It’s now obvious: integrated shops are the new game

I had an interesting takeaway from the recent AICP Meet.Drink.Talk event. As always, it was madly attended, but the attendees seemed to have shifted from a mix of traditional production/crew/postproduction folks, with a small turnout of agency, to a mixture highly skewed to post, integrated production, motion design and hybrid peeps.

This new turnout wasn’t surprising, because it closely follows what I see as a continuing trend of talent growth to feed the robust demand for content, especially at moderate budget levels.

Craig Leffel, who came to One at Optimus as its chief after years as a premier colorist, sees strong growth in client preference for one-stop solutions in fulfilling content missions, as One’s prodigious workflow demonstrates.

Still, it’s a challenge for all of us to maintain profit instead of creating “busyness” while financing agency and client content needs.  While there is no scarcity of creative talent, there is a critical need for people who understand the new technology, the process and proper managing, care and feeding of clients. 

Other post groups have created various versions of classic production companies without evangelizing for the “one” concept, with apparently more limited success.

Established companies, like Filmworkers, have all the components of integrated but operate differently, by primarily offering integration through their hybrid Vitamin unit. 

In these models, if you want the whole enchilada you have to do work to pull it together. Some of us wonder about the wisdom of that choice from a marketing prospective.

New studios could change the local landscape

Having said that, motion design companies are by nature “hybrid” or integrated. Creatives who are passionate about these disciplines are often predisposed to mixing forms, styles and media and hence they continue to grow and create compelling work.

The recent invasion of established studios from the coasts and London have the potential to significantly alter the content landscape. The attendees of the event reflected the growing population. 

Some of the top reps appeared at the event as well, strongly reinforcing the vital importance they play in this over-crowded marketplace. Great talent may not scarce but attention very definitely is. Smart money treats reps well, with respect and should pay them lavishly.  Worth it.

In one corner of the room I spoke with an executive producer of a venerable editorial house, which still clings desperately to the notion that “editorial must be kept pure and untarnished by content creation.” 

It’s hard to see how this model has a future attracting vital young talent and new clientele, despite its national reputation and network.  Clearly, the market has spoken on this; even category leaders like The Whitehouse offer design and production at a very high level.

Finally, I spoke to the godfather of traditional production companies.  His company’s numbers have been steadily and alarmingly diminished over the last decade, while miraculously flourishing.  He has finally closed his longstanding New York office, reformulating the West Coast presence as well as making an effort to play in the integrated scene.

It’s a tough road, since it’s significantly tougher to duplicate the post production piece than it is for post companies to add production.

Integrated companies are doing it right

So the takeaway is: integration is still the thing; it’s just not a “new thing” anymore.  The few that are doing it right are capturing revenue and reputation, while still fiddling with formulas for maintaining profit, like we all do.

Like the agency model, it’s infinitely more difficult to reengineer a traditional agency than it is to create a fresh digital model from ground up.  And that’s what’s called for here in the content creation biz.

We still struggle with the ideal formula to satisfy creative and market needs. The market, however, is definitely ripe for a ground-up innovative formula. 

The successful formula, however, has to tap into the robust and vital creative talent in the aggregate, the flexibility of the collaborative “sharing” model, while leveraging its offerings through established premium brick-and-mortar finishing and design groups.

Stay tuned brothers and sisters, the goalposts have moved.

David Rosen is a veteran commercial director,integrated media consultant and former executive producer.