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September 2018
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Commercials 30 2009 Back to Reports & survey Listing

The recession’s bitten, budgets are down and times are tough for the UK’s commercials production companies. But producers are learning to adapt to the new realities while still managing to keep creativity high. Jon Creamer reports

It’s a double helping of congratulations this year as both Gorgeous and Rattling Stick share the top spot in this year’s Commercials 30.

Gorgeous came in at number one last year as well but has to shuffle over slightly to let Rattling Stick on to the winners’ podium as it steps up from the second position it held last time.

Gorgeous had another great year on the back of spots like Peter Thwaites’ Waterslide for Barclaycard and Vince Squibb’s Lumberjack for HSBC. As well as the usual clutch of award winners from Ringan Ledwidge and Danny Kleinman, Rattling Stick’s Andy McLeod also had some big hits with his Kill Your Speed road safety spot and Robinson’s Bird House.

There’s been a pretty big jump up for Partizan this year too, from last year’s number six to this year’s number three after a highly creative year putting out award-winning spots like House Party for Adidas and  Love at First Flight for Virgin Atlantic. Other big jumps up the chart include Stink rising six places, Outsider up nine, and HLA up 13 places.

But let’s talk about the stats. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone in the sector that budgets are down, and down significantly according to figures supplied by our respondents. The average production budget for a 30-second spot now comes in at just under £143k, and that’s a major drop from last year’s figure of £161k and a massive drop from 2007’s figure of £177k.



Production company turnover is again down from an average £7.9m last year to £7.6m this time. That drop
in turnover reflects the drop in the number of new ads being made. The average company did 60 jobs this year, down from 65 last time. But even with falling turnovers and fewer jobs around, the average roster size has gone up to 17 this year from last year’s 16. If work was distributed equally between all those directors, each would have made a little over three ads last year. But as many big names do a lot more than that, there must be many directors out there barely working.

It confirms that this has been one of the toughest ever years in commercials production as the recession makes it effects well and truly felt. One of the effects is that, as agency nervousness grows, and client commitment drops, decisions are taking longer and agencies are less willing to take risks creatively. “There’s a lot of client appeasement,” comments Sonny London md Helen Kenny. “Rather than go out on a limb on the best thing to do creatively they will second-guess that the client might be worried by it.”

That nervousness also means the pitch process is longer. “Research is playing such a large part ... that we find ourselves working for six months on a pitch” comment RSA. The process is “more competitive and expensive with more directors and companies pitching at any one time,” says Bare Films. It’s also become a lot more involved. “Our pitches need to be much more realised than before – even taking it to final picture when practical,” is the comment from Picasso Pictures.

There’s also a suspicion that “agencies are putting out speculative work to keep their departments busy in these difficult times,” says one production company. Not difficult to imagine as agencies try to drum up work. “There seem to be a lot of agency initiatives which involve a lot of work on our part and which rarely get accepted by the client,” says one producer.



Budgets are, of course, down and there is acceptance among producers that this is the way they’ll stay. But there’s also a sense that client expectations haven’t caught up with those budgets yet. “There’s been a steep rise in the number of scripts coming in with a budget which is not enough to execute the idea properly,” reckons Rogue Films. And that’s partly because, with so many companies vying for the little work that’s about “even if the budget is unworkable financially, someone will still do it,” says 2AM Films.

Another part is that, when digital assets were a spin-off from a well-funded TV spot, they were cheap but, “now we find the digital assets are often at the heart of the process with the TVC more of an afterthought,” says HLA. “The client's perception is that as these assets were so cheaply sourced before they should be equally as cheap to source” now.

So companies are cutting overheads and finding new ways to save money. Many, including Therapy have “developed an inhouse post set up. Costs are kept down, and we get a larger slice of the cake.” Comments Stink: “We have started looking towards new shooting formats like using the Canon 5D mark 2”.

Those that can roll with the new financial realities will survive because, says Outsider’s Robert Campbell, unlike previous recessions, when this one’s over, the landscape will have changed forever. “When we came out of [the early 90s recession] it was still about press, poster, telly – the choice for a client was threefold. This time when we come out the other side, their choices of where they spend their money are utterly different.”

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