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Managing Marketing: New ways of working with creative and production people

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Anne Miles is the Managing Director and Executive Producer of International Creative Services. Anne shares with Darren her vision of ways marketers can work more directly with creative and production people without the layers of administration and management found in the traditional models. She also talks about how the industry is often overlooking the invaluable resources in older, more experienced professionals who have been often rejected from adland.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud or iTunes

The free White Paper mentioned in the podcast can be downloaded here.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’ve got this fabulous view over St Kilda Rd or St Kilda Boulevard. I think some people call it Bullshit Boulevard, don’t they, Anne?

Anne:

Yes, they do.

Darren:

We’re here in Melbourne of course and I’m meeting up with Anne Miles, Executive Producer and Managing Director of International Creative Services. Welcome, Anne.

Anne:

Hello. Thank you.

Darren:

We go back a long way but we were both babies at the time to JWT. I was one of the copywriters and Creative Director and you were Head of TV there.

Anne:

I know. It seems like light years away now.

Darren:

I do have a favourite memory from those days because we actually shot a series of commercials for blockbuster music in Los Angeles and I do remember we were staying at the Sunset Marquis and had been out with Michel Lawrence (who was Executive Creative Director) and we had got back to the hotel.

And we were walking through the pool area and there you were sitting on the lounge by the pool, mobile phone pressed to the ear, laptop, and this pile of production papers that was almost as tall as you were, and I just thought every inch the Hollywood producer.

Anne:

That’s so funny. I actually think that was a foundation to what I’m doing now because the world is becoming more and more virtual and portable. We don’t need to be bound by the structure of everything.

Darren:

That was last century and you were already a mobile office so you’ve always been ahead of yourself haven’t you?

Anne:

I have. Sometimes I feel I’ve been a bit too far ahead of things. I’m always up for innovating. In JWT days we were the first to do in-house production back then. We were the first to do digital formats—that campaign. Now it’s mainstream right. At the time it kicked up a major storm and it was a big deal. I think the world has just got to have a shakeup now and then.

Darren:

And I think it’s good to be ahead of the trend even though sometimes it’s frustrating and people often resist the change, you learn a lot being out there doing new things don’t you?

Anne:

Definitely. Over the years JWT was a fun time for me but then I just grew. To be honest I was one of those women identified in management training as this is the person who should be in a leadership position in management in your business and then they’d go ‘but she’s a woman and she’s in production so that’s not going to work’.

So for me, what I had to do was go horizontally. I needed my stretch, my own personal achievement by not going up but by going across.

Darren:

And you did that didn’t you? It’s not just head of TV in a couple or a few agencies; you also went production side, visual effects, Exit films.

Anne:

Yes, I started up Exit films and I’m really proud of where they’ve come to. It’s one of the biggest in Australia now but that model is what we set up at that time so it was quite visionary.

Darren:

And you’ve also worked marketer side. You’ve had a couple of roles as a marketer.

Anne:

That’s right.

Darren:

And you’ve also been a coach.

Anne:

Yes, a business coach as well, trained in consumer psychology and neuro-linguistics. I’m really diverse now.

Darren:

It’s part of that horizontal move–getting as much experience and expertise across a whole range of things.

Anne:

I went into a research company for a while as well doing insights for them. And we adopted a new kind of agile insights technique. So while the focus group was happening I was capturing the insights on the spot. Kind of like a sticky note in the centre. And then taking those and turning them into really fast reporting.

And the reporting you can obviously get a whole lot of things but how do you make sense of it? I really enjoyed that. I’m trying to think what part of the industry I haven’t touched in some way. And as an entrepreneur you have to do so much more as well. I’ve even taught myself InDesign and I can edit so I have sort of done everything.

Now, I feel it’s like keeping everyone else honest and about the best value in the scheme of things too.

Darren:

That brings us up to date. But when did you form International Creative Services (ICS)?

Anne:

I did start it in 2009. I don’t know that I really found my groove and if I’m honest I also had some things going on in my family life that needed a focus. I had challenging children with special needs and I just needed to take some time out. That’s when I considered going client-side. And that experience was the best mistake I ever made.

Darren:

I’m glad that’s how you put it because people talk about making mistakes but then they don’t want to talk about it. In fact when you make a misstep like that it’s not even a mistake; it’s a misstep on a path. And then to be able to see that in the context of ‘o.k. but I learnt so much from it’.

Anne:

I so did and I think that’s why I’ve come back out this year and reinvented the whole thing. Being client-side I was absolutely appalled by the whole process of big agency and working with a brand that, in this instance, it was probably not quite big enough for the scale of the agency they were working with. There’s a really good place for a big agency but you’ve got to have the right fit. I feel like this particular brand was too small for it.

I’m sitting there in a meeting with no outcome. I counted up all the head hours and went this is a $20,000 meeting and we have no outcome. And I did my maths, about things I care about, and that’s 8333 people having clean water from one wasted meeting. We just can’t operate like that.

If we had had an important outcome and it was useful, yeah. But it was not and it was an ongoing thing. And also having the expertise in the background that I had I was the agency’s worst nightmare because I knew what I was looking at. There were all of these terrible things they were doing to keep the client side out of what they were doing.

Darren:

But you knew because you had spent so much time working in that area.

Anne:

In every aspect of the business there was nothing I did not know. I knew exactly what I was looking at. I could look at a television budget and say ‘there’s 300 grand too much in that’. But I’m getting the ‘you’ve got to approve this in ten minutes or we’re pulling the whole job’.

And I’d say in an agency if a client asked me for a breakdown I’d give it to them on the spot. I had to wait four days for a breakdown.

Darren:

They were busy massaging the numbers.

Anne:

And they’re going ‘oh my god, she knows what she’s looking at—what the hell’.

Darren:

Anne, you’ve brought out my cynicism. I’ve been working so hard to suppress that.

Anne:

Look, there are not a lot of agencies that are doing that but this was an eye-opener to me. I just went ‘oh my god, we just cannot operate like that’. So I was so confronting to them. And that was a challenging time because I just wasn’t going to pay for things that we didn’t need.

You look at the head hour estimates and they were charging for people fulltime for about five people from the start to the end of the job and there’s no way that is realistic. I don’t want to pay for people that are sitting in dark rooms.

Darren:

What I hear in this, Anne, is the same thing that made you such an effective executive producer, head of TV, which is all about taking responsibility for the client’s budget. And yet at the same time making sure that the creative vision is being delivered on screen as well.

Anne:

Yeah, I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head for me. I’m one of these people (an unusual breed); I am mid-brain and I know about this because I am all tested and everything. I am equally left and right brain so for me the creative execution is as important as any fluffy creative out there. I really do care about that.

At the same time I am also very careful and I understand the business side of things. And probably more than anything at the moment I’m saying ‘no’ to work because I’m saying ‘I’m not going to produce anything for you because I don’t feel your strategy is in line’. And a lot of production companies will just go ‘yeah cool, this is the opportunity for us to have a folio piece.’ And they only think of it terms of their own advantage.

Darren:

From their perspective it’s only ever going to be judged in the isolation of ‘is this a good piece of production of an idea’ rather than how that fits into the overall strategy to deliver some sort of business or marketing outcome isn’t it?

Anne:

That’s right. And I think there’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time and a place for the coolest, most wonderful cinematography because it’s delivering on something specific to the target audience. There is no production company in town that would actually ask you for the brand strategy and who is the customer profile that we’re talking to before they come up with a director’s solution or who the production team would be.

Darren:

As we’re sitting here talking now the International Creative Services is more than just a production facility and it’s more than even an advertising agency. It’s almost a linear holistic approach to both of those.

Anne:

It is and I really feel like in lots of ways being agnostic (if I can use that word). I feel like this is a creative production solution to whoever needs it solved and it’s compartmentalised.

What happens too is a lot of advertising agencies are calling the strategic nous of external grownup people because, for one, it’s actually more efficient than their own normal pipeline. So they can get the big ideas really affordably outside their own model.

Darren:

Sorry, your clients, the people coming to International Creative Services (call it ICS) are not just marketers coming direct, you’re also getting a lot of agencies coming to you as well.

Anne:

That’s right. An agency can come to me in lots of ways. Firstly, they can say we need overflow for pitch; we’ve got a brand problem and we need the grownups to fix it. That’s one aspect. The other would be even if someone said we need independent media strategy there is no reason why we can’t do that either. It’s a consultative model bespoke.

The next stage would be overflow creative concepting so if an agency needs a pitch and they want a deck of concepts we’ll even do concepts just scribbling on paper because they can do the implementation; they just need the thoughts.

Darren:

It’s to generate the concepts or ideas that they can then put into the system.

Anne:

I’d call that the core messaging. So we can deliver that. And then the next stage is we can deliver actual execution of the work. So an ideal scenario and this is probably how a television department would use me; they would say ‘we need to resource a job in South Australia, what could you do?’ And what a production house would normally do would be to say ‘here are our directors—pick from them’.

But I would rather them say ‘here’s my strategic brief, this is my customer profile, what can you pull together?’

Darren:

So really what you’re doing is re-framing every production opportunity and even every creative opportunity into a business or marketing framework. Agencies would say they do that but in actual fact the linear process means that often along the line, certainly the accounts management people that are working with the client to get the strategy would be very focused.

But then it’s maybe not as focused when it comes to the creative concept and then even less focused when it comes to production even within one organisation.

Anne:

I’ve written a white paper on that, which I’m happy to share if anyone wants it.

Darren:

Is that on your website? We’ll put a link here.

Anne:

Yeah, thanks a lot. I think this silo problem which you’ve just described in agencies is a real issue. And I did this research project with industry creatives; how can we solve the problem where strategy is not making it all the way through to the final execution? It’s been a pet hate of mine.

And I think also being strategic and a producer means that what happens is sometimes my voice is not heard because the producer doesn’t get involved in strategy but I’m going we have to rethink this because the producer is the person who is the most involved from start to end. From early concept stage before it even becomes an agreed concept they should be involved about viability and is it written to budget.

Darren:

But also why get the strategy right up front and then completely miss the point at the end?

Anne:

That’s right and it was really a shock. A lot of clients came to watch the research project so it was like a focus group with industry creatives and we’re trying to figure out how we can close this gap. And the clients in the observation room were just so shocked that all this money they were spending on insights and working out what their brand is and all of that that it actually stops in either accounts service or in the strategy department. At the best it goes to the executive creative director but it’s not going beyond that.

And that’s just one of the discoveries in this and to me that’s like the most powerful and I feel reinventing the role of the producer, as I’ve reinvented myself, that’s going to deliver much more strategic work. And be a voice to sale on the way ‘hang on a minute it sounds like this person in the chain is just doing it for their own portfolio. Let’s just go back to what the strategy is’.

Darren:

What’s the purpose of this?

Anne:

That’s right.

Darren:

And how are we delivering against that purpose?

Anne:

A lot of producers and creatives will go ‘we’ve got to work with them’. And even when I was on client-side I said ‘how come you chose this film director?’ For a start the film director did not have anything on his show reel that showed that he had the capability. And I look back at it and I am certain, to this day, that that was the friend of the creative director. It was not actually the right person for the job.

And then the poor old producer is kind of forced into it because the whole agency model is centred around the creative director.

Darren:

There are a whole lot of political reasons and we’ve both experienced these. I remember the first agency I ever worked in; you worked with a particular production house and producer because the agency had a deal to put all the client work through there so they’d get a rebate.

Then there were other agencies where the executive creative director had a good mate’s mate who would do all of their films or music and so all of the work would go there. Whether they were right or not or whether there were other options there are whole lot of political reasons that clients are never aware of.

And yet it’s their money. And everyone else in the agency has to basically sit there and go ‘are they lying?’ No, they’re just telling the story in a way that hides the truth.

Anne:

A little bit of it is unintentional as well. It’s sort of like unconscious bias about who to choose for jobs. Back in those days in agencies I had a very strict rule that producers had to go through –I called it the A to Z theory. They had to go through the list of directors from A to Z, pull out every single person who was viable for that job, and then pull from that a shortlist of ten. Then they came to me and we talked about who were the best top six and then they were to ring the top three.

Darren:

So you did that to ensure there was the broadest possible consideration.

Anne:

The right person for the job.

Darren:

We have that now. We’ve got a couple of competitors in the area of pitch consulting who when they get asked by clients who they would recommend, they put the same six agencies forward without doing any research. Whereas we have a database of about 3,500 different agencies and suppliers and things like that.

And that’s where we start, exactly like you, the A to Z of all the people who are available, who are the ones that best fit the needs?

Anne:

I have to say we’ve been breaking ground and I stand for the right thing more than I care for myself sometimes but those days even the Melbourne production industry used to give me a hard time because occasionally I’d be hiring someone from Sydney.

Darren:

Shock, horror.

Anne:

I got so much grief for that. To me also in-house was so controversial at that time and now I say it’s a global phenomenon.

Darren:

I remember years ago didn’t Clemenger BBDO have a thing called Port Productions?

Anne:

They started that.

Darren:

Most agencies at some point have had their own if not in-house, a production company that they’ve had a financial interest in. It’s not new is it?

Anne:

Well we were new back then in JWT days.

Darren:

That was actually in-house.

Anne:

We did it completely in-house without any other brand whereas Port became another brand and then there was Cullers.

Darren:

And before that back in the late 80s there was Goodwood Pictures up at Mattingly, they had one; Stuart Nelson was the executive producer. I’m sure Stuart will forgive me because he’s gone on to make a big career out of his stuttering.

Anne:

The reason those separate companies evolved, which is different to how we were doing it at JWT, is they needed to do that because of the net billing problem. That meant that those exterior companies could keep the profit in and they were free of audit whereas when we did it at JWT it was just like the rest of what we did. It was very transparent.

Darren:

It was another department.

Anne:

It was within our department but it just added depth to the service and so it had a lot of integrity about it. And I feel like we were not doing work we were not capable of. In a lot of instances our mission was to get brands on television who were not on television before.

So that’s a different mindset from how can we keep the profit everywhere. I feel like it was a noble cause for me at the time.

Darren:

You are driven by that aren’t you?

Anne:

Noble cause, yes.

Darren:

No, doing the right thing. When we worked together and all the way through you are inclined to want to do the right thing rather than doing what’s best for you.

Anne:

Yes, I totally agree.

Darren:

Which is integrity isn’t it?

Anne:

Yes, and it hasn’t always paid off. I’m not the big multi-millionaire that other people in the industry have been.

Darren:

I say to people all the time if I had accepted getting paid on savings (I don’t get paid on savings; I get paid a fee to do the work) I wouldn’t be here. I would have retired 10 years ago. And everyone we’ve touched would be decimated because we would have ripped the guts out of every remuneration model and walked away with big fat payments for savings.

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live with myself.

Anne:

I agree; I couldn’t live with myself. I’ve been called two things and I actually embrace them now. That was back in the days when they didn’t even have the ACCC right? So the broadcast department was sort of the end of the line. I felt like I was the one saying ‘hang on a minute you can’t do that?’ I was called ‘the nun’. ‘Oh, you’re such a nun’.

Darren:

Because I do the right thing by my client?

Anne:

And the other one I get called now is the ‘marketing police’ because I won’t deliver any creative, production or even strategy until we know the right thing is done and they’ve got everything in place; that what we produce is going to work and not waste money.

Darren:

The next time someone calls you that, can you do something for me and say to them ‘and you have the right to remain silent so start now’.

Anne:

But it takes bravery on my part. People go ‘oh my god, you’re so brave and courageous’. And I actually think it’s because I’m well intentioned and I have to say ‘are you prepared for me to be the friend you need and not the friend you want?’

Darren:

ICS is part of the gig economy because what you’re offering is access for clients and agencies to this huge group of incredibly talented people out there who now find themselves not employed within organisations but pretty much out there freelancing or consulting so there is a big gig economy happening here isn’t there?

Anne:

There was a moment in time where this and my client-side experience just sparked everything about the new way forward. So JWT got rid of five really senior, amazing talents (ECDs, creative directors) and they all happened to have greying hair. And I went ‘oh my god we can’t have an industry with the best talent lost’.

It was really upsetting to me and I’ve been feeling at times a little invisible and I could talk about being client-side as a female in a male world. I would say ‘the lights in that header are coming on twice’ and my boss is staring at me like ‘don’t speak in this room please’. And he would sneak back in after the meeting was closed and would say ‘by the way I’ve just noticed the lights go on twice—can you fix it?’ as if it had never been heard before. It’s horrendous to be invisible.

Darren:

It happens a lot.

Anne:

So that gender, age thing and the fact that I was a strong person was just a freak out. And I feel that’s prejudice behind a lot of that.

Darren:

So you’ve got a business that actually taps into this huge group of people, highly talented, great experience that gives the clients and agencies access to these people. But also you’ve been very vocal around these issues like ageism, sexism, lack of diversity. Is this just part of the business model or is it a personal thing?

Anne:

It’s probably both those things. I definitely have a topic interest on a personal level and I even have a transgender child so my whole world has had some learning to do and I also realised through that experience that I had my own ignorant unconscious bias too so I feel like I understand. Unconscious bias is racism when you don’t know you’re doing it and you don’t mean it but it’s still racism.

Darren:

Whether it’s racism or stereotypes.

Anne:

Whatever it might be, some of it is accidental so I feel as an industry and not just the way agencies are making money and I’ve talked about that in detail that the time sheet model is killing the talent in the industry and actually costing brands more than it ought to, to have really good ideas.

So I see that this profitability thing is pushing the best talent out. I’ve also realised there is no way that a big brand is going to hire those individuals by themselves.

Darren:

It’s too hard.

Anne:

Can’t find them or qualify them.

Darren:

If there are 400 great art directors and writers how are they going to find them? Agencies have enough trouble and they’re usually going through any one of the freelance brokers or talent agents.

Anne:

So I definitely don’t want to be that. I don’t really believe in ‘can I have a creative come and sit in my chair for a day?’

Darren:

And I’ll take 20 to 30% of their salary.

Anne:

I don’t buy into that for a lot of reasons but partly because I’m more business minded than that; you tell me your problem and we’ll come up with the solution. So my business model also means that the outcome is what matters. So, if I get in my network a bunch of really grownup or senior talent or a 20-year old, whatever is right for the brief I don’t even feel that’s relevant to my client. The idea is what matters.

Darren:

The output not how you get there. So you’ve got this network of people that you can tap into to actually get the idea right whether they’re old, young, male, female, transgender whatever – it’s the idea that counts.

I think having known you for a while it’s because simply being like a recruiter/head-hunter while you need to be people focused to do that–you are much more about doing things and making things happen. This is why you’re attracted to production because you could see tangible things as an output of that.

Even before, when you talked about working in research you’re pulling insights out of research groups. Everything you do, Anne, seems to be about producing a tangible output of value at the end of that rather than ‘here take them for a week and give me 20%’.

Anne:

That’s right. I couldn’t live with myself just taking a clip of an intangible. No, I’m not a click the ticket person at all. And you’re right about that, even in the research because it’s not just the insights; I then propose what to do with them. What’s the go to market strategy you can take those insights with?

So that was unusual in a research company as well from what I learned. It went down a treat mind you. I really loved it. I feel like that’s my place now. And it is modular. Let’s just figure out what the strategy is with independence and integrity.

I saw some data the other day that showed what agencies and brands consider to be the most effective channels and the data that showed that actually they weren’t aligned so it was really a fascinating thing.

Darren:

I’ve seen that research as well.

Anne:

I thought it was absolutely brilliant and it’s everything I was concerned about. Both client-side roles that I have had, the target audience segmentation is different between the agency, the media company, the researcher, the sales team and who’s engaging online, Google analytics; none of them are consistent. They all have their own tools.

What they’re also forgetting is that those people who are coming to them based on the strategy and the creative you’re running now are not who your potential audience is.

Darren:

Well it’s a misalignment or dislocation in intent because each group has got a different language and no one is translating it to make sure it’s aligned and delivering all the way along. And that’s because there are so many different groups, even internally. I’m sure you found this working inside organisations as a marketer or a client that even within the organisation sales would be different from finance, from marketing which will even be different from the call centre.

Getting that alignment is incredibly difficult when you push it through the supply chain (as the procurement people call it) of the agencies, research and media companies, it just becomes nah.

Anne:

I think it’s a fundamental untapped opportunity for brand growth. It’s also that comparison chart suggesting there is a vested interest in a lot of the recommendations that are coming from the partners that are involved. An ideal world for me is that the media, brand and even creative strategy is independent and that is done without any suggestion of financial gain from anything and then it’s completely and only about the brand.

I’ve got some really high-level strategists that are in my family now that have run big media companies and been CEOs of big agencies and things like that.

Darren:

So it’s like a collective isn’t it?

Anne:

It is a collective. You could call it an artists’ collective.

Darren:

It’s a business collective, an artists’ collective; it’s a collective of people that have complementary skills and you can bring them together. What would be your ideal client? Without naming names what would be the ideal client or project. If the phone were to ring now and they said, ‘Hi, I’m from such and such’ what would they be looking for from ICS?

Anne:

There are two streams. My ideal client is somebody who is a little bit tired of the agency model where they’re not getting value out of it. And potentially they want to have more control from the brand. So they can come to us and have independent strategy or production and there are no hidden agendas and they’re not stuck with the set people in their little family. So it’s completely independent those two things.

They’ve probably got a marketing department already, 5 to 10 million minimum spending in marketing or on the other hand it could be a giant scale brand who just wants some really unique projects from time to time. Having been in visual effects in the past there is no reason you need to go to a visual effects house.

I was working on a project recently pitching on a project for a talking dog. So instead of having them having to go Animal and Finn Design, all these big post houses with big margins everywhere I’m kind of like the wholesale model. That makes it really competitive for a big agency as well, coming to us for the tricky things.

For the production I could probably help out a model where there is some lower end consistent stuff but I think a lot of people should be empowered to do that themselves.

Darren:

But it seems to me you’ve got an incredibly flexible model. It’s got relatively low overheads because you pull the teams together to get the job done.

Anne:

We can even hire an office just for the project.

Darren:

Or work in with the client if they wanted to create some space you could actually bring the team into them. It’s fascinating. The industry is probably struggling to try and get a sense of what this actually means.

Anne:

Yes, I agree.

Darren:

And I’ve heard the usual dismissive but it’s really fascinating, Anne, so all the best because it’s a really legitimate alternative to what is being offered at the moment so well done.

Anne:

Thanks very much. It’s pretty exciting. I feel like I’ve just got to do something different.

Darren:

I’ve got a last question for you. Of all the creative directors you’ve worked with, male and female, who is your favourite?

 

TrinityP3’s Engagement Agreements service is all about ensuring an agreed campaign development process is truly achievable and adhered to. Find out more here

 

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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