Wednesday, July 18, 2018
  • Thursday, Sep. 29, 2016
DDB NY's Madison Wharton Reflects On Advertising Week NY Discussion
Madison Wharton, chief production officer, DDB New York
Perspectives on "The New World of Production"; Separate "Mr. Robot"-themed session delves into the evolving ad-supported business model
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In moderating a recent Advertising Week New York panel discussion, Madison Wharton, chief production officer of DDB New York, shared with SHOOT her thoughts on the session which delved into “The New World of Production.” Perhaps the most important takeaway for her centered on a comment by panelist Sophie Kelly, sr. VP of marketing for Diageo’s North American whiskey portfolio, who affirmed that her team members are working to establish stronger relationships with agency producers. Kelly’s informed insistence that such a connection be prioritized is grounded in her extensive experience on the agency side, noted Wharton. Kelly served as CEO of The Barbarian Group before assuming her current client-side role at Diageo.

Kelly’s input at the session has prompted Wharton to enter into a discussion with her DDB team in order to fashion a better connection between her producers and clients.  Wharton told SHOOT, “We tend to let the account team drive that relationship [with the client] and only step in to respond to questions. Now I’m encouraging our producers to develop their client-facing skills and to be more open to a more significant relationship with our clients. I want to work with my team to not only connect with clients but also with our account people to see that they will allow us to have a seat at the table with the client. We’re at a point in time when telling the client how we’re going to do something becomes as important as what we’re going to be making--particularly in such areas as social platforms where we need to find efficiencies.”

Towards the goal of realizing efficiencies in fashioning the best creative and strategic content possible, Wharton observed that certain progressive “routine behavior” needs to take hold. “We’re thinking about a client’s brand everyday so we shouldn’t always necessarily be waiting for the brief. Perhaps we can make sure the brand manager and consumer affairs team are on the lookout for an email from us at 4 p.m. each day. If nothing is going on, fine. But many days we will have something to offer. Relative to how to best respond to the presidential debate [between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump], for example, we might propose, ‘What if we shot this tonight and had it up on social channels tomorrow.’ If the idea makes sense, we need to move fast. And if we can establish this routine behavior of being proactive across client and agency, we can create efficiencies to deliver on that ‘fast, good, cheap’ mandate.”

Wharton noted that panelist Winston Binch, chief digital officer of Deutsch North America, too offered the advice, “Don’t wait for the brief,” observing that great creative must be topical and relevant, and that there’s a moment when a proactive orientation and deep understanding of the brand yields a good idea that comes before the planner asks for it.

Producer savvy 
Panelist James O’Brien is founder and CEO of Aarra, an interactive sales management agency handling leading digital creative and production partners. Aarra connects the talent on its roster with ad agencies, PR agencies, event agencies and brands. Relative to how Aarra assembles its roster, O’Brien shared during the Advertising Week session that, “We, on the vendor side, won’t sign a company unless the producers are really strong.”

Wharton observed that in yesteryear a really good producer at an agency was “an absolute craftsman in one deliverable” such as broadcast or print. “Now a good producer has to be good in everything, have a broader understanding of social platforms, AR, VR, a deeper strategic understanding, expertise in channel planning and in developing a process to produce all the elements that go into a comprehensive campaign.”

While the required expertise and responsibilities have grown seemingly exponentially on all sides--client, agency and production--key to handling them is encouraging producer involvement as early on in the process as possible. Binch observed, “If producers aren’t involved up front, creatives won’t know how to craft the idea to the budget.”

Mr Robot
“The New World of Production” panel was just one of assorted Advertising Week sessions which explored myriad issues and aspects of the business. Among the discussions bringing the advertising and entertainment communities together was one examining the changing nature of “The Ad-Supported Business Model” as embodied in the rollout of the now lauded USA Network series Mr. Robot. Panelist Alexandra Shapiro, executive VP, marketing & digital, Entertainment Networks, USA Network, noted that a pivotal decision early on was to “democratize access” to the pilot episode, playing it on web platforms before its broadcast debut. 

A key platform for the pilot, said Shapiro, was Twitch, connecting teens and 20somethings to a show “that speaks directly to them.” This pre-linear release of the pilot was followed up by a “hacking” into Twitch’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) livestream with teasers for Mr. Robot and a competition generating winnings to help gamers clear debt. The gaming scenario dovetailed nicely with the goal of a series character, portrayed by Christian Slater, who wants to via a thoroughly planned hacking initiative “set in motion the single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history.” 

Social communities like the one united on Twitch became deeply engaged in Mr. Robot prior to the pilot being broadcast. Beyond any quantitative barometer, said panelist Linda Yaccarino, chairman, ad sales and client partnerships, NBCUniversal, she and her colleagues could see the strong qualitative connection people had made to Mr Robot on social media. She affirmed that they knew they had a hit. Thus the series was renewed for a second season even prior to the pilot being shown on the USA Network. 

Yaccarino added that with such a fervent series fan base, she and her compatriots had to be careful in terms of determining which sponsors and branded content were an appropriate, natural fit for Mr Robot. Anything forced wouldn’t resonate with viewers. Yaccarino cited HP and its cyber security-driven custom content vignettes as a good example of sponsor and message being on point.

The Mr. Robot-themed Advertising Week session was moderated by Chris Vollmer, a partner in Strategy &, a member of the PwC network of firms.