Media Headliner: Foraker vows to maintain 4creative standards

Brett Foraker reveals how self-inflicted pressure drives him and his team on to better things at Channel 4, Ian Darby writes.

It has been an eventful year at Channel 4 and there is more change to come as the broadcaster attempts to balance the books while maintaining its reputation for quality, cutting-edge output.

Within this process there has already been a rewriting of some of the rules, a changing of the guard and some painful cutbacks. As part of a drive to achieve £100 million in cost savings over the next two years, Channel 4's marketing and advertising team has come under scrutiny; resulting two weeks ago in separate announcements that Polly Cochrane, the respected director of marketing, communications and audiences, would be leaving and that the broadcaster would be merging its 4creative agency with its separate in-house creative services team.

The merger of the in-house teams will, in turn, result in the departure of Richard Burdett, the head of 4creative, meaning an expanded role for Brett Foraker, Channel 4's creative director and the head of its creative services unit before the merger. Foraker will now lead a merged department of about 40 people, which will be responsible for all of the broadcaster's on- and off-air advertising and branding, not to mention projects for external clients (who, this year, have included the likes of Honda, which premiered its much-discussed live skydiving ad on Channel 4).

Channel 4's thinking in merging the two teams is underpinned by sound logic: not only will it deliver cost savings, but for the first time, it will have a merged creative unit based in one office at its Horseferry Road headquarters. It may result in an increased workload, though, for Foraker, who already seems to have his fingers in more pies than Gordon Ramsay.

Foraker, 40, began his career as a painter and photographer before moving into directing ads and then landing the role of creative director of the TCM and Cartoon Network channels. From there, he moved to Channel 4, where he developed the launch brand identities for its E4, FilmFour and More4 channels. He was made the creative director of Channel 4 in 2003.

His own award-winning ad work for Channel 4 includes the D&AD black Pencil-winning "identity" but he's also kept up his outside work as a director for other advertisers, signing for RSA Films in 2005. Futhermore, he's moved into the world of short feature films, directing a short called Buying Porn, starring Green Wing's Karl Theobald and has also held exhibitions of his photography.

As a result, Foraker is incredibly busy, something Campaign can testify to as it takes several days to pin him down for a short interview. Hopefully, not a sign that his new responsibilities, and the loss of Burdett's time and input, will leave the new leadership overstretched.

While there is every indication that Channel 4's marketing budget will be cut in line with other savings, Foraker is convinced that the quality of its output (highlights during his time include awarded campaigns for programming such as Shameless and Jamie's School Dinners) will remain high. Arguably, 2008 hasn't been a vintage year for Channel 4's marketing effort (though the campaign for the documentary China's Stolen Children has recently picked up awards) but this may be a reflection that it hasn't been a vintage year in programming terms for the broadcaster.

Foraker is constantly at pains to point out the skills he has at his disposal at 4creative, both in terms of the other in-house directors and creatives and also the project management support he has behind him, allowing him to spend time on other projects. Quality, though, won't suffer: "The pressure is always self-inflicted. We're really dedicated here to creating the best possible work in our sector and that aspiration won't decrease - if anything it will increase if there are pressures on budgets. Everybody is driven to do the best work they can and they take it incredibly seriously and you won't see that change."

And, unlike in the area of digital sales, where Channel 4 has disbanded its third-party advertiser operation, 4creative will increasingly be able to offer an integrated service for other advertisers. Foraker says: "Traditionally, the business hasn't been about doing big external things - it's mainly been through referral but because the model works direct to client as well as agency, we have the ability to get the right combination of people generating ideas and producing these ideas. There is no preconceived notion of how to do these steps."

Those who know Foraker believe that his commitment to high standards will keep Channel 4's in-house marketing at the cutting edge. Kai-Lu Hsiung, the managing director of RSA Films, says: "He's an amazing director, focused and very bright. His workload never ceases to amaze me, but he's great at balancing things at different times. He has great creative wherewithal and knowledge."

Hsiung says Foraker combines the leadership skills which are evident from his running of the Channel 4 in-house team with some very technical skills - he is especially in demand as a director for his work on spots that require complex post-production work and has the ability to create ads involving lots of post work "that doesn't look like post-work" (Channel 4's own series of acclaimed idents for instance featuring the "4" logo).

She says RSA would like to make more of these skills but that it's hard for Foraker to commit to long overseas shoots, for instance. However, he is just back from a shoot in Paris and other work from this year includes an international Telefonica spot and the recent British Heart Foundation heart disease ad, in which he directed Steven Berkoff.

"It's amazing how much he manages to squeeze into his week - and it really is a seven-day week. But then he's a great team player and working in that department (at Channel 4) he's helped by having a lot of understanding people around him," Hsiung concludes.

And, despite the general sense of enforced change at Channel 4, Foraker is relishing the challenge ahead: "It's quite exciting to get everybody under the same roof - I like putting together different teams. We don't use fixed teams and I like generating spontaneity - it's a very proactive group of people and we're always striving to bring some sort of innovation."