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Robin Shenfield, CEO, The Mill


Robin Shenfield, CEO, The Mill

LBB: Tell us a little about what you offer now as a company, where your offices are, and why?  RS: The Mill is the world leader in developing and delivering creative visual content through craft and technological innovation to any screen, anywhere. This was an aspiration two years ago but today it is what we are actually doing, every day. 

The advertising markets of London, New York and Los Angeles are closely inter-connected so that’s where the three Mill offices are located. In addition, through our Beam.TV business we can reach into 80 different countries including Eastern Europe, Asia and LATAM. 

LBB: Are you offering any particularly cool services that people may not be aware of? If so here is your chance!

RS: Integrated production is cool! One current Mill project requires a TV spot, print quality images for a movie poster and interactive content for the web. We're putting all the assets we need for this for ourselves, our clients and collaborators into a smart content sharing platform (Beam) to ensure quality is uniformly great and costs are monitored and managed.

One of the coolest offshoots of our content sharing know-how is the in-store interactive platform we built for major retail clients which you can see at Heathrow's Terminal 5 and in major retail outlets and cities around the world including Moscow, New York and Delhi.

Clients think our Mill Colour iPhone app is very cool. Created to provide clients with an on-the-spot colour grading facility for location stills, it has, at 80,000 downloads and counting, spawned a thriving online community.

LBB: It must be tough always being the last company to handle creative on an ad. Obviously the amount of talent in top post houses is unbelievable. Do you feel that the folks back at the agency and the end client are aware of your input?

RS: It's a misconception to see us as the last to handle creativity. Increasingly we're invited in at the start to help devise and pre-visualize ideas for a world where consumer attention spans are beyond short!

Our involvement is from storyboard and script; from creation through to execution and delivery; locally and globally. So many creative ideas require the creative use of cutting edge technology to bring them to life especially where they are required to be platform independent.

There are many 'unsung heroes' in advertising but visual effects isn't one of them. CGI has entered the language and trends like data cameras, HD and stereoscopic TV are quite well understood. Technology can be intimidating but we try very hard to de-mystify what we do.

LBB: We presume you are working directly with some advertisers now, which makes perfect sense to us. However, we gather sometimes the agency doesn't like this. Is it an issue?

RS: Advertisers are definitely looking for greater visibility and control over their spending because the means of reaching and engaging with consumers has become both more varied and more complex.

This has given quite a boost to the procurement people out there and we certainly see a lot more RFPs than we used to. Is this working with advertisers? I'm not sure it is; it's just different rules of engagement, sometimes good if it means greater commitment, sometimes bad if it is based on too literal a view of unit prices. As a business that has worked on per-project pricing for almost 20 years, we think that looking at hourly rates for units of technology alone can be highly misleading in terms of delivering real value. However, the search by advertisers for cost savings and efficiencies is a legitimate one and as a technology-based creative business you have to take on board "doing more for less" as part of your mission - as we do - or be overtaken by events.

At The Mill we are working with all the people we have worked with for nearly 20 years (agencies and production companies, editors and designers); these are our long-time creative collaborators, smart people who understand the value of ideas, of quality, brilliant execution and service.

LBB: New companies are appearing to offer global adaptation work, a job traditionally done in a post house. Are these companies offering a different approach or can you offer the same cost effective service?

RS: Technology is shrinking the world which means a piece of communication constructed for one market or platform can be more easily adapted, versioned or repurposed for other markets and platforms. The problem is that it is no longer about taking a 'hero'(usually meaning 'television') idea and simply adapting or versioning for other markets. It's about starting the production process with a completely integrated view of what assets are needed for which media and which markets.

Personally, I don't buy the concept of 'secondary' creative that some of the new companies use. It's an approach that works in print - making foreign language versions of a master campaign - but in TV it presumes that slicing and dicing a hero 30-second TV spot into different languages and lengths is the end of the story. I think clients quickly realise there is more value in a solution that looks at the entire campaign, captures and manages the assets and creates a true multi-platform execution. It's not a pyramid with a 30 second TV spot at the top but an interlocking matrix of different but complementary requirements. Moreover, it's what The Mill can do that the new companies cannot because its involved at the start of the campaign, advising on what assets are needed and in what form, creating and sharing these assets and, through Beam.TV distributing them not just to TV stations around the world but to the web too.

The much vaunted savings promised by the new adaptation/versioning companies can be as illusory as the cruder-end of the scale of comparing hourly rates for 'high-end' post-production. On a case-by-case basis we can demonstrate that an integrated approach delivers better value to clients.

LBB: Has the business of post production changed a lot over the last 10 years? And what do you think it will look like in 10 more years?

RS: How long have you got? The Mill was established in 1990 as the world's first dedicated digital visual effects company to deliver pioneering technology and creative expertise, a problem-solving creative consultancy. The future is about accelerated change requiring companies to adapt and engage with new approaches to communicate ideas. It will continue to be a very tough climate and only the fittest and smartest will survive; those with outstanding and talented artists, great technical resources, brilliant production and an understanding and acceptance of the changing media landscape and how it interconnects.

LBB: Tell us about your favourite job that your company has worked on. Can you tell us why you have selected this from so many?

RS: With projects, as with children: you should never have favourites!

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