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Post Finds Upside to Downturn

by Steve Harvey. Detroit, MI--Contrary to what might be expected, U.S. automakers falling on hard times has had little effect on commercial post houses. The cloud over Detroit has a silver lining, and it's not just the government bailout.

by Steve Harvey.

Detroit, MI–Contrary to what might be expected, U.S. automakers falling on hard times has had little effect on commercial post houses. The cloud over Detroit has a silver lining, and it’s not just the government bailout.

Brian Yessian, executive creative director at Yessian Music, located in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit, notes that a decade ago the situation might have been worse. “Ten years ago probably 95 percent of our work was automotive. That was how most places in Detroit operated. Luckily, we had the foresight to diversify.”

Overall, business is good: “Our New York office has been beating expectations.” In Detroit, he says, there have been some unexpected surprises. “We’ve been finding new opportunities with the automakers. We’ve seen things move away from TV with more budgets earmarked for online and interactive work. It seems like they’re trying to maximize their dollars. We did a complete web launch for the 2010 Ford Mustang–all the music and sound design.”

Online advertising offers some advantages over TV: “They can really direct their marketing and be very specific as to who they send ads to, and who views the content. They can measure it very well, too, how many clicks they get, what the return is like.”

Yessian Music has even seen one area of business bounce back. “Before the bailout, we were doing very few auto show reveals for the North American shows. We usually do a ton of them. But now, companies, especially Chrysler and Toyota, are trying to show off their new technology. The fact that they could go bankrupt is no longer the big news, and now that they have the funding they really need to prove themselves. That also means they have to show the new products to the world and the media, and we’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of work with these reveals. We’re working on projects for Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Toyota and Lexus right now.”

Looking forward, Yessian says, “This first quarter seems just a little bit shaky with a new president coming in and all these changes happening. Some people are holding their breath and holding onto some of their ad dollars until they see what the first quarter brings.”

Executive producer Ann Haugen at Elias Arts, shortly before the bailout was announced, commented, “Detroit has been crappy for a while. We do Nissan, Infiniti, Audi. We did some holiday stuff last year, and they just used it again. A lot of clients are like that–can we reuse it and wait until January?”

The Santa Monica-based music house has a long history of working on Super Bowl spots and this year is no exception. But, she says, “Overall, things are slower across the board. They said in December we’d been in a recession for 12 months. I see it being another tough year next year. We’ve weathered the storms pretty well because we’re bigger and have great relationships, but we felt it. Another music company in town, Hum, laid off seven people.”

Tim West, a commercial mixer at POP Sound in Santa Monica, has been keeping busy, he says. “One of my biggest clients is Saturn, which I think is one of the more healthy GM brands, from what I know. But obviously everyone is nervous, because they’re the only viable brand, so they might be sold off.”
The summer was crazy with Saturn work, he reports. “And we saw a lot of GM in this room and other rooms in December. We’re not sure if that was everyone trying to blow their budgets before the end of the year.”

There may be less tightening of the audio budget because it’s such a small part of the overall cost of a commercial, West points out. “We’re lucky in a way because audio is the cheaper side of commercial production, compared to production and editing. And I’m not seeing any difference in people being careful with revisions–they’re doing the same amount.”

POP also has a diverse client base: “Half of our business is preparing DVDs for the home theater market. That’s consistent; there are so many titles. My room is 90 percent commercials, but we’re still doing voiceovers for things even when commercials slow down.”

Looking ahead, West says, “Certainly, I think this first quarter is going to be a bit slow.” But he does see one possible upside to the downturn: “We’ve got to be benefiting in some ways. People tend to stay in more and watch more TV because they can’t afford to do anything else. I think things have to get really bad for people to suspend their cable subscription and get rid of their TV. So, in theory, we should get an up-tick for a bit.”