What Makes A World Class Film Crew?

crew in action

On Wednesday I heard Simon Hartley speak about what makes a team world class at the national Academy For Chief Executives conference held this year at Allianz Park, home of The Saracens. By studying the world's elite sports teams, Simon has been able to identify six things that differentiate a world class team from the rest, and it struck me that some of the most successful films I've made have been those where those six characteristics applied to the film crew.

So what were the six characteristics?

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The last day of shooting

Rebel Of The Keys

Shooting of Rebel of the Keys was completed with this final day of pick ups on Sunday.  The shoot took place at the beautiful house of Lady Camilla Panufnik, the very place where Andre Tchaikowsky spent hours talking with his friend Andrzej Panufnik.  Andrew read from Andre’s diaries and Nico de Villiers played Andre’s music on Panufnik’s grand piano.  A truly enchanting day and a fitting place to end the filming of the documentary.

A big thank you to Camilla for letting us film at her home (for the third time!), and to Eve for bringing over Andre’s diaries and sharing them with us.

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Branded Entertainment: the distribution conundrum and the bravery needed to be original

Marketing Week have published an article today about Domino’s recent attempt at branded content.  It provoked a couple of responses in me:

1.  Credit to Domino’s and Nick Dutch for having the cojones to experiment with original programming.

2.  If brands – and their associated agency “experts” – can’t figure out the distribution conundrum around original programming, branded content will always remain on the sidelines of the marketing mix.

Then I watched an extract of The Support Group and straight away I could hear the briefing meeting in my head:

“make something like The Office themed around football”.

And that’s exactly what the filmmakers have done.

Asking your production team to emulate the work of some of the best and most recognised comedy scriptwriters in TV and Radio is already setting them up for failure, or rather, just mediocre success.  However talented they are, it’s never going to be as good as the original and by boxing them in like that you’re clipping their creative wings.   There’s some amazing scriptwriting and filmmaking talent out there, be brave and give them the freedom to create something truly original for your brand and you’ve got a real chance of standing out from the crowd.

Is It Time For Chairmen To Take Off Their Gold Watches?

Is It Time For Chairmen To Take Off Their Gold Watches?
Is It Time For Chairmen To Take Off Their Gold Watches?

Remember the days when a phone was just for making phone calls and we listened to CDs? Now, only 3% of time on smartphones is spent making calls and CDs are more useful hanging in our trees to stop birds eating the fruit than they are for playing music.  It wasn’t just the telecoms and music industries that have been disrupted, but high street retailers had their worlds turned upside down too when we all started wandering around with our mobile connected devices.

Samsung Galaxy Gear 2
Samsung Galaxy Gear 2

Now with the emergence of “wearable devices” the watch and glasses industries, among others, better be prepared.  Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear doesn’t exactly carry the same kudos as a gold plated Rolex, and being in a room with a Google Glass wearer is, quite frankly, still just a bit too weird. But, this is just the beginning….  Wearable devices aren’t just replacing a traditional accessory, now that they can interact with your body, they’re extending and changing their purpose.  A device that monitors your heart rate and helps you track your health and fitness could literally save your life.

Google Glass
Google Glass

If I was a watch or glasses manufacturer I’d be making damn sure I entered into this space before the tech companies start hiring people who know how to design beautiful looking watches and glasses.  Remember how big Nokia used to be in the mobile phone market?  Or Blackberry for that matter? It didn’t take long for them to lose their dominance because they didn’t respond fast enough to new innovation and consumer demand.  And, even though the music and retail industries weren’t in the tech sector, they pretty quickly discovered they were competing with the tech sector.

“The Internet of Things” is coming and it’s arriving fast.  It’s not very beautiful yet and there are all sorts of issues to be ironed out before these new devices will become ubiquitous, but it is just a matter of time.   Businesses in all sectors need to make sure they have people in their organisations who are focused on innovation and their boardrooms need to support a culture of innovation.  I think it’s time for company Chairmen and women across the world to take off their gold watches and look to the future.

Photo Credit – Google Glass

Why On Earth Would You Join A Start Up?

offers SQUARE 150pxI am currently on my third start up. I was 25 when I joined my first, Yahoo!. At 33 I set up my own company, a film production business – EntertainingTV. Aged 40 here I am again at that early stage of a business, launching a new digital consumer brand, Veeip.

Veeip is at that really exciting stage where all of the initial set up is done, a small and very dedicated team are in place, some capital has been raised, and now we can get on with the job of building our product and bringing our vision to life.

This stage is like a drug and I can’t seem to kick the habit.  The hours are long, you don’t have any support (forget being able to dial 41 for IT support when your computer crashes), and there are no luxury perks such as car services; in fact there’s not even any fancy stationery to nick.  There’s nothing glamorous about it and you are being paid a fraction of what you would be earning in a corporate. So why do it?

Most of my closest friends are people I worked with at the early stages of companies.  There’s no politics at this stage, it’s all about pulling together to make something happen. You learn A LOT.  Your role inevitably extends beyond your existing experience. After all, in a small team there are jobs beyond your job title that need doing and you don’t have the option of hiring someone to do it, so you learn how to do it yourself.  What you do every day really makes a difference. You see the results of your work in the end product, and in real time. In larger organisations it is sometimes hard to see where your efforts have gone.

As I enter this phase for the third time I notice that I am not bouncing back quite as quickly from a gruelling week as before. In my more youthful Yahoo! days we’d just go out drinking for a bit and then carry on. But on the flip side, with a bit more life experience, I know better who I am and have nothing to prove (to myself or others). At 25 I had a lot to prove. I am more accepting of the fact that nothing ever quite works out as planned but somehow, if you have a vision and follow it, the result can be good and, quite often, surprising.

I feel braver about trying new things and pushing boundaries whereas in a lot of jobs you don’t get that opportunity. In a start up, you do. In fact, if you don’t take risks, if you don’t try new things, if you don’t put yourself out of your comfort zone you won’t win. Yes the risks are high but the rewards can be higher. And I’m not just talking about the potential financial rewards, I’m talking about the intellectual aspects, the personal growth, the satisfaction, the experience and the friendships.

I’m not sure it’s very good for your physical health though and you need an understanding family. My partner who had got used to decent home cooking for a while ended up with toast and hummus for supper last night … again.

Today it’s called “Native Advertising”, I call it logic.

Call it whatever you want – ‘native advertising’, ‘content marketing’, ‘branded entertainment’, or ‘sponsored content’ – I am delighted that finally marketers seem to be waking up to the logical premise that if you create original content of interest in its own right, consumers will engage with it because they get value from it. native advertising image

Why marketers thought it was a good idea to interrupt consumers in the middle of their entertainment for so many decades baffles me.  Why marketers still spend money on banner ads that only my dad clicks on (by mistake), baffles me.

As a consumer/viewer/user I appreciate it if someone has gone to the effort to produce and create some original content that I find relevant or inspiring.  I don’t mind if that content has been created by the BBC, a fizzy drink brand, or a 15 year old kid in New Zealand. If it is relevant, well crafted and authentic I will engage with it and be grateful for it in equal measure.

For decades we have put up with disruptive advertising in order to watch and access content because we didn’t have a choice.  There was an implicit understanding that without this the media owner wouldn’t be able to afford to make the content, and that was ok.  But now every person, every brand, every organisation can be a media owner. The lines have blurred and the rules have changed.

Luckily for traditional broadcasters most brands haven’t figured out how to make good TV yet, but when brands start bringing programme-making expertise into their businesses and as their content marketing budgets rise, they better watch out.

Marks & Spencer already have an app on connected TV’s.  How big a leap of imagination is it that one day they could create the next Coronation Street?  Achieve that and they won’t be spending money on airtime with ITV anymore.

A word of warning to marketers heading down this path:  don’t even think of trying to dress up your existing ad campaigns into original content, think of the consumer first and put  your objectives second and only then will you be able to start producing truly authentic original content.

Branded Entertainment: don’t annoy people by interrupting their entertainment, be their entertainment

Branded entertainment is as an exciting opportunity with plenty of space for innovation.  I believe wholeheartedly in the core principle behind branded entertainment: don’t annoy people by interrupting their entertainment, be their entertainment.  However, it is a very tricky balance to find that perfect combination of great entertainment with a brand’s essence at its core. 

I published this paper on branded entertainment in October 2012.  It is my opinion, an opinion that has been formed from working simultaneously in the world of TV programming and the world of marketing.  Please share your opinions on it with me, I would love to hear them and discuss them. 

Branded Entertainment 

Why Now?

Branded entertainment is not new

Branded entertainment is not new.  Proctor and Gamble were pioneers of it in the 30’s and 50’s  with radio and TV soaps.  It had a resurgence a decade ago with the extremely successful, and still often cited, BMW films.  BMW films created much excitement in this space but the intervening ten years have not translated into the sophisticated branded entertainment market that some might have expected. 

There are perhaps two main reasons for this: firstly, the industry has not developed a robust set of standards and tools to measure the return on investment of branded entertainment;  secondly, it disrupts the existing eco-system between brand owners, agencies, production companies, media owners and broadcasters.  After all, for decades brands and agencies have been used to spending 10% of the budget on production and 90% on the media.  Turn this on its head and put the lion share of the budget into production and it requires some significant adjustment on the part of all involved.

In any walk of life, a catalyst is needed to disrupt a set of conventions and the catalyst that may propel branded entertainment into a more commonly used engagement technique is upon us now in the form of the rapid and radical change in consumer behaviour brought on by technological change and the move into a multi-channel connected world. 

The Drive To Find New Engagement Techniques

Brands need to enhance and not interrupt

The mass take up of new technology has shifted the balance of power to the consumer giving them much more choice and control and an ability to quickly organise themselves into powerful communities making advocacy the single most effective marketing tool today.  This is forcing brands to rethink how they communicate to their customers and to find new engagement techniques.  Multiple screens, and the ability to choose what  we watch and when we watch it, are driving forces in creating a new world order where brands need to enhance and not interrupt.  And therein lies the power of successfully executed branded entertainment. 

Brands As Media Companies

Brands can move away from ‘renting’ audiences and own their own

The multi-channel effect and social media are also enablers that can take branded entertainment mainstream: brands can move away from ‘renting’ audiences and start owning them.  Brands no longer need to use broadcasters’ platforms to distribute their content when they can create their own channels.  This is not to say that there is not still a strong case for distributing on established platforms, indeed ad-funded programming on TV channels is an exciting opportunity for brands. 

Looking forward, as the penetration of connected TV’s* in the home increases, brands have a greater chance of being perceived as broadcasters in their own right as they launch branded apps.  In February, Marks and Spencer were announced as the first UK retail partner to create an app for the Samsung Smart TV’s, with, unsurprisingly, Audi and Red Bull quickly following suit. 

*By 2015 , 350 million connected TV’s will have been sold around the world (Vision IPTV).

A Strategic Shift

It needs strategic acceptance that creating content is important

For branded entertainment to be successful it does need acceptance at all levels in an organisation that creating content is strategically important to their business.

A move into branded entertainment requires a shift in thinking away from a campaign-based approach to marketing. 

There are numerous examples of brands that have created You Tube channels, posted five videos in a short period of time and then never posted any content since.  The effectiveness of the channel was most likely never tracked, there was probably not enough budget put into it in the first place to create the content, grow the audience and sustain it, and the brand manager who was championing the channel probably left.  No wonder it was abandoned.

For branded entertainment to impact the bottom line of a business, it is important that the organisation has a clear understanding of its purpose and that the right expertise is brought into the business to execute it.  Brands that are going to embrace branded entertainment need to start to thinking of themselves as entertainment brands.  The best example of this is of course Red Bull. 

Developing Branded Entertainment

Serve the audience first, don’t make long form commercials

The first principle of developing a branded entertainment programme is to make sure it works for the channel and the audience.   Of course, branded entertainment always needs to tie back to a strategic marketing objective, but if it doesn’t work for the audience it will fail.  Brands that take the leap into branded entertainment need to ensure they have people on their team with a background in programme thinking, which is quite a different mindset from making commercials.


It’s about how engaging it is, and not about length

In this multi-channel universe brands are no longer limited by format.  The 60 or 30 second TV spot was a practical constraint placed on advertisers because of a time-limited linear broadcast schedule, but with ‘on demand’ viewing and an infinite number of channels available to us, the only limitation now is how long you can keep a viewer’s attention and the brand’s ability – financial and expertise – to build an audience around that content. 

For programme makers and marketers this opens up a whole new world of creative opportunity.  Furthermore, when media space is free, or very low cost, the ability to create spin-off content and start to build community around hundreds of hours of content is now possible. 

Building Brand Value

Building brand equity by adding value

This is not an opinion piece that sets out to bash TV advertising, I do believe there is still a place for it and that branded entertainment can work very well alongside it.   However, the problem comes if you apply TV advertising thinking to branded entertainment. 

One of the rules of thumb when buying TV airtime is that you need to run your commercial often enough for their to be five ‘Opportunities To See’ (OTS) in order for it to have a reasonable impact.  For a viewer, even the most stunning of adverts gets boring by the fifth time you have seen it.  This is a method of building brand awareness by repetition, that is, repetition of the same thing over and over again. 

However, with branded entertainment the viewer is most likely only going to watch your show, read your magazine or attend your event once.  The repetition factor comes in when you entice them back to watch new episodes of your shows, read the following month’s magazine, or when they come back to your event next year.  The branded entertainment route is therefore giving a lot more value back to the consumer, which should translate to a deeper level of engagement.

Nevertheless, the economics of having to create new and original content each time throws up a challenge for organisations but with a third of the total value of stock markets today being accounted for by brands, and with profits determined by the success of your brand, building deeper engagement with customers through branded entertainment should be being taken seriously in boardrooms around the world. 

Building An Audience Around The Entertainment

Make viewing your programmes a habit and you’ve cracked it

Building an audience around the entertainment is something that takes time.  Furthermore, once you have started building that audience you need to create new content on a regular schedule to keep them coming back. It needs long term commitment for it to give a return, so is it worth it?

Standing in a stuffed tube in rush hour I thought, “great there is a new episode of my favourite TV show I can watch when I get home”.  Theoretically there is no reason why a brand could not have created that programme.  Providing that the programme represents the essence of your brand, if watching your programmes is something a viewer looks forward to, the relationship you have been able to build with that viewer has gone far deeper than any programme sponsorship ever could have done.  Produce a story that resonates with consumers and you can create a deep emotional connection with them. 

Bringing The Best Marketers And Programme Makers Together

We are human after all, and we like our comfort zones

Most weeks I find myself living in two distinctly different worlds.  I flip from a marketing environment with a focus on delivering brand messages and driving sales, to the world of factual and documentary filmmaking. 

When I attend the documentary events and markets and meet commissioners and filmmakers, the vast majority regard brands and marketers as the devil.  However, mostly, these professionals do know how to make really engaging programming and they understand what people want to watch. 

When I sit in marketing meetings the objective is almost always to engage with consumers, but brands tend to take a top down approach prioritising their objectives over those of the consumer.  It is a natural position to take when you, as a marketer, are living and breathing your brand every day, but top down thinking can kill a branded entertainment concept.

And what about the viewer/customer? If you can create engaging programming that people are going to enjoy then most people do not care if a brand paid for that content or if it was commissioned by a broadcaster.  

The challenge for the brand owners is to make programmes that can entertain and also deliver their marketing objective, and it must be said that branded entertainment is not right for every brand.  If you are selling incontinence pads then it is unlikely you are going to be able to become an entertainment brand.

The Future of Retailing is Where Publishing Meets Commerce

M&S Westfield

I was at the Javelin “Future of Retail” event on Friday and the title for this blog is a quote from Laura Wade-Gery, Exec Director of Multi-Channel at M&S.

“The future of retail is where publishing meets commerce.” I have been ranting on about this for years so it was a almost a relief to hear those words, and particularly from one of Britain’s biggest retail institutions. Perhaps I can now get off my soap box and start helping retailers become publishers.

But what did Laura mean? Clearly this has been driven by the rise of the internet, e-commerce and social media, but the concept of fusing publishing with commerce is valid in the world of bricks and mortar as well now. It is about tapping into the psyche of the “new consumer”, Gen Y. I call them “Gen C”, “C” standing for connected, co-creators, collaborators, chameleons ……

Gen C goes shopping armed with her connected device, today a smartphone, tomorrow it might be called something different. She is a publisher herself. She is going shopping with her 500 plus Facebook friends in tow. She has fused her social life with technology and she is broadcasting everywhere she goes. She listens to her friends and cares about what they think. Her society is a network, not a hierarchy. So if retailers are ever going to be able to truly connect with this “new consumer” and her friends that influence her, they are going to need to adopt a similar psyche and, in part, that means becoming publishers themselves.

How you do that authentically and practically is a whole other subject …..

Don’t Get Caught Out By The X-Ponential-Factor

For more than 60 years millions of us browsed, socialised and bought music in record shops.  New formats were introduced in this period but the relationship between the record labels, the stores and the consumer did not fundamentally change in that period.

Photo by Hans Dinkelberg

1996 saw the introduction of the first commercially available MP3 player.  I remember being given my first MP3 player in 2000, it was compact and could carry a small number of songs, but it wasn’t very robust and soon broke.  At the end of 2001 Apple introduced its first iPod, swiftly followed up with a version that could work on Windows in 2002.  By 2006 more MP3 players were sold in mobile phones than standalone MP3 players.

The last-man-standing of the high street record shop chains, HMV, reported a slump in sales for yet another year in a row.  They cite competition from supermarkets and online retailers plus the shift away from CDs to downloads as key reasons. They are now desperately trying to shift their business towards the sale of technology such as MP3 players and tablets, but they have left it too late.  They should have started shifting their focus 10 years ago.

Photo By Dave Whelan

Amazon, one of reasons for their downfall, built their business off the back of selling books and DVDs.  Recognising that DVD and paper-based book sales are in decline they started offering products in other categories, but that was not enough, they also needed to make some key strategic decisions:  the development of the Kindle and the acquisition of LoveFilm being examples.   As a retailer, why fight the shift to digital downloads when you can spearhead it?  Ironically, the development of the Kindle has sped up the shift towards digital books, but it is this kind of strategic and innovative thinking that is going to ensure that Amazon will thrive.

As a business executive it is easy to stay in your comfort zone and stick with what you know plus there is always risk in innovation.  Sticking your neck out when you have a mortgage, a family to feed and a career to protect can be scary, so businesses need to create a culture where innovation and risk is more acceptable if they don’t want to get caught out by the X-ponential-Factor.

What is catching businesses out, and retailers in particular, is the exponential effect.  There comes a tipping point when suddenly a trend or technological development takes hold and change happens faster than anyone can imagine or keep up with.  That little piece of plastic I was given in 2000 that held a few songs and broke on me after a few weeks was just a tiny drop in the ocean but that little drop created waves that became a Tsunami for the music industry.

For nearly 60 years the high street record shop thrived, it took just 10 years for them to all but disappear and the speed of their demise accelerated at such a pace with the introduction of the iPod that, by then, it was too late for them to react.  Just reflect for a moment that the iPod is not even a teenager yet but it completely transformed the music industry.

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This article was first published in Kensington & Chelsea Today Business Pages.

Liz has been in digital marketing since its inception. She is Chief Marketing Officer of Quercus and a director of Savvy Social and entertaining:tv, businesses that focus on social media, video and shopper marketing.

Will You Thrive or Die in the Mobile Social Media Marketplace?

I hear far too often senior people in business groaning about social media: how they do not like it and cannot be bothered with it.  They think it is just for teenagers and people with too much time to waste.  Not only are they wrong, but they are underestimating the power of it when combined with the take up of mobile devices.

The use of mobile technology has reached a tipping point. I do not need to quote stats to prove this anymore, you just need to look around you.  Are you on a train? In the street? In a coffee shop? Just take a look and count how many people are interacting with a device.

Every business should be putting this at the top of their agenda and asking themselves what they need to do to adapt their organisation to this fundamental shift in human behaviour.

Do you have a mobile version of your website that is easy to use?  Are you listed correctly on Google Maps so that people can find you easily?  Are you listening to what people are saying about your business on Twitter and do you have a capability to respond to them instantly? Are you making sure that all your advertising is designed to benefit from mobile? Is your workforce truly mobile-enabled, or do they have to work with clunky legacy systems that slow them down and put them at a disadvantage to their competitors?

The speed with which mobile technology is changing our behaviour is gathering pace and everyone in business, whether a large multi-national or a sole trader should be doing a “mobile audit”.

Mobile, in a connected world, could represent a real opportunity to enhance your offering and could take your business sky high.   If you run a restaurant with great service and fantastic food how can you make it easier for customers to write a review?  How can you leverage the time and location based aspects of mobile to get people into your restaurant at lunchtime?

It could also represent a massive threat to your business, in which case you need to be thinking about what you can do to mitigate that.  If you are a high street retailer with premium prices, you have got a problem as shoppers start using your store as a showroom and use their phones to compare prices. Focusing on convenience and customer service and reviewing product lines and pricing is essential.

Either way, ignoring mobile is not an option. This is a game changer and you need to make sure that you turn it to your advantage if you want your business to thrive.  It cannot wait another month or another year. You need to do something about it now because this phenomenon is happening faster than you think.

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This article was first published on Kensington & Chelsea Today Business Pages on 8 February 2012