Over the past years, Alice Pinto, director of production at Toronto agency FUSE Create, has had the privilege of working with many different clients across industries in Europe and Canada – from automotive to telco to food & beverage – allowing her to experience diversified business problems and targets. With her passion for digital executions and user experience and design, she has contributed to the development of various websites and complex sales tools while working for international digital agencies such as MRM, VML, and Tribal Worldwide.
Her colleague, Anthony Mayes, the agency’s director of production, experiential, began his career in 2007 as a brand ambassador wearing a fireman outfit. He has helped launch brands and properties like the 2015 Pan Am Games and the EdgeWalk at the iconic CN Tower. His journey has not only given him experience in production and experiential, but also traditional advertising as well, working on brands like Stratford Music Festival, Canadian Opera Company, Corus Entertainment, Rogers, Sportnet, and Netflix.
We caught up with both of them to get the lowdown on the agency’s approach to production and how Covid-19 has impacted it.
LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and FUSE Create think about and approach production?
ANTHONY> I think the thing that changed the most was our execution, but our approach has remained the same for the most part. We strive to be nimble, innovative, and to think freely in order to produce the best work. The pandemic forced us to draw on those traits even more than normal and reminded us of their importance.
LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?
ALICE> There have been many forces such as new social channels and platforms to keep up with, new technologies to learn, and more available data. But the most disruptive force of all that has changed is the expectation. Expectations by clients for unique creative achieved in shorter time and generally lower costs and that would provide more data about their consumers, as well as expectations from consumers to see brands be more authentic and align with their values.
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? Why/why not?
ALICE> What makes a producer good is their way of collaborating with the entire team and several external partners, their attitude towards problems rising unexpectedly, and their willingness to connect with new people to build their network. These are skill sets needed to produce any type of work. I find it’s hard for anyone to be true experts in every discipline, hence why our team looks more for the skill sets mentioned above.
ANTHONY> Couldn’t agree with Alice more here, knowing your skill set, your boundaries, and knowing when to ask an expert is a skill all on its own. We all want to learn and grow, but the reality is that we cannot possibly know EVERYTHING, so it is more important to know how to get the answer, then it is to know the answer at times.
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?
ALICE> Our team is mostly composed of specialists of every discipline so that we can tackle any kind of project. From broadcast to print to digital to experiential, we cross-train each other on their field of expertise. This way everyone gets exposed to new things and has a generic knowledge of everything production.
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?
ALICE> After my childhood phase of wanting to be an astronaut or a singer, since I was a teenager, I’ve always wanted to be a project manager without even knowing what that was about. Accessing the agency world is not super easy at times when you are young and don’t know anyone in the industry and after several NOs, I was lucky to meet a wonderful director of production that believed in my potential and gave me the opportunity to join MRM/McCann in Milan. They needed someone who would manage the productions of what felt like millions of display ads for an automotive company for all of Europe. I was craving to learn more, and I quickly started managing websites’ maintenance updates, then websites’ production at VMLY&R still in Milan, and then complex tools after moving to Toronto. So even though I got to touch social, content, and print production, I’d say I have a deep love for everything digital, and mostly for team leadership and building. That’s the main reason why I joined FUSE Create: to help build an integrated production team that would support the agency turning heads with great quality work and awesome personalities too!
ANTHONY> I started out in the experiential marketing world as a brand ambassador, handing out razors to people across the country. From there I was hired on as a coordinator and worked my way up to becoming a director. Along the way I noticed that the production elements were the things that got most of my interest on projects, and thus, most of my attention. Thankfully, my boss at the time noticed this and started to allow me to focus all my skills and attention on the production side and from there I just kept adding to my skill set. The number one lesson for me has been to always take the attitude that anything is possible. I actually cannot count the number of times that vendors have told me that building something is impossible with the timeline or the budget, but each time I have kept working at it and got it done. You have to always keep pushing for excellence and never let the first “no” stop you.
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?)
ALICE> It’s hard for me to make comparisons as half of my career in agencies developed in a different country where teams are structured in a diverse way. However, what I think has changed is the increased number of female production leaders even though we still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity.
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?
ANTHONY> The most flexible and versatile setups seem to be the ones that have the most success. The world is changing and growing at a rapid pace and you need to remove restrictions on your team so that you are prepared to be out with the old and in with the new when the time comes
LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?
ALICE> One of FUSE Create pillars is working with ‘good people’ inside and outside our team. Hence that’s one of our ‘judging methods’ when it comes to establishing new relationships and nurturing them.
ANTHONY> For me it's all about their ‘why?’ Why are they in the business? Why do they do what they do? Why should we work together? From there we can decide if it is a fit or not.
LBB> Sustainable production is also, understandably, a big talking point and will continue to be so moving forward. How are you navigating this as an agency?
ANTHONY> This is an important question, and more and more clients are being cognisant of their decisions, particularly in the realm of printing. For us it’s about providing awareness and giving the client options. A lot of the time, because they aren't the ones doing the work, they do not realise the impact certain decisions have not only on the budget, but the environment as well. We take pride in not only providing the awareness, but the solutions as well.
LBB> Has the pandemic accelerated this conversation at all, in your opinion?
ANTHONY> It absolutely has. The current environment has forced us, and everyone, to look at how we work from a whole new lens. Being forced to do things from home and with less people on site has made us more efficient and resourceful with new technologies and practices.
LBB> What conversations are you having with clients about issues such as diversity and sustainability? Is it something that clients are invested in or more that agencies need to take the lead on?
ANTHONY> I would say for the most part our clients are aware and invested, but that doesn’t relieve the agency of those responsibilities either. At the end of the day, as an agency, you have to decide if what you are putting out the door aligns with your beliefs and values. Both topics need to be assessed and evaluated on a continual basis in order to remain on the right path.
LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc, but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?)
ALICE> Easy! We just throw them in the shark tank until they learn to swim! Jokes aside, real experiences are necessary for training. To train up the producers with less experience, we tend to invest our own money and either have them shadow the most Senior ones on complex projects so that they can see and ask questions, or let them manage projects that they are not familiar with while being shadowed by someone with more experience who can guide them, if/when needed.
ANTHONY> The best way to learn is to actually do the work. To me, experience is the best teacher. For our team, shadowing those with experience is very important because it allows our people to do the work without the consequences of potential mistakes and errors. There are no egos on our team so we often teach each other our specific skill sets so that we can all be more rounded. That being said, when it comes to new technologies or equipment, if there is training made available by the manufacturer or vendor, we will gladly take it.
LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?
ALICE> I say so! The production team contributes to agency growth from different point of views: we are helping find efficient processes to be more profitable, inform the rest of the agency about new technologies or partners that can help come up with innovative creative ideas, and we are the liaison between all the internal teams when the production of a project kicks-off. Hence, we highly contribute to the agency culture and its image reflected outside the ‘office doors’. I reckon these to be some of the reasons good enough to consider us more when it comes to having a seat at the decision-making table.
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?
ALICE> With the right partners and a leaner tight team, it’s for sure possible! Pretty much anything is possible, especially if we consider everything agencies have created while the world was fighting a pandemic.
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?
ALICE> At FUSE Create, it’s all about collaboration. The whole team is brought into the key conversations from the beginning of a project to ensure we know what’s coming and to inform on the possibilities determined by timeline/budget/opportunities. This way we not only create tighter teams, but we also make sure not to waste our teams’ time and clients’ money.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?
ALICE> For me it’s always been the people you get to know and the infinite possibilities and magic these same people can create.
ANTHONY> I got into production because I love the challenge, I strive to find the solution to any problem, to me that's what makes it fun. Although the reasons for our current circumstances are not good, I'm excited and grateful for all the opportunities for growth and learning that it has created, and for forcing me to think outside of the box.
LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?
ALICE> Don’t aim for perfection as you’ll encounter bumps on the road every single time. Just aim to have fun and you’ll never feel disappointed.
ANTHONY> Don’t rush the process, growth takes time and when you rush it, you do yourself a disservice.