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Storytelling, Culture, and Process: Inside Blacklist Creative’s Immutable Core


LBB finds out how the team of natural storytellers works with industry giants, creates fans, and develops their own IP - all while nurturing their creatives at every step

Storytelling, Culture, and Process: Inside Blacklist Creative’s Immutable Core

The team at Blacklist Creative knew that they had one shot at making it on their own - the name even nods at that. The founding team of Mathias Upton-Hansen, commercial director, Lola Gamester, production director, Dom Ho, operations director, and Fred Crohem, creative director, left their broadcaster-based jobs and set up what they thought the market was missing at the time: a company that supports the needs of in-house teams. 

“We had all worked in creative service departments and saw how those departments worked with freelancers on a ‘permalance’ basis. We realised quickly that there was a gap for someone to come in and not simply pick up one off jobs, but to become an extension of that team, to become brand champions. No agencies offered that and we took the opportunity to do it and do it well,” explains Mathias. So, did their former employer, Warner Media, ‘blacklist’ the team as they had feared? Not even close - “we ended up working with the creative director a lot, becoming exactly what we set out to do - an extension of the team’s work,” Mathias adds. 

Today Blacklist Creative’s work has evolved into a multi-disciplinary  business that services major broadcasters (looking after 14 channels), streamers, brands, and works in e-sports and location based-entertainment, plus develops their own IP. With offices in London and Amsterdam, teams in Paris and Milan, Blacklist Creative are working with some of the industries biggest names - Disney, Prime Video, Esports Engine, Cartoon Network, Paramount, Paradox, Fremantle, and Sony. 

“A lot of our client relationships are ongoing. We’ve grown these relationships and become champions of their brand. For many, we serve as in-house teams - we’ve absorbed who the brands are into our brains, so the brands know they can 100% trust us with their work,” says Fred. Warner Media, Disney, ITV - what all these brands get from their relationship with Blacklist is “a group of creatives that know these big names inside and out,” Fred adds. 

Creativity, with seamless delivery

The team’s broadcast background means that they’re as focused on the quality of the creative - and it is multi award-winning - as they are on delivery, having experienced what it’s like on the other side. “We’re not just about the finished product. We’re thinking about the client experience and what it’s like for them. Headache-free delivery is as crucial as exceptional storytelling,” says Lola. 

The creativity, pinned around effective storytelling, will always be the driving force for Blacklist Creative. Prime Video has turned to the team multiple times, enlisting their storytelling abilities across campaigns for Hotel Transylvania 4, Clarkson’s Farm, and Ten Percent. For each of the campaigns, the team distilled the spirit of the IP and translated it into engaging and innovative content across TV, print and digital (including the screen at Piccadilly Circus!) spanning across the EMEA region. For Ten Percent, the team used learnings from previous activations to help Prime Video reach new audiences with smart influencer partnerships and native social content.

Blacklist is aware that the nature of storytelling and engagement is changing; the brands who want longevity need to think of their audiences in a new way - as fans. Why is creating fans vital for brands? Research from 2021 found a downward trend for the total amount of time people are spending with entertainment (10% less year on year), but fans are spending more time with their favourite entertainment than ever. 

“We’re very focused on storytelling that creates, and serves, fans,” says Fred, which explains why Paradox reached out to Blacklist personally for their storytelling prowess. For Hearts of Iron, a military strategy game that sees users spend hundreds of hours playing, the team were tasked with creating captivating game trailers. They enlisted the help of historians to get the details just right, knowing that they couldn’t short-change the game’s fans. “The research was the starting point and it really comes through in the final trailer. There was a lot of praise from the fans and it was the Steam Top Seller 2021,” adds Mathias. 

Blacklist is also working in esports - a natural extension of fandom-centric storytelling. The team were invited to produce live events for three Supercell World Championships, providing the full broadcast package complete with hundreds of deliverables, which were displayed on the stage’s LED screens. Blacklist offers the gaming industry a desirable yet rare trait: authenticity, as the team is full of gamers who know what other gamers want. “With this particular audience, you have to talk to them in their own language - they’re very discerning,” says Mathias, with Fred adding: “It’s easy to get it wrong because gamers know their stuff. You need to find the right partners who will be very exacting in their approach.”

Building a nurturing company culture

Though Blacklist Creative are undeniably busy, it’s never at the expense of their colleagues' well-being or creativity. They know that the two are intrinsically linked and that investment in their people will always lead to better work. They’re certified as a Great Place To Work thanks to the positive work culture they’ve built and are always iterating on. 

“We create a safe space for our team, one where they can explore their creativity and create a path they want to follow while we help them to grow and progress. We want to instil in them a sense of achievement and pride,” Dom says. Far from lip service, Blacklist supports and invests in their creatives’ personal projects with resources, including financial, to help see that idea through to the end. “We pride ourselves on giving people the opportunities they wouldn’t get at other companies, the opportunities we didn’t get when we were starting out at big corporations.”

Blacklists’s Dutch arm of the business is an accredited education partner and in the UK they have an existing relationship with two universities, as the team wants to help more creatives access the industry. Dom is currently working on designing two different internship programs, one on the creative and the other on the production side. “We want to give young people the opportunity to see what this industry is about and help them find a way in,” adds Dom. 

Will Blacklist Creative soon have a presence in LA? It’s certainly on the cards, as with a hunger to grow, they are constantly looking to broaden their footprint. They are hoping it will solidify an already successful relationship with Disney as well as opening up their services to the array of outstanding broadcasters, streamers, and brands based in the region. 

Clearly, the company is anything but afraid of what’s next - and why would they be? They’re brimming with ideas, talent, and a future-centric outlook that’s complemented with on-going relationships, new projects, and growth. Anchored by storytelling, culture, and process, Blacklist Creative are onto a winning formula.

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Blacklist Creative Ltd, Tue, 14 Jun 2022 14:05:24 GMT