“I think this intersection of data and content and production is changing all the rules, it’s completely changing the game.”
Simon Sikorski is the newly minted global CEO of Craft, the production engine of McCann Worldgroup. He’s leading the award-winning team at a time when the discipline of production evolving on numerous fronts - and Craft is leading the charge.
He’s joined in his efforts by Ben Clark, the new chief production officer at McCann and Craft, EMEA, who has come on board after nearly a decade at Acne London where he was founding partner (the company was acquired by Deloitte Digital in 2017). Craft’s unique success in creating a scaled-up, international production network that’s embracing tech and data while keeping creativity at the forefront was an irresistible proposition for Ben. “I’ve known about them for a while, I’ve been watching them from afar. I think the client list is incredible,” says Ben.
“There’s so much going on in this industry, it’s the best time ever to be in production... If you think about the combination of data, creativity, technology and production, Craft is well-suited and well-positioned to be part of it. That’s a huge opportunity. And with that creative reputation that comes with McCann group and IPG, it was kind of an irresistible opportunity.”
Both Simon and Ben have seen data make a huge difference to production, bringing makers and analysts together and allowing production to step up as the strategic discipline it always has been. At Craft, data is both helping inform pre-production and optimising content once it’s out in the world.
“I think what’s interesting is when you think about data as both an input for and an output from production. For example, we were having a conversation yesterday about how we can use audience data to inform how we’re casting a specific shoot. So, we can use data to inform our production, as well as to optimise the performance on the back end. I think when you start to close that loop, that’s the real power of it,” says Simon, who explains Craft is working with partners within the network and externally to access and maximise that content.
For Ben, that data and technology means production isn’t just a one-way broadcast, projects continue to live and change. “The performance part, the iterative bit is super important,” says Ben, who says that the data and tech allows producers to know how successful they are being in real time and to respond. “It allows us to work with creative data to be able to speak to who we need to speak to, who brands need to speak to. It’s a different kind of storytelling. We, as Craft, have to be the engine that sits in the middle of that interface that helps creatives create what they need to create, to get the message to hit the audience, to affect the audience that we need to affect.”
It also means that fossilised, linear processes have gone the way of the dinosaurs. While producers have always known that production has a strategic potential, it’s something that major brands are really coming round to in a big way. With the multitude of platforms to navigate and volume of content big brands need, as well as the complexity that comes with connecting content to commerce, clients are no longer leaving production to simple ‘happen’. They’re also more alive to the way production can be integral to not only their brand messaging but corporate goals around sustainability and diversity and representation.
At McCann and Craft, that means that the producers are working with other departments more collaborative and upstream. “It’s very much a strategic tool for our clients now, production,” says Simon. “There was a linear approach - I have a strategy, I’ve got some creative, and then I’m going to produce it and then I’m going to distribute it… All of that has concertinaed into a far more collaborative process that happens all at once. So, we’re finding ourselves much more in the initial conversations and consulting higher up in the order that has traditionally worked for marketing.”
Something else that’s shaking up those old linear processes is virtual production, and Craft is seeing a lot of promise. “We very much feel that it’s going to change the rules,” says Simon. “Now, is every shoot going to be a virtual shoot on an LED screen? Probably not. But it very much changes the rules. You think about the traditional role of post production, we shoot something and we have to take out telephone wires - you can control that in pre-production. It changes the whole flow of the production process. It’s fascinating. Not to mention the environmental impact.”
The last few years have also seen Craft explore what it means to be responsible producers. At Craft that revolves around the twin pillars of sustainable production practices and diversity and representation in crews and talent. “All of those things become very, very important as we live up to our social commitments that we're making, both corporately and personally,” explains Simon.
Keeping up with constant societal, cultural and technological change and the unique challenges that each client and each project brings requires a diverse breadth of skills and ways of thinking. Craft’s consciously bringing on everyone from documentary filmmakers to automation experts, as well as tapping into talent around the McCann network. Simon sees his role as supporting that talent.
“I’m always blown away by the calibre of talent that we have,” he says. “We’re unearthing capabilities every day that we didn’t even know we had quite often and it’s fantastic. I think that giving that talent the wings to really demonstrate their craft is a real secret to our success.”
But regardless of specific experience, what’s also true is that production is a discipline that at its core is about solving novel problems in novel ways. So, to an extent, producers have always needed to constantly adapt and learn. It’s just that the output could be anything from a social campaign to a metaverse world, a TV ad or a brand-new product.
“I think all businesses are constantly in transformation. So, we’re at the forefront of that, helping our clients to transform their business. We foster an environment of innovation. That’s kind of what production is, in brushstroke terms. It’s about innovative people, coming up with innovative solutions and looking to change it and not reverting to how it’s always been crafted,” says Ben. “If you hire great people who are problem solvers, that’s how we solve those challenges.”
Looking forward, it’s clear that while Simon and Ben are currently sitting in different continents, they’re closely aligned when it comes to their vision for Craft.
“There’s definitely a shared ambition,” says Ben. “We’re on the same page in terms of the destination of Craft to be an engine, a partner for clients that allows the creative to shine thought any kind of storytelling. I think that’s very appealing to me. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit and nature to this business, which for me, as an individual is really motivating.”
Ultimately, as much as the day-to-day of production is changing, one thing stays the same. And that’s creativity. “Creativity [is] right at the heart of everything we do’” says Simon. “It’s so easy to become a factory in the position we’re in. I think a real point of difference is we’ve always stayed true to the idea of creativity being the focal point of all our executions.
“I think this intersection of data and content and production is changing all the rules, it’s completely changing the game. When you are able to layer creativity into that, it becomes a really powerful performance tool. I’m just very excited.”