Monday, April 6, 2009
Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Paul Sutton and I run Interactive projects out of the Integrated Production department of 180LA. We are part of the Omnicom network and were created by 180Amsterdam about two years ago. Our clients include Sony, adidas, Bombay Sapphire, and Boost Mobile.
Previously I started the Interactive Production group at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and worked on Volkswagen and truth at Arnold Worldwide.
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 initially wanted to get into the creative side of advertising – first a designer and then a writer. My background was always in digital since I started learning HTML out of a book years ago for my very own Geocities page. I was really fond of advertising and specifically Arnold Worldwide’s work for Volkswagen in Boston so my pursuit led me to their office.
The only position available was as an Assistant Producer in their Interactive Production department and I took the job in the hopes of eventually jumping to the creative side.
I quickly realized that my creative abilities would have a long way to go to catch up with anyone there, and found digital production to be a fun challenge on its own.
Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
By reading a lot of blogs on an array of topics – technology, cars, politics, and food – often times I find content that applies to a project I’m working on in the most unlikely of places. Also, comments and discussions relating to a topic are very valuable and can explore similar topics tangentially.
To keep strong communication with my team, I get out of e-mail and passive discussion methods. Speaking with someone in person brings up a lot of questions that neither of you may have realized even existed. It also gets their heads out of a complex spreadsheet, ActionScript project, or burgeoning e-mail box.
E-mail or IM best serves the purpose of resolving the nitty gritty issues of a project but it’s still important to understand the bigger picture – why are we doing this? Is there a simpler solution? Are we maintaining a strong creative product for the client with the decisions we make?
Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
A lot of people I talk to or interview say they would love to work on a brand that makes “cool stuff”. For me, however, it’s all about the clients. A flexible client who gives you room to work and create the best message for them is more important than the actually product that’s advertised.
For example, a brand perceived as boring might have some great clients who are actually looking to elevate their brand. In this case the agency can go beyond a typical campaign and can get involved in retail placements, product research and development, and PR. At that point the relationship is truly two ways and extends beyond simply replying to a campaign brief.
Suddenly, a boring product no other agency really wanted to work on can become popular or innovative as a product of the relationship.
Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
In the past I have seen some producers try and hide things from the client – either in a 35 page deck of wireframes or small print in a Statement of Work – that is sent through by the Account Service team. It’s important for the producer to walk clients through estimates, wireframes, or SOWs and lay things out clearly in a conversation.
Thus, the producer can go over potential areas where client involvement will be key or certain decisions will be necessary. Often when this dialogue is represented by a chain of forwarded e-mails the importance of the message becomes diluted.
I feel more confident my point of view is relayed accurately when I’m able to directly express it to key clients.
Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
I worked on a Volkswagen project to introduce the new GTI – it pushed me into areas I had little experience. In about a month the site had to be produced to include digitizing a GTI, creating 3d renders of every available accessory in several angles, casting and shooting for a multiple path video, and pulling together an engine that would let users customize their car and watch a corresponding customized video.
Working on a time sensitive project (the launch tied in with the Olympics) with a high-profile for the client allowed me to get quick decisions made and put me in a situation where I had to learn all about 3d scanning, rendering, and retouching on the fly.
Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
It’s best to be busy – projects range in scope, of course, and tighter timeline projects eat up hours and time quickly. The most I have worked on at one time was 9; I would have been comfortable with about half of that.
Q: What does your dream production team look like?
People who are smart and flexible are ideal. Some producers who have worked for a while come in with institutional inertia preventing them from looking at projects objectively. These producers scoff or shoot down ideas that they have not worked on before and seem foreign to them without taking the time to do any research.
The best producers I’ve worked with refuse to say “No.” They offer alternatives and can manage the uncertainties of production without discomfort.
Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
Communication is key. Ask the hard questions that everyone in the room is thinking but no one wants to say – “What’s the plan if this campaign doesn’t go viral” or “Is this campaign best served by producing so much work?” Decisions need to be informed and agreed to as a group.
If at any point your team and client is not aware of a certain path the project is headed towards the producer has an obligation to relay that information.
Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
It’s been headed towards a content based model for a while now and will continue to head there. We’ve gone from beautiful animations on microsites to 140 character twitter feeds. From a client’s perspective, I think the projects that are coming out now better suit their needs than using technology for technology’s sake.
There will always be campaign specific content on sites; the longer term process of evolving a client’s website with utilities and content that a consumer is looking for will have greater importance.
Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Production is production is production. Less so lately, but it seems that Interactive Producers are seen as magicians who work behind closed doors. Great producers can achieve some level of success in this model as work still gets produced, but less experienced producers will often go down the wrong path at some point and leave the client feeling burned.
It’s these experiences that subject Interactive jobs to greater checks and balances, and with good reason. To avoid this, watch how broadcast or print producers work. The communication is all open – pre-production meetings with the client and the vendor on the same phone. Or a shoot where the client sits next to the agency and decisions are made together.
Interactive Production has to be more transparent; waiting weeks between client reviews tends to indicate to me that something is wrong. Prototypes and pre-vis can be shown; or music, sound, or copy. It’s ok to disagree with the client on decisions and explain why, but they need to be included in the process.
By doing this, the client suddenly is a more involved stakeholder and feels a greater ownership of the project. They are more satisfied with the end result and will also speak highly of the agency to the other members of their team.
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