Shouting from the Rooftops

October 30, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Jelly London take as much care with their own brand as their clients’, and the industry needs to take note.

Still taken from Karen Cheung's film for Oxford Sparks.

 

The internet is big. Really big. You just wont believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. So when you put something out on it, you can’t expect people to just stumble over it. As immense as that project you’re so proud of may have been for you and your colleagues, it’s no more than a drop in the vast, filthy ocean of the World Wide Web.

We all know this, but some production companies still aren’t pushing their work out there hard enough. Working with brands and ad agencies, they’re allegedly experts at creating marketing, but the sad truth is that many don’t put much effort into marketing themselves. If it’s lucky, a new piece of work will get posted to Facebook and Twitter and a generic press release will be sent round to every trade journalist in the address book. All bases covered, right? Well there’s a lot more companies can do when they start thinking of themselves as brands in their own right.

Thankfully, some people are getting it right. And one small illustration and animation company have absolutely nailed it. They’re called jelly London and I met their Head of Creative Communications Charlotte Mary Rose to find out how they work hard to put themselves out there and why they think it’s important.

Head of Creative Communications. That’s not a title you often see in a production company, but while jelly have other people to do the traditional marketing slog – running around to agencies and clients with reels, touching base with all the right people – Charlotte’s role is much more about making noise on various media channels and building the company’s brand.

Founder/Creative Director Charlie Sells explains why they decided to create this role. “As jelly is very focused on producing high-quality content for our clients, it is sometimes easy to forget that we are also a brand and need to be promoted as such.”

She’s right. There’s so much for production companies to think of that it’s easy to see how maintaining the brand can get pushed down the to-do list. When you’re pitching on the jobs that will put bread on the table and working hard to make said jobs as great as they can be, promoting the personality of your company online seems almost frivolous. But Charlie wanted to make sure at least one person at jelly kept this priority in mind.

“What was clear to us,” she says, “was that we needed a Head of Comms who understood our tone of voice, our creative vision and who could look after our talent’s unique selling points, as well as our own brand personality, through all the different channels (which still include print by the way).”

When I meet Charlotte I notice something refreshing. She’s interested in everything. Unlike so many sales and marketing people who only want to talk about the work their company’s doing, she wants to hear about the conference I went to the day before and what other articles I’m working on – goings on in the industry in general. This curiosity is what makes people good conversationalists. And good conversationalists are good at social media.

Social media is great for building a brand personality and jelly have embraced it wholeheartedly. In the Twitter followers competition, they’re ahead of some of even the most prominent, global companies. I asked why is it so important to them.

“We feel that even though we are a smaller company our character and creative work deserves to be shared and while we may not be purchasing media space in magazines and online, social media is a more direct alternative,” explains Charlotte. “And it’s actually a pleasure to share because we’ve got so much nice work and content being created, why should we not talk about it? It’s really a subtle sales tool and opportunity for getting more work.”

Let’s be honest, the British production industry is distinctly, well, British. A lot of people don’t like selling. We think it would be rude to boast, so we often just put our heads down and hope that the work will “speak for itself.” But these days it won’t. And Charlotte sees nothing pushy about promoting jelly. “My tone of voice is not salesy at all and it’s not meant to be either,” she says. “It’s more just taking pride in the work you do and the artists you represent. When you work in a creative job you should be proud.”

The challenge, as she sees it, is to package and present the craftsmanship behind the creative project in an engaging story. “It can be tricky to understand what is in an artist’s head sometimes,” she says. “Together we break down their concepts into an informative piece. What went wrong in a project often makes for a natural learning curve.”

Keeping a presence on all the many channels takes organisation, so Charlotte explains the detailed social media strategy she upholds.

Jelly aim to update their Facebook page at least two to three times a week, sharing interesting articles and news about what they’re doing. Pinterest is where they keep a portfolio of all the work their talent has produced, past and present, with a board dedicated to each illustrator on their roster. This is great for search engine optimisation, Charlotte notes, because it provides lots of external links back to their main website.

Twitter is the big one, really. That’s where jelly post quick, up-to-the-minute updates of their work. “It’s also a really good way to collaborate and engage with brands, festivals and competitions,” says Charlotte. “You can also be a bit cheekier there”. She shares one of her tricks with me. “I’ve met a lot of journalists who I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet through Twitter because whilst you can ignore an email, a twitter message publicly hangs out in cyber space waiting like a lost high five. It’s not very ‘social’ to ignore a message or compliment. In fact, it’s actually quite rude!”

On top of that, jelly have all the usual visual channels – Behance, Vimeo, YouTube, which are basically just places to put their work out there. They also publish a monthly newsletter for those who want a less frequent summary of events.

Lastly, they run two of their own blogs, one dedicated to illustration and typography and the other all about animation, on which Charlotte writes regular updates, interviews and articles. Interviewing people from outside the company, even when they have nothing to do with jelly, might seem illogical to a traditional PR brain, but Charlotte thinks it’s hugely useful. “We want to mindfully engage the right people,” she says, “but also [being] able to learn from them and their professional experiences and, in a roundabout way, to raise our own profile.”

Each channel needs to be treated and nurtured differently. But the channels themselves aren’t the key to building a production company’s brand. They’re just tools for getting the message out there. Charlotte stresses that you’ve got to find things to talk about and thankfully jelly make her job easy on that front because creative folk are so interested in the craft of illustration and animation. “Wherever there’s a project there’s a story behind it,” she says, “and that’s interesting and engaging to read.”

Another thing that Charlotte thinks about is tone of voice on all of these channels. She’s relieved that jelly is a relatively small company, because when the majority of content comes from her keyboard, the tone is clear and unmuddled. There’s no bureaucratic process of getting messages signed off; she just puts them out there.

Jelly’s Owner, Chris Page, is keen to stress his enthusiasm for this kind of marketing. “Social media is a constant, modern day brand-awareness campaign,” he says, “which is all about interaction, engagement and storytelling. The only difference is – jelly London’s story is actually more like an ongoing conversation between creatives, brands and ourselves.”

“The most important thing about social media is that it’s social,” adds Charlotte. “There’s a person behind the brand conversation. If it’s planned and scheduled it can’t be reactive or natural, in some circumstances it can just be plain awkward. I envisage it as someone strutting into a crowded art gallery and shouting to strangers about their latest spot on day-time telly –imagine the response.”

Charlotte thinks you should genuinely try to reply to everybody on social media, whether they’re a huge possible client or a freelance illustrator who is just starting out in life. Part of jelly’s brand persona is that being friendly is far more important than being cool. And it’s working for them. Start a conversation with them on Twitter today and see for yourself. They’re really lovely.

Weird Ad of the Month

October 22, 2013 / Humour

By The Beak Street Bugle

Thinking outside the box, creatives? The guys behind this have never even seen the box.

Well, you can't accuse it of being too obvious. We hope the people behind this were high on something when they came up with it, because if they weren't, we fear for their mental wellbeing. But, hey, we get the idea. This tea makes your tummy smaller and your boobs bigger, right? Of course, we all know tea can do that.

Unsigned: LAMAR+NIK

October 22, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A brace of skate video graduates with a true DIY ethic.

A surprising number of directors came up through the world of skate videos, so Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper’s background has probably put them in good stead. Growing up in Oklahoma filming their friends skateboarding helped them hone their craft before they moved onto music videos three years ago.

Since then they’ve taken on the moniker LAMAR+NIK and experimented with all sorts of clever handmade techniques, approaching relatively obscure bands themselves with fresh promo ideas. Their flick book-effect video for Samantha Crain earned them some attention that landed them a job for the legendary Pixies without even having to pitch and they’ve since done a second video for the psychedelic rockers.

Now they’re seeking representation and, with a story and a reel like that, we think it shouldn’t take too long.

Watch some of their work here:

Signed: Denis Parchow

October 10, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Kids often rebel against their parents, but growing up to be brilliant ad directors isn’t a common way to do this.

Be careful when denying your kids something – they’ll only want it even more. Mad Cow’s freshest director, Denis Parchow, is a prime example of this. Growing up as the son of two schoolteachers, he was forbidden from watching commercials on TV. Now he directs them.

After a short, perplexing stint working as a lumberjack, Denis headed to Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg to study commercial directing and turned lots of heads with the speculative commercials he made there, being shortlisted for a Young Director Award and nominated for Best New Director at the Shots Awards.

He’s clearly got a talent for comedy and, paired with the striking visuals he creates, he’s set up for a solid career directing ads that will entertain and delight.

Watch some of his work here:

Unsigned: Robert Hackett

October 9, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Another budding director that promises big things.

The National Film and Television School seems to churn out endless quantities of talented filmmakers. Robert Hackett graduated from there in 2011 and since then he’s directed some pretty interesting music videos, using some very distinctive visual ideas.

The London-based filmmaker’s shorts and videos have been screened at over 60 international film festivals, which sounds like a lot, and they’ve won awards for him all over the place.

Watch some of his work here:

High Five: October

October 3, 2013 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

The most exhilarating selection of the month’s best advertising you're likely to find on the web.

Good advertising should make you feel something. Having finished the process of selecting our best video advertising this month, we’re feeling exhausted. There were so many high-octane, dramatic commercials to get through and we think we’ve managed to help the best rise to the top.

Brand: Allianz
Title: School Run
Production Company: Moxie Pictures
Director: Keith McCarthy
Production Company Producer: Jess Ensor
Director of Photography: Nanu Segal
Ad Agency: Grey London
Agency Producer: Daisy Mellors
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Tim Hardy
Sound: Mike Palmer
Post Production Company: MPC

Allianz – School Run

When it comes to home truths, the whole “parenting is hard” thing has always been popular with ad agencies. Of course there’s a reason for that, but it does make it pretty hard to create something dazzling out of that idea. The people behind this ad decided to take the surrealist route, pushing a metaphor to its absolute limits and with Keith McCarthy helming they've nailed it. It’s come out as a cinematic drama that’s far enough from kitchen sink to make people sit up and watch.

Brand: European Parliament
Title: Act. React. Impact.
Production Company: Lovo/Stink
Director: Norman Bates
Agent: Bruno Dejonghe (Glue Management)
Ad Agency: Ogilvy Brussels
Creative Director: Sam De Win
Art Director: Ivan Moons
Copywriter: Stephen Walckiers
Agency Producer: Cynthia Pire

European Parliament – Act. React. Impact.

Advertising something as broad as the European Parliament is an odd brief. And quite a difficult one. This sort of imperative-laden copywriting has been overused lately and in some pretty bad commercials, too. But it works here. Despite having to appeal to people across a whole continent, the message is easy to grasp and it’s helped in no small part by the incredible imagery Norman Bates has put to it.

Brand: Guinness
Title: Basketball
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Noam Murro
Production Company Producer: Emily Skinner
Director of Photography: Simon Duggan
Ad Agency: BBDO New York
Creative Directors: David Lubars, Dan Lucey, Chris Beresford-Hill, Tom Kraemer
Agency Producer: Kevin Wilson
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Neil Smith

Guinness – Basketball

There’s nothing too fancy about this ad, which is lucky because Guinness have tried to get fancy in recent times and failed. Extolling the virtues of proper good human beings, it’s something we can all get behind and it goes some way to making that awkward “made of more” line make sense. In this brand’s long list of hits and misses, we’d definitely put this under the hit column.

Brand: St John Ambulance
Title: Save the Boy
Production Company: Blink
Director: Dougal Wilson
Production Company Producer: Ewen Brown
Director of Photography: Lasse Frank
Ad Agency: BBH
Creative Directors: Matt Doman, Ian Heartfield
Creatives: Alex Ball, Rob Ellis
Agency Producer: Natalie Parish
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editors: Paul Moth, Joe Guest
Sound Company: Factory
Post Production Company: MPC

St John Ambulance – Save the Boy

Following last year’s award magnet from Benito Montorio, this charity commercial uses the same shock tactics to great effect, reminding us that first aid is actually a lot more dramatic than it sounds. Run as both a TV ad and an educational interactive campaign, it drives the message home powerfully. Hopefully it will save lives.

Brand: Vodafone
Title: Add Power to Your Life
Production Company: Radical Media
Director: Sebastian Strasser
Production Company Producer: Susa Ehlers
Director of Photography: Joost van Gelder
Ad Agency: Jung von Matt
Creative Directors: Goetz Ulmer, Simon Hiebl
Art Director: Pavel Bondarenko
Copywriter: Heiner Twenhaefel
Agency Producer: Christoph Koehler
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Paul Hardcastle
Post Production Companies: MPC, Time Based Arts

Vodafone – Add Power to Your Life

There’s a lot going on here and if you just sit back and let the stunning visual effects wash over you it’s a rip-roaring ride. Mind you, it must have been fairly boring to shoot for the actor, having to interact with CG creatures and objects all the way through. Power is the message here and it’s rammed home suitably hard. And why not? Having access to all the knowledge in the world in a device that can fit in a skinny-fit jean pocket is a pretty powerful thing.

A Leap of Faith

October 1, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Lotfy Nathan has never made a commercial, or even a music video, but that didn’t stop Stink from signing him.

New directors usually have to churn out reams of music promos, short films and speculative commercials before they land themselves on a production company’s roster. Lotfy Nathan has managed to get himself signed off the back of the one and only piece of film he’s ever made. And not to just any production house – he’s now represented by the leviathan that is Stink.

It’s not everyday that such a prominent company puts their trust in someone on the basis of a single film. Intrigued, we spoke to Lotfy about his documentary, 12 O’Clock Boys, and how he feels about a future in making commercials.

The Beak Street Bugle: Where did the idea to make a film about a bike gang in Baltimore come from?

Lotfy Nathan: I’m a British citizen, actually. I was born in England and certainly not Baltimore, but I ended up there for art school in 2008 when I first started [the film]. I took a documentary course and thought it would be interesting subject matter to film these sort of bandits who you would see riding up and down the streets of Baltimore.

I thought that the effort of trying to film these guys could reveal something about the city of Baltimore – the divides there are – but they were really receptive to being filmed. I suddenly felt I was getting this dynamic action material that was exciting and quickly took precedent over the painting effort. It was a lot more rewarding. I felt there was a lot more expression in it, inherently.

BSB: Had you really not done any filmmaking before?

LN: Yes, to the extent that for the first year I was really messing up. Sometimes I would film the whole day on the wrong settings or there was some crap on the lens. But by the end of it I think I had a really good crash course not only in capturing moments but also in directing. I can’t imagine any other project [providing] that much of an evolution for me.

BSB: Why did you decide to make that shift from painting?

LN: It’s a number of things. The collaborative nature of filmmaking really appeals to me. The dialogue with an audience is much more far-reaching. It’s just a democratic process, compared to the art world. The main point is that you’re getting through to people, whereas the art world functions in this élite space. But I was still critiquing the film through the perspective of a painter, which I want to retain.

BSB: How did the film come together?

LN: It was a very organic, intuitive, almost accidental process of making a feature film. Whatever was going on I would find myself returning to Baltimore at least for the warmer months, going off the grid and shooting. 2010 was a big summer for filming and then 2011, 2012… each year I thought I was completely done.

BSB: And it eventually took four years…

LN: In retrospect, that time and progression was really important, For a documentary I think you need to tell stories of a character over time, to show how a person progresses. But I was impatient as hell. I wanted to get it done.

It was also important for me to capture the sensationalism of it. I wasn’t so much interested in making an issue-driven film because my initial interest was just the visceral, raw feel of the presence of the group and to capture that in the best way possible so we ended up using phantom cameras, getting this really mythical representation of the group and by the end it was the combination of that sensationalism and also a very heartfelt story and an intimate look at a young boy who was trying to join the group.

BSB: Your recent signing to Stink is pretty surprising considering you only have one film to your name.

LN: I couldn’t be more surprised by how these last few months have been, after the film had its festival premiere in March. The fact that people believe in the first project to such a degree is really exciting. I’m excited to do the next thing.

BSB: Had you previously given any thought to making commercials?

LN: I have. I would likely have started making commercials anyway. The short form thing – that you can get humour or emotion across so quickly – is really exciting. I think that commercials have always appealed to me and I’m into trying to get a broad reach with your work, so it makes sense. It’s kind of playing the game to do commercials and that’s exciting to me.

It’s something you’re going to be inundated by whether you like it or not. You grow up with commercials. I have commercials that I’m almost nostalgic about, growing up in England before I moved to the States when I was ten. Vienetta had a great one. Vitalite had a commercial that was sung to the tune of the Desmond Decker song The Israelites and instead of “The Israelites” they’d say “Vitalite”. I still remember that stuff.

I think it’s something to embrace. That’s why I’m so excited about this relationship with Stink. They obviously take it so seriously. It’s just a great platform.

The commercial side of things is a space I feel like I could really play with because of the lack of resources that I had with that first project. Commercials are short form, there are deadlines, there’s a turnaround, there are parameters and you usually get to experiment with a new concept or new resources. It couldn’t be more exciting.

BSB: How do you think you’ll cope with having to collaborate with more people (agencies, clients, bigger crews etc.)?

LN: Having worked with people from shooting to editing to post, all of that, and then also having to deal with the expectations of distributors or networks, I know my approach to directing. I realised that I really feed off the feedback of everybody around me.

I’m sure it is [difficult] at times, when you have to answer to the agency, who also have someone else to answer to. Everyone always has someone to answer to directly and the deadline is fast approaching and the stakes are high but that’s the way I know that I work best anyway.

BSB: And what about working with actors as opposed to real people?

LN: That’s a huge thing for me. I do think that ultimately it comes down to how you can relate to a person. It’s just going to be a learning process. I’m actually planning to take an acting course myself. Whatever I can do to learn to empathise with the actors. But I think it comes down to trust.

BSB: What sort of ads do you dream of working on?

LN: I think it’s such a case-by-case basis. I’m sure that inevitably my early work will resemble the film [12 O’Clock Boys] and kind of stem from that, but commercials that have a story to them and have a real unique setting. I wouldn’t really want to pigeonhole myself yet. It really depends on the project.

 

Stink will be screening 12 O'Clock Boys in London this week. If you get the chance, make sure you catch it.