What Do Production Companies Do?

November 30, 2016 /

By Anonymous

A Director's View

They overvalue Directors.

 

I've worked in every formulation of the commercials process. Been signed to a 'big' production company, signed to a 'small' company, and signed to nobody. I've had one producer for a long string of jobs, as well as various freelance and in-house producers hired by the project, and latterly producers employed direct by the agency.

It's this last experience that I think illustrates what a production company (and only a production company) does.

In my experience, agency in-house production companies are staffed by very genial people with no real idea what they're doing, working in an environment structurally designed to fuck up the
job.

The main reason for this is that the producer's role (even in the rare cases that they have significant production company experience) is to pass on diktats from higher up the agency, and bring in the job as cheaply as possible. The result is that £10 is saved here to cost £100 there, what money is spent goes in the wrong places, and the army marches in 20 directions at once. Meanwhile the field commander (in this case me) finds he has little or no control over his troops, and all his cannons have been replaced by cheaper inflatable versions without telling him because of some budget conversation he wasn't involved in.

Predictably, the biggest of all the many casualties littering the battlefield is the film itself.

Commercial Producing has an image and status problem within the industry, perhaps because if it's done well you hardly notice it. This is linked to a major misconception about how important
directors are.

You've got more chance of making a good film with a good producer and a bad director than the reverse, but the industry attitude doesn't seem to reflect that. Perhaps over the years, companies have deliberately overvalued their directors because they thought this was the only asset they had. It made sense to present them to the market as invaluable special snowflakes whose ideas emanate from an oracular source somewhere up an imagination mountain that mere mortals can't access.

The first problem with this is that it's bullshit. Great directors are pragmatists. In the 70s, an unknown director heard that a TV show was filming out in the desert near LA, and the unit were
coming up to a long break and due to be stuck in the wilderness with nothing to do. He quickly wrote a script, persuaded them all to come with him to shoot it in their downtime, and took the entire cast and crew wholesale from a TV show he had nothing to do with to make his first movie. The director was Steven Spielberg, the movie Duel. That to me is being a great filmmaker. Not coming up with wild ideas and treating who pays for them and how as someone else's problem.

Even if it were true that directors are the ‘real’ talent here, the second problem is that this may not be a resource production companies are able to monopolise much longer. Maybe in five years, maybe ten, but it seems to me that the days of directors being tied to a single production company are numbered. Not because any individual wants this to happen, but for simple economics. This will start with the lowest profile directors who need multiple avenues of income to pay the rent (this is already happening), and work its way up to the heavy hitters who can afford to strike inequitable deals with companies.

But it isn't true, and the most compelling argument is that almost all the best directors in the commercials world seem to have a longstanding and close relationship with one single producer. It could simply be that being successful, they can afford to stick with the same person, or it could be the other way around. Perhaps they're only successful because of that relationship?

Filmmaking, more than most creative processes (e.g. writing novels or music) actually benefits from the tension between money and ideas. Financial restrictions keep the storytelling efficient. If
anyone thinks having an unlimited budget and total artistic control makes the best films, they will might want to re-watch Waterworld or Heaven's Gate.

When an agency is allowed total control over a commercial, we all know that the film usually suffers. What we rarely admit is that the same is true of a director. Every year I watch the APA show, and it's interesting to see how many of the films were better in the shorter version I saw on TV than the two-minute director's cut with another five beautifully shot scenes repeating the same point.

A producer is the only person who can calibrate this tension, and only if they work directly for neither the agency nor the director, but with both of them.

In theory that doesn't mean producers have to come with a production company attached, but the fact that they do is not an accident.

Having a producer employed directly by the agency and answerable to them for their monthly wage (or indeed repeat business) encourages the wrong behaviour - not least short termism and a reluctance to give unpopular answers up the chain.

It discourages the thing that makes producers good - the cold-blooded assessment of risk, and the courage to take the risk if the reward justifies it. This can only be done effectively by someone whose judgement isn't clouded by whether their kids will get to stay in private school.

The only way around this structural problem would be for the agency to be enlightened enough to employ someone to come in at the very end of an often multi-year process, and then trust their opinion enough to listen to it even when it calls into question the result of that process, and costs them money into the bargain. Perhaps I'm being unfair, but this doesn't seem to be how large multinational companies (which almost all agencies either are or belong to) operate.

In large organisations, people with real decision-making clout drift further and further away from the people on the ground. This happens in every walk of life from politics to medicine to education, and production will be no exception. Almost uniquely, ad production currently has a 'bottom up' structure where significant power and trust is given to people at the coalface (the producer and director) who have only a tenuous long-term stake in the process.

This is a historical accident with several benefits:

Filmmaking as a process cannot tolerate mistakes. Time on set is too expensive. The white heat of this environment is a million miles away from the comparative stability of a job in an agency, which makes outsourcing to a production company the only way to guarantee the level of craft skill necessary to do the job properly. It also makes production companies better placed to sort the wheat from the chaff, producer wise.

To be a good producer you need a high level of constantly updated experience at an amazingly diverse number of things. For an agency to keep producers 'match fit' in this way they would need to shoot as often and as diversely as a good production company. Even for the biggest agency this has to be wishful thinking - one client may shoot only one ad a year. Another may shoot two a month but they will all be the same. Neither of those will develop good producers.

They say that good government needs a good opposition. Anyone at any agency who understands filmmaking (and there are many) knows that having somebody who can afford to give you an answer you don't like is a valuable asset, providing of course they have the creative and financial interests of the project at heart (and they do - producers are very well incentivised to bring the project in on budget).

Where this will end or how production companies can address it is above my pay grade, but I don't know what production companies can offer if it's not the skill of being the only people who know how to turn all this talking and all these meetings into an actual film.

In other words, producing as a skill of its own, independent of the director. There are companies who have this reputation already. They are the best placed for what may be coming down the tracks, but this doesn't excuse the general undervaluing of producers.

In movies, if a director or actor is successful enough he becomes a producer. It seems to me that commercial production companies inverted that hierarchy to make money, and they might have to start inverting it back.

Why Ad Production Needs to Find its FOCUS

November 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Clara Le explains why commercials production companies should head to Islington next week.

You may think the industry has enough conferences and shows for all its many facets but Clara Le, Commercial Director of The Location Guide, has noticed a gap. “All the shows have their own perspectives on the industry, but nobody talks about pre-production,” she says.

That is until The Location Guide launched FOCUS last year – ‘the meeting place for international production,’ as they describe it. And this year they will be back at Islington’s Business Design Centre on 6th and 7th December to make sure pre-production gets the attention it deserves. Clara is always evangelising about how key this is. “I keep telling people the most important part of the production is definitely the pre-production,” she says. “Getting everything lined up – where to shoot, who to shoot with, which incentives you can connect with etc.” With over 150 exhibitors from over 40 countries – service companies, national film commissions, hotels and the like – production professionals will be able to find answers to all of these questions.

FOCUS’s description of itself as ‘the meeting place for international production’ is telling. It’s not specific to any particular silo of production for a reason, despite the fact that commercials, TV and film production companies tend to inhabit different circles. Clara is keen for the commercials production world to mix with the worlds of TV and film. She thinks it would do them good. “Most production companies cross over,” she points out. “They do online video for brands, commercials and sometimes TV. I’ve met people who say they’d like to get into TV and film but don’t know how to do it, how to access filming incentives and find co-production partners.”

The idea of visiting suppliers and potential partners at an exhibition centre isn’t what advertising production is used to, whereas film markets at festivals have made it second nature to their big-screen counterparts. “The film and TV industries will actively keep up to date with filming incentives, who can supply the best services and how co-production treaties work in different countries,” says Clara. “Commercials production isn’t used to that. It’s a different mindset.” That’s something FOCUS hopes to change.

It’s only the second year for the event, but The Location Guide hope for the show to become part of the ad industry’s calendar. Positioned at the beginning of December, Clara realises it has to be a fun event as well as an informative one. “It’s Christmas. Everybody likes to go out for a drink, so we’ve created free bars, there are lots of happy hours during the day, lots of countries have their own drinks receptions happening at their booths. We’re hosting a party with the APA. We’re also doing a big drinks reception on Tuesday night.”

Building on the successful content they put on last year, there will be many more seminars and panels this year, on subjects including green production, shooting on low budgets in London and how to work with China. Jason Stone of David Reviews will be hosting a special Craftworks session packed full of content and I’ll be hosting a panel called The Phenomenon of the Christmas Commercial with some of the people behind our favourite festive spots.

In response to feedback, the show is also much more UK focused this year. “In light of Brexit we wanted to sell the UK,” says Clara. “We’ve got all these people coming to London. We want to show that we’re really proud to be based here.” With all ten UK film offices attending the show, it’s a great chance to remind ourselves how world-leading British production is and will continue to be, despite the result of the EU referendum.

So why should production companies take the time to go all the way up to Islington (the horror!) to this free conference? “Production companies need to keep evolving to keep up with the market,” says Clara. “And the only way to do that is to mix with people and ideas from outside of your industry. You’ll learn a lot from other people and from the seminars. There are drinks as well. It’s a social event. You’ll learn new things, network, hang out with your peers and meet new people too.”

 


FOCUS is completely free to attend. Register here for access to the whole FOCUS programme.

Mr Gammon: Master Craftsman

November 21, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Insight into one of the many specialists it takes to make a good ad.

Photograph by Jonathan Daniel Pryce  ©JDPryce

 

One of the most striking things about filmmaking in advertising is the vast armies assembled of specialists in many different skills that each shoot musters. There are a hundred different crafts in the industry. One of the great things about the British Arrows CRAFT awards is that these craftspeople are celebrated where other awards might pass them by.

Mr Gammon is one such craftsman. One of the industry’s best costume designers, he won the award for Best Costume / Wardrobe in 2014 for his incredible work on the Guinness Sappeurs ad. With this year’s CRAFT winners being announced this Wednesday night, we chatted to Mr Gammon to work out what sort of person it takes to win such an accolade.

 

 

The Beak Street Bugle: How would you describe your craft to a member of the public?
Mr Gammon: 
There are many heads to the beast of being a costume designer in commercials. One of them is the political liaison between agency, client and director. You’re an extension of the director as well as being his or her ambassador, as well as setting a tone for the actors when they’re first cast on the job.

When people know that you’re a costume designer, often when it’s a detergent commercial and it’s a mum and dad in jeans and T-shirts, they would often think ‘what did you actually do?’ But the beauty of a good costume designer is to look like you were never there at all.

Often it’s not a case of going out and buying a bunch of stuff, but seeing who they’ve cast as an actor and thinking about who the characters are. The great thing for me is that there are so many different kinds of scripts. You could be doing science fiction, a horde of Vikings or even a horde of zombies. Often it’s about working to budget, facilitating so it goes how the agency and production company want it to go. And you’re trying to push it as much as possible. There’s a great craft to all of that.

 

BSB: What sort of person makes a good costume designer?
MG:
Someone who’s got the patience of a saint, who can wear his hat at a jaunty angle and has a wry or dry sense of humour. If you’re doing a job with a cast of thousands you need to be able to push people in the right direction.

For example I did a Bond job for Tom Kuntz in Croatia where I had to motivate my local Croatian costume department. We had about 400 in the cast. A lot of them had never done a commercial before and I was trying to make it look chic and Italian with bright colours and make sure the costumes reflected Lake Como and the locations we wanted it to look like. So I’m there on crowd days trying to motivate my team at three in the morning, trying to get everyone ready for six in the morning, trying to wrangle people whose English might not be very good. Then once you’ve done all of that you have to go off to agency and client and make sure they’re happy, do a bit of finessing if you need to, to try and get it nailed.

 

BSB: Whose craftsmanship do you most admire?
MG:
I could list an entire crew. Or I could list the craftsmen, model makers, tailors and machinists I work with who carve my drawings into the work I’m known for. But what I do admire is the craft of cinematographers like Martin Ruhe, Tim Maurice Jones, Stephen Keith-Roach. Artists all, capturing light and filming our work to look the best it possibly can.

If you look at someone like Dave Lee, production designer. He’s the master of massive sets and props, creating the worlds that I can plonk my costumes in. I love the synergy of working with a brilliant production designer.

It’s the other people that you work with that make the work so beautiful. There’s no point in my costumes looking good if the lighting’s shit.

 

BSB: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this year?
MG:
I worked on a drama for ITV called Dark Heart. The brilliant thing about that was that not only do I help fill the content that goes between the dramas, I’m now helping create the dramas themselves. It’s like working on both sides of the coin. That was a marvellous job to work on. It was great to prove to people who don’t work in commercials that the vision could extend to two hours. As much as I love science fiction and Vikings and period costume, it’s also nice to prove that I can do red carpet and look after big celebrities and deal with the politics of that as well.

I also did hordes of zombies for Tom Kuntz and eBay. That was part of a 15-year relationship I’ve had with Tom for some of the most wonderful jobs that I’ve worked on. I really enjoyed doing that.

 

BSB: What are your goals for 2017?
MG:
When I’m truly happy is when you give me a cast of thousands with a difficult agency and difficult client. I always look forward to those challenges.

I’d love to do more science fiction. It’s always been a personal passion of mine. When I was a kid the stuff I was inspired by got me into costume and fashion. The idea of something that was otherworldly but would still be wearable today. And coming up with something where you’re taking something from one era and putting it together with something else, surfing on the waves of time travel.

I love designing stuff that’s three dimensional. Give me a brief to design a fighting astronaut. More of that is what I’d love to see next year.

 

Check out Mr Gammon's work on his website or have a look at his Instagram feed.

Signed: Tobias Perse

November 20, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Once Hunter S. Thompson's editor, now a commercials director.

Growing up, Tobias Perse was always moving around America, ever the new kid at school. With a travelling newspaper journalist for a mother, he was also always wordy. His nose was constantly in a book – training that paid off when he beat his Grandma at Scrabble for the first time aged 11. Quite a feat considering she was ranked Third Place Amateur Regional Scrabble Champion in the women’s over-60 category.

After a few brushes with authorities, a few more moves and a lot more reading, sort-of grown-up Tobias landed in New York City, where he felt truly at home for the first time. A few unglamorous jobs later he ended up writing for Rolling Stone alongside some of the most notable wordsmiths in the world, including Hunter S. Thompson, who he ended up editing for – not as enviable a position as it may look on paper.

But while his career as a journalist was burgeoning, he couldn’t shake the grip of his love for movies, and always wondered what it would be like to make one. So he took a step towards that world, first going freelance and writing for TV, then dabbling in editing, corporate films, screenplays. Eventually he tried directing, first on a documentary which failed and then on one which went to Sundance and won awards.

Since then he’s been making TVCs and online films, and not badly either. Now he’s got himself onto Nice Shirt Films’ roster. We think what he does there will be worth your attention.

Watch some of his work here:

Unsigned: The Porsche Award 2016

November 18, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

The best student-made spec ads of the year.

Last night London celebrated some of the brightest directing talents about to enter our industry. Brought to you by Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, the National Film and Television School and Porsche AG, the 2016 Porsche International Student Advertising Film Award showcased the best in emerging advertising directors from around the world. The winning films were selected from hundreds of entries by this year’s jury, Oscar-winning British director Sir Alan Parker CBE, Katie Keith (Rattling Stick), Patrick Cahill (adam&eveDDB), Lyndy Stout (1.4) and Olivia Atkins (shots).

Established in 2004 by the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg with Porsche AG as the main sponsor, this is the first time the award has come to London, where NFTS is based. The timing is interesting for NFTS, as this year they launched their new Diploma in Directing Commercials and Promos.

Entries were divided into two categories – Automobile (because Porsche is the main sponsor) and the Classical category for everything else. They were all speculative commercials made purely for practice and to demonstrate talent, but the quality on display was impressive.

First, second and third prizes were awarded to winners in each category last night.

Here are all the winning and shortlisted films:

CLASSICAL CATEGORY

First Prize

Title: Kill The Noise
Brand: Ohropax
Director: Christian Schilling
School: Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg
Country: Germany

 

Second Prize

Title: Dear Brother
Brand: Johnnie Walker
Directors: Dorian Lebherz, Daniel Titz
School: Filmakademie Baden Wuerttemberg
Country: Germany

 

Third Prize

Title: How New York Eats
Brand: Seamless
Director: Germain Gulick
School: New York University
Country: USA

 

Shortlisted

Title: Moonjourney
Brand: Prospects for Young Refugees
Director: Chiara Grabmayr
School: University of Television and Film Munich
Country: Germany

 

Shortlisted

Title: Limits Like Fears
Brand: Jordan
Director: John Ryan Johnson
School: New York University
Country: USA

 

 

AUTOMOBILE CATEGORY

First Prize

Title: Hungry for History
Brand: Mercedes-Benz
Director: Florian Greth
School: Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg
Country: Germany

 

Second Prize

Title: The Light
Brand: BMW
Director: Minh Doung
School: University of Television and Film Munich
Country: Germany

 

Third Prize

Title: Integration
Brand: Opel
Director: David Helmut
School: Macromedia University Munich
Country: Germany

 

Shortlisted

Title: Cardboard Dreams
Brand: Ferrari
Director: Spencer Young
School: National Film and Television School
Country: United Kingdom

 

Shortlisted

Title: The Mission
Brand: Volkswagen
Director: Alexander Blome
School: University of Applied Science Karlsruhe
Country: Germany

SPARKing Conversation (and Hopefully More)

November 16, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Could CHI&Partners’ new recruitment scheme help create advertising diversity?

Every advertising conference for the last two or three years seems to have featured some discussion on diversity. Like so many industries, and shamefully more so than many, Adland has done poorly to welcome enough women and people from minority ethnic or underprivileged backgrounds into its ranks. Finally the agencies are starting to take tangible steps to remedy this though, and CHI&Partners’ new initiative is one that might help.

About a month ago they announced their new entry-level recruitment scheme, SPARK – appealing to ambitious people from all backgrounds to apply to come and work at the agency.

From school-leavers and young people with vocational as well as university training, to those moving into advertising from other industries, SPARK aims to attract diverse new talent to the agency – building on its skillsets and culture, and bringing new experience and thinking to its creative output.

The agency has stripped requests for CVs and photos from its application process. Instead, applicants are simply asked to answer four creative and strategic questions before coming to meet the team in November. A number of candidates will then be selected to begin working with CHI&Partners in January 2017, with another intake following in September 2017.

Applications were open last month. The selection process is underway and by 12th December successful candidates will be awarded places.

We asked Chief Executive and Partner Sarah Golding about the impact she hopes the scheme will make.

The Beak Street Bugle: Why did you decide to start SPARK?
Sarah Golding:
Not to be glib, but the world is changing. All ad agencies have traditionally hired graduates at entry level, but we’ve recently found – and you read about it in the news – that more and more bright young people are turning away from university, so only hiring graduates is limiting our talent pool in a way that maybe it didn’t 20 years ago. Bright minds can exist anywhere. We want the most creative and ambitious people out there in our industry, and in particular in our agency, regardless of their education or background.

It’s quite interesting when I think about my daughter. I did go to university and I never would have dreamed of not going. It was my way of getting out of Blackburn. I went to a really good university and I’m sure I got a great job because of that. But if I think about Florence today, who’s six, I’m not sure that she will have a better future if she goes to a great university. The world has moved on. It’s important that the advertising industry continues to attract the best creative talent that there is out there. That’s what I want this programme to ensure.

Also, we wanted to do our bit to promote diversity in the industry. You’ll probably have read that the IPA has set various targets – 40% of senior roles in agencies to be filled by women in 2020, and 15% of all roles to be filled by people from BAME backgrounds. I sit on the IPA council so of course I signed the agency up for that. But I wanted to do more as an agency, which is why we’ve removed photos and CVs from the SPARK application process.

If you’re going to continue to be relevant to a client as an agency you need to represent all aspects of society. And how can you be sure that you do get all those aspects of society if it’s not reflected in the agency? Our clients are selling to modern Britain so it’s essential that the agency is made up of modern Britain.


BSB: What have been the biggest obstacles to promoting that diversity in the industry?
SG:
There have been a few things. One is awareness. Everyone knows what a doctor does or what a teacher does, but working in an ad agency isn’t an obvious career for anyone growing up. My parents do not understand what I do at all. I think often unless you actually know someone in an agency it’s not a career that would cross your mind.

Access to work experience is another. Work experience is a great route into the industry, but only a very select section of the population can afford to work for free, which is what is expected too often. If you don’t have parental support it’s not a realistic option.

There’s always been that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ I’m afraid to say. And I’m not saying that is unique to advertising by any means. But how many times have I been asked to interview a friend of a friend or a client’s son or daughter? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Therefore it’s not a surprise that we end up with an industry full of people from similar backgrounds.

Advertising leaders in agencies today are a very similar bunch, who come from similar backgrounds, who have followed a very similar educational path. I hope that if other agencies embrace our vision of diversity then the leaders of the future will be a properly diverse set of people, bringing different life experiences to the table. And that will help keep the industry fresh and relevant.


BSB: What have you done to make sure a diverse set of people is made aware of SPARK in the first place?
SG:
We’re communicating SPARK on all of our social platforms but we’re also reaching out more directly. For example we’re working with the Prince’s Trust to actively communicate the scheme to their database of young people. We’ve also been reaching out to colleges in traditionally underprivileged areas.

We had an open evening before the launch and it had only been out on our social channels for about a week and the agency was full of people. It was interesting how diverse a group that was, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also age. We had some people who hadn’t gone to university, who were still teenaged, some who were university or college age and some who had been working for ten years but had always wanted to get into this industry.

The recruitment process has become very lazy. People haven’t got time. It’s cyclical. It’s gets to that time of year and companies roll out the old recruitment programme. And some of them haven’t changed in decades.

Part of this is also about helping us to up-skill for the future. I think all agencies need to up-skill in areas where they haven’t historically been strong – tech, data analytics; we all need to embrace channel-agnostic creativity and collaborative work. This also enables that because it’s allowing you to fish in new talent ponds.

 

BSB: What can successful candidates expect?
SG:
We make sure everyone here learns on the job. So whatever department you’re in, you’re client facing almost from the get-go. We’ll put them into a pretty extensive training programme, which we pull together here across our group of agencies. It will also include enrolment in the IPA Foundation Certificate. Everyone will have a mentor in the agency for career development, but also a more informal body to support their transition into what could be their first full-time job, or just their transition into advertising from, potentially, another industry.

BSB: What do you think about positive discrimination or quota systems to push the diversity figures up?
SG: There are agencies or businesses that have historically been male dominated. I’m a female Chief Executive of a top agency. My board of partners is 50/50 male and female. I’ve got a creative department that’s got as many women in as it’s got men, so I don’t feel that I have to positively discriminate. However, I totally understand why people are doing that because you create a richer agency culture with both genders, diverse backgrounds, diverse skillsets. That makes for a more valuable creative culture. I want the best for the job, but I’m lucky because I’m in a pretty well balanced agency from a male-female perspective. I don’t think currently we’re a well balanced agency from a background perspective, hence the SPARK initiative.

At the end of the day I want this industry and my agency to get their share of the best creative talent out there and in order to do that you have to look everywhere.

The Art of Matching Music to Christmas Campaigns

November 15, 2016 / Features

By Jess Nicks

How to find the perfect soundtrack to your brand’s expensive end-of-year blowout.

The highly anticipated John Lewis Christmas advert has sprung onto our screens bringing with it a sigh of relief (from me anyway!). 2016 has definitely not been the year to end with an overly cozy, sentimental ode to all that is right with the world. John Lewis have cleverly anticipated the mood of the nation and woven this into the style of their ad, and indeed, their choice of music. Using their tried-and-tested method of covering songs with relevant female vocals, the clever folks at adam&eveDDB have also added some comedy into the mix.

Director Dougal Wilson’s work for John Lewis and adam&eveDDB has set the benchmark by combining great storytelling with emotive music, and this year’s £7 million John Lewis campaign is no different.

The advert features an uplifting version of Randy Crawford’s 1980 hit One Day I’ll Fly Away.  Recorded by up-and-coming electronica trio Vaults, along with a 66-piece orchestra, it features the soaring vocals of singer Blythe Pepino. Vaults, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, are an exceptionally brilliant band who featured in the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. This cover sees Pepino’s voice really take on the wings of the lyrics. With minimal production and instrumentation the words really embed themselves in your brain.

Recent years have seen a widespread use of female vocalists performing cover versions, usually of songs by male-fronted rock bands. It’s a formula John Lewis has largely stuck with since 2009 when it used a cover of Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child of Mine, sung by Swedish singer songwriter Victoria Bergsman, aka Taken By Trees. Soft female vocals work well for Christmas ads as they lend an intimate feel to a story and help to build an emotional connection between the brand and consumer.

A key early consideration when exploring the use of music in a Christmas campaign is deciding whether to go ‘on trend’ or ‘on brand’.

Creatives need to choose whether to jump on the latest bandwagon or stick with what the brand is known for. For those deciding to follow a trend, it has to be done brilliantly, otherwise there is a danger the ad will appear derivative and blend into the background of a blizzard of seasonal ads.

A growing number of brands and agencies are steering clear of the well-worn trend for mellifluous female vocalists and minimalist cover versions of poplar classics. Lo-Fang’s rendition of You’re The One That I Want for Chanel was so unexpected and hugely effective. More recently, Yves Saint Laurent’s Mon Paris ad heard Lee-La Baum from Montreal rockers The Damn Truth belt out a take on U2’s Love Is Blindness.

Among the retailers to take a very different approach to John Lewis in recent years is House of Fraser, which has used punchy soundtracks coupled with energetic creatives. Its Your Christmas, Your Rules campaign in 2015 harnessed a bold remake of Lesley Gore’s 1963 feminist anthem You Don’t Own Me, by Aussie teen star Grace Sewell. The campaign more than did its job, boosting the retailer’s sales during the Christmas period by 5.3% year-on-year.

There has also been a real shift away from traditional Christmas songs, with brands and agencies being more creative with the music they sync. Play it safe by using anything too traditional and festive and you’re in danger of your ad being forgotten among a sea of more attention-grabbing soundtracks.

At Audio Network, and our boutique bespoke music agency Workshop, we ensure music is the driving force behind campaigns for clients including BBC, Grey London, HBO, Disney and Lucky Generals.

A significant campaign we worked on was Mulberry’s APA award-winning campaign #WinChristmas, created by adam&eveDDB. Directed by Andy McLeod through Rattling Stick, the lighthearted advert plays on the competitive spirit stirred up within families when exchanging presents. A girl receives everything from a painting to a unicorn but it’s not until she opens a Mulberry bag that she’s really bowled over.

It’s an irreverent ad so we steered clear of traditional music and instead our composer David Tobin produced a really low key piece of cool, smooth jazz that perfectly complements the tongue-in-cheek feel of the ad.

For anyone like me, whose job it is to search for or commission the perfect sync for a campaign, getting involved early is vital. Music licensing companies have the creative experience needed to help brands with strategy from the offset and steer them away from an obvious or underwhelming choice of music. Starting early enables us to thoroughly explore the best ways of putting music to content, whether that’s recording tracks to brief or exploring unique cover versions.

As well as getting involved at the start of the process, clear and frequent communication between creatives, producers and sync teams is vitally important. Trying to interpret a description of music accurately is not always easy as it’s particularly subjective.

If the creative team is set on using their favourite song rather than the piece of music that befits the campaign, the results can often disappoint. It is important to keep an open mind and remain open to suggestions.
Music changes perception of a brand and those that consider the soundtrack of an ad with as much care and attention as the imagery will see results. A musical memory is unshakable, thus making it the most powerful element of all.

 

Jess Nicks is a Music Consultant at WorkshopAudio Network's in-house creative music agency.

Being A Client

November 14, 2016 / Features

By Phil Toms

What it's like to be 'the client', working on the less glamorous side of our world of creative adoration.

My name’s Phil and I’m a client.

There I’ve admitted it.

Being ‘the client’ has been a big part of my career and I’ve been fortunate to work on some pretty recognisable pieces of communications work with some brilliant agency partners delivering strong business results.

The latter part is the crux of what I’m there to do and it’s worth coughing this up front. I’ve never really sought the limelight, never cared much for awards but focussed my attention on being at the heart of delivering what I’ve been tasked to do and wherever possible trying to over-deliver.

The early days of my career saw my first interaction with the glamourous bright lights of London agency land with BMP DDB. I was working for the slightly less than glamorous Meat & Livestock Commission – a business charged with delivering increased consumption of British meat post BSE. I was privileged to learn the ropes with an agency at the top of their game, brilliant at planning as well as creatively driven by the legendary John Webster. Being coached how to work early on as a partner to an agency rather than a master / servant relationship was a key insight to how I’ve always approached whoever the retained agency is wherever I have landed.

Those early days as a young client working with incredibly smart people gave me a great inside track on how to get the best out of myself, the brief, the agency and ultimately the work. I looked, I listened, I got my hands dirty, I loved the creativity, I loved the chance to be doing something I enjoyed but best of all I loved seeing the work I was involved in making a commercial difference.

And that is where I suspect some clients differ.

I’ve always trusted my agencies to be the experts in what they deliver, irrespective of discipline. In many ways, being a marketing client is like being a conductor of an orchestra. My job if you follow that logic is to make the most tuneful piece of music I possibly can, getting the timing spot on but most importantly generating an impactful musical piece that is noticed and loved by the many. Marketing is actually inherently simple; you need to cut through and you need to persuade.

Sounds simple? Maybe. The truth of the matter is that in the world of marketing the communications element may only take up a limited portion of my time. I’ve typically been charged with all manner of objectives on my to-do list and I share this insight as a matter of fact. From responsibility for the brand P&L to the development of the brand strategy, from working with the sales team to master the sales forecast to working with the factory to ensure on-time delivery, from the development of new products to discontinuing underperforming brands, to evaluating brand performance to the return on investment of the current communication. You catch my drift. It’s pretty busy. And varied.

But what does this all mean? For me it’s about getting the best out of everybody’s talents to deliver the best possible results results.

I appreciate there is no hard and fast checklist for success but there are definitely a few things in my head that I’m always on the lookout for when I’m working with agencies.

Chemistry is key.

Finding partners who understand your business, brand and challenges is critical. Extra marks for those that are interested in current business performance. I’ve seen great client/agency relationships flourish because both parties have been truly transparent with each other – identifying what’s working, what’s not and seeking to consciously improve particularly with the latter.

 

I’m a massive fan of a great agency planner.

They can sprinkle stardust in a way others can’t. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing planners with brains the size of planets who have helped elevate the brief to a level where the creative teams sink their teeth into something game changing. Spending the time to craft the brief is key and I truly believe investing time and energy in the up-front strategic part of any brief response will ultimately pay dividends.

 

I promise to try and create an inspiring environment for briefing.

No PowerPoint in a faceless meeting room in suburbia if I can help it. I’ve briefed agencies in fields in Northamptonshire, factories in Hertfordshire and boozers in London. When briefing for the campaign that developed into Knitted by Nana’s, the brief took place in the Shreddies factory creating the opportunity for the creative team to observe every aspect of the process. Within 10 minutes of visiting, one of the team noted that ‘Shreddies look like they were being knitted’ and a creative platform that has grown and run successfully for multiple years was born.

 


I personally really appreciate direct access to the creative teams.

I know it can feel unnerving for agencies and suits in particular but honestly I think experienced clients really value the dialogue it creates. Instead of the ‘unveiling of the train station plaque’ creative sessions and the tumbleweed moments that I’ve seen happen, the most effective processes have allowed me and my teams to engage face to face. The value of tissue sessions where collective engagement allows for direct dialogue has kept work on track and most definitely helped manage internal expectations in my businesses.

 


Open-mindedness.

I’m on the lookout for work which makes me feel slightly uncomfortable (in a good way) as that likely indicates potential in market impact. I remember the first time I saw some new Bombardier work which literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It will sometimes take a leap of faith and bravery but I’m happy to champion work if I can see the commercial impact it may deliver.

 


Research should be a friend and not an enemy.

In my world, being able to demonstrate evidence of potential impact and effectiveness can help justify the investment decisions being made. I like agencies that really engage with insight. Internally there will always be scrutiny on big ticket investment and research is a massively powerful aid to helping secure internal support. I’ve seen research optimise work on so many occasions and those agencies that attend research, listen and act upon it to my mind have always been significantly more successful.


Trust.

At the end of the day I trust in my agency partners to work with the right experts in all disciplines to deliver the best possible work. From the director to the producer to the editor and beyond. For a period of time we’re all on the same team working against my business objective and creating an environment for success is key.

Working with incredibly talented people is a real pleasure and a real highlight for me as a client. I know it isn’t always easy but when work is really effective it benefits us all and that has got to be something we should all sign up to as clients, agencies, production houses and beyond.

 

Phil Toms is Director of the consultancy 47 Marketing. He has worked in marketing for nearly 20 years, most recently as the Marketing Director for Charles Wells brewery.