“You know there are bubbles all the time. It’s a cauldron,” says Walter Campbell. He’s enthusing about the past few months he’s spent wandering through the studios at MPC, chatting to VFX artists, animators, creative technologists and producers. In September, the creative mind behind everyone’s all-time favourite ad, Guinness ‘Surfer’ joined MPC to help beef up the company’s creative capabilities, after spending some time consulting.
We’re chatting in the boardroom of one of MPC’s London buildings about the recent move, which sees him join Head of Business Development Oli Forder, as Creative Head of Business Development. As you’d expect from someone who has written some of the UK industry’s most beloved ideas, his speech is full of rich imagery – of football matches, of gardeners, of ladders, of cauldrons – but what it all boils down to is this: he’s inspired.
While the move might have raised eyebrows amongst those who have been oblivious to industry shifts and the direct-to-brand work happening in the biggest VFX houses, for a compulsive creative like Walter, it makes perfect sense. This is the man who used money saved up for his first car on a Sony video camera. Who cut his honeymoon short to get on with making yet another idea come to life.
“Who is confident within this culture? It’s the people who are making stuff, because they’re making stuff. It’s about being match fit,” says Walter, who is bringing his head for ideas and unexpected connections to MPC’s filmmaking craft and immersive technology. And the experience of working directly with the people who can make ideas reality and who are constantly putting new projects out has energised him.
“I think that’s one of the perennial frustrations for anyone in agencies, that you very rarely get to be making stuff,” agrees Oli. “It’s one of those the things that got me thinking that I wanted to be with the people who do make stuff.”
Walter came aboard at the behest of Oli, with whom he’d previously worked at AMV BBDO for eight years, and later at TBWA. In a previous life, Oli was a suit, ending up on the board of AMV in 2001 and heading up the Nissan account at TBWA. But he was on a mission to find a company that he felt truly had the potential to thrive in a changing landscape and offer something different. In his agency role, he had been encouraged to try and find ways of bolting on extra services to charge clients for – like production – but something didn’t feel right.
“The end-to-end creative and production solution is quite clearly the right answer… I just don’t think you start from an agency point of view. There you start with the relationship – which is great – and agencies of course pride themselves in having a seat at the top table, but my first observation from my clients was that the relationship wasn’t quite what it used to be,” recalls Oli.
Conversations with MPC CEO Mark Benson revealed a hardier and more flexible route. One where MPC could continue to work with agencies and production companies, but where it was also available to work with brand inhouse agencies, and even taking some of the creative and strategic heavy-lifting off their shoulders. While brand inhouse agencies might hive off creatives, strategists and the odd producer, what Oli reckons they won’t do is invest in the hardware and emerging technology and armies of craftspeople.
(It’s not a dissimilar strategy to someone else with an eye on the future of the industry… “I don’t think Sorrell’s got it wrong at all,” says Oli of the surprise acquisition of digital production company MediaMonks by S4C earlier in the year. “I think he’s got the right blueprint and it actually really annoyed me when the whole MediaMonks thing came out because that’s the same idea we had here a year ago!”)
Where Walter comes in is that he’s able to talk to brands, generate big, bold creative ideas and slosh around all of the magic ingredients in the MPC spice tray (real time puppetry, award-winning colourists, obsessive craftspeople, Disney-level creature work, top secret experiments with emerging and immersive tech) to come up with ingenious solutions. He reckons he is surprised or amazed by another MPC discovery about every third day at MPC and describes the talent as ‘virtuoso power’. But what he’s most impressed by is the potential of MPC to not only come up with ideas… but to make ideas happen. It’s a very important distinction.
“These guys are solving problems day-in, day-out. That thing that’s just a notion – well, they make it real,” he says. “And the act of making it real is creative. It’s part of what a good director does. [There are] the editors, and the magicians and the people who take all of those elements and coagulate them together… that process is actually very magical. You can have a great idea but without that, you wouldn’t look at it twice… but with it, it’s indelible. We want to make that impact.”
While the act of making has got the pair inspired, they also share a relief that the MPC model does not come laden with the same layers of hierarchy and politics and extended chains of Chinese whispers that can weigh down agency life. “There’s no more of that circumspect, around-the-mulberry-bush stuff,” says Walter. Conversations internally with the MPC family, with clients, and between the two of them are refreshingly straightforward. “The thing that I love about Oli is that he’s not one for ‘the haze’. He’s very direct; the logic there is pristine.”
Oli and Walter have already been making the rounds with MPC’s international offices. There’s pitching going on in MPC Shanghai, they’ve been collaborating with the team at MPC Paris, a big brand in India has been working with MPC Bangalore on the end-to-end offering. And, in fact, working directly with brands isn’t exactly new to MPC, even before Oli and Walter joined the fold. There have been fashion shows for Ralph Lauren, store launches for Burberry, and of course the insane Palace skatewear collaborations with Jonah Hill. It’s just not been something they’ve been comfortable shouting su-u-uper loudly about to date.
Oli has no such compunction. “That ship has sailed in my view, and I think I might be punchier than people who have been here longer,” says Oli. “But clients have put in-house agencies in place, agencies have put end-to-end processes in place. If we don’t declare our hand – in the most gentlemanly way possible – and say we’re happy to work with you and compete against you, in two years we’re not even going to be in the conversation.”
But what they’re definitely not is an agency. Rather than spend all their time nurturing delicate retained relationships, the team would rather continue to work on a project basis. That way they can spend more energy making stuff and working with the diverse array of production companies, agencies, and brands that come through the doors at MPC – and less negotiating with and justifying themselves to a retained roster.
It seems that the wider industry viewpoint is coming round to that point of view, if the responses Walter has had since the official announcement are anything to go by. “Since the article went out, I’ve had a few people ring up and say, ‘that sounds about right’,” he says.
The true test will, of course, lie in the creative work that Walter and Oli help MPC put out into the world – it lies in the ‘doing’ and the ‘making’ not in the ‘talking’. But that suits them just fine.
“The latitude to implement an idea is what everyone is searching for,” says Walter. “It’s about this idea that you want to work with people who are making stuff and are virtuoso at it. I think I’ve always learned more from doing things than sitting there thinking about it.”