Traversing the New Media Maze: Dave Smith Sheds Light on Life at a UK Full-Service Agency

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How about your day-to-day operations?

Sure, I jointly own the agency with my business partner Julianne [Reynolds]. We’ve kind of split the duties 50/50. We’re a bit like chalk and cheese, so she looks after all of the people and makes sure all of our staff are happy and also looks after all of the finance stuff. I tend to look after production, new business and overall strategy. I strive to do business with the strategy team. I also take quite a heavy lead in the direction of the client strategies. I’m always involved in the brainstorming and the like and coming up with new ideas and launching new products.

In terms of being a managing director, or a creative director, what are some of the challenges from your agency’s perspective, technology-wise, etc? Also, what are some of the trends you’re noticing in terms of creative? How do you apply this to NMM’s strategy?

I suppose it’s always finding a balance between what’s crazy and clever and what works. That’s always a challenge for us, and clients regularly come to us with ideas of what they’d like to do so it’s finding the correct way of explaining to them that, you know, [what it takes] to actually achieve that objective. So, that’s the overall challenge.

I think also, what’s really important within an agency is that there’s a strong link between the production team and the strategy team. Our guys in production are always looking at new things online, always checking out forums and websites that people are launching, spotting new stuff and testing stuff out. So it’s making sure that feeds into the strategy team. A good example would be, just the other week someone sent me that Google Maps application, you could launch a live 3D game using Google maps.

It seems like every week marketers are capitalizing on Google Maps for campaigns.

It’s just really cool because it renders the graphics really quickly, which means that you could actually fly an airplane around over different maps. So you can actually fly around the whole city in the little airplane over the top of the city. It’s just very cleverly done.

It’s just making sure that when someone in production spots that, that that gets put through strategy and someone then makes the mental leap that it could be changed or adapted to a campaign that we’re going to be working on —so if we’re going to be working on Superman the game, is there something we can do without there being an airplane and having him fly around town. That’s not actually a campaign that we’re doing, but it’s just an example of sort of one of the key challenges for an agency.

As long as you’ve got a strong feed through from the production and into the strategy team, you’re always being innovative and the cutting-edge work comes back to the client. I think the other challenge, really, is…and I think this goes for anyone at any agency, is remembering that just because you don’t think it’s innovative, doesn’t mean that it’s not innovative. We’re in a very high turnover business in that we do a lot of campaigns for clients. Sometimes it’s a 20-30,000 pound campaign, which means that they’re in and out of the door very quickly. And what that means is that in any given week with majors, we may have 20-30 brainstorms. So, the task of keeping ideas fresh is a challenge.

I can’t imagine how you organize all those ideas.

Yeah, it’s pretty difficult. And I’ll tell you what, if I can work out a way of actually organizing them all properly, it will be a lot easier because sometimes you’ll have a great idea and a great story but it’s not quite right for that campaign. You have to store that and pull that out at [the right time], because there’s no doubt that three weeks down the line, you’ll have another brainstorm and that idea will be perfect for it. But more important is remembering that just because you’ve held that idea in through three brainstorms, it doesn’t mean that it’s an old idea and it doesn’t mean that it’s not right for that kind of campaign.

So it comes down to customizing campaigns for every client, specifically for their product.

Absolutely, and just remembering that they haven’t seen as much as you have online. So it might not sound like an innovative idea to you, but it might be an innovative idea to the client and it might be an innovative idea to the campaign. So that’s important.

Regarding recent campaigns, have you had to build something from scratch and help people that are a bit clueless, or have you found that your clients and brands are fairly clued into what’s going on?

It really varies from one client to the next. We’re still encountering clients where we have to explain to them that people are using the Internet and that it’s an important medium, but then I think everyone has that with certain clients. Unfortunately, when you’re working with a product manager in a big company, and you’ve been set big budgets and a big sales target to achieve by your boss, you’re going to sometimes play it safe and sadly playing safe usually means putting more of your money into TV. TV’s always worked before so it’s the safe option.

So most of our clients are very much more educated in that, but that does exist with some of our clients still. That said, most of our clients are experienced in online now. We’re increasingly seeing some of our DVD clients, when they have smaller budget releases, that say, ‘Well look, with that budget we aren’t going to get any reach on TV and therefore lets just put the whole lot online.’ And that’s really exciting when that happens because we then know when that results in good sales of the DVD, that it’s been for the most part done through the online campaign.

It just seems with studios and MySpace and everything else now they seem to turn their heads to the online channel first. Now, we’re hearing about mobile and everything else, so it’s interesting to see how this is evolving.

Definitely. MySpace is just a prime example of sort of the early wave, because it seems like all of the film studios now are doing MySpace pages for movies. It’s one of those things where, for me, doing a MySpace page is great, but it’s a small part of a bigger campaign. It’s a very small part. It’s good to have it, but in terms of the reach, I question whether or not it’s still so effective because all of the studios are doing it and people are sick of seeing films on MySpace.

Do you think it will wear out its welcome?

I think MySpace, those were the last twelve months and it will move on. YouTube bodes well for the next six months and that will move on, too.

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