Participants: Frank Lantz, CD/Co-founder, Area/Code; Noam
Murro, Director, Biscuit Filmworks; Bob Greenberg, CEO of R/GA;
David Droga, Creative Chairman of Droga5; Jason Harris, President,
Mekanism; Tommy Means., Director/Partner, Mekanism; Ian Kovalik,
CD/Partner, Mekanism; Gerry Graf, CCO, Saatchi & Saatchi, N.Y.;
Patrick Milling Smith, EP/Co-founder, Smuggler; Eddy Moretti,
Director/Co-founder, VBS.tv; Jon Kamen, Chaiman/CEO,
Creativity: Mr. Droga, why start your own agency? And with all that's going on in the industry, what is the agency of 2008 supposed to be doing? How do you define your mandate?
C: Gerry Graf, you started a new job recently. Coming from your previous gig, you had sort of reenergized TBWA, New York, which when you left, had a really great body of new work behind it. Coming into a new job, what are your priorities?
C: Bob, there is a lot of talk about new models and different structures for different agencies and bringing different people in. So talk a little about how R/GA fits in the spectrum. Are you an interactive agency? You've got the design heritage and the production heritage. What are you offering now that's different?
C: Talking about new models, Jon and the Mekanism guys, you've taken a very diverse approach to production and you work with both agencies and direct to client. What is it that you guys actually do? How do you define your companies?
C: I think we have to throw the question over to Patrick. Smuggler is no longer the young, hot start-up, yet it remains one of the most innovative production companies in the industry, but you guys don't talk about all your "capabilities."
C: Frank, you're doing something way different than a lot of people here. Can you tell us a little about your company?
C: And marketers are really into it right now?
Frank: I think that people get excited when they think of a game that uses technology that isn't a solitary single player experience, where someone is fantasizing about killing a dragon or being a space marine. There is something about the novelty of what we do, the fact that we are interested in new experimental forms of play that aren't just using these very traditional models of the videogame that would be potentially be newsworthy. When play becomes visible like that it's more appropriate to think about sponsoring something like that as a way to promote your TV show or your product, and it can often generate press.
C: Noam, in terms of making an idea come to life, making something great, how do you know? What's the difference between a pretty good spot and an amazing spot?
Patrick: It feels like creativity is more necessary now than ever. I don't see many of the good ads on TV, but I see them being emailed. There are all of these different mediums with which to watch a really good idea and connect with it. It's cluttered and the only thing that's going to take something to the top is a really good idea and a really good script. That's all you have to worry about.
Noam: How many movies have you seen that you really remember and like that have had great technical aspects to them? The Graduate probably had a 35mm camera and a freakin' dolly and it's still pretty damn good today. Can you tell a story or can't you tell a story? That's really all there is in my mind.
Bob: But if you've got a situation where 50% of the people are watching TV and multitasking and 50% of the people are online and the spend for media is 95-5 and it's moving this way [away from TV], that's going to change the entire business. I agree, the relevance of storytelling will always be there. The tools have changed, the storytelling hasn't. But technology has had a tremendous impact on the storytelling process.
C: Eddy, you have an amazing magazine that has now become an amazing content-driven site. Can you talk about that transition?
VCU Student: I think "storytelling" has been mentioned at least 18 times, which is very reassuring because I'm a writer. I also accept how technology has to come into play in all of this. How will we make sure that our storytelling stays relevant when we go to these new things?
Bob: I personally believe that the third screen will become the first screen. It's very difficult to think about something once and then bring it across all of the different formats. So, you have to write very specifically for the format. You have to produce things differently for the small screen than you would for something very big.
Frank: Conversely, the DVD box sets have changed TV drama right? Shows like The Wire, which are constructed with the idea that people are going to consume them as these long 13-hour cinematic experiences, they can have a much different pace. It does effect the story-telling; it's not the screen size, but there are other aspects as well.
Bob: It's not all about story, that's absolutely wrong. Who says it's about story, everything about advertising, marketing, communications? That's bullshit. It's about information as much as it is about story. I really believe that.
Tommy: I disagree totally. When you're inviting somebody to spend time with advertising, that's the important thing to remember, this is fucking advertising. You have to be really really smart about how you weave the branding into the storyline. I think that is the biggest challenge right now for directors that are working outside of the 30-second spot. At the end of the day you still have to deliver a message and if you're not making them laugh, if there's no drama, if there's not crisis, conflict, resolution, you are going to lose them. Period.
Eddy: That gorilla on the drums for Cadbury commercial to the Phil Collins song, there ain't much story there, right? But it's a great idea and it's a bit of information. Storytelling in the traditional sense with conflict, resolutions etc., isn't necessarily part of modern advertising anymore. It's not necessarily like writing a complete song, it might just be a note.
Frank: This notion of where the ideas are going to come from, that's not something that you can teach or even talk about, I think we should pass over it in silence. I think the important thing is approaching every possibility as if this could be the one and getting as many at bats as you can and swinging as hard as you can at each at bat. Like this could be the one. And I think that is the essential secret key to coming up with something that works.
VCU Student: As student about to graduate you if you were to give us one piece of advice, what would it be?
Jon: One really important thing to remember is it's true that brands want to sell people things, but they also want to build an emotional connection. We've lost that concept, especially with all this technology we're talking about. More and more devices are becoming part of out lives and as an industry, we have to make sure we figure out a way to restore the ability to create that emotional bond.
Bob: The one word I would use is exactly the same as Gerry. I never knew we had so much in common. It's relentless. You have to be relentless, that's the only way you'll get in. And once you're in you have to learn as much as you can and either grow with that organization or take what you have and move to another. Get experience, one way or another.
Jason Harris: It seems like everyone is evolving on this panel. People at our company have to be fluent in writing and art direction and understanding interactive and how film and animation work. How is that changing with students, how are you teaching these guys?
Eddy: To add to what Gerry and Robert said, you have to be relentless, but you should be relentless if you really believe in something and you should know when to walk away from something. You can get into so much needless heartache and pain and end up losing a lot of money if you don't pick your projects and partners carefully. It's going to make you career a lot more enjoyable if you learn how to say no to some people. Conversely, if you find the client or project that's really awesome, you got to stick to it like glue.
VCU Student: I know there is a problem with advertising and diversity. Can any of you tell me what ideas you might have to try and solve that problem and if you have any programs within your company to implement something?
Bob: We have a big program on diversity and a full time person on staff just looking for diverse talent. In the U.S. having an agency that understands how to talk to diverse audiences is just part of what you need to do. We just brought back a guy that used to work for me that was running the social media part of Black Planet. He's African American and we are so happy to have him back and he's going to be the creative director for our mobile group. You really have to track the people that are talented and you have to figure out how to get them out of the universities or high school. We have high school programs that we bring into R/GA. I sit on five school boards, that's another way.
Bob: I think that's a big mistake. I think Rick knows how involved we are with recruiting, both of our recruiters were down at VCU recently. It's something that all agencies are going to have to do. I don't think that advertising has been particularly good at this.
Rick: Talking to colleges, at least what I've found is by the time you get there to talk to them they have already found a path. So, we've started a program talking to high schools because they don't even know about it. Imagine if we can just hit inner city high schools and get a pretty diverse ethnic group to really think about what we do, whether its film or digital or advertising in general, we can excite them.
Bob: I think the biggest problem is that many of the diverse communities, the parents don't even view advertising as a profession. We found that at the Art Directors Club they had a lecture specifically on that issue of creativity in a diverse community.
Gerry: There might be a lot of discrimination involved too, but not as much because if you're getting a job as a creative, you're hired on your portfolio.
David: If it's grounded in their business needs then it genuinely is a big idea and you have more of a chance to sell it. But when we try to sell stuff that you just think is just incredibly creative, all of those layers are going to kill it. I've always found that the things that I like producing the most were probably the easiest to sell through because they came from a real need for the business. You solved it before you actually went into executions. When you stand up and think you're going to win a client over by reading a really funny script, clients smell that.
Gerry: But [ideas] are precious. You have to learn to take care of them. Because there are people out there on the agency side and the client side whose job pretty much seems to be to kill a good idea. It's really how you present it, who you present it to. You have to be very careful, because it seems, even if you have the best idea in the world people aren't going to bow down and give you money and say, go do it.
David: And you have to be prepared to walk away from it. It's a weird thing, sometimes you start out with something that you love, but when it does get compromised along the way, you're so in love with it you're blinded to how much it's been compromised along the way and you just want to see it through. You have to have the courage as an agency to say, we understand your issues and we'll take this off the table and come back with something new.
Bob: I again think that the big idea is changing. And I think the key is that it's not going to be one or two people that go off and solve a problem and come back with a big idea. I do think that the big idea can be many small , medium and different sized ideas that actually do something to engage a consumer. And it's becoming more and more global. I personally don't want to open up places like I mentioned, all over the place. I hate air travel. The point is that we will not be able to sustain our clients without a global footprint. [Also] if you don't understand technology and the impact on communications and design and creativity, I really think you're going to get left on the sidelines going forward. And if you are the best at whatever you are doing you are always going to do well.
Tommy: I'm definitely not giving up my spot.
David: I wish Ricky Gervais was on it. I think he influenced more writing and comedy. But I think Patrick should have been kicked off.
Frank: Erik Wolpaw, the writer for the game Portal. Storytelling through games is this incredibly complicated and fascinating question that a lot of people feel really passionate about, and Portal is a small masterpiece largely due to the work of this guy.
Tommy: Whoever did that interactive video for The Arcade Fire. Mysterious, weird and cool. Just a really simple idea that I was pretty blown away by.
Jon: Richard Branson. There's a guy who has created more incredible brands and who is a showman, but at the same time has shown incredible insight in terms of environmental concerns, philanthropic areas.
Gerry: Whoever created Guitar Hero has done the most to destroy creatives in their thinking. Do not get it for your agency.