How young agency producers see the world of advertising
Biscuit Filmworks & Electric Theatre Collective's annual Young Producers Dinner took place last night. We caught up with some of the attendees to ask them about the challenges they face in their roles, what inspired them to get into the industry and why it's important not to feel alone.
Last night night [February 6] was the eighth annual Young Producers Dinner at which some of London's most talented young agency producers gathered to celebrate their successes and meet with industry peers.
The event is organised by London production company Biscuit Filmworks and VFX house Electric Theatre Collective. Attendees are nominated by the heads of their agency department for their hard work over the previous 12 months and then invited to a meal at East London restaurant Bistroteque to network with young producers and build ongoing business relationships.
Being a producer can be a pretty lonely job when it gets tough, and too often [the producer] is the first person forgotten when it all goes well.
"It’s about celebrating and supporting producers," said Rupert Reynolds-Maclean, Biscuit MD. "Most of the time we work in a silo and being a producer can be a pretty lonely job when it gets tough, and too often [the producer] is the first person forgotten when it all goes well. Agency, post and production producers need to be supported and celebrated even more and the plan is that the YPD will help to build relationships and a network for all these amazing people to continue to shine. The support from agencies to Biscuit and Electric Theatre Collective in our annual event is something we should all be very proud of."
It’s a chance for them to celebrate amongst their peers, and it’s important that their hard work is recognised.
"Opportunities to celebrate the contribution of young producers working in the industry doesn’t happen very often, which is why we do the Young Producers Dinner every year," adds Lee Pavey, co-founder of and producer at ETC. "It’s a chance for them to celebrate amongst their peers, and it’s important that their hard work is recognised. We’re really proud to once again be supporting the best, young talent in agencies today."
The full list of attendees can be found at the foot of this article, and, below, we talk to a selection of the young producers to ask them about their role, why they navigated towards it and what future challenges they believe they might face.
Above: Rupert Reynolds-Maclean and Lee Pavey.
What was it that attracted you to the industry, and the role, in the first place?
Katie Colhoun: I watched What Women Want when I was about 11 and was intrigued about the advertising industry. I then took a very roundabout way of getting into production, starting in business development, trying out account management and finally landing on my feet in production. While I survived being an account person, it became more and more clear to me that the creation of a film and the craft that went into it was what I was interested in. Plus, I’ve always been equally right and left brained, so managing budgets and working closely with creatives/production companies suits me.
What drew me to advertising was crafting a story or message in 30 seconds.
Oliver West: When I came out of uni I got a job as a runner in an ad agency and immediately felt I had found somewhere exciting. After a couple years of observing how the industry works from a support role, I pinpointed getting into TV production as my ambition. I wanted to work side-by-side with the creatives and to be a real part of the process. The attraction for me has always been being able to put all of my hard work into a project and to actually have something to show for it at the end, that I’m able to look back on, share and be proud of.
The moment I realised I needed to find a better-suited industry was during my estate agent stint, when I got fired for dying my hair pink and not wearing heels.
Alexander Nally: I first learned about the industry from behind the scenes DVDs and making my own films, but what drew me to advertising was crafting a story or message in 30 seconds. In terms of producing, I love that it’s the most rounded approach to filmmaking you could ask for, as you get to encounter every department.
Alice Konstam: When I first moved to London I had a series of mind numbingly uninspiring jobs for a couple of years. The moment I realised I needed to find a better-suited industry was during my estate agent stint, when I got fired for dying my hair pink and not wearing heels. That’s when I got an interview at Lucky Generals to be on reception - as soon as I walked into the office, I saw a girl with blue hair and thought this is the life. After a year of doing the dishwasher and drowning myself in leftover Gails from client meetings, I begged to get into production. Eventually they surprise promoted me at the Christmas party, pink hair intact.
I studied Advertising for my degree, in large part because the word begins with A and featured on the first pages of a university prospectus.
Greg Nicholls: I studied Advertising for my degree, in large part because the word begins with A and featured on the first pages of a university prospectus. Clearly, I was desperate to avoid work and casual about my education choices. And so, by some massive stroke of fortune, I discovered a subject I was interested in and an industry I wanted to be a part of.
Above: Alex Nally, Alice Konstam and Sunny Singh Sahota.
Was there a particular piece of advertising work that inspired you to get into the business?
Katie Colhoun: I was hugely moved by Dove Evolution. I thought it was so simple, yet clever and impactful. It did a great job of opening people’s eyes on the fashion and beauty industries and how much work goes into making models look that damn good. Women have always set such impossible beauty standards on themselves and I think the message it was trying to convey back then is just as important now. I remember thinking that’s the kind of thing I want to be involved in making.
It’s a bit dated now, but it showed me ads could be fun and unexpected, and that story and character could exist in less than a minute.
Oliver West: I wouldn’t say there was one piece of work that inspired me to get into the business but when I think back to the first ads that really struck a chord with me, I vividly remember Reebok Belly, Budweiser Frogs and Honda Cog.
Alexander Nally: The first ad that left an impression was Peugeot's The Sculptor. It’s a bit dated now, but it showed me ads could be fun and unexpected, and that story and character could exist in less than a minute. It even created a buzz at school.
The type of advertising which inspires me is based on a truth or an insight.
Paris Starr: One advert that has always stuck in my mind was Sony’s 2005 Bravia ad, Balls. To me this showed the full extent of everything that an advert could be. It was so captivating and impressive to watch. It was a simple idea, executed beautifully.
Sunny Singh Sahota: Not one TVC in particular, but whatever made me laugh or smile. I like the BBC’s Lord Reith mission statement to inform, educate and entertain. If a commercial can do that then punters won’t mind you interrupting their show.
As a kid, I was fascinated by Chris Cunningham’s work.
Cecilie Tett: The type of advertising which inspires me is based on a truth or an insight. The Guinness campaigns We are Made of More stand out for me, especially Sapuers. They are powerful and bold and the story is expressed through real people.
Charlotte Wilson: As a kid, I was fascinated by Chris Cunningham’s work. When his Mental Wealth ad for PlayStation came out, I instinctively knew it was his mind behind it. I guess it was the first time that it had occurred to me that adverts could be creative, subversive, weird even. His later work for Gucci Flora is, in my view, the best perfume ad ever made.
It was the first time that it had occurred to me that adverts could be creative, subversive, weird even.
Greg Nicholls: Yes. Two. The first is the often forgotten and under-appreciated Seconds From Greatness ad for Guinness. The other is the Real Men of Genius campaign for Bud Light. Favourites include Mr Giant Taco Salad Inventor and Mr Really, Really, Really Bad Dancer.
Hannah Kessler: Skoda Fabia Cake, by Fallon. I remember thinking 'I wanna make something like that', but I think I was most likely imagining all the free cake I thought I’d get on the shoot.
Above: Anya Culling, Cecilie Tett and Charlotte Wilson.
What’s currently the most challenging part of your job?
Katie Colhoun: Having to adapt budgets/scripts when creatives, clients or directors decide to adapt strategy/pivot on scripts/or get a genius idea mid-production. It can be hard to be the barer of bad news, “not feasible”, “no budget”, etc. so I dread sounding like a broken record. Also, hangry creatives. What a nightmare.
I would say one of the most difficult parts of my job at the moment is finding the time to explore director reels.
Rachael Clarke: Our roles encompass so much… it requires confidence and being able to hold your own in a room with senior agency members and clients. There’s a lot of pressure sometimes, with tight deadlines and big responsibilities on your shoulders. It could be any one small thing that tips the balance between all of this and sews seeds of doubt, so maybe the most difficult thing is maintaining balance and calm.
The challenge can often be just doing something new without that 100% certainty that you feel you should have when people come to you with questions.
Oliver West: I would say one of the most difficult parts of my job at the moment is finding the time to explore director reels. I’m often working across multiple projects at once, having to quickly shift my attention from one thing to another. I’d like to have the luxury of being able to devote a couple hours a week to sitting down and have a real explore. I still do when I can!
Paris Starr: Still being fairly new to producing, the challenge can often be just doing something new without that 100% certainty that you feel you should have when people come to you with questions. However, each day is another opportunity to learn and increase this knowledge, so no challenge is ever the same.
Jenny Broad: The pressure of bringing to life the idea a creative has worked so hard on, paired with tight deadlines and decreasing budgets, can at times be difficult to achieve.
It’s not just about employing diverse people or putting them on the screens, it’s about making the environment comfortable for them once they are in the building.
Alice Konstam: Trying to pretend you’re not having a minor internal breakdown in front of the creatives.
Rebecca Wilford: We are moving much more towards digital, social and activations instead of traditional commercials. This leads to big, reactive, creative ideas - so time pressure is always challenging. As well as trying to maintain a great, high quality standard of work for smaller, digital budgets.
Diego Caicedo-Galindo: Failing QC on Honeycomb at the very last second is always a mood killer. I’m joking (I’m not). I've never been afraid to put in the extra hours, you do what you have to for the work to be great, but getting home late to my baby boy is hard. It's without a doubt worth it though, he's definitely the extra bit of inspiration I need to keep the hard work up.
I've never been afraid to put in the extra hours, you do what you have to for the work to be great, but getting home late to my baby boy is hard.
Nnena Nwakodo: The most difficult part of my job is dealing with the lack of diversity and inclusion within the industry. Things are progressing, and even in the few years I’ve worked in the industry I’ve noticed a shift, but we have a long way to go. It’s not just about employing diverse people or putting them on the screens, it’s about making the environment comfortable for them once they are in the building.
Mary Musasa: Having to adapt to the pace of how quickly things move while trying to stay a step ahead. And working with shrinking budgets/tight timings, adds another layer too.
Above: Katie Colhoun, Mary Musasa and Nnena Nwakodo.
And the most rewarding?
Katie Colhoun: Working on campaigns I truly believe in. I found working on the NHS’s nursing recruitment ad with Billy Boyd Cape last year incredibly rewarding because I so deeply believe in universal healthcare and love the NHS.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is finding up-and-coming director talent and putting director lists together.
Anya Culling: I would say seeing a campaign go live after you have put your blood, sweat and tears into it. I enjoy a phone call from my granny saying she has seen my ad on TV, but I tend to switch the channel when it comes on. Like when you cook a roast dinner and then don’t even want to eat it anymore!
Cecilie Tett: For me, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is finding up-and-coming director talent and putting director lists together. I like to get creatives to think about using someone that might be unexpected to them. In the past, I have usually found that the most interesting treatments are from a wild card.
Working with people whose expertise and skill astonish me every day.
Diego Caicedo-Galindo: Looking at your deliverables list full of green ‘Delivered’ highlights is such a beautiful sight.
Charlotte Wilson: Being on set. It’s stressful and sometimes chaotic but there’s a sense of camaraderie and collaboration on set that makes the chaos worthwhile.
Nnena Nwakodo: Working with the people that are the most talented in their field. Sitting in editing suites or on set with cinematographers and production designers… working with people whose expertise and skill astonish me every day.
Above: Paige Bentley, Paris Starr and Oliver West.
What do you think the main challenges will be in your role – or for the industry in general - over the next few years?
Rachael Clarke: Inclusion and brave work. I’m lucky and so happy to say that everyone I have worked with is set on building on these two things, and that intent is definitely there. But as an industry, we have a long way to go before we’re fully representative. Bravery is something we see now, but you can’t have enough of it – especially with creative. While clients’ budgets are getting smaller and those dreaded words ‘in house’ keep cropping up, we’re going to have to get more creative, braver and cleverer.
As an industry, we have a long way to go before we’re fully representative.
Anya Culling: Aside from deciding what ‘thanks’ gif to use at the end of a deck, the industry is facing some serious challenges. We are a guilty party of ad fast-forwarders, skippers and blockers that make adverts for a living.The challenge will be creating work that will be seen and remembered.
Alexander Nally: I feel the distinction between roles is shifting and producers need to learn more integrated skills to keep up. I’ve seen experienced freelance producers turned away because they don’t know what an Instagram Carousel is. Technology has shrunk filmmaking and audiences into the palm of our hand and we need to keep up with that. It’s exciting, but expectations have changed.
Behind the camera, the industry needs to open its doors to people who wouldn’t traditionally work in it. It’ll ultimately make the work we produce better.
Sunny Singh Sahota: Agencies are trying to bring in technology to provide cheaper and quicker solutions that clients demand. We’re selling people’s time and expertise so there’s only so fast you can work – that includes clients. Keeping up to date with new directors and production companies who can create shit-hot, innovative work. Behind the camera, the industry needs to open its doors to people who wouldn’t traditionally work in it. It’ll ultimately make the work we produce better, so it’s win-win.
Jenny Broad: Keeping up with how younger audiences consume content, and standing out within the market when so many new streaming platforms are becoming available.
The big challenge is getting clients and agencies to properly value the role of agency producer.
Charlotte Wilson: We need to learn to be smarter and more mindful of how we can be environmentally sound in our approach to the service that we provide. As an industry, our growing challenge is the need to create more for less, but it’s up to us to be innovative with how we can do so in a more sustainable way.
Greg Nicholls: As I see it, the big challenge is getting clients and agencies to properly value the role of agency producer. In seeking to streamline and downsize a given process or project, the role can be viewed by procurement and resource teams as more of an expense than an asset. It seems the tendency is to fret over how much the client is going to lose (money) rather than how much they will gain (quality control, stability). Of course, the pressure on agencies to deliver value to clients is great, but agency producers affect the overall experience of almost everyone involved in making a film making process. Which directly influences the quality of the end product that goes out into the world, and the agency is ultimately judged on.
The industry, in general, will have to focus on less on-air advertising and more on social, print and DOOH.
Paige Bentley: I think budgets will keep tightening which will make my job particularly difficult. The industry, in general, will have to focus on less on-air advertising and more on social, print and DOOH. It’s a different way of working that everyone will have to adapt to. It’s exciting to be in 4Creative because we have the creative freedom to be really forward thinking and are always pushing the boundaries of traditional advertising.
Mary Musasa: Things are ever-evolving in our industry, but I’d say adapting old models and approaches to ones that suit the current climate. I also feel that industry still lacks in having more people in the room who reflect wider society. Positive steps have been taken in gender diversity but there’s still some way to go with diversity issue. In terms of my role, the growing list of deliverables and staying on top of the many processes involved in supplying to different channels.
Hannah Kessler: Adapting to fewer retained clients and more project-based jobs.
Above: Diego Caicedo-Galindo, Gregg Nicholls and Rebecca Wilford.
How important is it to network with your peers from other agencies?
Anya Culling: Oh, it's so important to network with everyone you meet. You’ll climb the tiers together and constantly cross paths. It really is such a small industry. I remember my first boss telling me not to speak too loudly in Soho House because you never know who's in there!
It’s important not to feel alone.
Alexander Nally: Meeting producers on the outside helps you keep a fresh perspective and approach. You might even find yourself shooting something new (like babies or animals) and need to check in with someone you know who has done that before. If you’re from a smaller agency this applies even more. It’s a team game and you need each other.
Paris Starr: It’s important not to feel alone. I am the most junior within my department, so it is comforting to know that I have a pool of friends in the same position who I can reach out to for support or advice.
The industry is full of really talented people so we should use that to our advantage and help each other out.
Alice Konstam: Very important. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you can ring your peers up whenever you’re struggling to solve a production problem on your own. What’s even better is that you can take all the credit.
Diego Caicedo-Galindo: I have to be honest and say that, sadly, it does not happen as much as it should. I love networking, we do it on a constant basis with post houses and production companies, but not enough with other agencies. I really hope I get to do it more, it's definitely the way we move forward and continue to make amazing work, by learning from each other.
It’s a team game and you need each other.
Paige Bentley: Having a good network around you is really important but, to be honest, it’s hard to find the time or opportunity to meet new people in the industry. It’s easy to get stuck in our own agency/company bubble, but it can be really useful to share stories and knowledge, the industry is full of really talented people so we should use that to our advantage and help each other out.
Above: Rachael Clarke, Jenny Broad and Hannah Kessler.
What piece of work from the last 12 months made you say, 'I wish I'd made that!'?
Katie Colhoun: I know it’s slightly longer than 12 months ago but how incredible would it have been to be involved in making Viva La Vulva. I think it’s easy for people to see it as just singing vaginas but I can’t help but notice the craft and the details.
Oliver West: One that we did at Engine, but which I wasn’t lucky enough to work on, was Born Free’s The Bitter Bond. Beautiful storytelling that’s executed perfectly.
Alexander Nally: Apple’s Bounce was great. Immediately recognisable as an Apple spot, while also feeling fresh. I’m always keen to see what the brand will do next.
Sunny Singh Sahota: Nike Qiang Diao, directed by Finn Keenan at Riff Raff. Now that’s 'thumb stopping' content.
Rebecca Wilford: The animated ads for Habito really stood out. I love the gnarly animation. I think to make a price comparison website and a mortgage broker stand out in such a cool way is very difficult.
Nnena Nwakodo: Ok so it’s a little over a year, but I loved the Spike Jonze spot for Apple HomePod. I love this kind of advertising; fun, light-hearted, beautifully-crafted and simple.
Paige Bentley: It wasn’t in the last 12 months, but I definitely wish I had helped make Nike Nothing Beats a Londoner. They used real Londoners, not actors, which made it really authentic, so it resonated with so many people. They weren’t scared to alienate people outside of London and, instead, celebrated London during a time of a lot of negativity.
Mary Musasa: Ikea's Silence the Critics; well thought-out and executed.
The full list of young producers in attendance at the event were;
Nic Akinnibosun, Mother; Felicity Bamber, AMV BBDO; Jenny Broad, BBC Creative; Paige Bentley, 4Creative; Diego Caicedo-Galindo, Sky; Katie Colhoun, MullenLowe; Rachael Clarke, FCB Inferno; Anya Culling, TBWA; Rosie Good, VCCP; Hannah Kessler, Joint; Alice Konstam, Lucky Generals; Rebecca Lee, Media Arts Lab; Mary Musasa, Havas; Alexander Nally, BETC; Nnena Nwakodo, BBH; Greg Nicholls, WundermanThompson; Sunny Singh Sahota, Hogarth @ Ogilvy; Paris Starr, Publicis Poke; Cecilie Tett, Karmarama; Sammy Watts Stanfield, Wieden+Kennedy; Oliver West, Engine; Rebecca Wilford, McCann; Charlotte Wilson, Grey