The Cost Is In the Control: Could Trust Save You Money?


'For thirty years, people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don't. Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.'
Orson Welles

In 1939 RKO offered Orson Welles a two-picture contract that guaranteed him total artistic freedom. The deal was unprecedented, and was particularly remarkable because Welles hadn’t made a movie before.

Welles had established a formidable creative reputation through his work in theatre and radio, and the previous year had become famous for his bold radio adaptation of ‘The War of the Worlds.’ It was inevitable that Hollywood would come knocking.

‘I didn’t want money. I wanted authority.’

The first film that Welles created for RKO was 1941’s ‘Citizen Kane.’ He co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in what was subsequently celebrated as a masterpiece and sits at the top of many lists of the greatest films ever made.

‘Citizen Kane’ was, however, only a moderate success at the box office. Welles’ honeymoon with the studios was over. And like a bad marriage there followed years of mutual suspicion, acrimonious dispute and bitter recrimination.

RKO took over control of the editing of Welles’ 1942 movie, ‘The Magnificent Ambersons.’ They cut more than an hour of footage and substituted a happier ending. On 1947’s ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ Columbia ordered extensive editing and re-shoots, excised an hour from Welles' first cut, and significantly adjusted the score. The production went way over-budget.

Welles was so frustrated that he decamped to Europe for the next eight years. When he was finally seduced back to Hollywood for 1958’s ‘Touch of Evil,’ his relationship with the studios remained tortuous. Universal fired him in post-production, re-edited the movie and re-shot several scenes. Welles protested in a 58-page memo that was for the most part ignored, and the film was released as a B-picture.

Of course, ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’, ‘The Lady from Shanghai’ and ‘Touch of Evil’ were all excellent films. And, of course, Welles made some other very decent movies. But there remains a suspicion that Hollywood could have got a great deal more out of one of the most brilliant creative minds of the twentieth century. There’s a real sense of wasted time, talent, money and opportunity.

Three years before he passed away Welles reflected on his film-making career:

‘I’ve spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making movies. It’s about 2% movie making and 98% hustling. That’s no way to spend a life.’

We all recognise these same dilemmas in the world of marketing and communications. In our industry there are age-old tensions between creative empowerment and financial control; between the demands of quality and the constraints of budget; between the authorial voice and the anticipated consumer response. These are tensions that any creative business needs to navigate. And they can sometimes get out of hand and cause inefficiency, demoralisation and waste.

There has recently been an emergent consensus amongst both Clients and Agencies around the need to change the Agency model for the digital age. Both sides seem to want more makers and fewer managers; more creation and less mediation; more focus on output than input. Both sides have in mind a structure and approach that is more fluid, cost-efficient and ultimately more effective.

So why hasn’t it happened already?

My own experience is that a large part of the cost and inefficiency of the incumbent Agency model derives, not from Agencies’ inherent love of process, of project management and account handling; but from Clients’ yearning for control. Indeed the reason Agencies have so many staff dedicated to intermediate or relationship functions is that Clients have over the years wanted more involvement, more consultation, more participation; more timing plans and pre-production meetings; more catch-ups, status meetings and weekend email updates; more justification, illustration and validation; more cross-disciplinary get-togethers, awaydays, tissue sessions and brainstorms.

Inevitably servicing a more actively involved, more participative, more controlling Client takes time, resource and money. Agencies have to assign people to ‘mark off’ the Clients, to manage the meetings, to monitor the process. The cost is in the control.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We talk a good deal nowadays about the decay in trust between brands and consumers. But what about the trust between Agencies and Clients? Trust in expertise; in financial accountability; in commitment to excellence and effectiveness. Hasn’t this decayed too?

The curious thing is that trust costs you nothing. Trust means a clear brief, a defined objective and an expectation that the Agency will deliver. It means shared understanding of goals and appropriate allocation of responsibilities. It means fewer update meetings, check-ins and laundry lists of concerns; fewer resentful rebriefs, irritable texts and anxious conference calls. Trust is both efficient and effective. Trust saves you money.

Of course, some Clients may contend that they have to take more active control of the process because they can no longer trust their Agency to deliver without proper supervision. But if you can’t trust your Agency, you should probably find a new one

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