There has never been a better time to be a producer.
I know that is not always the prevailing narrative and gladly acknowledge that the opposite opinion is entirely defendable; seismic shifts in technology, industry, culture and society have upended production unrecognisably, with more deliverables needed in less time for less money, and lines continuing to blur between clients, agencies and production companies. You hear the words "Wild West" a lot.
But hear me out.
Those aforementioned shifts have also multiplied the relatively limited disciplines of TV, radio, print and "digital" into a technicolour explosion of – deep breath – entertainment formats and social platforms, influencer marketing and experiential, podcasting, stunts, virtual reality, augmented reality, live-streaming, product design, publishing, gaming, theatre… and literally hundreds more besides.
Granted, that has made the job more challenging than ever, but it has also made it far more exciting, varied and vital to our industry’s fortunes – especially when you consider that, in today’s cultural melee, our relevance hinges on creating artefacts so remarkable that they can compete for people’s attention with literally everything else in the world.
This new landscape has caused the role of agency production to evolve significantly in recent years and, with it, a heightening of the importance of various skills beyond the bedrocks of taste, craft, diplomacy, resourcefulness and organisation.
Here are some that I consider the most valuable and which should be sought, taught, fostered and championed more than ever.
It sounds obvious, but documentaries aren’t made the same way as TV commercials. Nor are installations, game shows, robots, feature films, nor anything you might encounter on a project. So don’t try to force-feed everything through the same process; you need to be open-minded, versatile and audacious enough to write your own guidebooks and draw your own maps.
Ever-more diverse ideas mean that new, unexpected chapters of your black book are essential. Actively seek to make friends across an impossibly diverse array of disciplines – from science to gastronomy, fashion design to architecture.
Where appropriate, don’t be afraid to invite these friends to augment your teams and add capability to your agency. Integrating specialists while the idea is being formed will not only ensure it’s innovative, it will also ensure it’s achievable and able to move quickly into production if time is in short supply.
Don’t just ask about how those in your black book might help you, but also how you might help them; there are so many interesting projects out there in need of consultancy, development, funding or brand partnership. They can create interesting opportunities to diversify your agency’s output or even start new types of conversations with existing or prospective clients.
Gone should be the days of a project's baton being passed through departments; producers must get involved early enough to fundamentally shape the work and drive innovation. That means not just partnering your creatives, but also with your strategist to enrich the brief itself – be that by introducing potential cultural or partnership opportunities, highlighting untapped capabilities of formats or technologies, or simply offering a practical perspective.
New shapes of projects and new revenue streams involve new commercial models; seek to extend your commercial and legal knowledge into the mechanics of brand partnerships, co-productions, intellectual property and distribution rights.
Who are your audience, how will they encounter the work and why should they care when they do? Learn this and it will sharpen every single production decision you make – who you collaborate with, how you engage with them and how the work looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes.
While this is filed under "bedrock skills", it’s still worth emphasising, because it remains the single most important ingredient. Caring is infectious, it will fill the sails and earn the respect of those you work with, get clients to take risks, be the impetus to get projects off the ground, make you sweat the detail, fight for the time and money needed, and fuel you to pull things off that don’t seem possible. If you don’t care, why should anyone else?
I once read an article about how the term "Wild West" was actually a misnomer; that, contrary to popular belief, the west was not that wild or dangerous compared with urban centres in the 18th century. But it wasn’t understood, and that stoked fear. Funnily enough, I think that can be analogous to production in our industry at the moment. As we all continue to better understand its evolution, the possibilities it holds become more exciting than ever.
Chris Watling is head of production at Droga5 London