Ken_HoneywellIt all started innocently enough: I saw a tweet by Small Box’s Jeb Banner that made me think. That tweet:

you can tell a lot about a company’s culture by its commercials a healthy culture won’t permit crappy ads to air twice

This eventually morphed, as lots of great conversations do, into something entirely different: in this case, a discussion about whether Steve Jobs was a good boss or a bad boss. That’s another topic for another day.

But I think the substance of Jeb’s tweet is interesting, especially given the cost of commercial production. The fact is, no one’s going to air a crappy ad just once. If you make crappy ads, they’re going to air over and over and over until your media buy is exhausted–and chances are good that you’re going to air your crappy ads for another cycle or seven, as well.

Perhaps I’m taking Jeb too literally, but the point remains: if you produce crappy work, you’re probably stuck with it for a while. You can’t afford to redo your advertising once it’s on the air. Which makes getting it right the first time really important.

How important? Our average TV spot production budgets, including creative costs, approach $70,000. Do you have $70k to blow on dull or ugly or ineffective work? Our clients don’t.

Two major points here:

1. Getting it right the first time is critical. Clients, please take note: when you’re spending a bunch of money on TV production, you don’t get a second chance. And please take this to heart: fine-tuning the creative work almost never results in a better spot. Chances are excellent that your agency has thought through the production before the spot was presented, and changing the forty-year-old man to a thirty-year-old woman, or cutting two scenes so you can run the logo for nine seconds at the end, or changing the restaurant scene to a toy store scene will fundamentally change the commercial. When you change one thing, it changes everything. 

This seems like contradictory advice: make sure everything’s right, but be careful about changing anything. Actually, it mostly requires that you trust your agency. You hired them for their expertise. Don’t handcuff them when they’re doing their job.

Because in most cases, spots get safer and dumber and less attention-getting when clients start messing with them. So, yes, make sure they’re saying exactly what you want to say. But have a little faith in the folks at your agency.

2. Consider cheaper media. Television’s a great medium for lots of messages–maybe yours. We produce lots of TV spots, and we recommend television as a way to reach big audiences cost-effectively.

But for the cost of producing one TV spot, you can produce a year’s worth of web content. You can spend $5,000 (or $2,000, or $1,000) on great web video–and you don’t have to spend anything on the media that bring it to your audience. At those prices, it’s far more feasible to pull your creative and produce something new if you judge the work to be crappy.

Still, you’re better off not producing crappy work in the first place. Which wasn’t exactly Jeb’s point. But it ties into his idea of “a healthy culture.” In a healthy environment, you should be able to challenge the status quo, and compromise, and trust the people you work with. If your culture is healthy and you focus on getting it right the first time, you’ll never have crappy ads to pull.