We braved the short tube journey to Paddington to spend the afternoon with Roy Barker from Campaign’s Agency of the Decade, adam&eveDDB. Over a cuppa and a pack of bourbons, we discussed all things from production, to ‘fat around the edges’, to the decline in long lunches.
Congratulations on winning Agency of the Decade! What do you think sets adam&eveDDB apart from everyone else?
I think all credit has to be given to the original and incumbent management team. They constantly strive to be the best, to make the best work whether that’s strategically or creatively and to ultimately make sure they win. This drive and determination has become ingrained in our DNA, having filtered down to every employee within the agency. While some may see these as an unattractive trait, if put it in the right context, with the right people, on the right projects – it creates something truly special and adam&eveDDB is arguably one of the best agencies in the world right now.
Moving on to you and your background, how did you end up in production?
My story is one of those annoying, slightly fortuitous ones. I was working in an art gallery at the time, having studied at art school, when someone I knew said there was a role going as a project manager which didn’t require any experience - they asked if I would be interested in interviewing.
I attended the interview without knowing anything about the agency or the industry and fortunately I got the job – it transpired that I was actually pretty good at it. That agency was AMV|BBDO, where I spent 5 years undertaking project management before getting the opportunity to join adam&eveDDB through an interview, secured by yourselves, with Caroline Henry who now runs King Henry.
At the time of arrival, I was employer number 32 or something. I worked incredibly hard and to some extent clung on to the coat tails of success that the management team had created. Prior to my arrival, they had just won campaign agency of the year (2011) for their Through the Ages campaign for John Lewis.
So, all in all, I was very lucky. Right place, right time!
I guess adam&eveDDB provided you with an opportunity to grow with them?
Yes, exactly that. They placed their trust in me, for which I’m incredibly grateful, I continued to work hard and now I am one of three, managing a team of 60+ producers, which is growing all the time. I have been here 9 years and through that time the agency has changed and evolved, but the DNA remains the same.
Is that what makes you stay?
I guess there are lots of things but if I was going to be blunt about it, if you look elsewhere, where is either better or being more fun? There isn’t anywhere else close in terms of creative at the moment. The opportunities, the clients, the people – it’s all of that! It’s the place to be, still and it’s incredible how quickly 9 years pass.
What is the most favourite campaign you’ve worked on?
This is going to be a really obvious answer but for good reason, it has to be the John Lewis campaigns. It is still year on year, the most hotly anticipated ad of the year. It’s gone from being a single TV ad to being this massive entity, not just in terms of how integrated the campaign has become, but how it has become a cultural phenomenon. Personally, it’s awesome to be involved in something which is a creative benchmark for everyone else.
Rachel: Do you think anyone anticipated how big the John Lewis ads would become?
It wouldn’t surprise me if the management team anticipated it. The management team then (2011) and now, are insanely ambitious and driven and whilst they wouldn’t necessarily have set out for Christmas domination, they would have been aware of the responsibility to build on the success year after year.
How in advance to you have to plan for the John Lewis campaigns?
Without giving anything away, the brief is more or less the same each year, it’s all about giving. So, to be honest, the script could be written at any point, perhaps when the creatives have their “down time”(!) they could be drawing inspiration from the world around them and writing.
Officially the teams are briefed in February and then we aim to shoot in July or August, with the final campaign to go live in late October; so it’s almost a year in the making!
Collectively, do you feel the pressure as an agency to top the year before?
Initially, no, but as the scripts are being whittled down and shared with us, it can difficult not to compare if ‘X is better than Y’. Irrespective though, there is 100% trust in our management team and Chief Creative Officer, Rick Brim, in making the right decision.
Moving back to the job in hand, what changes have you seen in production over the years?
Ultimately more accountability, more pressure, more requirement for integration through media type and sadly, less long lunches. [Not that I ever got any!]
In the last ten years, clients have become much more wise as to how their money is being spent. Now it is a very rigorous process and everything is procured and audited. Before this, there would be a pot of money (not literally!) which would be spent whichever way the agency saw fit, meaning that there would usually be financial fat around the edges of the ads. This fat is now trimmed, with processes being much more meticulous.
Also, social media has changed how we produce work, for example. It’s opened up a world where when you’re casting people in ads, they now have a backwater of history – something they once said, or posted can come back and cause issues. Directly it’s not on the producers, but it’s your campaign so the responsibility can fall at your door.
How much is it about finding the right people?
People are massively key. I have been a big advocate, especially in production, in hiring the right people both culturally and from a skills perspective. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is definitely an adam&eveDDB person and we hire on the basis of talent, being nice and working hard – that’s what helps drive the agency forward.
Which other brands or agencies do you think are doing interesting work at the minute?
As my background has focused predominantly around stills shoots, design & illustration, I particularly like the Go Compare OOH adverts from Droga5 – using the operatic protagonist with design in a different way.
I also really like Mothers recent work, particularly IKEA’s grime-flecked Christmas TV ad. And of course AMV BBDO continue to do great work – the Viva La Vulva campaign was amazing - they created a 360 campaign where each discipline stood out on its own merit. The press & OOH designs were beautiful and worked really well together, without looking in anyway like the film.
What do you think it takes to be a good agency producer these days and do you have any advice to anyone wanting to get into this field?
It’s about being able to deal with accountability and the pressures that come with that. You also need to be super organised, but have all of the ‘left-sided’ bit of the brain stuff, too – being creatively passionate and being able to communicate effectively. Ultimately you need to help make the right decisions with production partners and creatives to ensure you realise the creative goal to its maximum potential.
Some people who end up in production arrive from the art school or media studies route, but I wouldn’t necessarily advise that. In fact, when my children reach the age of further education, I suspect I’ll suggest they sack-off university altogether. Instead, avoid debt by trying to get straight in to full time employment - perhaps by putting themselves out there, leaning on ‘the right contacts’ and working hard, eventually the stars will align.
I think be ambitious, ask questions, apply for all and any work experience or internships……go above and beyond, soak things up and enjoy it!
Finally, what trends do you see emerging for 2020?
Not necessarily emerging, but becoming more prevalent and more important year on year. Certainly, this year, we are driving to help the industry become more green and sustainable – from how we print, send emails, produce shoots, how we travel, to what we eat and consume on a daily basis.
When we are shooting, it’s mandatory for us to work with a company called Green Screen who ensure our productions are sustainable by offering us a Green Steward who project manages how green it is.
Aside from that, there is always a massive push for diversity and equality. Despite efforts, the creative industries remain predominantly white, male, middle-class orientated, but adam&eveDDB have put in place hiring initiatives to counter balance this. In fact, for us, it doesn’t matter where you come from, your education or what you look like – we often find that actually we hire from more diverse backgrounds as they have more to offer and look at things in a different way. Those that question and push the mould, are the ones who will continue to drive adam&eveDDB forward.