Block, Light, Rehearse, Shoot.
It’s happened before, technology democratizes an industry and craft suffers before it rises again. There is a rash of technique over substance. We need a conscious return to the craft of story in the creation and execution of brand ideas.
The art of the story must be paramount to the art of the production. Thanks to the internet, there exists an insatiable desire for content. And thanks to the democratization of the technologies of content creation, everyone with a camera and a zoom recorder is suddenly a producer.
Content is delegitimizing advertising.
The skill and creativity of the story teller, not necessarily the gear involved, is one of the prime ingredients in the craft. In the right hands, the appropriate gear has the potential to make a great story that much stronger in execution. In and of itself, all the gear in the world will not make a better story. Flying cameras, movement for the sake of movement, outrageous POV shots are often senseless and usually add expense. If not integral to the telling, these production hijinks are significant distractions from your brand idea. In a very real sense these distractions cost you twice. The essential skills of blocking in support of the scene, lighting supports the performance and rehearsing action that will deliver the intended emotion seem to be a lost art in the world of brand content.
All the technical expertise in the world will not make a bad story better.
Most production companies are not built like agencies; most are built for episodic engagements, not brand stewardship. Building and safeguarding your brand story takes a long-term view, it takes insight and planning and strategy and great creative ideas, smartly executed. This is the work of brand agencies.
Today there is a profusion of production companies that have technical skill because the technology has made it much easier to look and sound good. Technical skill does not make them effective at decoding your story. A direct engagement with a production company may make your marketing budget look cheaper on paper but the long-term cost may be significant.
Insight driven strategy liberates creativity.
Really good agencies know this, and really good clients know this too. Really good production companies know this and expect to partner with brand agencies. A great commercial director wants to understand your brand and its audience and she wants to partner with your agency. This is where your brand agency insight and executional expertise will guide the production team and help them tell your brand idea in the most compelling way.
This is the work of producing content; to tell your brand idea, and it is why brand agencies employ creative directors, writers, art directors, strategists and producers, to define your brand idea. And then in partnership with the director working to a clear idea, shot by shot, adding and building scenes, intention upon intention, the entire production is aligned with the purpose of your brand.
This is the craft of vocal pictures.
Ken Zane’s show Art Buyer For Hire is about 45 minutes in length. During the show we touch on a range of topics from idea development, to execution and agency culture too. While I was chief creative officer of Palio I hired Ken in the role of art buyer-producer. It was an important moment for both of us as it signaled a new level of growth for the agency and another chapter in Ken’s amazing career.
The title of Art Buyer is a bit of a misnomer, the role is really about identifying and collaborating with talented artists.
Even this description falls far short of the many facets of the role. Building meaningful relationships with the artists as well as the agency internal team is essential to the task. Being a good people person is a requirement, as is being a strong listener and excellent communicator. Helping both parties collaborate effectively is another key skill. The actual buying of the art, the terms and price are, in my view, secondary to the primary task of delivering a great agency product. Ken Zane has an amazing eye and is a talented photographer in his own right. With significant background in the arts, Ken is able to quickly bring visual reference for color, composition and style into alignment in support of the work.
In short, Ken elevates the work with unwavering support for the vision of the team.
I hope you enjoy it. Click here for the show.
Long before social media, there were photojournalists whose work was shared across traditional media channels. The right instincts, in the right moment, resulted in an image that captured the imagination, documented an event and told a story. A single image seen across all media channels. In today’s parlance, we might say it went viral. A single moment, a single image and a single opportunity to capture that image. Guts, instinct, talent, intuition, anticipation and a passion for the story; these are a few of the key ingredients for a successful photojournalist.
In 1991 my friend and great talent Ira Yoffe, then VP Creative Director at Parade Magazine, invited me to participate in the Eddie Adams Workshop. In 2017 The Eddie Adams Workshop celebrated 30 years of its unique program for photojournalists. This is an intense, four-day gathering of top photography professionals, along with 100 carefully selected students. The workshop is tuition-free, and the students are chosen based on the merit of their portfolios. Nikon has been the workshop’s major sponsor since its inception. I’ve been shooting with Nikon Cameras and lenses most of my life. There is an extraordinary relationship between Nikon and The Eddie Adams Workshop, so I try to support Nikon when I can. I still use many of my original Nikon manual focus lenses for both still and video work, even on other cameras. In the moment of truth, reliability is key.
During the workshop, I was part of the guest faculty sharing my experience and perspective with these young photojournalists. Also on the faculty was the great Duane Michals. I don’t recall exactly what Duane Michals had to say to them, but one can imagine it included trusting their creative instincts.
My message to these young professionals was simple. For the rest of their lives they would have two jobs; making the work and promoting the work.
It is the same for brands; make the brand and promote the brand. Photojournalists make great hires to help execute social media campaigns. Social media is a ready-made channel for photojournalists. When aligned to your brand story and the goals you would like to achieve, the skills of a photojournalist are hard to beat. The work will come from a more authentic, investigative place as opposed to a very prescribed idea of your brand. The immediacy and authenticity of social media is lost when execution becomes entirely mechanical.
Social media is most successful when it balances the organic with the highly orchestrated, this makes a brand both accessible and inspiring.
When considering how to hire for successful social media, think outside the traditional agency box.
The past nine months have been an exercise in constraint.
Adding the role of The F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College to my life’s work has taken some adjustment. All positive. This work will be the subject of its own blog post because it deserves the airtime.
At Brandforming, I’ve been aggressively moving the nature and scope of our engagements to be primarily defined by strategy and idea development. We’ve dialed down tactical execution with certain exceptions. We are in essence a creative consultancy with a focus in brand idea development and film production.
We’ve enjoyed some very nice engagements. The work has resulted in perspective-shifting, business-altering ideas for our clients. This is enormously satisfying as we’ve significantly and positively impacted the business of our clients, while also changing the nature of our engagements.
On average, 75% of clients are returning to us with additional work.
Clients are returning because they do not feel the idea is being fully realized. As we re-engage it becomes clear that the client has gotten bogged down in execution. Bogged down, often with their own internal constraints, or the client-agency relationship is a drag on the work. In two instances the client’s AOR did not fully deliver on the potential of the idea despite agreement on the strategy. We were able to help maintain a strong strategic platform while supporting the AOR in their vision for the execution. Win-win.
We are always delighted when the phone rings again with clients seeking our council because they trust the work we’ve done together. On the other hand, we would be equally happy to see the ideas take flight without the need for us to re-engage. Our shift in scope forgives us most of the burden of execution. Still, we are upset by the sounds of frustration on the other end of the phone. And because we know that being an AOR is often a compromised existence, we do everything we can to assure the best outcome for everyone involved.
Execution is no little thing and it is often the first thing that becomes compromised. Clients need to invest in execution and the most important part of this investment is in a partner that can make things happen without a lot of wasted effort.
Big ideas don’t need to cost a fortune to execute, but they must be smartly rendered.
In March of 2015 the legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles left this earth for the great beyond. In his lifetime he and his brother David, who passed many years before, established a way of working in documentary film that elevated our ability to see life as it truly is, with as little artifice as possible. The December 27, 2015 issue of the NY Times Sunday Magazine brought Albert Maysles and the work of The Maysles Brothers back to me in the cover article, The Lives They Lived.
The seminal work of The Maysles Brothers are many. If you have not seen them, you should watch a few: http://mayslesfilms.com/films.
The Maysles Brothers work continues to have significant impact on filmmakers around the world. Their approach was strongly observational and the aesthetic, sparse. Their faith in reality, as more interesting than fiction, created films of a raw, visceral quality. Occasionally hard to watch but impossible to look away.
Albert Maysles began his career as a teacher of Psychology. It was an interest in filming the life of patients in a mental hospital that represents his very first film, Psychiatry in Russia. This drive to represent reality unfiltered, to show things as they are, still holds incredible power and potential, especially in healthcare.
Early in my foray into Healthcare advertising I was doing a lot of work for broadcast. I certainly contributed my share of work to what is now the formula.
I was really fortunate to work with Maysles Shorts, a division of the company helmed by David McNamara. As a division of Maysles Films, it was anchored in the traditions the brothers had established. David and I did some really nice work together. We did our best to break from the mold. I’m not sure if the Maysles hired David because he has a gifted eye, or because they saw in him a devotion to a way of working that would continue to represent life as it truly is. Regardless, David is an excellent filmmaker with an approach that is all his own; straightforward and honest too. Today, David is dedicating his many talents to creating meaningful human connection with Samadhi.
It is more important than ever to create work with strength and honesty. Work that connects deeply and goes beyond selling treatments and help patients understand the value of wellness. It’s time to explore new ways of representing and seeing solutions in healthcare that improve on what has been achieved thus far. The work of the Maysles Brothers remains so powerful because it is work that has a Head For The Heart. It is a belief in the intimate power of life as it truly is. True stories told with un-glossed honesty that capture human nature with an observing, unwavering respect for humanity.