Content creation: Adding the magic

Content is crucial to the success of an event or campaign. Is now the time for AV companies to move from finding the best way to show the content to producing it too? Paul Milligan finds out what integrators need to succeed.

For years the expectation was that AV companies were solely employed by a client to find a way of showing content in the most visual impressive way possible. 

Certain industries, primarily visitor attractions and digital signage, have used specialist AV companies to help with content creation in some projects.  As we are being forever told, content is king, so is now the time for integrators and consultants to claim a greater stake of what could prove to be a very valuable extra revenue stream?

To begin with those interested in moving in to content creation need to decide on one of two approaches, do they take on the cost of hiring specialist staff to take on the whole project in-house or save on costs and farm some out to specialist companies or freelancers as and when you need them?

For some, like specialist visitor attractions integrator Sarner AV, it’s a combination of both as Ed Cookson, projects director describes, “We always create the content in-house because it’s so key to what we do, but it doesn’t mean we produce it all in-house.  If it’s a small job we’ll do it all in-house, and sometimes we outsource things like CGI work to a production house in London.” 

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Others like mclcreate, a live events agency born out of an AV rental company, works as a facilities house for some of its clients. Its creative director Jamie McAffer explains how it works, “We have a creative studio in-house but we will often make content on the client’s behalf, to their specifications and to their creative. Sometimes we will work with the end clients and come up with the creative ourselves.” 

Others, like digital agency Beaver Group are happy to take on the creation and subsequent management of the content.  “We will take on board all of the creative but slowly start to hand back elements of control to clients, like product control, so what they are changing is elements within a pre-defined system which doesn’t challenge what’s on the screen, but does allow them to influence the business function,” says Peter Critchley, the company’s managing director.

So for an integrator or consultant looking to move into content, just what sort of skills do you need to run a content creation department?  “You need graphic designers to help you realise the concept to begin with, you need creative people and strategists to help the client realise what they want to communicate and bring that to life.  You need motion graphics, and animators and film people,” says McAffer. 

Cookson feels its important to get people in-house who ‘live and breathe content’, so where does such staff? “From TV, or corporate content (car shows etc), because they understand content and the different ways you can do it.  It’s an approach we like, because it means we are not always trying to sell the same type of content.  Its really important we aren’t trying to shoehorn in a technology or a technique or style just because we have the resources to do it.”  

Critchley estimates it takes between six months and a year to get people to fully understand what this industry is about because they have come from other disciplines.  His team of 13 consists of art directors, motion graphics people, Scala script specialists, HTML designers, content coordinators, strategic planning people and account managers.  “To do this you are really talking about starting a creative agency, to do it at the standard a large brand will expect.”

If you are looking to move in to content creation for the first time what are the mistakes to avoid? “Don’t say to the client ‘its easy, just send me what you have and we’ll schedule it in the playlist’.  It’s not taking the content seriously enough and not engaging with the client enough,” says Critchley.  For Cookson there is a danger in becoming a one trick pony when it comes to providing clients with similar content from project to project.  “For any company, large or small, its always about finding that fine balance between not doing something so intensely that it becomes all you can do and getting a name for yourself within the industry for doing what you do.”

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Charging for content creation is where it gets tricky, unlike say hiring a 20k projector for three days, there is no real fixed price.  You can charge per day or per hour for your fees, but with many projects requiring multi-disciplines – animation, graphics, video etc – it can get complicated to price up.  Have those working in content creation found that clients place a high monetary value on content, or is it a small part of the overall budget? “Clients do place a high value on content, but you need to make sure its included in the budget along with the kit, with a provision of 20 or 30% of the total,” says Ammar Laskari, chairman and managing director of digital agency 2point0 Concepts. 

Cookson agrees that most clients understand the importance of content and are willing to pay for it, but finding a pricing model can be hard, “We are always trying to get away from ‘what is your cost per hour?’ to finding out what budget they have and what they want to do with it.  With hardware there is a fixed price, and very rarely will people haggle it, the fact is with a piece of content it can nearly always be done a little bit cheaper.  You have to be so careful you don’t end up cutting and cutting the budget to a point where you can’t actually deliver what the client is expecting.”  All of those we spoke to agreed there could be a lack of understand from the client end on just how much work was involved, with McAffer’s comment being typical.  “We have to educate the client on the process it takes to deliver content.  There is often art direction before it even gets to somebody to put it all together.  You have to come up with the idea, create those assets, then get it to a designer to make it all.  Getting a client to appreciate the process can be difficult, ‘my son is good at (Microsoft) Paint, so he could knock that out in two hours’’.

The new world of web broadcasting via the likes of YouTube is opening up a new world of opportunities for content providers, but as Ian Revens, director of integrator IMC points out, the choice of channel for the content will dictate your fee.  “There is an expectation that if you are creating content for broadcast you will pay a certain figure, which is quite high.  As soon as it goes down to media for the internet, like YouTube channels, the price drops.  I don’t know why because you are still creating to the same level of quality you would for broadcast, but there is the expectation that because it’s not broadcast you don’t pay that sort of money. For content for visitor attractions, the costs are being pushed further down still.”

Producing the content for some clients may not have huge monetary value, but it has other benefits, as McAffer explains.  “When you start talking creatively you generally tend to move further up the food chain.  As an AV company you would be dealing with event managers, as part of the events team, but as a creative you get in with comms and marketing directors, the C-Suite. You’ll find there are other budgets because you are selling good ideas, and you are talking to people who can find the money to pay for this stuff.”

With the rise of the internet as a viewing medium are we seeing content creation now including apps, web design and online portals? Are there opportunities here for the AV sector, or are those skills just too specialist right now? Laskari says 2point0 Concepts has got business in the last 18 months from large multinational integrators for online projects who didn’t have the right skills in-house.  Others aren’t convince we are that point yet, like Ian Revens.  “I think at this moment in time it is still quite a specialist skill. Because the iPad is in the public domain, everyone has access to high quality apps.  Subsequently the expectation if they will get an app of similar quality of you are creating it for them.”

Ultimately the world of content creation does offer a fantastic opportunity for AV companies, because as McAffer puts it ‘the creative is where you add the value.  He continues, “Its when you can sit down and talk with the client about what is is they ultimately want their audience to walk away from the experience with.  This is where you add value, because that is the magic you can’t add just be being a technician.”  

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