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 Advice was offered, which was rather patronising and painted an outdated picture of the role.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.

Comments (3)

  • It is one of the most frustrating aspects of our job, people thinking it is a drink and food fuelled doss interrupted by bouts of aggressive calling. If my job was simply drinking, emailing and calling people I’d leave. Our position is one of huge variety and responsibility. There are very few reps I know who do go to all the events I barely go to any, they simply aren’t worthwhile. I do think meetings are still the key, and we have been fortunate at KODE to generate lots of work through face to face agency meetings but they become ever harder to secure. I’m unsure if the title rep/head of sales/EP is a respected one but it is my responsibility that people see beyond the job title.

    by Dan Mallerman on 2016 04 06

  • This is a great article.  Reps are the fuel to this industry; sharing, networking and innovating how we do business.  Many Reps evolve into MD’s and company owners as ultimately they know the talent and what works, they are also great with people, that’s why they are chosen to be out meeting everyone!

    Reps should be invited as lead speakers at panels and awards, they have so much more insight into the industry and a wealth of knowledge from their own companies and competitors as they are constantly keeping up to date with news and work to remain fresh and on point with knowledge and the market. 

    Having repped for over a decade and done so internationally, in house and freelance, i can safely say - Reps are an asset to the industry, both in house and freelance!

    It’s brilliant to hear you speaking up about the respect they deserve as they really work so very very hard!

    by colette crespin on 2016 04 06

  • Nice article thank you Andrew (Pippa/Ellie/Ali).

    Just to add ... however we choose to engage with clients, I think our job as ‘reps’ is ultimately about generating awareness and offering choice - not very different from the rationale for consumer advertising, which often gets equally bad press!
    As we share new talent and production solutions, it’s also essential to demonstrate a real understanding of (and interest in) their business.
    I believe that the American model, offering a portfolio of production resources, can definitely help to enhance the integrity of the role, but ultimately it’s probably down to the individual.

    by Jane White, JW BD on 2016 04 06

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