Agencies & Post
Issue: January 1, 2012

Agencies & Post

While most agencies have established and comfortable relationships with post houses, they do keep their eyes open for new talent. Sometimes it’s word of mouth. Sometimes it’s a spot that impresses on air. Sometimes it during a showing at the agency itself. Where things do differ a bit is in relation to VFX houses. That’s when agencies rely on directors, (who also have favorite editors) to lead the way.

So, what makes a company a “go-to” shop for these agencies? Knowing they can count on these post artists in a pinch.

Bob Emerson, senior VP, executive producer at BBDO Worldwide (, reports the agency’s process for picking offline editors and mixers is different than the one they use for visual effects houses — the former is more often based on relationships and the latter is typically the choice of the director.

“With offline editors, it’s always our call,” he says. “You develop a relationship and a shorthand — if you work with someone long enough you can even read body language, so there is definitely less interest in experimenting with new people.”

When it comes to finding audio mixers for spots, producers and creative people have their favorites as well, but, according to Emerson, the number of mixers working in commercials in limited — so agencies tend to compete with each other to get who they want. “As soon as I get a board I put a hold on the mixer because the supply and demand is lopsided.” Often he’ll do the same with offline editors, because “if they are good, they have creative people who really like them.”

So why is choosing a visual effects house a different animal? They are often on-set making sure shots are captured correctly in relation to where VFX will be added later. The director’s comfort level in this environment is crucial. So, when BBDO has a board that demands effects, they call the appropriate director and ask for a recommendation, knowing that if it’s a house BBDO has had an unpleasant experience with, the agency has veto power, and the director is asked to consider another house.

While relationships are important to Emerson, he still looks at reels, still listens to sales reps’ pitches, and still hunts down work he’s seen on air that impresses him. And often he listens to suggestions from colleagues at BBDO. “Reputation is important, and my best recommendation will often come from a fellow producer.”

For those who send him links to their work, make sure to describe the job and include a key frame from the project. “That is the most effective way for new people to get in front of me,” says Emerson, “rather then somebody calling me to set up an appointment — that is almost obsolete now.”

BBDO represents many major brands, including Gillette. A new spot from them, called Upside Down, was produced by Rabbit and directed by Twin, a pair of identical brothers. He points to this work as an example of the agency talking to the director early about the VFX house. In the spot, a guy falls out of bed, then walks along the wall, the ceiling and into the bathroom for a shave. “There is a live effect to this, and it included building a set within a gimble, a steel structure that is motion controlled and sped up, and we built the set into it,” describes Emerson. “To really sell the spinning world idea, we wanted to see outside the windows to the horizon line and that meant visual effects. Twin suggested a few names, one being Framestore, NY. We’ve had good experiences with them, so it was an easy choice.”

Another spot that Emerson calls “tricky” was an Ad Council PSA for Autism Speaks. They approached the producer and director with a broad brief. In the past BBDO had done these spots featuring celebrities — Toni Braxton and Ernie Els — talking about the odds of them becoming famous and using stills and live action. But the new brief called for animation. “We had some ideas, but First Avenue Machine and their colleagues in Argentina, called Gazz, came back with two brilliant approaches. One, featuring Tommy Hilfiger, included creating sets out of his own fabrics and using CGI people. The other featured NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray, whose niece is autistic. Gazz did it all out of paper, almost an origami-style, but in stop motion. In both cases we go live action when we talk again about odds, this time the odds of them having a family member with autism  — which is 1 in 110.

“Those were very interesting and fresh innovative animations, which were not a leap of faith from the agency, but a great example of starting with a broad idea and expanding on it,” he concludes.

When asked how she finds new talent — is it via reels, relationships, the Web? — Patti McConnell, director of production, North America at Ogilvy & Mather, replies, “Yes.” More than ever, agencies now have the ability to find talent in a multitude of ways.

“Everybody has to be looking at reels, reading up on talent and continuing that creative exploration, because whether it’s the new technology — another look through a lens — or how you solve creative problems, editors keep evolving and finding new ways to do their thing. I don’t think it’s ever been easier or more exhilarating than it is right now.”

She points to the Web as a way of easily viewing new work and the talent behind it. “I find everyone — the creatives, the producers — plays on YouTube. Sometimes it’s going to the Source Website and tracking down who was involved in a spot you saw and loved.”

So while she and the Ogilvy team always keep their eyes open for new talent, McConnell recognizes that some directors have certain preferences in terms of editors, and she’ll trust their recommendations. “Right now we are in the middle of a re-launch of a brand for a client, and it started thanks to a partnership with the production company and directors. These directors have relationships with certain editors. So, you find the directors you fall in love with, you continue down that path and you find the editors they love to work with too.”

But this doesn’t mean Ogilvy doesn’t have its “go-to” guys. “Being comfortable with people helps to flesh out the vision in a whole other way,” says McConnell. “If it’s madness and we are in the middle of a pitch or we need to put something in to sell an idea before that idea is even brought to life in storyboard form — in those situations you go to a trusted partner because there is short hand in terms of language.”

Whether it’s a new editor or someone they’ve worked with previously, these partnerships start early, sometimes before the script has been approved by the client. “You ask them to review scripts. How do we bring this to life? What do we need to be aware of technically? What do we need to make sure we are capturing what you need to make the story richer, and how will you make the story richer?”

Other times, they know exactly who they want from the start. “That’s an even richer experience because you are working holistically with all of them to flesh out the right treatment well before you are going into production,” says McConnell. “When we go into production, everyone is in place and that conversation continues, between the director and the editor, the agency and the editor. And sometimes that means the editor is on set, especially if it’s effects.”

McConnell points to a recent IBM campaign that was produced using several different vendors. “Both IBM’s Watson and Centennial were incredible journeys that had a teams partnering with a variety of production resources, both directors and editors.”

One practice, McConnell would like to see more of — in addition to having the time to participate — is to welcome companies into Ogilvy for a “show and tell” of sorts. “That’s a great way for us to get to know them,” she says. “Creative and production people enjoy contact and want to hear the stories and talk about the work: What did you shoot on? How did you get those graphics? What was your thought process putting it together? We have done a few of these at the agency, and it’s been terrific. I would like to see us do more of that in 2012.”

Venables, Bell and Partners in San Francisco is one of many agencies who have an in-house production and editorial facility. While Lumberyard allows them to expand their digital capabilities and take on more live-action projects, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to go out of house often, for such clients as Audi, Ebay, Slim Jim and Intel. It may actually give them an even greater understanding of what they need from a partner.

Craig Allen, director of integrated production at Venables, Bell and Partners ( tells a similar story to the others interviewed for this piece, in terms of who they work with regularly. “In theory we are always looking for new folks, whether it’s editors, visual effects or mixing facilities, but in practice, once we’ve established a good working relationship with someone, you tend to have a preferred list — those who can deliver on time, on budget, and with whom we’ve developed a kind of shorthand when communicating.”

He says these are the same people that VB&P calls in a pinch, whether that means helping fit into a certain budget or meeting a particularly tight deadline. “These guys will help see us through it, so we tend to rely on those relationships quite a bit and are very loyal to those people.”
For visual effects, they too look at the director for recommendations. “We are very respectful and cognizant of who the director has worked with and who he or she has a good working relationship with. We want to mine the ease they have working together because that in turn leads to having relationships on our own with these companies — if we’ve had a good experience, we will seek them out on our own.”

What are some of the things that keep VB&P and Allen coming back to certain post entities? “You want to know that you are getting a certain amount of attentiveness and that you are not just one more job on the laundry list of other jobs. You want someone who is communicating with you on a regular basis, someone who is responsive and who listens to you and makes sure their artists are taking the creative input we are providing and responding in a timely and creative fashion.”

Even though he does have his list of “usual suspects,” Allen still looks at new techniques and new reels, and VB&P is very good about having studios come in to show their work. They have screenings, many of which take place during breakfast or lunch, where producers and creatives give these reels a good, long look.

Right now VB&P is working on an effects-heavy job, that could not be named at press time, with director Danny Kleinman, VFX house Framestore and editing house Cut and Run, both in London. “We’ve worked a fair amount with Danny Kleinman over the last couple of years,” reports Allen. “He is a director who has a good working relationship with Framestore too, and by working with him, we’ve since developed our own relationship with them.” Audio shops they call on regularly include Play, Lime and M Squared.

A recent project that Allen can mention is a multi-spot Ebay campaign that was posted at The Mill, Los Angeles, and edited at Arcade Edit. The agency has worked a lot with The Mill over the past few years and has developed a close working relationship with them. It’s one of those houses that Evans referred to earlier — one of their “go-to” shops. VB&P also worked with The Mill earlier in the year for the Brian Buckley-directed Release the Hounds, an Audi spot that premiered during Super Bowl.  Allen sums up by saying, “There are many companies out there doing great work, but when you start landing on a couple of them who work out, it’s hard to walk away.”