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MPC and The Mill: Balancing a Competitive History with a Collaborative Future



As part of a new series in collaboration with Technicolor Creative Studios, the CEOs of both iconic creative companies discuss what their recent co-location means for the future

MPC and The Mill: Balancing a Competitive History with a Collaborative Future

MPC and The Mill are coming together to support the Production section of LBB. This interview marks the first in a series that will delve into the trends driving content creation and production in all its forms hearing from talent in the Technicolor Creative Studios group and beyond. 

The series begins at an exciting moment for the TCS, as we bring together the CEOs of two historically competitive brands within it to talk about what their co-location means for the businesses under the TCS group. Whilst they will continue to compete, there will be projects on which they can partner and for clients they can now access two of the world’s biggest VFX brands and talent under one roof 

In their first joint interview for one shared purpose, MPC’s Mark Benson and The Mill’s Josh Mandel talk to LBB’s Alex Reeves about the opportunities and nuances of competing, co-locating and collaborating.

LBB> Since the new structure of Technicolor Creative Studios launched, what have you found to be the clearest benefits?

Josh> Prior to The Mill I come from a creative agency world so I've been in different groups where there have been these monolithic holding companies. I always thought that there was a lot of missed opportunity. If you've got all of these great creative companies under one umbrella, it really just adds up to a bunch of individual companies. 

From the outset the intention with TCS was always to have some real benefit to the scale. In the tightest instance, you've got the relationship of Mark and I and the brands. But then when you look at animation, games, film, a lot of the other entities within the portfolio, the idea is that if you're sitting as an artist and thinking about all the different ways you can employ your technological skills or VFX prowess, why not open that aperture to more opportunities? There has to be some benefit to scale. Otherwise, why lump all of these companies together to begin with? 

In the broadest instance that's the promise that we're still working through as we're meeting our new sister companies and figuring out how all this works together. It started a year ago and it was during COVID. So there are still people we haven't met face to face, which is kind of weird.

LBB> The Mill and MPC are historically competitors. Where have you found it fruitful to collaborate between the two brands?

Josh> There's a storied history of competition, which has been great, but as the market evolves, more and more brands are coming to us, asking us to do different things with VFX that are not always as the business has been (the service of taking some television work that's been developed and pushing it to be even more amazing than it was). A lot of times we're doing end-to-end projects. And where MPC has been doing that is different from where The Mill has been doing that. As a result we can have a conversation: "why go kill each other in these new markets? Why not be a little more considerate about how we do it?"

Mark> That's right. When we look at new markets, we’re really excited about the opportunity to collaborate and present complementary propositions where a market is interested. It's something we're looking at very specifically together in Asia, where there are opportunities to go to market with what we do today in visual effects from the MPC side and what The Mill are doing in the experiential, event and innovation side. That is complementary. And that's where we see that proposition being very compelling. We've already seen enormous interest from clients that we're working with on both The Mill and MPC side in that proposition. 

There's an opportunity to continue to compete, which is what we know and understand. It's driven by the market, by clients who want us to compete. We will continue to deliver that competitive proposition, but where there's an opportunity to be complimentary, we're going to seize it. It gives both brands and the whole of TCS broader opportunities to capture market share in new markets and in a market that continues to diversify and evolve. 

LBB> Technicolor Creative Studios has also launched creative hubs, meaning MPC and The Mill are co-locating in many markets now. How does that affect the business?

Mark> The opportunity to share pipelines, to share tools and to share investment is enormous. And it enables both brands to invest in our talent, and our creativity - what we each brand trades every day: our people, our teams, our skill sets and our cultures. That's what our businesses are all about today and what they always will be.

And let’s not forget this opportunity to co-locate drives hybrid working, which is important to us. Work-life balance for our colleagues is critical. We want to recognise the value that that colocation represents. Also every business has an obligation to recognise their carbon emissions and footprint and their proactive plans and targets  for reduction. 

Both MPC and The Mill are very proud that throughout the last two years, our creative product has not been compromised. We've managed the challenges of hybrid working and working from home. We've learned a lot about how to recognise the value that hybrid working brings. 

LBB> With co-location, how do you maintain the distinct brands of The Mill and MPC?

Josh> We've been very conscious about the physical layout. With my background on the agency side there have been these other examples of campuses that have been put together. One of the things that you have to preserve is the physical differences, literally, like what access to floors do you have? There's definitely a very conscious move to preserve operating space, physical space, how work gets done, and how clients are moved through the space in order to not have the end effect that after a couple of years, we're kind of just doing the same thing with two logos. 

LA is probably the most extreme example of it because it's not just The Mill and MPC together, but also a lot of other Hollywood-based Technicolor groups like film, animation and games. That'll be kind of like the prototypical big tech campus. You'll see a lot of that division there.

There's also just the direction of travel for the brands. There's obviously the long, storied history of the advertising VFX work, but we're also now evolving into new areas, doing new things. The Mill has been doing what we call creative production, essentially end-to-end directorial. And we've built up a technology-based experience business. Mark is leaning into technology to evolve what MPC is doing. So in addition to the history of the brands being in the same place, there's also new directions of travel, new projects and new relationships. I think that will go a long way towards preserving a difference in identity because at the end of the day, while a big chunk of the work is the same, there's also new chunks of work that are actually going to be quite different.

Mark> Exactly right. What's important is for Josh and me in our leadership roles to protect the integrity of both brands - we know that's great for the business. But also to nurture and manage the development so that we recognise, again, where we're best competitive and where we're best to collaborate. And that's a great opportunity for Josh and me to manage this remarkable portfolio of remarkable talent. That doesn't change. Our job is to present the best people to the market under the brand name that they represent, and to empower the relationships with our clients in a competitive manner, and in a complementary when appropriate. That's our guardianship. 

We're very privileged to be in this position because we are in a growth mode, a hiring mode. As Josh said, we want to present the next generation of talent with opportunities in terms of disciplines and creative activities, but also in markets that they might not have considered working in, in the past. I think that is very compelling for the next generation of talent and the next generation of impactful content creators.

LBB> You've touched on the competing-yet-collaborating dichotomy that you've got going on, which is interesting to navigate. How do you navigate that?

Josh> I think probably the most obvious example for us has been, as we think about international expansion and getting into new markets. Mark and MPC have already built up a very solid, thriving business in Shanghai, largely based on the VFX artist pool and some directorial. We wouldn't go in and mimic what they do there. But are going in with our experience business as a complementary offering. So, the two of us together then add up to something more, as opposed to something where we're cannibalising each other within the market. We're looking at other opportunities to kind of dovetail together, either walking into a market brand new, or where one of us might be there and the other isn't. 

The other piece which Mark hinted on is, there are brands that are operating at scale that actually are very interested in the story of The Mill and MPC coming together to offer them more scale. So when you look at our combined global footprint, our combined artist pool, our combined ability to turn work at pace and at scale, that's a really interesting conversation for someone like the Fortune 100 companies that we've been talking to and it's a different one that we haven't been able to have when we're just the individual brands competing for smaller pieces.

LBB> Since the two of you started working together much more closely, what have you learned about the opposite brand?

Mark> There are no real surprises, to be perfectly honest. The ambition, the passion for doing the best work, the passion for client experience, the passion to nurture the next generation of talent is common amongst us as both brands. 

There are cultural difference in many ways and that's the fun. That's what makes this so stimulating as a path forward. There's a lot to be shared with and learned from each other. The brands have individual identities and that's to be respected and celebrated in a market that demands choice, and where there are market opportunities to work with new and different propositions. So I think, having got closer to the brands and certainly closer to Josh, everything is as I had hoped and imagined actually. There's more for us to learn from each other and to the benefit of our brands in the future. I think that Josh and I are just beginning to scratch the surface of what these opportunities mean. 

LBB> What have you learned about MPC, Josh?

Josh> It's interesting for me because in some ways I'm the newer guy to this, having utilised - in my previous agency experience - both The Mill and MPC. I think the confirmation was that what I saw from the outside was actually confirmed when I got inside. To come into The Mill specifically, the things that I found right away that I wasn't surprised by were you had an awful lot of people who joined each of the companies because they aspired to the brand. There are people who are very prideful in the best way about working for MPC and likewise for The Mill. To find that in two companies, that's a rarity. People a lot of times are happy to work where they're at, but there isn't that kind of sense of "I killed myself to get in the door of this place. And now I'm so happy that I'm here." I think the tenures of people in each of the brands are testament to that. You're not talking about people who work for a couple of years and then flip and run off to another opportunity. There are people who've been here for over a decade, close to two, which is just phenomenal to me. I think in that respect, there's a similarity between the companies. 

The differences come down to who you walk in the door and work with every day. That's where I think to Mark's point you start to recognise some of those cultural differences - who are the artists who are mentoring you? What are the experiences working in a studio in Paris as opposed to a studio in Amsterdam or London? There are some subtle differences in terms of how the two brands have evolved and some of the new opportunities that they've been taking on. I think that's probably less cultural at the end of the day and more about the talent that we happen to have in the door and kind of what their aspirations are. But once we opened up the hoods of both companies and Mark and I started to have conversations, it was clear that we're doing the business differently, we've got different talent, but the hunger and aspiration is absolutely the same.

LBB> Looking at the talent pool you look to be drawing from as you grow The Mill and MPC into their new shapes, how will that talent look?

Mark> We're determined to make sure  that our creativity is born out of diverse studios. It’s a critical part of our responsibility; for both Josh and I across both brands, and collectively across Technicolor Creative Studios. To put those words into practice, to measure ourselves honestly and be sure that that's what is happening with our businesses. It is also our responsibility to create awareness of our business in parts of the world where people may not be aware of what we do. We have the opportunity to take that responsibility to another level and to act on it. And to ensure that our ecosystem is known to talent that might not know about it today. With our scale, as Josh said, we have an opportunity to be demonstrative about that and to make and affect material change across our business.

Josh> I think what we're talking about is on a few different levels. Historically, as we know, there's been an established pipeline of where talent is found and we're trying to, in the very beginning, open that aperture to more places than just the traditional schools and places where people are coming from. We've also realised that for people who aspire to work at places like The Mill and MPC might not have been afforded the training, they might not have had the opportunity to go to some of the established schools in places where we find people. 

The benefit of scale gives us the opportunity to establish things like internal academies in different ways to accelerate people's learning by coming to The Mill and MPC. That's one thing that we're building as we speak. Beyond the holistic mentorship that anybody gets by working with established artists with a lot of tenure. In addition to that we want to make sure that there'll be some other ways that we can accelerate talent and embed them into the practice. Our scale affords us the opportunity to do that because we can do that across all of our footprint in different places. 

Another piece of it is that in addition to increasing the different types of projects that people could be working on, also having a very conscious view of mobility within the group. So for instance, we've got a huge artist pool in India. We want to make sure that those artists have the opportunity to come into the other studios, meet some of the long-tenured artists, have that same mentorship ability, and vice-versa. If someone has heard about this colourist who's in our Paris studio and has always wanted to have an opportunity to work with that person, we have to be able to afford them an opportunity where it doesn't mean picking up their family and having to make an existential decision about having to live in Paris for five years now. Maybe there's a three-month opportunity for you to do that. So we're looking at that idea of diversity and inclusion in a number of different ways again. I keep coming back to the idea that there has to be a benefit to scale. And ultimately the scale has to benefit the artists, or else why are we doing this?

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The Mill London, Thu, 18 Nov 2021 17:34:00 GMT