how we got here
For the past 25 years, Munni Trivedi and I have been involved in ‘creative outsourcing’ in various guises, says co-founder Mark Hannant. It’s taken several forms. Some were routine. Others ground-breaking. All required a level of innovation, either in the use of technology or business model, and clients with a mindset open to the possibilities.
We’ve been on a journey that’s taken us from business process outsourcing (BPO) through knowledge process outscoring (KPO), to finally land at creative process outsourcing (CPO). This is seen as a new and emerging category in the outsourcing world, but there’s sound precedent and some cool way markers along the path.
On The Job with the Met Police
When we were at Trident Communications, we had a team of writers, editors and designers holed up in New Scotland Yard. They were there to produce The Job, the in-house newsletter for the Metropolitan Police. It was an innovative model of outsourcing that insourced qualified journalists into the heart of London’s police force. The team were all security vetted. The prestige and access this gave meant we attracted some talented writers who’ve gone on to enjoy great subsequent success in journalism, TV, and other communications roles.
The mile high club
We did fun stuff at airports too. Reed Elsevier (Reed), publishers of Flight International (now Flight Global) contracted us to produce daily newspapers at the big international air shows in Orlando, Farnborough, Geneva, Paris, Dubai, and Singapore. A crack team of journalists, photographers, designers, and production staff, along with distribution teams, would arrive and set up shop at the end of the runway and deliver a live publication of up to 100 pages each day of the show. Visitors had copies of Flight Daily News delivered to their hotels, or picked up a copy as they entered the show. Later, we adapted the model and printed copies in the afternoon and used helicopters to fly in newspapers, so guests had a copy as they left the show. Flight Evening News delivered ‘tomorrow’s news today’. This was possible because our colleagues in Trident Photographic Services pioneered the use of digital cameras in what had till then been a chemical era.
Jim Muttram, then publisher at Flight International, was adamant that commercial relationships with advertisers and other paying customers were core for Reed, but content, design and production could be managed better when outsourced to specialist providers. We started to think of ‘production outsourcing’ as a category. Flight Global has since taken this model further and evolved from a publisher to a data business. A huge uplift in valuation validates that shift.
Follow the sun for Accenture
For Accenture, we built an outsourced content team that produced business stories for its internal news portal called Dialogue Online. We had writers in New York, London, Dubai, and Singapore all working with local communications champions and contributing to a pipeline of daily news. The world’s leading outsourcing business was outsourcing communications to us!
At the Engage Group, I led a team that integrated a mobile channel into the internal communications practice of the phone company, O2. Now it seems obvious, but we did it before the launch of the first smartphone. And we used Ning to build an internal community space that predated Facebook. Communications strategy sat inside O2 with Glenn Manoff and his team. Production support was managed externally by a team at London Bridge.
Winning ways in West London
Engage Group handled print and production of matchday publications for Chelsea Football Club. Those activities are not what football clubs do best. So, they find specialist partners.
Managing these operations from offices in New York, London and Dubai gave me an intimate understanding of the costs. They’re all expensive locations for production work. Munni and I started looking at other options. She bought print in Italy because it had oversupply and excellent quality for long run printing, so we could get better prices than West London (or Portsmouth or Caerphilly) without any compromise of quality. On some specifications, there was a clear quality improvement as well as cost saving. In those days, it was win-win for Chelsea, on and off the pitch.
An Indian adventure
We began to explore India as a sourcing destination. Convinced of the potential, we moved from London and set up business in Mumbai in 2009. The financial advantage of low-cost production was clear, but we had to work hard to build capability and quality assurance, so that the cost benefit wasn’t diluted by inefficiencies. We vetted partners and built quality processes. We knocked on a bunch of doors and found plenty of sceptics. But advocates, too. With the support of some forward-thinking and willing clients such as Chris Parsons at Radley Yeldar, Martin MacConnol at Wardour, and Tom Berry at the CFA Institute, we built scale in annual reporting and other types of publishing and event marketing. We added packaging and reprographics and found plenty of demand from agencies in Cincinnati who service P&G brands and like to use our teams in India for packaging roll outs.
Applying the same methodology, we added desk research, a staple of the KPO market.
Then film. Mumbai is home to the world’s biggest movie industry by volume. These days the production values of Bollywood directors are as high as those of their moviemaking cousins in California. No surprise to see so many Indian names in the post-production credits for Hollywood films. There’s a ton of world-class technicians and plenty of spare capacity, and we help our clients access it. They now work with some of the world’s best technicians at a fraction of the cost. Netflix has followed our lead and invested in its own post-production facility in Mumbai.
On any given day, we have a mix of digital publishing jobs running in Mumbai, animation work in Delhi, research in Bengaluru, and packaging adaptations in Pondicherry. Recently we brought on stream a brilliant production house in Guatemala for packing rollout. The time zone means it works well for our US clients. CFA Institute uses our Mumbai studio as a design hub for its global marketing needs. The same team has just completed the branding of the new Digital Data Design Institute at Harvard, led by creative lead Ritika Arya from Melbourne.
An industry transformed
Mindsets have shifted in the past quarter century. Outsourcing is now part of every business leader’s strategy, whether they’re running a multinational pharma company, an academic institution, or a boutique creative agency. Outsourcing delivers a multitude of productivity, quality, and cost benefits.
A growing trend was turbo-charged by the pandemic. Many businesses realised that if workers were remote anyway it didn’t matter if they were four or 4,500 miles away. As my friend Kalyan Bose says, “Geography is history”. Heads of departments looked again at their workflows and identified what they could do at bigger scale, more efficiently, and without added overheads.
The nature of outsourcing has changed too. What was deemed, even 10 years ago, a low value, cost-saving activity is now more strategic and designed to add value through agility, resilience, and scalability.
Technology has evolved. Outsourcing has become a key component of digital transformation. No one wants to own and maintain servers now, when we can rent space from AWS and buy software as a service (SaaS), and add or reduce licence numbers to meet demand. SaaS means we all have access to the same tools and work from shared platforms, and can use cloud computing and high-speed internet to manage our workflows. Blockchain lets you track a file and record exactly who’s touched it, and where and when. Virtual desktops give us access to files remotely, which reduces security risks and ticks GDPR compliances.
India’s place in the world has changed. Wage arbitrage remains a factor, but increasingly India also offers a ‘skills and scale advantage. Large numbers of highly numerate English-speaking young workers are available. Their work ethic is great. For companies facing technology talent shortages, India offers a great solution. The same model can be applied to creative process outsourcing. And, since young Indians are all consuming the same content via Amazon or Netflix as their contemporaries elsewhere, their production values and design aesthetics are on par.
Thumbs up from the GSA
The Global Sourcing Association recognised us as the Entrepreneurial Team of the Year in 2022. It’s quite an accolade. The award validates the instinct we had and the hard yards that have gone into making it a reality. There’s plenty more to do, but getting here has been a lot of fun.
If you’d like to know more about how you can integrate CPO services into your workflows, we’d love to hear from you.