about having those people together at the top making it happen.”

Emily Marr, CPO at Leo Burnett believes that production has always been in the driver’s seat, but perhaps more covertly in the past. “Now, thankfully, having production present and involved at the very beginning of a client relationship is expected.”

According to her, "the days of production only being involved at the very last stage of creative development are gone" - no longer will we be seeing producers waiting for a script when all the ‘clever decisions on approach’ are too late to be changed. “Now with more restrictive budgets, timelines and ways of working, you are missing a trick to not have the ‘maker’ in the room from the beginning, helping structure the campaign to ensure every element can be maximised and every agile production approach considered.”

Susie Innes, CPO at Dentsu, echoes the sentiment - production has always been pulling the strings, perhaps more quietly before, to the point where the car looked like it’s driving itself. She leaves us with this: “The old analogy was that production is the calm composed swan above the pond with feet swimming like clappers under the surface. And this still stands. The trick today is to have a seat at the table, be as visible as possible, while still delivering, enhancing, and adding value to our output.”

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 15 Feb 2023 16:51:22 GMT