CLOSE-UP: CRAFT/NEW DIRECTORS - How can new directors find a voice in such a tough market? It's harder than ever to get a first step in ad directing. Rachel Minter investigates

It's somewhat ironic that, while entries for Campaign Screen's New Directors' Competition were up 50 per cent this year compared with 12 months ago, the directors that emerge from the showcase will face one of the toughest markets to break into for years.

Even producers with a strong reputation for talent-spotting admit that, with restricted budgets across ad production, it's become virtually impossible to convince creatives to use unknown directors - that's if they can get a foot in the door in the first place.

It's becoming increasingly common for creatives to refuse to see directors' representatives. As one says: "I don't want to be sold to, or worse, listen to excuses about why the work isn't as good as it could have been. I want to judge the reels for myself."

Meanwhile, agencies such as Leagas Delaney continue to consider directors only if they have a good relationship with the production company and the backing of an experienced producer.

The situation for new directors has also been made worse by the state of the pop music industry.

According to Helen Langridge, the founder of HLA, music videos, once a common launch pad for new talent, are not providing the creative opportunities they once did.

"It's the worst time ever for new talent in the music video arena, she says. "The music is boring, there are too many bland pop bands and boy bands - which is hardly inspiring. It's frustrating because I see brilliant potential commercials directors all the time who can come from all sides of production.

"I know at least 15 directors I would love to take on, but know there wouldn't be any work for them, so what would be the point? It's frustrating for all of us."

Despite the bleak picture, many UK producers continue to unearth new talent, but say that you have to be much cleverer about marketing new directors in such tough conditions. One says: "It's nothing to do with razor-blade vision or an instinctive ability to spot genius, despite what they may tell you."

Rather, spotting and placing new directors is down to a strong marketing strategy, timing and being the right face in the right place at the right time. This may not necessarily be in the market where you want your director to prosper - at least initially.

When Laura Gregory, the managing director of Great Guns, discovered Luke Forsythe, she decided to promote him outside of London.

"His photography, short film and test spots showed a unique but easy-to-miss talent. Although his reel always got a positive response, I was dismayed by the lack of scripts coming out of the UK, she says.

By contrast, agencies in Europe and even the US were much more enthusiastic.

"I decided to take the work from Holland, Italy and the US very seriously and we worked hard to select the best scripts from these markets which had taken a real shine to him, Gregory says.

The strategy paid off. Forsythe has built up a strong reel and is finally being taken seriously in London. He has just directed Britvic's J2O campaign for HHCL & Partners.

James Studholme, the managing director of Blink, agrees: "Europe used to be where you went when your UK career went down the pan. To get away with a few more years of work, directors would end up going to Hungary to make some obscure biscuit commercial, but this is all changing now. There are real opportunities to come from exploring talent in Europe."

Location isn't all that's changing. In a market where clients are reluctant to take risks and agencies are often squeezed to make safe choices, directors must have the right personality for the job - and there's certainly no room for the difficult, tantrum-throwing genius.

Studholme continues: "You need to think about how your new director is going to strike a chord. How are they going to be value for money? What's interesting about their lives, backgrounds, things that will stick in people's minds."

Donnie Masters, the head of Serious Pictures, recently signed Johnny Daukes, believing that his varied career, which spans editing political documentaries to writing and directing the TV comedy sketch show Hello, I'm Jack Berry, would help launch and sustain his career in the fickle world of advertising.

Robert Campbell, the managing director of Outsider, concedes the point, arguing that all-rounders are more likely to survive than someone who stands out with one particular look or style.

"A dark-and-moody reel that might have been fashionable ten years ago wouldn't stand a chance today, he says. "Especially if clients want to make safe ads."

Another marketing tip from Gregory is to relaunch existing directors. Liam Kan and Grant Hodgson weren't particularly high-profile until they did the David Blaine magic spot for Peugeot as Who?. "Everyone thought they were brand new, when they had actually been directing together for years, Gregory says.

"Don't be too ambitious, Masters concludes. "You need to build your reel up slowly and find a balance between doing the sexy jobs and setting your sights lower. Make sure that the work is exposed to the right people as there are always going to be certain agencies that certain directors are more compatible with."

Whatever the strategy, UK producers remain as determined as ever to foster new talent.

"Although things have been difficult post 11 September, the day we give up bringing new talent into the industry is the day I pack my bags and give up, Masters says. "New blood is what keeps things interesting, and without it advertising is finished."

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