Mark Androw had a truly unique experience at the AICP Show last November. For the first time in more than a decade, he enjoyed the open bars, designer cuisine, and fancy couture without handling any responsibilities.
“I got to see what it was like from a guest’s perspective,” he recalls. “I was just a civilian.”
Officially known as the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, the AICP is a national trade organization that represents several hundred of the top commercial production companies in the country. The Midwestern chapter includes members in Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Chicago.
It’s annual throw-down, the AICP Show, is one of the most popular and elegant celebrations in the creative industry. The event begins with a screening of the year’s best commercials and continues with a reception that is sometimes referred to as “The Advertising Prom.”
“The Chicago show is second in size to New York,” says Androw. “Around 1,250 people attended this year.”
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Androw has been involved with the AICP since the late 1980s, when he joined after realizing that “Chicago was kind of a production island” near the beginning of his career.
“Mainstream business was in LA and New York,” he explains. “AICP’s reach gave me the opportunity to rub elbows with my peers on the coasts and kept me in touch with the way production works on a national level.”
Around the same time, he began pursuing a law degree through night classes at DePaul University (he eventually completed the program and is currently licensed to practice law in Illinois.) The effort was part of a “plan-B” that would go into effect if his production career did not take off, but it turned out to be unnecessary: plan-A included the 1989 launch of Chicago Story (now known as STORY) and it worked out just fine.
One of the first production shops to represent talent on the coasts as well as in Chicago, STORY has since grown into a nationally-recognized, full-service production and post-production company with offices in Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“It started with the idea that we were a local based company, but we represented national level directors,” he remembers. “We also offered sort of a middle ground price, more expensive than local production companies but with better talent and less expensive than New York and LA.”
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The executive years
Androw ascended to the AICP’s executive level in 2004, when he succeeded Dan Lundmark as Midwest Chapter President. He followed the appointment with several years as National Treasuer, a term as National Vice Chairman followed by two terms as National Chairman, then became Midwest Chapter President again before handing the reigns over to Lisa Masseur, a transition that clearly pleases him.
“Our chapter was hungry for some fresh blood for a while,” he says. “We are very fortunate to have Lisa step up and lead the chapter. She is smart and very personable and hardworking and very knowledgeable … She’s amazing.”
Over the ensuing decade, while continuing an effort that had motivated the organization since its founding, Androw and the AICP would introduce profound changes to the production industry. It began with paperwork.
“AICP created a standardized bid form that all companies would use,” Androw explains. “Today, it’s morphed a little bit, but it’s still the same basic form.”
The bid form specifies an enormous amount of detail on seven pages containing 276 lines of detail — everything from the wages and overtime for the key grip to the bagels for the client.
“You know more about what goes into the cost of making a commercial than any other item you purchase in America,” Androw continues. “GM provides a sticker that shows the cost of the car and the extras, but you don’t know how much the transmission and the labor and the paint costs.”
Before AICP introduced the standardized form, production companies tailored their bids to the varying specifications of individual clients, which would be totally different from one advertiser to the next.
Although Androw admits that the degree of detail “invites micromanagement,” it at least got everyone on the same page.
The AICP used the same organizational wherewithal to improve the well-being of its members in a way that Androw describes as “very significant.”
“We created a health insurance plan for non-union, freelance crew people,” he says.
The Producers Health Benefit Plan (PHBP) offers coverage to freelance crewmembers who accumulate a certain amount of wages or number of hours within a calendar year.
“And it’s really good insurance,” says Androw. “Dental, vision, disability — it’s pretty amazing.”
To make the plan work, PHBP collects an amount equal to nine percent of the worker’s wages from participating companies and contributes the proceeds to a general fund that covers the healthcare cost. The health plan took ten years to create.
“This was multiple employer insurance,” Androw explains. “We had to make sure it was a deductible expense for the employer and not taxable for the employee. We had to find insurance carriers to underwrite PHBP and we had to get approval from the Department of Labor.”
“Now we have a lot of small companies including sales rep companies joining the AICP,” he adds, “because they can be covered under this insurance under very favorable rates, and we’re not looking to make a profit on the insurance, just provide benefits to membership.”
A sort-of retirement
Although Androw serves as a trustee for the plan, he credits many others for its creation. “I was one of many people,” he says, “just some schmoe in the room.”
Indeed. The self-described “schmoe” not only helped the AICP accomplish something that still seems to elude the American government, but he also continues to support the organization with “some of the things I learned in law school.”
“I’m still involved in national labor negotiations for AICP,” he explains. “The National IA contracts that cover the whole country except New York and Chicago is up for renewal this year. It is a great experience to be part of a strong negotiating team whose goal is to keep production affordable in the United States and reduce runaway international production.”
So Androw’s return to civilian life is not a total departure from AICP, but he seems to like it that way. And while the industry may have changed since he first got involved, certain things have remained the same; especially back at STORY.
“We’re just busy making commercials and working,” he says. “Doing our thing.”
Send your news to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, email@example.com.