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October 2017
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Corporate 50 2014 Back to Reports & survey Listing

A better year for corporate communicators  but, as video production gets devalued, corporates are now trying to rebrand themselves as agencies. Jon Creamer reports


Reasons to be cheerful
There’s a mood of cautious optimism in the wider economy and that seems to be reflected among corporate production companies.
The results of this year’s Corporate 50 survey show that the past 12 months have seen business get better – a bit. The average turnover figure for corporate communications companies is up on last year’s (£7.6m as opposed to £6.7m) and the average profit figure has risen too. It’s £298k this time which is up on last year’s £258k.
The average budget for a ‘moving image content’ project has also risen, to £26k from £23k last time. But that isn’t the whole picture of course.


More is some times less
With more platforms and more opportunities for brands to deliver their messages in the form of moving image content, it’s becoming an essential part of clients’ marketing and communications mix.
“With online video audiences on the rise and expected to double to 1.5 billion people by 2016, companies will rely more and more on video to tell their brand story,” says A-Vision. “Video content is more likely to be watched and shared than other kinds of content, and videos shared socially are more likely to be watched to completion.” So, great news for corporate production outfits? Well, yes and no. While the frequency of films may be increasing, the budgets aren’t going on a similar upward trajectory. Average budgets have gone to £26k this year from last year’s £23k but it should be noted that the average budget figure was £33k in 2009’s survey, just before the recession really made its presence felt. “We are finding that there are less of the ‘all singing all dancing’ commissions out there but the number of productions per year continues to increase,” says Straker Films. “We all aspire to produce films that continue to push the creative boundaries for maximum impact – and working this way within very tight budgets is ever more challenging.”
Clients now have their own channels and need a constant stream of content to fill them. “With clients starting their own YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo channels, the task is to deliver the increased demands for regular programming that this presents at budgets that they can afford (or at least have put aside),” says Odd Man Out. While there’s a greater need for volume that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a similar push for quality. “Film, more than ever, is being seen as essential to their communication mix, but clients have needed to make it work at significantly reduced budget levels,” says The Edge. “Sadly, an appreciation of quality in favour of quantity appears to be the overriding trend,” says New Moon. “The use of lightweight cameras that can be operated by self-shooting directors seems to now be the norm and this seems to be driving a creative trend of ‘pop video’ for the corporate sector.”


So why pay more?
Because anyone can shoot and upload “content” on nothing more than a mobile phone, it’s harder for clients to understand why they should pay proper rates.
“The fact that anyone can post anything on YouTube for nothing leads many to undervalue quality and overlook effectiveness,” says Take 3. “With a new generation of commissioners who may have known nothing but internet, recession and HD cameras on mobile phones (not to mention reality TV), the challenge is adapting to the new perceptions and demonstrating that there is value in production expertise and quality.”
While the sheer cost of equipment used to keep amateurs out,  “advances in technology and a reduction in barriers to entry“ are causing problems for professional communicators, says Cheerful Scout. Cheap equipment means there are plenty of “desk-top/spare-room operators who continue to undercut and devalue rate cards,” says Eon. The devaluation of the filmmaking process means corporate communicators have to work harder to explain the difference between what they offer and what someone who can press record on an iPhone can offer.


Respect yourself
With this in mind, many corporate production companies are now working hard to reposition themselves as communication agencies with ideas as their USP. “The challenge for us is getting clients to realise that our point of difference is ideas creation and that that is worth paying for,” says Buddy. “The procurement process in corporates is such that so much good thinking and creativity is given away for free or too cheaply”. Casual Films similarly says that corporate communicators can be their own worst enemy in this sense. “We need to stop giving our creative away for free. Before everyone and their nephew could make films, being able to use the kit was enough of a barrier to entry that the industry could make money off the production part of the process. This is no longer the case. Our creative ideas and the process by which we reach them are where a lot of the value we can add is, and yet we give them away like confetti. We all need to change this.”


Walls come tumbling down
Corporate communicators are realising that they have to shout louder to make their voices heard above the din, especially as companies from other disciplines start to park their tanks on the lawn. “Production companies who used to specialise in broadcast TV, commercials, documentaries or even features are moving into our space,” notes Proudfoot. Barriers between disciplines are breaking down all over. Ad agencies now pitch to keep the ‘corporate’ work in house too.
But as barriers come down, there’s an opportunity too. And that’s to provide a more 360-degree service and become more agency than production company. “We can no longer just deliver a film. We now need to be involved in how it is delivered, experienced and then feedback this data to the clients,” says The Giggle Group. The sheer variety of ways that video is delivered across multiple channels and across social media mean that corporate producers can’t just hand over the film and leave. Tailwind concurs: “It’s no longer a case of producing film, it’s more about helping and advising clients on how to use the film once it has been produced. We have to take a much more holistic/agency approach spending as much time designing the campaign as we would designing the film. As a sector we have to show that we are giving value for money. The time of the over inflated budgets is long gone and the successful companies will offer more than just film production, they will become more like agencies.”
And the sheer number of different ways to deliver messages could help with this. Clients are often confused as to where and how they should communicate, so an agency that can help them solve this will win out. Those that can lead a path through social media will be more in demand. “Our clients have become increasingly interested in engaging their audiences in conversations rather than simply pushing content at them,” says BDA Creative. “We’re finding that social media strategy is helping to inform the shape and direction of communications campaigns and creates a bespoke platform and captive audience for delivering higher value content.”



Stuck in the middle
But if this is the case, does that mean mid sized companies could be under threat? Tiny operators can live on their wits but to offer the agency service, a certain scale is required. For Merchantcantos, it’s the middle ground that could get squeezed. ”In the medium term, the market is polarising between small, nimble operations with low overheads and much larger organisations with a greater spread of client work. Both can more easily withstand sudden shifts in the market and contraction in demand.” It could mean, as many comment, that the corporate production sector might be in line for a round of consolidation much as has happened in broadcast TV.
Or could it mean that corporate communications outfits with different skills could collaborate to provide a more rounded service “We think the merging of the IVCA with Eventia is a symbolic moment for our industry and we hope it will lead to much more cross-fertilisation of ideas and best practice,” says new start up Belong. “We expect to see more collaboration within the sector, as companies with complementary disciplines join forces to deliver an integrated offering to clients.” By this time next year, we’ll be able to see if that prediction has come to pass.


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