Television Commercial Production Management

December 1, 2005

What the business of television commercial production management really demands from the advertiser is analogous to the skills required by the captain of an ocean liner. A crew of sailors, engineers and communications people must be directed, requiring from the captain at least some familiarity with everything from the workings of the engine room to navigation principles. The captain must be prepared to move into the milieu of the ballroom every evening, in situations demanding whole new sets of communications skills.

Similarly, the advertiser involved in television commercial production management must be prepared on as many different levels for as many contingencies. Looking back at the recently completed commercial that may be even now on the air, the advertiser would do well to assess the project's evolution. Successes for future assignments can be duplicated. Some failures may be avoided next time around. It's important to take time to see how and why the project evolved the way it did in the effort to see what makes an effective television commercial, and what lessons can be learned.

This concluding checklist is designed for the advertiser looking back. It can be used as the commercial evolves, and may provide clues at a future date for new commercial productions. The checklist focuses mainly on communications at every step along the way, involving assessment of whether all players - or sailors, to continue the seafaring metaphor - were in the same boat. It may illuminate how and why confusion occurred and how often it resulted in missed deadlines, cost overruns and wasted time.

The advertiser's sense of reasonable control is directly related to this communications effort; otherwise, commercial production may seem like steering a juggernaut on the wrong course. This checklist is also designed to help the advertiser in charge of commercial production ask the right questions along the way. From beginning to end, the success of the job has been the result of such effective communication and close observation. It depends somewhat on luck, more on experience, but mostly on resourcefulness.

The Management Process

  • The supervisor of production must have sufficient authority for approvals and major decision making.
  • Marketing objectives and creative concept must be clarified in detail.
  • Advertiser's brand people need to be clear on marketing objectives product positioning, consumer identity, selling message, etc.
  • Agency account and creative teams must be clear on creative concept.
  • Enough time should be allowed (three to four months recommended) for the development of marketing objectives and a creative concept.
  • Time/budget allocations have to be factored in for test commercial(s), if any.
  • Cost consultant/in-house expert need to be involved at storyboard stage.
  • Time scheduled (roughly thirteen weeks - three months) is recommended for commercial production, beginning with approval of the storyboard and concluding with the airing date.
  • Production should be completed on schedule and on budget.
  • The spot should be completed on schedule and on budget.

The Storyboard

  • Marketing requirements and creative strategy must be clearly reflected in storyboard.
  • Type of execution has to be in line with marketing requirements, creative strategy, and budget parameters, as defined.
  • No elements from the storyboards may be missing.
  • The number and estimated costs (production, residual) of all talent (principals and extras) pictured in storyboard must be clearly understood.
  • Variables connected with using children, animals and hand models are depicted in storyboard and clearly understood.
  • Location demands are clear, based on storyboard.
  • Adverse weather conditions need to be taken into account for outdoor location shoots.
  • Specialized executions are reflected in the storyboard.
  • The number of setups and scene changes have to be depicted in storyboard.
  • Special effects are detailed in storyboard.
  • The need for other special equipment, lighting, animation, etc. are detailed in storyboard
  • Product-in-use sequences (requiring separate filming) must be figured in storyboard.
  • Preliminary attention have to be given to sound and music tracks at storyboard stage.
  • Timed audio and video storyboards must be available.

Awarding the Bid

  • Internal estimates for production costs are prepared and analyzed.Clear understanding is garnered by agency and client of ramifications of firm versus cost-plus bids.
  • Clear and complete job specifications need to be written, including set/location requirements, talent/wardrobe requirements, etc.
  • Three (but not many more than three) directors and production companies should be invited to bid the job, with clear, well-defined job specifications given to each.
  • Sufficient time has to be allowed for companies to bid the job.
  • Costs detailed in bids from previous jobs must be on hand to use for comparison.
    * Bids need to be read against original job specifications.
    * Reasons must be clearly spelled out for special requests - for rigging, camera equipment, etc.
    * Significant omissions from the bids are to be addressed.
    * Number of pre-light days, crew size, crew days, crew travel, and per diem allowances all must be accurately specified in the bids.
    * Cost of props and wardrobe must be planned for in the bids. Cost of agency people (travel allowances/per diems) reflected should be in the bids.

The Director

  • Possesses clear understanding of the level of director needed for the production.
  • Should accumulate knowledge of agency's previous working relationship with that director and production company.
  • Information provided by the agency regarding director's and production company's abilities and qualifications.
  • Directors show reels screened.
  • Has spent sufficient time spent with the director before commercial production to familiarize him/her with marketing objectives/creative strategy.

Casting and Talent

  • Costs of both production-related and residual talent expenses and payments have to be clearly understood (pension and health, travel expenses, per diems, etc.), including those associated with using celebrity talent.
  • Casting objectives are set relevant to marketing strategy.
  • Casting specifications need to be established up front.
  • Strategies are used to work toward credible casting (imaginary histories of the players, detailed descriptions of their roles and relationships to each other, personality profiles or sketches, etc.).
  • Assessment of personality, voice, and delivery versus personality occur.
  • All auditions are taped.
  • Screen time allotted to each is character clearly understood, based on any test commercials created.

The Pre-Production Meeting

Agenda structured to include:

  • Sufficient time planned for the pre-production meeting.
  • Appropriate individuals present at pre-pro - top decision-makers, brand or product managers from client side, client's broadcast production manager, agency creative team (writer, art director, producer), account executive, production company producer, director, "specialists," etc.
  • Review of advertiser's marketing objectives/expectations.
  • Review of creative strategy.
  • Director's/production team's detailed evaluation of storyboard's execution.
  • Review of storyboard (discussion of camera angles, moves, equipment needed, etc.)
  • Advertiser's review of requirements for product handling, company policy, legal matters, etc., and review/finalization of logos or product packages or products themselves.
  • Review of color bases to see whether colors will reproduce on a home television set with final, color-corrected materials on hand.
  • Analysis of newly-proposed expenditures.
  • Review of results of commercial testing (if any) and screening of animatics.
  • Final discussion/approval of the copy.
  • Final discussion/decisions regarding casting, wardrobe hair, and makeup.
  • Discussion of progress on sets and locations (including set designs, snapshots of locations, color samples, and more) for the resolution of final questions.
  • Discussion regarding the sound, music, and special effects tracks (play rough track, voice-over samples, etc.)
  • Complete production schedule available for all attendees, prepared in advance by agency (including: final pre-pro at the studio for production team; necessary casting call-backs; final wardrobe fitting; location check; pre-lighting; travel, shoot, editing, post production, rough-cut approval dates; traffic schedule; and air date).

The Commercial Shoot

  • Initial meeting on the set held with agency producer; account team needs to be briefed on their meeting with the director.
  • The advertiser must be apprised of problems/last-minute changes that may have surfaced since the pre-production meeting.
  • Packaging/logo/other identifying elements of company's product should be double-checked.
  • Home economist needs to be on hand for food preparation/handling of product on camera.
  • Takes made are regularly reviewed with agency producer, director, account, and creative teams, etc.
  • Variations of scenes must be discussed as available options in the editing process.
  • Regular meetings should be held with agency producer; shooting agenda for the day adhered to; any overtime and attendant costs clearly understood.
  • Unexpected events/problems (malfunctions, action/choreography changes, etc.) accounted for.
  • Attention must be paid by advertiser to the delivery of key copy, to product's preparation/presentation, etc.


  • Orientation tour of post-production facilities needs to be arranged by agency producer.
  • Adequate time is planned for post-production process.
  • Objectives of the commercial are communicated to all parties involved in post-production.
  • Problem areas are communicated to post-production personnel.
  • Key decision-makers need to be on hand to prioritize their concerns for the agency during initial rough-cut screening.

Sound and Music Tracks

  • Objectives of sound track must clearly be understood during creative strategy sessions.
  • Sound track opportunities should be discussed at storyboard stage of production and accurately timed audio and video storyboards should be available.
  • "Demo" or audition tapes to be provided are are of on-screen talent or voiceover talent. Prerecorded (stock) materials are investigated.
  • Policies/legalities are investigated and understood regarding the use and/or ownership of music used in the commercial.

"An Advertiser's Guide to: Television Commercial Production Management 2nd ed." William T. Begina (Ed.). New York: ANA, 2005.