Joris Pol — Executive Producer, MediaMonks

Joris talks to TheNextGag about where MediaMonks is right now, how they keep up with technology and how they manage to always create amazing interactive experiences.

Joris Pol is an Executive Producer at Mediamonks in the Netherlands.

Joris has been with MediaMonks for (the better) half of the company’s fourteen-year existence. He is responsible for establishing MediaMonks’ international business as creative digital production company; first in London — which office he headed for three years — and now across the rest of the world. As an Executive Producer, Joris leads MediaMonks’ most-ambitious projects and is closely involved at pretty much any stage from pitch to production. He is responsible for the production of some of MediaMonks’ best-known campaigns, including Adidas: Nitrocharge Your Game, Geox: 7 Days of Rain andThe Universal Typeface Experiment by BIC.

WHAT IS MEDIAMONKS ?

I think I’ve attempted to explain this during the Epica party, but it was quite loud so let me try again… MediaMonks is a creative digital production company. We specialize in working for and with advertising agencies to craft amazing digital work for global brands. By most accounts, we are one of top digital production companies worldwide.

We’ve been working to get here for fourteen years now. MediaMonks was founded in the Netherlands in 2001 as a small company doing all kinds of digital work for a wide variety of clients. In 2009, we opened our first international office in London, working as an Executive Producer, I managed the London office for about three and half years. During this period, we changed our proposition by starting to work exclusively ad agencies.

Partnering with agencies to work for the brands they represent has being working really well for us. Nowadays, we get to collaborate on all kinds of creative projects. Next to websites and digital campaigns, we produce interactive films and TVCs, games, second screen apps, digital platforms, installations, … — you name it.

CURRENTLY, IS MEDIAMONKS ONLY IN AMSTERDAM AND LONDON THEN ?

As of 2014, we are operating in five major cities. After London, we opened shop in New York, Singapore and most recently Los Angeles. Having offices around the world but still operating a single company allows us to start doing 24/7 production by effectively relaying work across time zones. There’s no end to what you can achieve in a work day that never stops.

DO YOU SHARE PROJECTS BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT OFFICES ?

We try to always leverage our full pool of talent. The majority of our 250 Monks are based at our production stronghold in the Netherlands. Our international offices work with a smaller team of executive producers, creatives, creative technologists and developers to make sure projects can be engaged and managed locally. Most of the heavy lifting, production wise, is carried out at our HQ.

WHAT IS YOUR ROLE ?

At present, I am leading MediaMonks’ international projects as well as the producers team. I also still work as a producer on projects myself. Up until a year and half ago, I managed MediaMonks’ London office.

Next to projects for ‘local’ clients such as DDB & Tribal Amsterdam and 72andSunny Amsterdam, we increasingly do work for agencies outside of the Netherlands. In my current role, my primary concern is to support our offices abroad and the projects they do. In addition, I run most of the European project in countries where MediaMonks doesn’t have a permanent office. For example, we’ve got all kinds of things going in Paris, which is only hours aways from our office in the Netherlands. We’re also producing projects in the Nordics, Germany, Spain, and Italy.

In the past two years, I worked as a producers on projects like The Universal Typeface Experiment, Geox: 7 Days of Rain, and IKEA: Where Good Days Start. For other projects, I’m only involved in the first stage to help shape the project in the best way possible. After all, a strong idea needs a strong execution.

I WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GEOX PROJECT. WHERE WAS IT SHOT ?

The film was shot in Barcelona. It was really a fun shoot. It was actually the second campaign for Geox’ waterproof shoes. In 2012, they went to the rainiest place on Earth, where Geox shot four short documentaries.

In 7 Days of Rain, we follow the 34-year old Tom, who we’d sent to Barcelona to live through seven days of nonstop precipitation. For this project, we actually built a portable rain cloud. Producing this film for SMFB Oslo was fun and challenging — and we’ve had loads of good reactions from bystanders in Barcelona. I think anyone can easily imagine how torturous it must be to be soaking wet without a stop. But at least he had dry feet!

ABOUT THE GERMAN CAMPAIGN FOR BIC, WHAT WAS THE IDEA ?

This was our first project with DDB Tribal Düsseldorf. They came to us with an ingenious concept for penmaker BIC. In short, their idea was to crowdsource a universal typeface to go with BIC’s omnipresent Cristal ballpoint pen.

The initial conceptual thinking was still a little bit cumbersome for a digital project: asking people to download a form, write their letters, scan it, and then send it back. Together with DDB, we worked to improve this process tremendously. The cool thing about the submission process we end up creating is that we also ask for some demographic data, allowing us to show all kinds of variations of the typeface. For example, the differences between the handwriting of men and women.

In addition to a better way of participating in the experiment, we also needed to find a technical solution for merging the submitted handwritings into a single, universal typeface. We’ve had a lot of prototyping done by our R&D team to figure out how we should go about this. This process of trial and error slowly evolved into a technical proof of concept.

At some point, we had the build pretty much in shape. We were receiving input, and the site worked particularly well on mobile devices where users could draw letters using their hands instead of mouse. This was a bit problematic for desktop users, for which drawing letters can be difficult, especially when only using a mouse. We got around potential obstacle by enabling desktop users to connect their mobile device to the website and use the touchscreen as an input device. This solution allowed virtually everyone to submit their handwriting by hand.

And then the real fun started. There was no media buy this project — zero. DBB simply put it out there. After a few days, on Friday night, we were online looking at Google Analytics, which said there were 4,500 visitors live now. The server was still doing fine, but we quickly implemented some optimizations to better handle the surge in traffic. In the next two weeks, we kept working on optimizing the front- and back-end code of the project. We knew it was a strong idea, but you never know how much people will take notice of it beforehand. But as soon as Wired, The Verge and Engadget started writing about a project, things go pretty fast.

YOU TALK ABOUT THE CANNES DEADLINE, YOU TALK ABOUT THE NUMBER OF VISITS, YOU TALK ABOUT THE PRESS. SO, HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE SUCCESS OF A CAMPAIGN ?

The KPIs are set by the agency, after which we try to realize them together. With this project, it was plain to see that the campaign was hitting and reaching beyond the goals we set. We quickly reached over one million characters contributed and got a lot of attention from around the globe — from Brazil to Japan to the States. With such a short production turnaround, it was fairly easy to evaluate the effort as a success. After all, the budget was quite modest and we didn’t spend any of it on media.

AND ARE YOU HAPPY WHEN YOU WIN AWARDS OR IS IT JUST A BONUS ?

First and foremost, the joy of production is the most important things to us. Even when projects do not win any awards, we still love working on them. However, we always aim for excellence, and being awarded is perhaps the greatest form of recognition .

We used to only focus the FWA — the leading online showcase for digital work. We currently rank 3rd in the FWA’s all-time ranking and were inducted into the FWA Hall of Fame in 2013, which — of course — we are very proud of. The FWA was and still is a really important prize for us because it pays so much attention to digital craft, which is the heart of MediaMonks. But nowadays, we’ve broadened our wins and also count the likes of Cannes, Epica, Eurobest and many other award shows.

This road to global acclaim has been great to witness. However, I think the work MediaMonks does is split in two. On the one hand, you have the award-winning campaigns we produce in close partnership with ad agencies, like the ones we did for Geox, IKEA, KLM and GMC. On the other hand, there’s the day-to-day work: banners, localization of microsites, rollouts in 90 countries and in 50 languages — you name it. We have a highly skilled banner team that simply loves crafting banners. I’m serious. Every time I visit the team, they smile.

HOW DO YOU DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF WITH OTHER ESTABLISHED DIGITAL PRODUCTION COMPANIES ?

When we opened our office in London, in 2009, we were still mostly focused on the Dutch market. We only started picking up international work six years ago. One thing that hasn’t changed but is now really setting us apart is that we do not work with any freelancers.

All of our 250 Monks are on our permanent payroll. They are here everyday and they stay with us for a very long time. This means that with every project we deliver, we incrementally get smarter; we keep the talent and the experience inside our company. Working with an in-house team also you to really nail the last five to ten percent of a project — which are arguably the most important for finetuning the project.

The scale we offer also helps because it allows us to also help on day-to-day work with agencies. For some of their campaigns, they only need loads of different banners or teasers. Our turnaround for such work is unrivaled.

HOW DO YOU KEEP UP WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES ? AND BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE FREELANCES AND YOU HAVE, I DON’T KNOW, FIFTY PEOPLE WORKING ON FLASH BANNERS, WHAT DO NOW THAT FLASH IS ALMOST DEAD ?

MediaMonks was very big in Flash. We built an extensive Flash Library for over seven years. We had loads of Flash work in our portfolio — especially a lot of our earliest interactive films were achieved in Flash. All of our Flash Monks are still with us, however; we’ve not let go of a single one. Ultimately, talent trumps technology. The Monks that used to focus on Flash all have a background in development, design or animation. After bringing the best in Flash, they now bring the best in other fields of production. Our Lead Flash Monk, for example, has now set up a complete Javascript-HTML5 framework that makes it easier to build upon previous projects.

To get back to your question of how keep up with technology: Well, we keep hiring smart Monks, that’s the main thing. We still look at everyone we interview with all the team leads and management. We also have a strong R&D team, whose sole purpose is to constantly play with new technologies — which really helps, of course. They tinker with virtual reality, they look at new WebGL solutions, Unity3D, etc. Technologies are always evolving and we work hard to find out how we can use them and put them to our advantage for new projects.

This is what makes working in digital production so cool — it just never gets boring.

Joris Pol

MediaMonks

Executive Producer

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