Mofilm’s Trak Ellis-Hill: common sense – the change the ad industry needs

Change will do you good, according to Sheryl Crow. She’s right! And just as this reference belongs to another era, so do the old ways of working in advertising. Think about how anchored the ad industry has always been to big teams, huge budgets, lead times that touch the horizon. By the time you’ve circled an idea for many weeks, with a great many people, tested the life out of it, and eventually flown 15 people out to make it in a country everyone can tick off their bucket list, it’s irrelevant.

But here we all are, with an opportunity and a bloody good reason to challenge the old ways and change things for the better. What does better look like? Whatever we want it to look like. So let’s start from scratch…

Flying 15 people 3000 miles to shoot some video. And feeding them. And putting them up. And paying their bar tab. Crazy.

I mean, seriously. I get it. It’s fun. I like a nice hotel as much as you do. Probably more. But if we’re honest, we don’t really need all those people on an aeroplane to go make a 30” spot. There are more efficient ways to do this. We can hire an experienced local team and minimise the number of people to fly in. We can use technology to stream a live shoot from set cameras to a client’s desktop so nobody has to go anywhere. We can develop cracking ideas that work with a more nimble production process.

Ah, but you really want THAT director. Hm.

Does the consumer even know it’s made by THAT director? Then please can you just commission a great director in the location you need to shoot, or ask THAT director to shoot some place local. Nailed it.

Meetings. With loads of people. All the time. Tedious.

You end up taking meetings about meetings. If lockdown has taught us anything it’s that we really don’t need so much face time. Human contact is preferable, of course, but use your time wisely so you have more of it to get stuff done. Do a stand-up for a half hour max every morning: everyone briefly in one place at one time to check in and make quick, smart decisions on things that can be achieved that day. Always you’re working towards a longer term goal, of course, but do as Michael Jordan does: focus on the championship, one basket at a time. (Yes, I am all over The Last Dance on Netflix right now. Aren’t you?)

Long timelines. Wasteful.

I’ve been in the industry 16 years and my best work has always come from short lead times. Think about it: even with a super generous deadline, when have you ever delivered something good with time to spare? Whether it’s a pitch, a GIF, or a whole campaign, we all work up to the 11th hour to drop the work. We use up every second on the clock to write and rewrite and edit and alter and perfect.

Give your project less time and get more from the time you have. Do your research, get to a good idea quickly, be decisive, go with your gut. We’ve proved we can do it in a crisis, so why not be fast and efficient all the time? Agency and client can work together to take a leap on fresh ideas and get them live before the moment has passed.

Talking about yourself all the time. Boring.

Brands are learning through this unique experience what happens when they talk less about themselves and truly focus instead on the needs and experiences of their audience. Building a strong relationship with your audience is just like any other human interaction: it requires you to do more listening. By communicating in a way that makes people feel heard, you encourage their desire to communicate with you again. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Diversity in storytelling and storytellers. Vital.

There’s been nothing traditional about the way we’ve all had to produce creative work these past three months. Many of us have reached out to creators and directors not typically on a hot list, and we’ve made some astonishing work. I don’t want to diminish the need for craft, but we realise now that we can take risks on new voices, unique perspectives; that ideas should come from people with different experiences in order to make original and interesting creative, and speak authentically to an audience. And, you know, it’s the right thing to do!

So hire and commission more diverse talent. Engage more partners and suppliers from diverse communities. Make your work more representative, not just because it makes business sense but, because it’s moral and ethical and way more interesting.

You’re a brand with a budget to spend and you want to get the best, most effective creative for your money. You’re an agency with a client who has high expectations and you want to make the best work, and a profit! So streamline your processes and put your money into the work. Be creative in the way you develop ideas that can be made without spending unnecessary cash on things that don’t add value, and maybe avoid damaging the planet at the same time.

Now is an era of relevance and responsibility, creativity and speed. Just as we have all learned through the Covid crisis to appreciate a simpler life, to be creative with what we have at our disposal, so too can the process of making truly great work be simpler and more creative.

Trak Ellis-Hill is ECD at Mofilm.

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