Production Line: From the Early Days of the Internet to Producing from Home with Tanya Lesieur
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The head of production / associate partner at MUH-TAY-ZIK | HOF-FER on production as a teamsport, deciphering what the ‘internet’ was in 1995, and needing to be aware of ICU bed rates during Covid
With 20+ years production experience working at the intersection of culture, marketing, creativity, technology and media, Tanya LeSieur redefines what the role of chief production officer / director of integrated production / head of production means today.
As a modern-day advertising showrunner, she is equal parts business owner, entrepreneur, strategist, creative partner, client partner, studio & media comms executive and overall circus wrangler. It’s her passion to look at each project detail and how her team can deliver the best product across all channels and mediums - most importantly by honouring and protecting a collaborative work stream.
"It’s my responsibility to ensure I can see the small and big picture simultaneously," she says. "Putting the right combination of resources together. Removing obstacles. Understanding talent, legal, tech and logistic ramifications to ensure nothing gets in the way of creating and providing solutions when we are faced with challenges.
"I’m a passionate maker. I love what I do."
Get to know her via her Production Line below.
LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?
Tanya> Creative development on projects became even more of a collaborative experience. The whole team - clients, agency, creatives, strategists and producers - have to come together to make key decisions to get what we need created made. We’ve had to make big compromises and decisions to get things done and compromising on timing, based on what’s happening.
LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?
Tanya> Clients not having AORs. Everything becomes a project. It’s hard to project learnings onto the next assignment when the next assignment isn’t yours. I think clients lose out on longevity and learnings, and over time long relationships lead to better work, efficiencies, etc. I realise that on the client side they may not be of that opinion. There are projects that are perfect for one offs, but for larger clients it’s not necessarily a sustainable way of working. I personally believe it ultimately costs more money in the long run.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Tanya> I think that some producers are capable of producing across all these disciplines but not all producers are necessarily suited to make the work great. As a leader it’s important to figure out who is suited to what. I’m technical and creative and enjoy the digital process as much as video, content, animation, photography and making. There are producers that are great at digital but not so great at content, and vice versa. They are two very different head spaces. And then take that into live events, virtual events, etc.
LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists vs generalists?
Tanya> A healthy mix of both and understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses is key. I’m a big fan of co-mixing different producer types. Production is a team sport these days. And both producer types learn from each other.
LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?
Tanya> Technically I started as a broadcast producer, but as the internet developed I was pulled into unusual projects. As a young producer I produced this video in 1995 for a large telecommunications client – this is a real video created for upper management to learn what the ‘internet’ was…
All joking aside (and yes that video was sent to a CEO/CMO of a large telecommunications company), I became that producer who would do the hard, unusual stuff because I had an understanding of digital (and my passion for making in general). All of my experiences over the years at JWT, McCann, Goodby and others came together when I became head of production / chief production officer at Saatchi & Saatchi and then TBWA\Chiat\Day as I’d evolved to have a greater synergy with media teams, strategy teams and all maker teams.
LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)
Tanya> Numerous things:
Many of us as chief production officers and heads of production are in leadership positions within the agency
We have had to learn so much more than just production in order to succeed, such as digital platforms and alternate ways of getting things made.
Current Covid conversations involving testing/medical issues
Complexity of project management with all the deliverables we now make
LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?
Tanya> I was fortunate enough to work at Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles which had a robust comms planning, digital buying and broadcast buying media group which we in production worked closely with on large partnerships and we were in meetings with our creatives and media partners. I think modern advertising becomes so much more effective when everyone is briefed at the same time, we are not getting sidelined by territorialism, the teams collaborate together on partnership details (depending on the spend of course). I think it’s one of the most exciting parts of my career development and how I approach making.
LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?
Tanya> I try to get to know the person, be honest/direct, be respectful. Networking in the absence of dinner or drinks or coffees is about transparency and trust. Not that we weren’t transparent but sitting and having a meal together is still a pretty amazing thing and a way to disarm people. We need to do that in different ways today.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production?
Tanya> I understand the need. However please make sure the people you are putting in this role understand the role of production. I’ve been at companies where the procurement person did such a great job in another department, they were rewarded with being dropped into procurement for production. We are not widgets. Creative is nuanced. On the flip side I’ve had amazing relationships with these folks, working together to build trust, education about what we do. Again, like all relationships, transparency, being direct and human is how we grow to work together. And that’s my life POV in general especially when dealing with money.
LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this?
Tanya> Making, making, making. It’s about honing craft through working on many types of projects - not just the same client or task over and over again. Learning editorial programs if you produce content to understand what it takes to get something done in post. Be on shoots as a PA (you learn the hard way!)
I do also believe conferences and offsites (virtual) are still valuable to hear about other opinions and experiences.
And this isn’t a note about producers but agency personnel in general: educate your teams about profitability, why over burn can be an issue, talk about scoping, etc. I always wished at a younger age I had more insight into these things.
LBB> What new skills have you had to add to the team as a result of the pandemic?
Tanya> More research. We need to be experts in things I would never have guessed previously, like how many ICU beds are occupied and where and how that might impact shooting in a particular area.
LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?
Tanya> YES. We see the whole picture from a different way than clients, strategy or creatives. I think it's invaluable having a producer on the C-Suite team. We bring creative and business together as well as having our ears on the ground within the agency.
LBB> How have you approached integrating data with production workflows and processes? And generally, how has data and the fact that we have constant live feedback on content performance changed production?
Tanya> Optimisation is not a new concept. The question is: do clients REALLY budget for it? I find that KPIs can be muddied, such as this piece “x” is for ages 20 – 60 M/F, etc. when in reality there are probably four subgroups under the main group.
Live feedback during event production is invaluable as it can affect the next show or event you’re doing. We had a series called Think Faster that we continued to optimise the creative on and how we approached things after three different events (two episodes a show). First learning was about 10 minutes into the first episode with Adam Scott when we learned quickly to not make the celebrity guest get car sick. ;)
LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating LOTS of stuff at SPEED - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible?
Tanya> Yes, but it takes planning and team work to move fast, make decisions and provide the quality we’re looking for. You need people who know the creative inside and out to make snap decisions that are on brand. You have to have a sixth sense about the work in order to not second guess yourselves.
LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?
Tanya> I am a huge advocate of producers understanding strategy (and media). It allows us to identify opportunities for making that others may not see – but still fit the strategy or the media brief.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?
Tanya> The possibilities are endless. Covid has been an emotional, financial and chaotic drain on what we do, but on the flip side it’s forcing more creativity when making things, it has allowed us to take a step back and figure out what’s important. As a producer you work with people without ever meeting them regardless, so while this was a weird and wild time, producers are a resilient lot. We get things done under any circumstance.
LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?
Tanya> Talk to anyone and everyone you can. This industry rewards tenacity and growing your knowledge and networking. If you want to be a producer be passionate about the art of producing, the art of creativity and the art of strategy and media.