OK, this sounds like your taking your prize winning bovine off to be sold, but this is not the case. I don’t believe any creative should be in a position of selling something, in the purely commercial sense, for a producer. Of course, it is a huge competitive advantage if you have some understanding of how to sell your ideas but the transaction is entirely different.
I also don’t believe in magic beans or chickens laying golden eggs.
I started doing it around eight years ago, and I guess the most important thing for me has been communication. Establishing clear lines of communication helps everyone to be heard at the right moments and avoids misunderstanding and disappointment.
I remember when I first made the transition from director to the producer there was zero client management or internal communication to help the teams understand the shift. The result being, me massively overdoing things in an attempt to make my role evident. This poorly communicated process built harmful frustration on the side of our creative teams and a complete misunderstanding of functions on the client side. Thankfully we still managed to get the show made, and while it almost killed me, I can see now that it certainly made me stronger.
Bringing your show creator along is a powerful statement for many reasons and here are a few things I have learnt from my personal experience.
Allow your creator to see how competitive the market is. Once they wander around MIPJr or MiPCOM and see the ocean of content and production companies on display, suddenly there is a more definite sense of the challenge a producer is facing. It allows you to situate your show in the context of the industry standard and plants the seeds for insight to grow. My obsession with building empathy for the potential buyer has come from this. When we develop projects and decide on how to pitch or present them, we always look at it from the position of being pitched. We can attempt to design this experience too. Most creatives NEVER think of this simple reality.
The act in itself clarifies the roles. I like to make it very clear who needs to talk to who as we get into the discussions about the life of a show concept, the mechanics of the financial structure and trading of rights you need to do so. Situate who is the business contact and who is bringing the creative equity to this deal. If there are questions and or concerns, it is great to demonstrate that you have a creative leader who is mature enough to act as a partner. Allowing each member of the team to operate in these clearly defined roles as the production takes shape will only speed things up.
The producer needs to plant themselves in the role of content strategist.
“It is my insight and understanding of the market that has brought us here, and after listening to you, I think this content can help you achieve your business goals, but we both have to trust our creative leaders.”
This way when we get to the difficult and risk heavy parts of the process you can work constructively supporting your client as a partner and protecting your creative team in the process. If you have NOT done this, then you are most likely in conflict with your client and pushing your creative team under the bus.
Don’t be tempted by the dark side of the force! It feels good to get up and pitch a concept and do a little show and get some immediate feedback, especially when everyone is positive. (Not so much when they are not.) Just remind yourself that it is the moment to tell everyone that it is not the messenger, it is because you have hired such a great team and that is why the message itself is so strong. This way no one gets confused, especially not you.
Even if your creator freezes up in the moment, which happened a few times in the past, you can calmly step in and walk the client through the mechanics of the show concept and then ask a few questions to get the creator talking about themselves and perhaps the WHY behind the idea. Then you step out and let them shine by just being themselves. If you have done the lead-up work correctly, the storytelling built into the pitch will do the job for you and the supporting sales tools relative the project will speak for themselves. What you want from your creator is to be themselves and demonstrate that unique flavour they bring.
Unfortunately what I see from the actions of most producers, and sometimes even hear, is that they position themselves as the creative vision. The creative team is an organic version of a voice-activated mouse, I speak, and they do kind of thing. I get it, there is a lot of money and ego at stake etc. but it costs more in wasted time and energy than we would like to think. The market is looking for robust and opinionated content that breaks through the noise, and this requires a content strategist working as a partner with their client and a team of creative leads empowered to drive the project through the bumpy road of development and production. The first time I saw this was at USTWO in London, and of course you see it in some of the major studios in Los Angeles.
It speeds up the messy middle between the pickup and the actual start of production. (The proof of concept phase where all parties are looking for reassurance.) The moment where the financial structure and the creative promise of the concept are finally tested. It is an opportunity to save meaningful time and build trust and confidence with our partners. However, to do so, everyone needs to be in his or her exact role, and everyone needs to be in a support role.
Finally, it creates an off-site experience outside the studio where you can get to know each other a little better and take amount to discuss your more in-depth strategy for the show and perhaps listen to the career goals or desires of the creator herself. It is great to step outside and feel the weight a little as a creative and to help build understanding for the other teams working to give the show a long and healthy life. The sales and business dev teams can get a bad wrap from the creatives sometimes.
Of course, it is expensive to take team members to markets, and if they are not in a money-making role it can be hard to justify the expense, but it is a worthwhile investment. If not Cannes then perhaps just a few client meetings where you actively put them first. However you do it, I believe it can only be positive for everyone.
Ofcourse, this doesn’t change the fact that there is an entire industry working fine on a commercial level but my concern is the long-term effect on the creative class. If we are not careful, we will breed a generation of frustrated creatives that have given up their creative autonomy for a comfortable seat in a broken system.
When we finally ask them to create the evergreen brands of tomorrow the answer will be “you tell me how and I will do whatever you want”.