Jonathon Ker is at the LIAs to learn. He may be hosting a series of ‘Creative Conversation’ sessions with young adland talent, aiming to educate and pass on wisdom to them, but Jonathon is on a bit of a quest of discovery himself. As he sees it, agencies are increasingly relying on the same big name directors to shoot their work and he’s puzzled as to why.
“It happened in the 80s and its happening again now – though for different reasons. We’re still using the top ten directors in the world for everything,” he comments.
And Ker is in a good position to make such an observation. Head of TV at BBH London in the 80s, he then left the agency world to go into production, setting up a commercials division in a music video company called Limelight before setting up his on shop, Palomar. It was through Palomar that he brought the likes of Michel Gondry and Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski to the States. He now heads up Pay Dirt Pictures as an exec producer and it’s here that he’s doing what he loves best – nurturing young talent. His frustrations are very real –the 90s and early noughties saw the commercials scene flooded with exciting new talent who had made their name in music video, but today client pressure and the new-found willingness of big names to work on smaller jobs is choking off emerging talent.
The resulting discussion moves in some interesting directions and it emerges that this directorial issue may in fact be symptomatic of a bigger crisis in advertising. Clients have more power and are willing to exploit agencies, play agencies off one another and generally undermine stable relationships. As the assembled young creatives explain, if the client wants a super star that’s what they’ll get. Risk averse clients are unwilling to use directors who do not have a reel that replicates their desired commercial.
Another issue crops up when Jonathon and I ask the creatives what sort of research they do into what’s cool in short film and music video. As turnaround times shrink and creatives are under growing pressure to generate a greater quantity of ideas, they have less time and energy to browse around and just check stuff out. They become more or less limited to viewing directors’ reels.
From here the conversation moves on to cover the point that, with the emergence of crowd-sourcing ad agencies, young creatives may be expected to do more work for less money – and less job security. And at which point does this become exploitation?
The issues raised may sound a bit doom-and-gloom, but the conversation started to turn to possible solutions. The assembled creatives and Jonathon get into a discussion about what advertising agencies will look like in the future. Will we see a rise in the number of nimble one-stop-shops which bring together creative and production? Is an equity-led business model the way forward?
One creative from Saatchi & Saatchi Israel points out the situation in his own country as a possible beacon of hope. He explains that the Occupy movement had a particularly big impact in that big brands decided to keep a low profile and ease off from extravagant TV productions. What emerged though was a thriving, daring online ad scene, reliant on content created by leftfield artists.
It was a forum which addressed the fear and the opportunities engendered by these uncertain times – and attending creative, Zoe Bell, summed it up rather succinctly. “I wonder which agencies will get left behind. There are so many different types – it’s hard to know which will survive.”