Monday, April 27, 2009
The Widening Role Of The Super-Producer
By Kendall Allen Regardless of which stretch of the media industry one occupies, the identity and esteem of a producer has always been pegged on credits. Which credits you can count, how the money and decision-making flow in relation to your desk -- all make up a producer's standing. This is true in film, TV, events, multi-media; credits are literally your creds and your professional stature. Unfortunately, the path to clear-cut credit is not always so straight. Especially in film and TV, there are politics and intangible currencies at play. There is constant tension in making sure producers are properly credited for their work.
But, what is extremely interesting today is the outright widening of the producer role -- the expanding scope of the work itself. Within a more greatly integrated, multi-platform environment, there is a broader field of play and a more aggressive expectation put upon the producer to produce with convergence in mind.
Producing Multi-Platform Because a Brand Says So
During Earth Week, I had the opportunity to interview Laura Michalchysyn, president and general manager, Discovery Communications' Planet Green. I assume you're familiar with Discovery and its programming, long focused on awareness of the environment and the earth. But, within this family, Planet Green, a quieter force, is at a crossroads. Its identity has not quite taken hold. But it will.
One part of the good news is that Michalchysyn comes from Sundance Channel, where she is credited with doubling original programming hours and tripling the number of programming hours on the network overall. Michalchysyn is serious business. But, she is even more serious about the role today's producer plays in an entertainment brand's growth and traction. And, it is her assertive, fresh take on multiplatform entertainment that highlights how different things are becoming for producers. The minimum point of entry for getting into this playground is unchained imagination and integrated perspective.
It was clear as she spoke that Michalchysyn has inherited an already hearty multiplatform environment. It's a foundation that is ripe for truly integrated media approaches. So now, as she reboots the brand, she is relying quite a bit on the expansive mindset of today's producers.
Her several overarching objectives: to "put the people" back into programming; tell captivating stories across media; institute partnerships and programs with legs --leading her to engage in a certain high-contact manner with producers who pitch her. The questions she ask them:
I interviewed Michalchysyn for the Producers Guild of America, an assembly of film, TV, documentary and multimedia producers, most of whom have at least been considering how they must broaden their role to engage productively in today's media environment. Therefore, this was a conversational confirmation by a respected media transformer that to produce today, one must bust one's own silo -- or it may get busted by the deciders. But this trend echoes a more widespread transformation in progress.
Producers Going Wide
Because of my various professional and personal circles, I think about the producer a lot -- and, on many days, I am one. Last year, while advising an agency that happened to be in the process of transforming an experiential and events business, I saw firsthand the widening scope of the producer. As integrated marketers craving the day when disciplines work together more fluidly, here are some trends we might watch:
1.Experiential goes digital. Events producers and those in the trenches on experiential programs are increasingly embracing digital tools and applications for data capture. Sure, this has an engineering bent -- from more advanced kiosks to the integration of sleeker, more useful hand-held devices. But, there is an acknowledgment that data dexterity is what truly fuels the quality and scale of these networks. This backbone in turn strengthens the marketing opportunity. We finally have gotten beyond believing that capturing a visitor's email on a clipboard at an event counts as ROI. More robust data capture, mobile executions and crossmedia play have gotten this realm closer to where it needs to be to work hand in hand with social networking and conversational marketing.
2.Blooming producers. A trend more apparent to most of us is the transition within traditional: the traditional marketing strategist or media maven who is not only asked more often to consider the digital extension, but to really flesh out cross-platform story-telling. The call is for characters, a story, a conversation, channel by channel. In fact, even those already digitally inclined are in effect being asked to be producers as much as strategists and planners.
3.Multimedia is less awkward. Quality increases as TV producers and Web developers and producers collaborate, with multimedia becoming more of a reality, and stories brought across platforms. The intersection of multimedia and Web brings a higher level of polish. So we trust that we will see less and less of, "let's just slap the commercial up on the Web."
The producer has always had a heavy role, embodying strategy, execution and an extraordinary accountability for not only outcome, but for finesse start to finish. Because this role is so pivotal, a more channel-inclusive scope is a good thing. The consumer marketplace has been calling for cross-platform play for a while. Brands are stepping up and empowering those who produce with the bigger picture in mind. So, last week, I enjoyed the opportunity to honor the earth and the evolving producer all at once.
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Kendall Allen is headquartered in New York City. She consults for publishers and agencies on integrating digital -- most recently at MKTG, where she just completed a long-term assignment. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.
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