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Production Line: Multi-Skilled Efficiency with Clare Clarke


Creative services director at M&C Saatchi London on learning to live alongside automation, the specialist-generalist mix and the importance of a good black book

Production Line: Multi-Skilled Efficiency with Clare Clarke

Clare Clarke has never been the sort of producer who’s tied down into one medium. She’s built a career on working across areas, going between the different specialists and keeping everything on a single track. That didn’t used to be fashionable in ad agencies, but in today’s more integrated times she’s exactly right for a role like hers - creative services director at M&C Saatchi London.

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?

Clare> I think everyone will agree that working remotely is incredibly effective, and we all learnt new ways to get things done. Without corridor conversations and sidebar chats, producers really came into their own, connecting all the people and all the pieces. I think there are some process disciplines we had to apply in lockdown, that will serve us well as we return to the office. 

LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?

Clare> Speed. The digital world we live in means we all want everything now. This has led us to work even more digitally, and look at new technologies to help produce, distribute, test and adapt. I fully understand that creativity is the heart of our product, and I see new tech as a way to free up creatives and designers to make more original stuff, while machines can help with the iterations.

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?

Clare> I totally agree. Back in 2005, when I was one of those producers who worked across a range of mediums, I was told repeatedly I had to decide on an area to focus on, and I remember thinking this was so unfair. I loved all of it, and I didn’t want to lose out on any of the valuable experience I’d built up. So, I’m so glad that agencies now recognise that having multi-skilled producers makes us more efficient. Many campaigns range across different mediums, so it makes sense to have one person looking at everything we need to deliver - and ensuring we’re getting the best from our timings and budget. 

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?

Clare> We have in fact united all our production offerings under one unit within the agency and named it M&KE. It includes everything from design and illustration, through to high-end television production. Within this team, we have a mixture of specialists and generalists and the joy of bringing them all together is that they are now all learning from each other. We now cast a single M&KE lead on every project, from day one, and that person knows when to play to their strengths, and when to lean on others in the team.

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?

Clare> Our production lead is part of the initial kick-off, alongside creative, account management and strategy, so we can work together as a team on how best to answer, approach, cast, and scope a project. Production can help advise on what’s new; what new innovations are there to help inspire us and our clients. Also, there’s nothing worse than creative coming up with an idea only to find it can’t be done on budget or timing. So, why wouldn’t you involve production at the beginning of the job? 

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?

Clare> Every producer has completed AdGreen’s training, and now, with AdGreen’s calculator up and running, we’ll be using this against all our production. During the pandemic we were sometimes forced to produce with leaner teams and use tech to help manage shoots offsite - so this has definitely helped speed up the process in our thinking. We now realise you don’t need to fly over a group of people to a film shoot, or fly half way around the world for a location.

LBB> How important is it to you that there is diversity across all partners on a production? Do you have any measures to promote diversity when it comes to production? 

Clare> So much chat about diversity in ads has been about who’s seen on screen, but this must be reflected through the whole process. Having the eye of a black photographer, the life lessons of a woman director or the experience of an older illustrator will all help our work better fit into the world it’s meant for. The best way to bring in diversity is to question decisions that might have become habits – the same suppliers, the same contacts – and bring in new ones. There’s nothing more exciting than finding and working with new talent. It’s simple – if you’re getting three treatments, make sure they aren’t from three white men.

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?

Clare> Build up your black book. I think in lockdown we all learnt the value of our contacts – finding them, nurturing them, working with them. In lockdown, senior producers were able to lean on that. I think it was tougher for juniors. So, build your book, and of course build a diverse one. You’ll need it. Another piece of advice every producer has heard and learnt from, never assume, always ask questions no matter how small and insignificant they might sound, they never are. 

LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?

Clare> We always say “We are what we make” – and so I think that the production voice has to be heard at the top of the business. We can bring the operations and processes that make it possible to deliver an agency’s vision. To make it more than talk.

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M&C Saatchi London, Wed, 20 Oct 2021 09:50:34 GMT