Some Lessons from Advertising Week Europe 2016

April 25, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Trying to draw some sense from the chaos of keynotes.

Trying and draw out any unifying themes from a conference as big as Advertising Week Europe is difficult. With six stages pumping out almost uninterrupted content over four days, no two ad nerds will come out at the end with the same insights.

I immersed myself in the festival last week, trying to absorb as much as I could, accepting that I missed vast more than I caught. Here are the nuggets of learning I managed to salvage from the storm of thought-leadership and buzzwords.

Diversity

I kicked off my week with the Wired Women session – a discussion of gender from a panel of some of the industry’s most successful women.

Cilla Snowball, Group Chairman and Group CEO of AMV BBDO had a problem with the "Where are the women in advertising?" message that’s been perpetuated over the years. She countered that to inspire women and girls to pursue careers in the industry the message should be "here are the women in advertising", providing role models to inspire coming generations of girls.

The consensus throughout the week seemed to emerge that the industry’s focus on diversity should start in schools and work all the way up to boardrooms and juries.

Quota systems were of course mentioned, and it was interesting that some former sceptics are coming round to the idea of imposing such guidelines to encourage progress on diversity faster than the current snail’s pace.

The Next Generation

The generation currently in their teens were a hot topic throughout the week, particularly with all its talk of Snapchat and other social platforms. In the Hunger Games-themed session From Dystopia to Utopia: How to Engage Generation K(atniss), Economist Noreena Hertz explained her research into people aged 14 to 21 - the next group demanding the attention of many brands.

Summarising her findings, she identified three forces that have shaped this generation:

  1. Growing up with smartphones
  2. Global economic downturn
  3. Existential threat of terrorism

She identified five traits that these forces have provoked in the generation:

  1. They are anxious about their future, which is not stable
  2. They are distrustful of institutions. Only 6 per cent trust corporations to do the right thing, where as around 60 per cent of adults do
  3. They take a lot of selfies but are not selfish. They are generous and compassionate, giving more of a proportion of their wealth to good causes than other generations
  4. Despite constant digital communication they are lonely and craving connection, particularly physical connection and off-screen moments
  5. They are makers, creators and inventors

Kate Burns of Buzzfeed mentioned a few of the insights they’d learned from the generation's online behaviour. Apparently they share content to affirm their identity much more, whereas older people tend to share online in order to show off.

When it comes to brands it’s clear that Generation K (or D, or whatever they end up being called) demand absolute authenticity. They know when brands’ claims are backed up by action and will not tolerate deception, but they appreciate honesty, such as Chipotle clearly labelling which of their products use GM ingredients while they transition to GM-free sources.

Ad Blocking

Ad blocking raised its head throughout the week, although the arguments on the subject are all getting very well rehearsed now. Firstly, the trend seems to make it clear that people find bad, intrusive and irrelevant ads annoying. Surprise surprise. But most speakers seemed keen to take this as an incentive to do better work and make sure it’s appropriately placed.

The other positive that may come of it is a reminder to consumers that quality content is never truly free. As some media outlets are pointing out, if you don’t want advertisers to pay for this content, maybe you’d like to consider paying for it yourself.

TV Advertising is Still not Dead

As if we needed reminding, practically every discussion of the many screens where advertising can now appear made sure to note that TV is still unrivalled in terms of building fame for brands. But the more prophetic speakers such as Tracey Follows of The Future Lab alluded to a future where all video will be equal, no matter which screen it appears on.

Creativity

Notable creatives like CP+B’s Dave Buonaguidi were honest enough to admit that creative advertising had been getting gradually worse for years. Dave suggested that agencies have begun to care too much about what their peers and award ceremonies think of the work, rather than the public they are advertising to. Not all advertising has to be transcendent, said Paul Feldwick – sometimes "good enough" will do the job.

Procurement’s drive towards efficiency was also bemoaned by various speakers, including Ogilvy's Rory Sutherland. Perhaps unsurprisingly several creatives defended creativity as something that shouldn't be commoditised. Rory compared expensive advertising to a peacock’s tail, which informs potential mates that he’s doing so well he can divert resources towards a big, purely decorative show.

Rory and Paul’s rambling session, You’re Not Paranoid, They Really Are Out To Get You was one of the most fruitful and entertaining I attended. The main focus was on the fact that nobody’s ever really discovered a formula or theory for creating good advertising. It’s often made on the basis of a gut feeling or hunch and then post-rationalised with various intellectual models in order to sell it to a client. Building on the idea that animals usually do a good job in advertising, Rory suggested “we can’t possibly charge a lot of money by saying ‘put a duck in it,’ but that would probably be good advice.”

Changing Clients’ Businesses

Bravery is a concept agencies love to throw around and Heide Cohu from Bacardi, formerly of Red Bull, did well to remind us of how brave Red Bull’s move to drop Felix Baumgartner from 130,000 feet was – an endeavour she was instrumental in. Diverting huge reserves of time and money into a project that dragged on for several years, with the potential of failing and ending in tragedy, was a massive risk for the brand, but it paid off and ultimately gained them a place in history that has yet to be surpassed by a brand.

There are many lessons to be learnt from that kind of marketing, but one that was stressed is the power of an agency working with a brand to change the way it does business.

Brexit

Naturally the EU referendum came up all over the place, but aside from Bernie Ecclestone’s bizarre ramblings about Vladimir Putin and immigrants, the majority of the industry seemed in general agreement that a remain vote would be better for business. If nothing else, it’s better the devil you know.

Virtual Reality

VR has proliferated to such a degree in advertising that I didn’t get to try all of the experiences on offer throughout the week. But what I did experience was tantalising, and demonstrated vast potential for storytelling, education and entertainment. The technology is not as clunky as it was recently and, while it still has a way to go, many companies have managed to do compelling things with it. Dismiss it as a passing gimmick at your peril.

Under the Influence: Smith & Foulkes

April 13, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The shared passions behind a winning creative partnership.

Ever since they started directing, Nexus duo Smith & Foulkes have been trying to work out why they do things the way they do; where their instinctive answers to each creative question come from. When we asked them to be part of this series they realised it’s tricky identifying your influences as a double act. When there are two of you it’s not a purely personal journey. But when they listed their individual inspirations they found that half are identical to each other’s and half wildly different. “That’s a pretty good average for any successful partnership,” they suggest. “It’s probably why we can still put up with each other.” Here’s a few that they could agree on.

 

Silent Comedy

Adam Foulkes: “Ever since watching Harold Lloyd hanging from a big clock on the side of a skyscraper in his opening titles I was hooked. The construction of the visual gags in Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films are fantastic. The choreography and structure is complex and sophisticated but feels effortless. There's also a real charm to it. In the current climate of ‘the story being king’ it’s great to watch character being fully explored.”

Alan Smith: “There is such an art to the choreography and comic timing of the action scenes that has never really been bettered. With no dialogue to tell the story every look and gesture is critical. We took a lot from the era of silent movies for our short This Way Up. It is really a simple character study where we examined the relationship between a father and son by putting them in ever more demanding situations. We liked the idea that they almost found themselves in a silent comedy because of their own self-imposed respect for the deceased and because of the breakdown in their ability to communicate with each other as father and son.

“We are always looking at choreography as an art form, although we’re more likely to be found watching 1970s ITV wrestling than hanging out at Sadler’s Wells. We love the instinctive interplay of great comedy double acts like Morecambe & Wise, the inventive staging of Busby Berkeley, or the unexpected patterns of human movement discovered in Koyaanisqatsi. A great example is the amazingly crafted REM Imitation of Life promo directed by Hammer & Tongs. A real ‘wish I’d done that’ moment.”

 

Hayao Miyazaki / Michael Dudok de Wit

Adam:
“I get a bit lost watching Miyazaki’s Spirited Away but it really doesn’t matter. It has a magical, surreal atmosphere to it that is completely engaging and unique to Miyakazi. It is also beautifully animated.

“Another animation director who gets mentioned a lot at S&F HQ is Michael Dudok De Wit. He manages to convey so much character and emotion with a beautiful, sparse style. It just goes to show that even with all the technology at your fingertips often simple is best.”

Alan: “Dudok de Wit creates the most evocative atmospheres from the simplest of settings. He captures the most powerful emotions from the merest of gestures. He allows you to appreciate what isn’t there as much as what is. And every time we refer to his work as we discuss a pitch with a client it is met with universal acclaim. Then we lose the job. The curse of Dudok de Wit! But we’ll keep trying…

“As fellow devotees of the dialogue-less cinematic tradition, we can’t wait for his feature The Red Turtle. The last time we saw an animated feature film so artfully portray the human condition in epically atmospheric landscapes was the first half of Wall-E. Second half… not so much.”

 

Abstract Expressionism vs The Simpsons

Adam: “At college we spent our days making experimental animation and our evenings talking about how great The Simpsons was. It wasn’t just the visual gags and wordplay that we loved but also the moments of real emotion, usually between Homer and Bart. We quickly realised that to actually engage an audience it helps to have characters you could root for and identify with, so we started to move away from doing solely abstract work.”

Alan: “When I was at college my tiny mind was blown wide open by the freeform visual riffing of film-makers like Robert Breer, Len Lye, Norman McLaren, and Oskar Fischinger. The limitations of graphic design and photography were left for dust as I watched these masters endlessly play with abstract patterns cut in perfect harmony with equally inventive scores. Who knew the choreography of shapes and colours could be so liberating? They also showed me how a Director could embrace a whole range of visual techniques, and how you could employ any or all of them to tell your story.

“But when I first met Adam it wasn’t these titans’ work that fired our collective imagination. It was the Simpsons. I guess at heart we just love a bit of silliness. But what was really great about it was how it evolved from a fairly hit-or-miss slapstick kids TV show into one of the greatest commentaries on the absurdities of modern life. I would spend a year making a visually elaborate film about the perils of gambling dependency then Homer comes along and sums up the whole debate with one killer line. And it was funny. It really taught us the importance of writing, character development and storyboarding to get our ideas across.”

 

Britishness (whatever that is)

Adam: “Martin Parr’s photography has always resonated with us, especially his curated Boring Postcards books, and we are endlessly fascinated by the idea of Britishness. Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive exhibition covered a vast selection of contemporary popular British culture, providing an opportunity for the whole community to have their work shown in an art gallery. Not only drawing and painting but pursuits and pastimes, everything from cheese rolling and gurning to pipe smoking and wrestling, all in one exhibition. A huge celebration of Britishness.”

Alan: “We might not know exactly what it is but we know it’s there, in practically everything we do.
Maybe because we’re a couple of small town boys from the deepest darkest provinces. It’s in the richness of our history and culture, the naffness of Crap Towns, the wonder and variety of our landscape, and the astute tomfoolery of the Pythons. Our characters and stories are somehow unconsciously imbued with the peculiarities of how us Brits do things and how we interact with the wider world.”

 

Small…..Far Away…..

Alan: “Not just a seminal Father Ted moment but more an enjoyment in the illogical disparity of scale. When I was a kid I always entered the ‘creating a miniature garden in a potting tray’ competition at the annual village fete. It was the highlight of the year, the one all the local kids desperately wanted to win (see above). Or maybe it was just me. Anyway, we didn’t have the Internet back then. One year I pulled out all the stops, water features, stepping stones, gazebo, it was a one foot by two foot Kew Gardens. I came third. But it was the start of an appreciation of the surreal comic potential of making big things small and small things big.


“This could be the visual spectacle of Busby Berkeley’s human typewriter. The architectural oddness of Oldenberg’s site specific sculptures. The historical tradition of giant hot dogs, enormous tomatoes and other American roadside attractions. The pompous majesty of the Spinal Tap tiny Stonehenge scene. Or the guy who rides his own backyard rollercoaster while precariously strapped into a car seat. It has provided many a fun visual solution in our work as we searched for a more inventive way to transition from scene to scene.”

In Defense of the Rep

April 6, 2016 / Features

By Andrew Swepson

Let's address some misconceptions about new business in production.

I like to see myself as a level-headed and reasonable kind of person. However, I can literally hear my friends and loved ones crashing to the floor as they pass out in fits of laughter at this news. It’s true to say that little surprises me, especially in this business. As my mother would say I get aerated at all the wrong things. However, sometimes I do get annoyed at things that I’m very passionate about. At these times I feel the need to shout very loudly or at least moan at the same mates who are now picking themselves up off the floor.

So, I should elaborate as to why I find myself writing this piece and attempting to raise awareness of a subject that vexes me. Not that long ago an article featured on The Beak Street Bugle presenting a very distinct view of the production company Rep. It had me ranting at my computer screen and reaching for my quill.

To set the scene the APA had gathered a panel, which included a number of agency people alongside independent PR and press writers. One of the topics up for discussion was how can production companies project their marketing message more efficiently and successfully in 2016.

It wasn’t the broadest of panels with most notably no representative from production being present. However, the questions posed were considered and deserved discussion.

Up for debate was the role of the Rep. Somewhat clichéd views of marauding Reps, harassing all with over zealous calls, were bantered about. Advice was offered, which was rather patronising and painted an outdated picture of the role.

I’m sure that the advice offered was done so with no malice intended. However, it dawned on me that this image was not one that I identified with or indeed applied to others that I knew. This image of the Rep was not helpful to the role itself or to those who employ such people.

I’ve always regarded the position as important. It holds a privileged position and it saddens me that it’s not held in the esteem that it could or should be. The role is an intrinsic part of the industry and always has been.

It wasn’t just me though who felt this way and it caused a similar reaction in many others. It was now clear that we needed to provoke a change in people’s perception for the better. It should be more reflective of today’s evolved New Business Associate in a changing media landscape.

For starters people have very distinct view of what characteristics Reps have and what their supposed methods are. I’ve been at this game for over 20 years and in that time I’ve met every possible variant. So, I’m well aware of the need to address the issues that face us.

I moved on some years ago from the purely sales arena. But I’m very proud of being trained as a sales person and have passed on my knowledge to many over the years. It’s on this basis that I want to re-affirm its important role and hopefully help to redefine it for the future.

The Beak Street Bugle has asked me to pose questions to a number of sales people relating to these issues. Those selected are individuals that I feel are amongst the best in the industry, pushing the boundaries and re-defining the image of the production New Business Representative.


Andrew Swepson: The very word Rep conjures up such a negative image. Do you think we need to change the name and if so what would be a suitable alternative?

Ali Lindsay, Dark Energy: Yes, I agree the connotations sometimes conjured up are not reflective of what we actually do as the role is so multifaceted. Personally for me it’s not about the need to change the job title, but the need to change people’s opinions of what experienced Reps / Heads of Sales / EPs / Heads of Talent (whatever you want to call us) actually can do for you.

Ellie Botwood, BOT Inc: I think people in the industry are always going to use the term “Rep”. I have never called myself a Director’s Representative because of these negative connotations, but it hasn’t made any difference. I don’t think it’s the name that is the issue. I think it’s the association that goes with it.

I can’t tell you how many agency people have said being a Rep must be so much fun and have no idea just what the job entails. It’s the production companies’ responsibility to hire people who understand what the nature of the job is about, and not that it’s one big party. God, if only!

 

Andrew: Is there still a job for the in-house Rep or do you think that the growing number of independent sales and press people is the way forward?

Pippa Bhatt, Madam: My experience shows that the widening yet shrinking market will offer a place for both. The independent new business person offers opportunities for those SMEs that are rapidly growing in our industry. The behemoths will remain and need the role just as much to satiate the need of the directors they employ and the overheads their shape and size creates. We can live together!

Ellie: London still has a long way to go adapting to this new model, which has been so successful in the US. First and foremost, it is much more cost effective to have part-time experienced reps that work across more than one client as opposed to a full-time in-house rep. However, as a freelancer you are much more “disposable” if you don’t deliver within a certain amount of time. And that’s just not realistic. The beauty of having an in-house rep is that they are an integral part of that company and work solely for you. The main issue I personally have with this type of model is managing client expectations in the time frame.

 

Andrew: How do you define yourself within your company and amongst your peers?

Ali: As someone that helps production companies to be relevant and competitive in today’s climate and who enables the growth of both individual directing talent and the company through creativity and established contacts.

 

Andrew: Agencies are very adept at telling us how to go about contacting them. However, as we all know those contacted rarely respond or engage with our emails, invitations or calls. How are you addressing this issue?

Pippa: I don’t cold call and I don’t take a lack of response as a no. I have a network that I call upon, who give me leads and names to follow up on. I feel very strongly that the offering has to be about the non-sell. Creating environments for my clients on agency and production company side to connect in a mutually interesting situation. I do believe in pillars and having all of them working – emails, calls, newsletters, website, social media, PR, opinion pieces, face-to-face meetings, events.

Ellie: By thinking outside of the box. Long gone are the days of lunches and even meetings are few and far between without being cancelled last minute. Some up-and-coming production companies are trying new and engaging ways to interact with agencies. I’ve always found that self-generated work or events does eventually lead to work. There is such strong competition in this oversaturated market, doing something original and different does make people stand up and take notice.

 

Andrew: Are we creating a problem for ourselves? With 202 production companies on FileFX all contacting the same people are we creating white noise with all our newsletters, emails, calls and meetings?

Pippa: Yes, and there really should be a better way. The difficulty for us is that agencies are time poor and highly risk averse and it’s because they are on high alert at losing clients with a huge shift in how clients engage them. Our biggest barrier is agencies using the same directors and companies over and over again. All advertising is looking the same.

 

Andrew: There has been a multitude of Agencies and indeed Post Houses creating their own production offering. How do you compete in this over populated market and remain at its forefront?

Ali: I think we’d be kidding ourselves to think we can put a stop to in-house agency production companies, and quite honestly on the flip side for us to say production companies can’t also offer creative services – which we’re being pulled into more frequently working with PR and brand design companies etc.

It is a free market after all, so I’m not sure we can tell agencies and post houses what they can and can’t do, just like we wouldn’t want them to tell us how to run our business. What will be will be I guess. Maybe we’ll all end up working in-house! Who knows, we might also get pensions!

So, on the whole I’d say in this current crazy market we need to be able to maximize any benefits we see fit from this scenario, even if this means loaning out on occasion…yes I said that. Because work generates work and I believe we need to utilise the possibilities for developing directors where necessary sometimes.

However, we do also need to be very mindful to not undersell our skilled production talent, knowledge and services at enforced cut-down prices and kill off production companies in the process.

It’s tricky and I’m not entirely sure where the middle ground is with this. But in a dog-eat-dog world I guess we’ll do what we need to do to provide a service and get work made and on screen, so long as it’s of creative benefit to a particular director and ultimately as “Reps” that’s still our call to say yes or no to.

 

Andrew: We’ve all met that clichéd sales person, who falsely thinks that attending every party and event defines their role. What advice would you give to your younger self, or indeed them, to change that rationale?

Pippa: Research, research, research. Knowledge is everything working in tandem with a spoonful of charm. Get to know your client and your client’s client. Get an amazing CRM tool in place and fill it out religiously!

Ali: I’d say have fun meeting people from all parts of the industry who you can learn from and enjoy extending your network as it can be one of the best things about the role getting to meet so many interesting and inspiring people.

However, beware of thinking you constantly need to be out and be seen at every industry event going. Pick and choose carefully and never feel the need to be part of a crowd. At those industry events more often than not it’s your individual ability to represent yourself, your company and your talent, think clearly and remain focused that will help you in the long run.

 

Andrew: In America ‘Reps’ earn a very good wage, are highly respected and seen as key links in the production process. The business model is different there of course, but what do you do to encourage a more positive view of your role in the UK to advertising agencies and peers?

Pippa: I try my very best to do my role with as much integrity and care as I can.


Andrew: What changes would you like to see to improve the image of the job role in the UK? Maybe we should be considered for the various judging juries (we have years of experience reading scripts that are then crafted into final films).

Pippa: Yes, I like this idea. Really we should be on the public floor much more often – in industry rags, invited as guests and speakers to industry events, celebrated in the same way as any other industry exec. If you’re connected, up-and-coming, an influencer then we should be on a stage. IPA Women of Tomorrow has the agencies covered and WACL. We need a bigger stage for us or for other stages to open up to us.

Andrew Swepson is a PR and Marketing Consultant who runs Menagerie PR.

Have Fun. That’s an Order.

March 31, 2016 / Features

By Tom Lee

Advertising student Tom Lee on what it takes to get through creative placements.

I’ve never been a fan of offices. Everything’s had its colour muted, dwelling on the white to grey scale. The office mugs are the only concession. I always opted for the gaudiest mug. I needed a splodge of lurid green, pink or purple less than two feet away at all times. I would jitter along the white to grey scale at varying degrees of caffeination.

Then I quit to become an ad student. Now I have thumbtacks and walls where my screen used to be. My Excel sheets were banished forever by fountains of crumpled paper and throwaway ideas. My instant coffee jitters gave way to Sharpie vapour head spins. Now my desk is in Costa.

But something else changed. Now that I’ve emerged from my secluded office corner everything I do passes under the dogged gaze of other people. For me as a yet-to-be-made spinster looking for my first bit of permanent desk space, every day is a pitch and I’m the product.

In my tour of self-promotion I’ve traipsed self-consciously with my packed lunch through every size of agency, blagged my way into boardrooms, agonised over live briefs and had my book dissected by creative directors.

And I’ve seen that the bogeymen of advertising are living, breathing realities.

The hours are famously long. I’ve worked harder this year than in my other 24 combined. Most days I’ll peel myself out of bed at six thirty and collapse into the same position around midnight. Ad dreams are also definitely a thing.

Criticism, though purposeful, is ubiquitous and persistent. There’s no place for the precious or the fragile. It’s easy to be excessively self-critical. You could treat every piece of advice as gospel. You could think an idea to death and yourself to exhaustion based on advice you don’t fully understand. But then someone else will come and say something completely different and you’ll be forced to think again. You will be simultaneously criticised and praised by two people who share a desk. This can happen more than once in a day.

Schedules are shambolic, deadlines change. Creatives’ work is at the disposal of creative directors, account people, planners and clients. One project is the convergence of dozens of people’s expectations. You’ll be tricked into thinking you have the luxury of time only to have a message pop up saying the deadline’s now in forty minutes. The usual workplace mind set of turn up on time, answer your emails, fill your quotas, leave doesn’t apply in adland.

But at no point has any of this resembled office life. And for that I couldn’t be happier.

Every agency comes with an inbuilt sense of fun. If being a creative wasn’t inherently fun it would be much easier to be employed as one.

There’s always a bar and a foosball table, photographs lining walls of pets and errant childhood moments, a deep house playlist and large scale prints of meerkats or Sylvester Stallone delivering bread.

You’re here to regress back to kindergarten, when right and wrong were vague concepts and everyone doodled on paper. But only the hardiest, most lateral, strategic kindergarteners get given jobs. It calls for equilibrium between the discipline of other jobs with the expression of your earliest finger paintings.

Fun is mandatory. If the process isn’t fun your ideas will have the imaginative depth of a refried bean wrap from the Costa you’ve spent the last four hours in.

Fun leads to good ideas. Good ideas take hard work. If you get the fun bit right the work bit will follow. And the bogeymen will become spirits that guide you adeptly, albeit forcefully, through each day.

Keep smiling as idea after idea is relegated to the bin never to be seen again. Take risks and say ‘yes’ to everything with confident stupidity. Laugh maniacally if you have to. Fun’s the only thing there ever really is to lose.

Tom Lee is studying advertising at West Hers College, Watford. Check out some of his work here.

Diary of a SXSW Virgin aka Subservient Glucky

March 24, 2016 / Features

By Alex Gluck

One of WCRS's account handlers travels to SXSW to make Austin slightly weirder.

I was lucky enough to get sent to SXSW Interactive last week.

Before you stop reading because you’ve already ready a multitude of articles
about what everyone learnt / saw / was amazed by this year…

I didn’t just go to be inspired by the conference; my agency WCRS sent me as
Subservient Glucky.  Daily challenges were set during my stay at SXSW via
Instagram photos. WCRS staff, clients and friends were invited to vote by liking
the Instagram posts. At the end of each day (when I would be getting up) the
likes were to be counted and I was tasked to complete the winning challenge. 
Follow @subservientglucky on Instagram and you’ll get the idea...

I’m sure you’re thinking I must be mad.  Perhaps I am.  But it was totally worth it.

Each morning I’d find out what I had to do each day. That was particularly
nerve-wracking. Due to jet lag I’d often wake up in the middle of the night and
have to resist the urge to check the Instagram feed and what options there were
for the daily task.  Fortunately Austin’s motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird™’ so my lion
onesie looked pretty normal next to the woman dressed as a fairy riding a
unicorn horse. The challenges varied from wearing a lion onesie for a whole day,
busking for $5 on a giant piano, getting two-inch-long nails, eating the hottest
taco at Torchy’s and spending a day with two selfie sticks.

By far, the hardest task was the nails. I couldn’t do anything once they were on –
someone had to carry my bag, text for me, order me drinks…it doesn’t actually
sound that bad does it? As an account handler asking anyone to do anything for
me is difficult!

It wasn’t just about being subservient, it was also about the main event…SXSW
Interactive

Everyone I spoke to before I went said that I would feel completely
overwhelmed, miss out on talks I wanted to see, and that I couldn’t do
everything.  Which is completely true.

On the flip-side, for all the talks I missed, I ended up at others that have inspired
me. Brene Brown’s keynote, Daring Greatly, was a particular highlight. It was all
around being brave, not being afraid of failure and picking yourself up when
you’ve fallen and moving forward.  She made the pertinent point that many of us
have been brought up to be intolerant of failure and think that vulnerability is a
weakness: ‘If you have no tolerance for failure, you will create nothing new’. 

Andy Puddicombe, co-found of Headspace, did a keynote on happiness where the
audience took part in a live meditation. It definitely felt like mindfulness and
self-knowledge were are a theme of this year’s conference.

Gender equality was another hot topic, especially as the tech community is a
male-dominated field and across the globe (in all fields) women are still paid
less than men on average. But there was a feeling that this is all changing, slowly
but surely.  New transport systems (Hyperloop), new transport technologies
(Google’s driverless car), AI, VR, AR, Space – these were all buzzwords that
friends and colleagues were talking about throughout the conference.  

There was always somewhere to be or someone to meet, or something to
eat...Don’t go to SXSW on a diet.

Austin’s food truck culture is unbelievable. We may think we’ve got the food
trucks / food markets down in London, but this is nothing compared to Austin. 
Grilled cheese, kimchi fries, lobster rolls, tacos, tacos and more tacos…and
snowcones. The calories are worth it and taste so good. Although I wouldn’t
bother with Torchy’s tacos (where I did my taco challenge) even if they are
Obama’s favourite. 

Go to the rodeo
SXSW coincides with the rodeo being in town, so it would've been rude not to pay
some respects to old American culture. It didn’t disappoint either. Sat next to
real(!) Texans who could explain why someone had got a penalty for not tying up
a calf properly (yes, it’s true) was an education. Not something I expected from
my trip to Austin, but it gave an insight to Texan culture.

In summary
So this has been my whistlestop summary of SXSW 2016. I’m sure I’ve missed
things out.

The overarching feeling I was left with from the talks, the tasks and the
experience as a whole was that we have to be optimistic about the future
whether that be in the fight against ISIS, to gender equality, to advances in
science and to keeping sane.   

And if I was asked to be Subservient Glucky again, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.  It’s
only a lion onesie after all…

The Road to Production

March 17, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What did the producers of tomorrow think of the 2016 APA Masterclass?

In February over 100 students, mostly from APA member companies, attended the APA Masterclass – a five-day intensive course for people who are on their way to becoming producers.

Since 2001 the Masterclass has been providing people with all the knowledge and skills they need to produce commercials, from the script to delivery. It has become the industry standard in that time – one of the few qualifications that people respect in a position built upon experience and on-the-job learning.

Previously it has run over a number of short sessions over 12 weeks but this year it radically changed to become more of a boot camp – everything crammed into one week in order to immerse students in the learning experience.

Over the week the students took part in lectures and workshops led by some of the industry’s leading professionals, culminating, as ever, in an exam. Now their exams are handed in we asked some of them to describe the experience.

“It was intense and a great five days,” says Adèle Barach, a Production Assistant at Biscuit Filmworks. “It’s a good way to learn from professionals about the basics.” She admits it was a busy week, but because each lecture was only an hour or so long, it was possible to get the best from each speaker.

No aspect of production is neglected, as Hannah-Clare Gordon, Animation Rep at Agile Films, appreciated. “I definitely think the best way to gain knowledge is through our own practice,” she admits, “making mistakes and learning from them, but the Masterclass provided the best groundwork possible in order to move forward as producers and advance our production experience.”

The Masterclass is an interactive course, not just a series of lectures for students to sit and quietly take notes on. Massimo Paradiso, a Content Producer at Ursus, appreciated the chance to speak to so many top producers and found hearing their opinions and personal approaches particularly interesting. “I guess there’s no definitive way to produce and everyone has their own methods,” he says.

Attilio Gianfancesco, Head of Sales and Marketing at Great Guns, enjoyed the collaborative efforts of the course’s final day, where the students were separated into groups to create a schedule, budget and bid letter for a commercial. “The best part was definitely testing and implementing my knowledge and comparing it with my colleagues,” he says. “It was great to put into practice the previous four days’ content.”

All the students I spoke to agreed that budgeting day was the most intense, challenging but also the most rewarding part of the course. Hannah-Clare adds that the expertise on hand was a great privilege. “It was so useful to have a team of seasoned producers on hand to ask them their advice and the different ways that they would approach a production,” she says.

But despite the experts there to support them, the Masterclass couldn’t turn out producers of the future by giving them an easy ride. Hannah-Clare says it was way more intensive than she had anticipated and Adèle remarks on how tired her brain was by the end of the week, especially as English is not her mother tongue.

“I have to admit it was tiring, but it didn’t destroy me,” says Lea Chukri, a Producer at Short Films. “Being focused for so long can be tough. And for those of us who worked at the same time it was hard to balance. That was the big challenge – not arriving late, making calls during the breaks etc.”

“It was full on,” agrees Massimo. “I wouldn’t call it a holiday. But the diverse range of talks and workshops kept it fresh. Some of the talks and workshops were very interactive and I certainly had fun.”

Different students had their own highlights. Attilio loved the casting session from Tree Petts and Shakyra Dowling. “Their energy was fantastic,” he says. “And James Waller from the Met Police was absolutely amazing and gave a fantastic talk about working with the MPS Film Unit.”

Adèle appreciated the broad span of expertise demonstrated by the tutors. “Being introduced to sectors less widely taught was great,” she says, “learning about subjects such as shooting with drones, data protection, the MPS Film Unit or AdGreen.” She also found it interesting to hear a director’s perspective from Stink’s Keith McCarthy and the informative virtual reality presentation. “Working on a standard 30-second TV commercial is one thing, but we need to realise the industry is moving fast.”

Lea loved the music lecture from Massive Music. “They showed examples and made music rights and royalties very interesting, even at six o’clock in the evening!”

Despite the long trek out to Uxbridge one evening, the trip to ARRI to learn about was very popular with the students I spoke to. “They’re a company who really know how to promote themselves,” says Hannah-Clare. “I left feeling that ARRI was the be-all and end-all for cameras and lights. Maybe even contemporary cinema!” She stressed that pure sales pitches did detract from the learning experience though. “I didn’t enjoy companies coming in and just presenting us with a sales pitch. Those were less beneficial than having small, workshop-like groups to interact with the editors or the one-on-one chat with producers.”

One of the great strengths of the Masterclass has proven to be the camaraderie it fosters between students and tutors and this year was no different. “It was nice to be surrounded by people of the same age with the same interests,” says Adèle. “The networking side of the Masterclass is good as the people I met that week are likely to be the people we will work with in the future.” By the time the booze started flowing at the wrap party on Friday night, some of the most significant relationships in the future of production may have already been built.

Under the Influence: Gary Freedman, The Glue Society

March 16, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The five key ingredients that make this director’s signature dish.

One of the biggest names on Independent’s formidable roster, Gary Freedman of The Glue Society collective has worked on some of the funniest ads to grace our televisions in recent years, including Doritos’ Dip Desperado – a personal favourite here at Bugle Towers. He’s also got a knack for poignancy, clear in HSBC’s 40-year anniversary commercial, Lift.

Curious about what informs his work, we asked him to choose five things that inspire him. His picks include the ridiculous and the sublime, sometimes simultaneously.

New York

"When I was growing up in the 70s I was obsessed with America; mainly based on TV but also the stuff that people brought back from their holidays there, like chewing gum in lots of flavours and tube socks and a cup with your picture on it from Wet ‘n Wild. It was a place full of stuff you just didn’t have in England back then, which was just a stale white bread sandwich with one slice of ham in it. Someone told me about Space Mountain and described it as a rollercoaster inside a disco, which practically blew my mind.

When I first went to New York around 1990 it lived up to all my expectations and more. It was like being inside a TV. It looked like a movie and it sounded like a movie too. I couldn’t believe it was real; it felt like everyone there was playing a part.

Now I live in New York and have done for eleven years. I’ve grown used to it but it took me a good few years to become anesthetized to being in a place that is so embedded in your subconscious from TV. But every now and then, I can switch mode and see New York as I did back then. It is a place that, to me, still looks like it is in the 70s. A lot of buildings and signage still have that appearance. It’s like going into the future and back in time at once. But mainly it’s the people; all playing their roles, talking loudly and a lot, saying things you only hear people say on TV."

The Coen Brothers

"My work is quite diverse. In the past I’ve felt like this is a weakness. But then I look at the Coen Brothers and I don’t worry about it anymore.

There isn’t a Coen Brothers film I don’t like. Their films are amazingly diverse but they manage to inject their personality into everything they do. It is all just so “Coen Brothers-y”; humour makes its way into dark drama, comedies have dimension and style. Neo-noir-black-comedy-crime-quirky-thriller-drama....or something.

But the biggest thing is their ability to create iconic ‘characters’. Utterly memorable and idiosyncratic characters. To me, this is what makes their films so distinctive.

Making an ad is a far cry from this. But if there is one thread running through my work – and it’s something that I like doing – it is creating characters. I try to eke out a character in almost every commercial I do. Often it’s not apparent in the script or part of the ‘idea’. But it’s something that, as a director, you can really bring to the party. A good character in an ad can really turn it into something memorable. I think people respond to people."

Blackcurrant Tango

"I think this is the best ad I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, on rare occasions, advertising captures the zeitgeist. And this one did it better than any before or since, in my opinion. I don’t know whether this was by design or whether the guys who wrote it were even aware of how resonant it was. But when this ad came out, it just behaved in a way that was exactly how everyone felt at the time.

It’s audacious, hilarious, irreverent, knowing... and at the time, it was actually breathtakingly spectacular. I can still watch it now and be kind of amazed. I like its roughness. I like that it doesn’t quite have enough background extras. If it were made now it would have thousands of digital people and be too big, too slick. It’s perfectly imperfect.

But, like all really great things, it was a ‘lucky’ combination of elements. It just came together; brilliant idea, flawless execution and the perfect public mood to receive it. You couldn’t plan it. Kismet. Sometimes the recipe is just right."

Francis Bacon

"If you want a glimpse into the human psyche look no further. Raw, visceral human emotion rendered physical. The ultimate performance. And it’s static; just paint on a canvas. But alive. It’s quite hard to fathom.

The opening credits to Last Tango In Paris feature Bacon paintings. They look weird and incongruous at the start of a film. But it’s arresting. Anyway, the story goes that Bertolucci took Marlon Brando to a Bacon exhibition when they were making Last Tango In Paris to inspire him. Now picture Brando, his face contorted, eaten up on the inside."

Music

"All music. This is lame but it’s the truth. I think music taps into your emotions more than anything. If you really want to go somewhere, listen to some music, quite loud and you’ll picture things differently. If you’re trying to dredge for a creative feeling, it’s the most immediate way of connecting with something that is vital and authentic.

At other times, I find music can really help me look at things afresh too. I review a storyboard listening to music and it really helps me to see it. The problem of course is that you can devise a piece of work with music in mind, which is great until you get to the edit when music becomes more of a free for all. There is nothing which can affect the tone of a piece of film more than changing the music. And of course, at that point in the process we all have a subjective view on music, as much as we can all dress ourselves in the morning!"

A Pint With… Chris Page

March 9, 2016 / Features

By Chris Page

Head honcho at Jelly and Three Blind Mice on blagging, contemporary culture and his piratical tendencies.

Women are better at arguing. They know what the outcome of an argument is going to be because they’ve thought it through first, like a game of chess. Whereas men just make a series of knee-jerk reactions, shouting unrelated stuff throughout.

You have to surround yourself with people who are cleverer than you. I can blag. But you do reach the edge of blag quite quickly, so you have to find people that can do stuff. That’s how studios are built.

I fell off the edge of education. I got thrown out of college for not going. Then I had to make my own way and somehow still got into the industry that I loved and enjoyed. I wonder now if that’s possible. Companies want specialists straight out of school, not generalists they can mould.

Working in an agency is like being in the navy and working in production is like being a pirate. You’ve got to be agile and resourceful in production because there’s no big formal structure you can sit inside. Your job description can change at any minute. We’ve got people who might be working on packaging designs one week and a short animated film the next.

Outside of my family and work, Fireflies is what I care about the most. Ten years ago I didn’t even have a bike. I was a typical flabby, boozy ad twat who spent most of his time behaving quite badly. You need something that justifies your existence beyond family and work. Now I’ve ridden over the Alps into Cannes three times and I’m heavily involved with the charity. I’m not a surgeon, but I feel like at least I’m doing something to fight cancer.

Cycling is becoming the new golf. It’s a very white, middle-aged man thing. That’s why we’re trying to get young, diverse people from the ad industry interested in Fireflies.

Old stuff isn’t all ‘good’ and new stuff isn’t all ‘bad’. The pop music you like the most is what you liked when you were a teenager. My kids have their own pop music. Most people my age think it’s shit. But if you watch Top Of The Pops 2, it was even worse back in the 80s. It annoys me when people my age deride everything new as being bad.

Countryside politics scare me. Political stupidity annoys me. I go into the countryside cycling at the weekend and see the UKIP posters in the windows. These are nice areas that I’d otherwise like to move to, but the narrow-mindedness of some country folk puts me off.

I am a burglary magnet. I’m constantly being burgled - I live in South East London and it seems that if you’ve got anything decent other people will try and take it. I like to think we’re progressive, liberal people and we encourage our children to be the same, but it’s tough to maintain that attitude when you’re calling the security company for the fifth time shouting “More bars! Bigger alarm! Cameras! Keep the fuckers out!”

Balancing creativity and commerce is hard. My Financial Director’s major frustration is that I don’t really care enough about money. Any commercial success we’ve had has been a by-product of doing good work and retaining our integrity, but it’s hard to prove that that means success.

I like difficult people. You get better work from people who are slightly angular. I find them a challenge. I want to get past the shields. But it’s a fine line. There’s no need to be awkward for the sake of it.

Sometimes the client is right and the creative people are wrong. Our job is to look after our talent and to represent their interests. But there are times where they’re wrong and then that’s a much harder game.

Chris Page is Owner at Three Blind Mice and Jelly.