Mary Ellen Duggan tells Addison Capper about leaving behind life as an agency producer to launch an editorial boutique with editor and friend Christjan Jordan
Mary Ellen Duggan has spent much of her working life heading up production departments within agencies on both of America's coastlines. Stints at the likes of KBP, Cliff Freeman and The Big Family Table have seen her hold the role of producer, executive producer and head of production. But as she began to think about a new challenge, she received a very timely call from an old friend, Christjan Jordan. Christjan is an editor that Mary Ellen had known and worked with for years, and was looking for a business partner to open an editorial shop of his own with. The timing was perfect and The Den Editorial was born.
They've wasted little time getting things started - two of the biggest Super Bowl ads from this year were cut at The Den with Christjan lending his skills to Hulu and Walmart's efforts.
Eager to know more about her shift in career and the appeal of launching an editorial company, Addison Capper caught up with Mary Ellen.
LBB> Mary Ellen, you're an agency producer by trade! What's inspired this shift into editing? What experiences you've had on the agency side have spurred an eagerness to work in editing?
Mary Ellen> When Christjan approached me and asked if I would be interested in opening an editorial company, I jumped at the chance. While I have had the good fortune of working as a producer, EP and head of production at some of the top agencies, I was looking for a new challenge and the timing of this was perfect. As an agency producer, editorial has always been one of my favourite aspects of my job so the transition seemed natural to me. In fact, I started my career in advertising as a junior editor back in the day. Guess you can say I am going back to my roots moving to the editorial side.
LBB> How do you and Christjan know each other? And why were you keen to go into business together?
Mary Ellen> The stars aligned for Christjan and I to work together. We had known each other for years and had recently worked on a Hulu campaign together. We had a similar vision for what we thought the editorial experience should be. A high-end boutique editorial company that is nimble, has a roster of diverse talent, and a real family vibe.
LBB> Tell me about the name. I feel like 'The Den' invokes some kind of comforting feeling about being a kid and holing yourself up in your own little den. But maybe I'm just thinking too deeply into this.
Mary Ellen> You nailed it. When I was a kid and even now my favourite room in the house is the den. We want The Den to be a place where creatives come to hang out and make great sh*t.
LBB> What makes The Den unique within the commercial editing landscape?
Mary Ellen> We are going to remain nimble and be very selective with how we curate our roster. For both of us, pushing for a diverse roster is a priority as we feel that diversity in the current editorial space is lacking.
LBB> Christjan is the editor so his role will be similar to his previous ones. But how will your day-to-day work differ from previous jobs in agencies?
Mary Ellen> I think one of the biggest differences will be that my former colleagues will now be my clients! But I look forward to that as I have a lot of insight of how the editorial process should be, given my experience as an agency producer. As for the rest of it, I have found that much of my job now echoes what I did as a producer. I have to problem solve and figure out how to turn things around quickly and on budget. All things that I have already been doing for years.
LBB> You've been in operation for a short while now and already have two Super Bowl spots under your belt. How have you found the process so far?
Mary Ellen> I have to say in the last three months I have only had a few days off, but when it’s your own company and you are building something from the ground up it is really exciting so you don’t mind the hard work. Thankfully we have been busy so I can’t complain.
LBB> How big is your roster of editors so far? And how will you be looking to nurture it moving forward?
Mary Ellen> At the moment it’s Christjan Jordan and Andrew Ratzlaff. We also have an incredibly talented junior editor Hannelore Gomes. We are looking for several more editors to round out the roster in the coming months.
LBB> What's exciting for the editing industry right now?
Mary Ellen> It’s an exciting time because we’re no longer limited to the traditional 30-second TV commercial. There are so many varied ways to produce and make content in both long and short formats. We can’t forget the six-second social videos. It’s a creative challenge to figure out how to make great content in so many different lengths. We’re up for that challenge. Our editors get excited by all pieces of content regardless of length and where they run social is just as important as broadcast.
LBB> And what's frustrating?
Mary Ellen>I would say the age-old complaint, not enough money, not enough time.
LBB> What are your plans and hopes for the year ahead?
Mary Ellen> Next step is to find a more permanent home so we can expand our roster.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Mary Ellen> I’m excited for this new chapter and to be working with my longtime friends and colleagues. Of course, make great work in the process