CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE/Will British agencies warm to dealing with directors’ reps? [SH] Are directors happy being fronted by non-production staff, Michele Martin asks?

In the US, directors’ reps are commission-hungry fast-talkers who will camp on the doorstep of creatives who won’t take their calls. They are salesmen who wash their hands of a project once it’s won.

In the US, directors’ reps are commission-hungry fast-talkers who

will camp on the doorstep of creatives who won’t take their calls. They

are salesmen who wash their hands of a project once it’s won.



In the UK, selling a director is a rather more genteel affair, mainly

left to individual producers between jobs, who then work on whatever

they have won. As one British producer puts it: ’If I operated in the US

as I do here, no-one would take me seriously.’



The two styles could not be more different, yet it seems that after

years of tut-tutting over the antics in the US, Britain could be edging

in the same direction. An increasing number of British production

companies are hiring reps to haul around their entire portfolios of

talent, leaving producers to get on with making the ads.



Smaller companies with a handful of producers seem particularly open to

the idea of an extra pair of hands drumming up work. In the past six

months, Brave Films has appointed Janie Balcomb as its directors’ rep

while Darling Films has hired Jonathan Levene.



Perhaps more significant is that larger companies are hiring more senior

names. Rose Hackney Barber invited the ex-GGT TV producer, Louise

Whitehead, in September to represent its ten directors; RSA Films is

considering a similar appointment in the wake of Paul Rothwell’s arrival

before Christmas as joint managing director and the Paul Weiland Film

Company tested the idea last year and may return to it in the

future.



Levene argues that the trend is a real one. ’We are popping up all over

the place because we are necessary. One of the main reasons why

directors move companies is because they feel they are not being

properly represented.’



Directors’ reps are not entirely unheard of in Britain, especially among

American companies such as Propaganda. But the fact that indigenous

outfits may be starting to rethink their traditional system of selling

producers indicates a real sea-change.



There are several key reasons for this, primarily that commercials

production has become much more competitive than it was even five years

ago. A huge number of working directors in Britain are fighting for a

dwindling number of local assignments. At the same time, there are

increasing international opportunities. Scouting for new business in

such a complex environment is a full-time job.



In addition, the traditional role of producer - both in production

companies and agencies - has changed sufficiently to interrupt the old

system of promoting talent between the two. The recession made

production companies leaner, landing producers with more work and less

time to show reels.



Agency TV departments also shrank, placing a greater responsibility on

creatives to scout talent. In short, directors’ producers got busier,

while the number of people they had to impress got bigger.



Against such a background, the idea of appointing a rep to make contacts

and maintain a presence in the marketplace seems sensible enough

Benefits include the fact that a rep can be more objective about a

director’s career.



Toby Courlander, head of commercials at Partizan/Midi Minuit and rep for

its eight directors, comments: ’Producers get so close that they can’t

always see the big picture. Having a rep is a strategic thing.’



Yet not everyone is delighted at the prospect, including some of the

very people that directors want to win over. John O’Keeffe, the Bartle

Bogle Hegarty copywriter behind the latest Levi’s ’riveted’ spot, says:

’I’d prefer to see a producer representing one director, because that

way you get more of a feel for what the director is like as a

person.



I’m not keen on seeing someone with ten reels of people they don’t

know.’



Malcolm Duffy, a copywriter at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, whose reel

includes Gossard and W. H. Smith ads, says: ’I’d rather see a producer

who’s got first-hand experience of the director.’



Many of the production companies exploring the idea of a rep seem aware

of these potential pitfalls and want to avoid them. In fact, the new

type of directors’ rep in the UK is emerging as a very different breed

from that in the US.



Bertie Miller, the joint managing director of Rose Hackney Barber, says

that Whitehead only ever shows two or three selected reels to

hand-picked creatives and adds that she was appointed because of her

hands-on experience as a producer. ’Louise isn’t just a rep. That’s a

title that’s not been taken seriously in the past because it usually

meant someone fresh off the streets looking for a way to break into

production.’



But not everyone finds it so easy to get to the right person. Partizan’s

Courlander says that he tried to find an assistant last year but could

not: ’I just don’t think there are enough people who know about

producing and can sell too. And my directors don’t like someone selling

their work who doesn’t know how it was made.’



But for those producers who enjoy wearing two hats, the next 12 months

will raise some questions; while for producers who prefer promoting

talent to doing budgets, there could be exciting new career

opportunities ahead.



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