LIVE ISSUE/AGENCIES AS TV PROGRAMME MAKERS: Can St Luke’s pull off its new TV production act?

Or is it asking too much of creatives to transfer their skills to TV? By John Owen asks?

Or is it asking too much of creatives to transfer their skills to

TV? By John Owen asks?



Bloody St Luke’s. If it’s not poncing on about ’workers’ co-operatives’

and ’hot-desking’, it’s producing pretentious ads for Boots make-up and

writing annoyingly catchy jingles for Ikea and the Midland Bank.



Now, it’s gone and set up a new unit to ’expand into other areas of

creativity’ (Campaign, last week). By which it means not only TV and

film production, but also photography, poetry and sculpture - sculpture,

for God’s sake, are these guys for real?



Such is the conventional advertising person’s view of the agency that

launched out of the ashes of the equally maverick Chiat Day just over a

year ago. Is it justified? Is St Luke’s a naive nirvana or is there some

maturity lurking beneath the much maligned veneer?



More to the point, will this new creative unit, currently being

developed by the agency’s most senior creative directors, Naresh

Ramchandani and David Buonaguidi, be a success? Or is this just an

ego-driven essay into vanity publishing, an attempt to keep top talent

happy at the expense of clients and colleagues alike?



Andy Law, the chairman of St Luke’s, believes that everyone will benefit

both from the motivational effect of the new unit and from the promotion

of two ’brilliant’ creatives, Julian Vizard and Alan Young, to free

Ramchandani and Buonaguidi for their new task.



Happy people work better. ’Job satisfaction comes first. That’s why

we’re incredibly motivated,’ Law says. And as Robert Campbell, the

creative partner at the rival agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe,

admits, Law runs a shop that ’sounds like a lovely place to work’.



This is meant as a genuine compliment. From others in the industry, it

would be a back-handed one.



Contrary to some people’s perception, however, Law is a commercial

animal.



He’s in business to make a profit and is not about to sanction a

loss-making venture.



The idea behind the new unit is to make the most of the talent at St

Luke’s disposal. ’You look around this place and we’ve got sculptors,

fine artists, photographers - all sorts. So what we’ve said is ’let’s

set up a division that gives this natural creative flair a commercial

outlet’,’ he states.



Putting aside all the self-conscious stuff about fine art, the most

obvious ’commercial outlet’ is TV production as the digital revolution

produces a massive explosion of channels. As Law says: ’With digital TV,

people will be desperate for programming and here we are applying proper

management skills to the area.’



It’s an opportunity he is not alone in spotting. In the same week as St

Luke’s announcement in the UK, Wieden and Kennedy made a remarkably

similar statement of intent in the US.



Jerry Judge, chief executive of Lowe Howard-Spink, believes many

agencies - or at least agency groups - will get into TV production:

’Yes, we’ve talked about it, but it’s something that would occur within

the Lowe Group rather than within the advertising agency. It requires

the skill of an impresario, a TV producer.’



This emphasis on bringing in outside expertise is notably absent from

both the St Luke’s and Wieden and Kennedy visions. Maybe they’re not far

enough down the line to have to consider that yet, but if they are

serious about getting into TV and film, it is something most observers

believe they will have to do at some point.



One man who has already done it is Paul Simons, chairman of Simons

Palmer Clemmow Johnson. Last year, the agency set up a production unit

called the Mission. It is run by a former BBC producer, Joanne Reay, in

partnership with an ex-account man, Stephen Colegrave.



The combination is crucial, according to Simons. The idea that agency

creatives can somehow transfer their advertising skills to TV

programming is ’ridiculous’, he says.



However, for the all-important job of selling the idea to a

commissioning editor, agencies are not necessarily at a

disadvantage.



Kenton Allen, who runs the light entertainment department at Granada,

says ad agencies could prove a goldmine of ideas. ’Ad people have a

commercial appreciation of what viewers and advertisers want from the

schedule.’



This is their strength. Their weakness? ’They wouldn’t have a clue about

how to actually make the programme,’ Allen says. As for launching into

the perception that digital TV will greatly expand the independent

production market, Allen has his doubts.



The companies that are most likely to run digital - Granada, Carlton,

BSkyB - already have their own dedicated production units which they are

committed to using, he points out.



Charlie Parsons, the managing director of Planet 24, has experience of

making programmes and ads - in the form of a series of three-minute

Pepsi ads which were based on Planet 24’s old Channel 4 youth programme,

the Word. He warns agencies: ’Things aren’t that rosy - there is no

guaranteed income.’



As ads get more like programmes, so programmes will get more like ads -

funded by advertisers, made by production companies, but ’brokered’ by

ad agencies, Parsons predicts.



In fact, what St Luke’s is doing will not necessarily involve

advertisers at all. But brokering a good idea could become an ever more

lucrative skill in the multi-channel era. And isn’t that what

advertising people do best?



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