CRAFT: THE CREATIVE ISSUE - Why are agency staff moving over to the production side?/The allure of a production company career is strong, Michele Martin discovers

Two weeks into his new job and Simon Wells is breathless. ’I’m chasing instead of being chased,’ he tells me before rushing off to another meeting. ’And it’s great.’

Two weeks into his new job and Simon Wells is breathless. ’I’m

chasing instead of being chased,’ he tells me before rushing off to

another meeting. ’And it’s great.’

Until the end of October, Wells was a confirmed agency producer and

former head of TV at WCRS. But when the Guardian Media Group asked him

to set up Initial Commercials, he jumped at the chance.

And he is not alone in swapping sides, with Bruce Macrae leaving his job

as head of TV at DMB&B at the start of October to steer Little Bird in

London. Other recent, senior appointments of former agency staff within

production companies in the past couple of months have included the

former BMP DDB creative director, Graham Collis, who wound up Genie

Films to become the creative director of Tony Kaye and Partners.

A second ex-BMP staffer, Paul Rothwell, a producer, has just joined the

two former agency partners of Gorgeous Enterprises, Frank Budgen and

Chris Palmers. Rothwell became the joint managing director there, after

five years at Paul Weiland Films and a year-long stint at RSA.

Agency producers moving to production companies is nothing new in an

industry where experience of both sides of ad production is an


But the new generation of crossovers, and the large number of existing

ex-agency staff in senior positions, puts the spotlight on why they move

over - and why they do so well.

In many ways, it is not an easy jump to make. In the first few months,

movers swap a steady salary for work-related pay, are forced to chase

business rather than wait for it to come to them, and relinquish control

of the total production process. But the benefits are such that most

agree the move is essential for any commercials producer, the vast

majority of whom never go back.

For some, money is an incentive. While an average agency producer makes

pounds 35,000 a year, someone producing for a popular director can make

anything up to pounds 4,000 per shoot day. Performance-related income is

also an attraction.

More important appears to be the desire to find out more about filming,

that part of the production process an agency producer usually never

gets to see. Rothwell says: ’In a production company, you are more

involved in filming rather than co-ordinating and that was the bit I

preferred.’ Macrae adds: ’I wanted to learn the nitty gritty like

negotiating with the crew, sorting out briefs for the art department and

finding out what camera equipment allows you to do what camera


For a few others, the mysteries of producing a shoot takes second place

to the fascination of steering a company’s development - a role many

feel is easier in smaller, creative organisations. Part of Wells’ job

will be to develop Initial Commercials’ advertiser-funded programming

expertise, while Collis is overseeing the K Media Group’s

diversification into areas including movie development and interactive


Collis explains: ’Production companies are well placed to explore all

forms of communication and will become a crossover point for people from

all sides of the business. It’s much easier to work here than it is in

an agency, where you have to persuade 50 people to go with an idea and

spend a lot of time worrying about long-standing clients.’

The list of ex-agency staff - particularly heads of TV - who leave their

departments only to stay indefinitely at production companies is proof

of these attractions, but the fact that many also rise to the very top

says something about the qualities they bring.

Mark Hanrahan, now head of television at Saatchi & Saatchi but formerly

a producer at BMP and the Production Company, points to the success of

ex-agency names such as Barnaby Spurrier at Spirit and Martha Green at

Stark Films. ’Moving to a production company is a natural progression

for the best agency producers and they are often given the

responsibility of managing the business relationship with agencies

because they understand their problems so well,’ he says.

’There is a correlation between the success of a production company and

a head with an agency background, because they understand the whole

advertising process and make sure they get their product right.’

More cynically, there may also be an element of pragmatism in the

decisions of ex-agency people to stay put in production companies. Since

agencies rarely choose their managing directors from their TV

departments, production companies are the natural - possibly the only -

home for ambitious producers wanting to run their own operations.

Few producers seem quick to return to agency jobs and those who do say

the experience was worthwhile. Sandy Watson has been the head of TV at

M&C Saatchi since 1995 but co-founded Lewin & Watson and ran it for more

than a decade. She concludes: ’If you want to be a head of TV, you have

to know all aspects of the business and it’s sensible to spend time in a

production company. I can’t understand people who don’t want to see life

on the other side.’

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