Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Methods and Paradigms

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Jordan Berkowitz and I am the Group Director at Undercurrent.

Undercurrent is a digital think tank and consultancy that helps brands and agencies understand and engage more effectively and efficiently with a growing group of consumers who were born digital.

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?
I started my career working in pharmaceutical media, producing live events and educational programs. Most of the events I produced were documented to be turned into either CD-ROM based educational tools or put on the web for similar purposes. To this day I maintain a huge amount of respect for people that produce complex live events. Inevitably, anything that can fail will fail. The discipline of learning to keep your cool and diagnose problems on the fly was the most important thing I learned. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a universal lesson I would end up leveraging very frequently.

From there I bounced around a bit and finally settled at AKQA where I was a project manager for about a year. This was my first experience in the agency world and it was an amazing opportunity to work with a stable of great brands at a highly respected shop.

In the end, I wanted to do more and found myself looking for a new place with a different take on living and marketing in the digital world. When Undercurrent popped up on my radar I was intrigued by the idea of producing digital strategy and getting away from some of the more mundane tasks associated with building websites. I’ve been at Undercurrent for the last year and a half and can’t imagine another place I would rather be.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
One of the benefits of working with an awesome team of digital strategists is that there is no lack of information on current and upcoming trends. A challenge that we’re constantly facing is not how to stay informed, but rather how to manage all of the information that flows through our office. Some people are big RSS aggregators while others still consume the web site by site (I’m one of these!).

Motivation, on the other hand, is a very different beast. We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that our office is fun, challenging, and a tad unpredictable. It’s also really important to recognize that both motivation and inspiration come at different times for different people. The best processes and structures are flexible enough to allow people to develop work in their own way while also ensuring that we hit the mark with our deliverables. I can’t say we’ve got that 100% figured out, but we’re constantly evolving the way we work to get there.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
My ideal client is a balance between:

• A risk taker
• Someone who understands insights and how to translate them back to consumer experiences
• Rarely, if ever, uses the words viral, social media, or widget
• Has the power and ability to get things done
• Is fun to work with

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?

It’s different for every client we work with. Education is a general service at Undercurrent, ranging from larger group workshops all the way down to one on one sessions. We also send out a weekly newsletter that exposes 3 interesting trends, websites, or online happenings that should be of interest to the people we work with.

To manage expectations, I think it’s all about being honest, setting manageable goals, and measuring the right things. Being brutally honest is crucial; if something is not going to happen it’s much easier to say so loud and clear upfront and ensure you don’t put yourself in a difficult position at the start. Reasonable goals are all about setting the right expectation but also speak to experience and history. Lastly, measuring everything you possible can is ludicrous. If you and your client agree to the points of measurement before something begins it means that you have a basis for evaluating success and have also taken the time to consider what really matters and what doesn’t.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?

I really don’t know. I think every project I work on teaches me something new about producing. I’d like to say the best projects are the ones that go according to plan, but the reality is the best projects I’ve worked on are the ones that throw you for a loop and return surprising results.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
I’m one of those crazy people who will take on way to much work. Ideally, I like to carry 2-4 projects of varying complexity. That’s also the typical load of a producer at Undercurrent.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
I don’t think I have a point of view about what the “perfect” team looks like. Ideally, I’d have a team of people with various strengths, each of whom is in a position to play to those strengths while avoiding areas of weakness. I realize this sounds idealistic, but in my experience, people don’t tend to get better at things they’re not good at. Strengths, however, continue to develop and mature over time.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?

Communication. Is anything else necessary?

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
I don’t think it’s going to look insanely different than it does now. We’ll continue to see new technologies that change and augment the way we do our jobs, but at the end of the day we’ll still be focussed on helping our clients achieve a goal, most often selling something.

One area I think will go through major evolution is measurement. The most difficult part of leveraging emerging technologies is that often it’s hard to measure the impact of an initiative. Given the current economic climate, I know that there is significantly more weight being put on proving the efficacy of different communications channels. We are in desperate need of more academic and commercial innovation in methods and paradigms to measure and value things like interactions, conversations, and fans.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Being a good producer is about knowing enough to be dangerous. It’s all well and good to be great at process and management, but as a connector of a lot of disparate pieces, it is so important for a producer to understand not only the what of a project but also the why. Decisions that get made by producers have the potential to impact every aspect of a project so if you don’t understand why you are making something, chances are good that it will miss the mark. To me this is simply about being invested in the work you do. It’s about learning your client’s business so you can be their advocate with your team. It’s also about constantly being hungry for new technologies, new ideas, and new ways to get work done.

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