Close-Up: How Mindshare crashed the MIP party

Simon Willis explains why the media agency is taking on the big boys at developing programmes.

It seems like a lifetime ago that Mindshare took me on with the challenge of creating programming for our clients that makes them famous but also creates new revenue streams for Mindshare.

Three years on and I am sitting on the long table with Graham Bednash and George Michaelides, the joint heads of Mindshare's Global Invention Group, at the world's biggest TV market, MIP (which is held in Cannes every April), selling our own TV formats to broadcasters from all over the world.

Our business model is to create innovative marketing ideas for our clients that, once they've finished with them, will also create a financial return for Mindshare and the initial client funder - making us a media agency that actually gives cash back to its clients.

How did we get here? We've had to put IP and programming development at the heart of what we offer clients. I'm not talking about sponsorship, I'm talking about original ideas that can be the centrepiece of a campaign that clients co-own, have multimarket potential and an activation plan around them. Not just any old content, ideas that will resonate with broadcasters and viewers. Without broadcasters being engaged, we can't achieve scale. And if we can't create scale, game over. Working with broadcasters is about a partnership with both parties bringing their own strengths to the table.

I'm no stranger to MIP, I'm a TV and radio guy having cut my teeth at Radio 1 and BBC TV, but this time it feels weird, a media agency selling creative works alongside the big boys such as Fremantle and Endemol.

Monday 9am: I used to travel on the Sunday night before the festival, but always got too drunk to do any work on the Monday, so I've learnt the safest bet is an early Monday start, and my first meeting was with Cineflix. Mindshare created and co-produced a cookery series with Cineflix for Unilever and they're here representing the format to broadcasters around the world, so I join them for the first meetings. We manage to cram six meetings in with broadcasters before lunch, some want to buy the finished tapes to re-dub into their language and others want to buy the format to re-create their own version. Both routes are fine with us. South Africa and France are very keen ...

I've always loved the French.

Monday 2pm: The TV and media world are closer than you would imagine, both have people in very senior positions that don't seem to be very good, both have people that seem to be able to talk non-stop for five minutes but don't actually say anything and both have people who make promises they don't keep. I enter a restaurant and see a former colleague I haven't seen since BBC days. He's wearing sun glasses (it's not sunny), he holds his hand in the air to slap mine (he's not American), and then he gives me a big hug (I hardly know him). He's one of those people who can talk for ages but don't actually say anything.

Monday 3.30pm: After lunch I'm off to the Fremantle stand. Mindshare has created a new entertainment series for a brand that's about to start production in seven countries in Asia, and I thought they may be able to help us. You can't help but love Fremantle. While I'm waiting for my meeting to begin, I look at all of the pictures on the wall of the shows they've got in production all over the world ...

it looks like most of the world has "Got Talent" and those who haven't may have "The X Factor".

I get a call from Cineflix to meet a woman from Mexico. She has many questions: would one of our clients be interested in funding this content in Mexico? We can find out. Would the programme work as well over 60 minutes as it does 30? Yes, with some format tweaks? Do we have other formats they could look at? Yes, I'll put a DVD in the post. I get a huge sense of achievement when broadcasters are asking us, a media agency, if we have any programmes for their channel.

Monday 7.30pm: The thing about MIP is that production companies always fly in a couple of celebs who are linked to one of their new shows they're trying to sell. In the past I've had my photo taken with Huggy Bear, listened to Bob Geldof talk about The Dictionary Of Man, and watched Jerry Seinfeld be very funny. This year we've got William Shatner ... yes, Captain Kirk is here, or, as I prefer, TJ Hooker is here. Shatner is here to promote his new series for Cineflix, Weird Or Not. We all gather on the beach bar to hear Bill talk about the new series; the audience is rowdy but the launch is textbook.

Tuesday 7am: As well as Family Food Fight, we're also here with a cool motoring show, Street Torque. In charge of this project is Neil Osborne, the managing director of A Brand Apart. I meet Neil for breakfast. Neil is one of the most energetic people I have ever met. He reels off a list of countries he's already spoken to ... Germany interested, Thailand interested, UK interested, Russia interested, Spain interested, Italy interested, China interested, France not interested. I've always hated the French.

Tuesday 1pm: Walking around the MIP festival, I always realise how good the UK can be at making TV shows, and how much better than the rest of the world.

The strangest this year had to be 40 Days Without Sex. The format comes from the Netherlands. The publicity material reads: "In each episode, we follow one person who has agreed to go 40 days without having sex. The rules are strict: petting, oral and manual gratification are all forbidden. Kissing is allowed, but watch out ... Celibacy begins the moment the participant comes into his own bedroom, which the host and the participant's best friend have emptied of everything associated with sex."

Would I call this a worthwhile trip as a media agency? Absolutely. We got a total of 27 leads from broadcasters all over the world; even if a third of those turn into a deal, I'll be very happy. OK, we weren't touting around the next X Factor, but given time we will.

Over the next few years we would like to develop a drama series that provides a marketing platform for a global brand through pooling central money into a series that can be played in all of their important markets with an activation plan placed around it.

Then we turn up to MIP again and sell the series to the rest of the world.

The important point to make is that it's now not only production companies and broadcasters who are in the programme creation and commercial exploitation business. The budget available to broadcasters to create programmes is decreasing but in my world they're increasing. For Mindshare and its clients, this is just the beginning.

- Simon Willis is the head of programming for Mindshare's Global Invention Group.

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