Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Eclectic Mix

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Daniel Shaw and I’m one of two Executive Producers at Deep Focus, an integrated digital marketing agency in New York.
I produce an eclectic mix of interactive media within the creative department, ranging from small banner ad campaigns to much larger immersive interactive experiences. As a fully integrated agency I have the added value of being able to work hand-in-hand with our in-house media and public relations departments on integrated campaigns. As a Producer it’s a great opportunity to be able to focus all strategic efforts simultaneously under one roof.

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
Born and raised in Brooklyn, I went to a very math/science focused high school and participated in lots of research and science competitions, notably the Intel Science Talent Search. In college I followed the Pre-Med route, receiving a Bachelors of Science in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell. I quickly realized after taking the MCATs that life in medical school and hospitals wasn’t for me.

My science nerdom had eclipsed my passion for the arts and technology; I had always been a closet creative hobbyist: multi-instrumented musician, avid photographer and passionate amateur filmmaker. When I graduated I wanted to find a way to somehow integrate these seemingly disparate interests. And so, I fell into interactive media. Who knew?

My first job was working as a Project Manager at an interactive shop that worked exclusively in the health care arena, specifically on physician-directed marketing efforts for the pharmaceutical industry. Disguised as “Medical Education,” these Pharma companies would sponsor specialist symposiums where physicians go to earn required annual Continuing Medical Education credits in order to retain their licenses.

We would shoot the conferences, edit back at the office and then create Flash applications for CD and Web distribution for doctors to receive credit remotely. I was initially hired because of my science education and enjoyed the immediate applicability of my background in producing several 3D animation sequences.

I’d bring in my biochemistry textbook and explain to the animation team the molecular interactions of say, a new cancer drug. It was on some serious nerd tip.

Overall it was an amazing learning experience in all things creative production. I had a hand in managing everything from video production and post production, print materials for the CD distribution, 3D animation, Flash, HTML/CSS, .NET, some small software development and of course, client services. Pharmaceutical advertising proved to be many things, most especially, very uncreative; the medical community I think still lives about twelve web years behind the rest of the world and so I sought out a more creative outlet.

I’ve been with Deep Focus ever since.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
We have an internal blog at Deep Focus which is an invaluable resource for anything and everything. Everyone in the agency posts and so you find a great mix of new technology, latest industry news and marketing trends, and in general just some really cool, interesting, creative shit.

I veer off course from referring to exclusively staying on top of technology as a way to keep a team informed and motivated. In fact, I often feel this is a type of leading question, especially coming from those who only associate the latest and greatest with successful campaigns (you know, the ever client requested “big idea” – a phrase currently banned in my office). Yes, R&D is absolutely vital to the sustainability of a Producer and Agency in this blazing fast industry. There’s no doubt we need to stay on top of what’s going on.

However, I often feel some of my favorite sites aren’t those that employ the hottest new thing. They are the ones that focus on beautiful execution, even if that execution is a simple concept or using older technology. I think there is value in keeping aware of anything and everything released, from complicated flash sites to new types of digital graffiti (see the pixelator). Then team motivation is easy because it’s derived from getting people excited; it’s the best way to get the creative juices flowing. Of course a new product/technology will accomplish this, but a new spin on an old favorite might just do the trick too.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
Regardless the project, regardless the marketing strategy, the best client is someone you don’t even think of as a client. They are part of the team, a partnership to the fullest. As evident from most of the previous posts, seldom do projects ever go completely smoothly. Clients should understand that because of this, the process requires their full immersion. My best clients are those I speak to everyday. We become friends and push each other harder because of it.

Client management at that point is seamless; because there’s so much mutual devotion, it’s only natural that we’re both working towards the same goal. Sure, a great client could be defined as one who wants to push the technological envelope, create a variety of cool on and offline materials, and throw money around like it’s a hip-hop video, but if there’s no mutual respect and trust, it’s missing something special.

I think the ideal project follows this thought process in kind. A great project will most often be dictated by a great client, regardless its scope. However, of course, personally? My ideal project is one that pushes the technological envelope, includes a variety of on and offline materials, and includes enough money to throw around like a hip-hop video. The more Cristal, the better.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
Complete and utter honesty and [polite] frankness to manage expectations. Presenting a master plan at the onset of a project is the road map to follow. Then I like to identify where things will probably go wrong. Those calendar dates are then highlighted in red and sent to the client.

Education requires an easily digestible laymen’s translation. Clients often don’t speak tech and need to feel that they have a confidant to help make sense of it all.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
My favorite projects are those that are large enough to sink my teeth into. But ultimately the best are those that are unique and require a creative approach to their execution. In 2007 I managed the production of CourtTV’s 8Day Mystery Challenge.

We staged and shot a fake kidnapping of a scientist, created an on-air spot that threw to, a video blog “created” by the scientist’s wife who had put up a reward for those who could figure out where he was. We designed all the game logic, wrote all the scripts and puzzles, shot and edited the video, and then built the main site as well as several fake ancillary sites for the storyline.

I really enjoyed all the different media involved. More than 35,000 people registered to play and there was a ton of buzz around it; even more enjoyable was watching user’s reactions, especially those who thought it was an actual kidnapping. How they didn’t notice the giant CourtTV sweepstakes and sponsor logos I’ll never understand.

Most recently I produced, an immersive experiential site promoting world building content for EA’s new survival horror release, Dead Space. It is an amazing game that offered tons of incredible assets to play with. Much of the site pushed the boundaries of Papervision using real 3D models from the game.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
Very much based on scope of the projects. In the past I’ve juggled up to eight to twelve moderately sized campaigns. This has shrunk to one or two at a time for larger endeavors. Recently, my role as Executive Producer has included more operations responsibilities and has decreased the number I can handle at any one time. Tending to a project is truly a toddler type obligation. The slightest deviation from the daily tender love and care necessary to make it a productive member of society and it will start kicking and screaming and drawing all over the wallpaper with magic marker.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?

Smart, funny, proactive, dedicated, smart, hygienic, diligent, light-hearted, smart, focused, energetic rock stars.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
A client’s best interests are a Producer’s best interests. Communication is key, especially at the onset of a project. Covering as much ground as possible early will ensure a clear focus towards executing a mutually agreed upon goal.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?

The Singularity is Near. More and more I see traditional advertising adapting web culture. A Dentyne gum print ad campaign canvases the entire car of my C Train commute with images of couples passionately kissing below a tagline of “The Original Instant Message.” On-air spots are made to look deliberately like streaming video, authentic grainy pixels and all. The convergence of all mediums will eventually offer the opportunity for some cool integration. I think the traffic at the intersection of broadband and cable will be directed by branded content.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
It’s difficult to follow Jeff Einstein’s post in this regard, but I’ll do my best (major props, Jeff).
The job description of a good interactive producer reads like that of a renaissance (wo)man. The necessity to wear so many hats at any one time is truly remarkable. And so, it can often become rather hectic. Stay calm. Breathe. Stay focused on solutions oriented approaches to problems, not the problems themselves. Ok, maybe I’m now projecting.

If I may though, I digress for a moment.

The best wisdom I can impart is more of a call to arms. Craig, I commend you on creating a forum for this type of conversation. The description in your first post is spot on and brings nothing but a smile to my face. Our position in this industry is still evolving, maturing, and dare I say, legitimizing. The best wisdom I can impart is a request to share a collective wisdom. I look forward to the day when the tools and resources so plentiful for designers and developers are available for the interactive producer.

Onward and upward!

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