The Art of Craft: creativity at McCann Manchester

"Creativity is 75% work and 25% serendipity, and it's that 25% that makes something amazing. It's taking advantage of that little spark that could come from anywhere."

Just outside of Macclesfield is Bonis Hall, a former country house that is now home to McCann Manchester and Craft. While the location is unusual, and the property unexpected for an advertising agency, the most intriguing thing about it is the model of production.

On approach, hidden away in the vast greenery of North Cheshire, my taxi driver asked: "What is it they do here?" Not a stupid question by any stretch. The early 19th century building looks like a country hotel, but beyond the idyllic exterior lies production firepower.

Last year in Cannes I overheard Sergio Lopez, head of production, Europe at Craft, talk about this facility with fervour. He was explaining the sheer quantity of still photography that Manchester produces, with 17,000+ assets created last year. In 2014, Lopez was brought in to McCann to establish Craft, the agency's now global production arm. 

Tasked with improving the quality of production, he has now set up units in Manchester, Birmingham, Barcelona, Madrid and beyond. He speaks passionately about Craft, working by the motto that "creativity is 75% work and 25% serendipity". This model of working, however, appears to be more like engineered serendipity.

Craft’s specialism in Manchester is this product photography for client Aldi. Lopez says: "The brand has been transformed from a production point of view. In a market that is very competitive with brands like Waitrose and Marks & Spencer’s, having Aldi playing in the same league says a lot about how the model works creatively."

Starting out with two warehouses, the studio has grown to six units, each dedicated to producing huge quantities of still and moving images.

Dave Price, executive creative director at McCann Manchester, explained that the studios arose from the fact that they couldn’t find enough photographers of a standard to produce the quality they needed, and therefore a delivery system was built entirely around the needs of the client.

Everything from garden tools to food products are captured here, with purpose-built sets built by dedicated set builders rebuilt in-house every six months made to look like living rooms and bathrooms.

To streamline the process even further, these photographs taken in Macclesfield are sent to the hotter clime of Santiago, Chile, overnight, before being sent back to the the team based at Bonis Hall to be assembled into leaflets and other assets. This model of production is reactive and 24-hour.

The advertising industry can appear London-focused, but with 57% of the overall ad workforce now outside the capital, the benefits of regional offices and facilities like this one are clear.

Rob Doubal and Lolly Thomson, recently promoted to the role of UK creative chiefs from their original London positions, said: "When we met Sergio it kind of reflected where we thought the industry was going to go, it was like meeting a kindred spirit really. I like that McCann has got all of those offices, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Bristol etc. It just makes us a better agency to service the whole of the UK."

While Lopez admits that talent and creativity can come from anywhere, what he likes about Manchester is that "it's a very different building and it's a very different set-up, which appeals to different kind of people".

Later this year, McCann Worldgroup will aggregate into a large new Liverpool Street based office. Lopez said: "The plan of bringing everybody together in the new office came from the results of Manchester, so London is following the trail that this office has left." The idea seems to be that it will serve as another place of difference to encourage that mix of creativity and serendipity.

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