Early this century, Sam Morton and ex-Byker Grove actor Caspar Berry spotted a gap in the market for high-quality, affordable corporate films.
"Traditionally, production companies of feature films would do it as a sideline, but they'd put on a horrendous mark-up and not really give it the care and attention it needed," says Mr Morton. "Not surprisingly, the service was unaffordable to many businesses, and those that did use it were often disappointed."
The men's background in working with local film companies - coupled with rapidly falling production costs, due to digital technology - led them to try to solve the problem. In 2002, they launched Twenty First Century Media, which has since won awards for its production of corporate films for training and promotional use. But the film industry is strongly associated with London, and they want to know how a small North-east firm can convince potential clients across the UK that its own cheaper costs do not entail a compromise on quality.
"Being lower in cost is often misinterpreted as meaning we can't be as good," explains Mr Morton. "That around 98 per cent of the 3,500 production firms in the UK are inside the M25 can also go against us in terms of perception, particularly among larger companies. Many think the media heartland of London must be the place to go for the kinds of services we offer, so they stick with the more expensive London agencies."
Its location is not the only reason that Twenty First Century Media is able to charge lower prices. "Instead of using freelancers, who cost £300 or so a day, we employ our own staff. We also bought our own digital equipment so that we don't have to outsource any editing."
Mr Morton argues that his clients actually get more for their money. "We have invested heavily in our people and our systems to make us stand out. In fact, we have systemised our entire production process, which ensures that everyone working for us is trained up to work in exactly the same way. This means the quality of our service never falls below a high standard, and it also keeps the client at the heart of the production process."
This is unusual for production companies, he says, because a lot of them disappear after the brief has been agreed, coming back only with the finished film. "We, on the other hand, involve clients all the way through, and as a result, they get exactly what they want. We have never had an unhappy customer."
Indeed, the company has grown quickly by word of mouth, as well as through its investment in marketing and PR. Recent clients include Nike and Nestlé. "They're over the moon with the quality they're getting, but we want to know how to convince other companies to go with a firm in the North-east. As it is, we still get a lot of people who raise an eyebrow when we say where we're based."
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Paul Gostick, International Chairman, The Chartered Institute of Marketing
"There is comfort in cost. Those who buy designer labels often do so because they struggle to make quality judgements for themselves and a high price tag reassures them they are making the right decision. The same strange logic often applies in corporate life: no one gets fired for buying the best professional services. There is a school of thought that associates high price with quality. But value is a better yardstick.
"In its marketing, Twenty First Century Media needs to highlight the cost benefits of working with a North-east firm. But it should not overemphasise this.
"Another comfort factor is choosing a company that has already been used by leading organisations. Client testimonials from the likes of Nike and Nestlé will go a long way towards bolstering Twenty First Century Media's reputation."
Jude Bell, Business Consultant, The Skillset Indie Business Development Scheme
"Regional companies face problems of perception that are hard to change after years of North/South indoctrination. Perception, though, can be influenced by experience. The reality is, your location is both a strength and a weakness - you need to work with both. Master client service, deliver against expectation, and use testimonials in creative ways to show evidence of delivery and spread of the client base.
"What does the customer need to know? Low-cost production can raise suspicions and reinforce perceptions, so change the emphasis to added-value factors such as customer management.
"It's about the 'spin' of information, and the client experience."
Brian Giles, Communications Director, Northern Rock
"We have shown over many years that being located in the North-east does not inhibit the delivery of consistent, high-level performance, or meeting the targets of growth and profitability.
"Twenty First Century Media should emphasise the virtue of being a low-cost provider. To help overcome perceptions of that being linked to inferior quality, it should try to differentiate itself by illustrating how a low-cost operator can use the available capital to invest continuously in product quality, innovation and customer service. Competitive pricing should perhaps be the target, based on a good-quality product, rather than simply being the cheapest.
"It is important to develop a clear logistics strategy, with a strong brand identity, targeted marketing and an effective distribution network in its key geographic areas. Demonstrable and consistent delivery will of course be vital in boosting its reputation."Reuse content