What I learned from crossing over into TV programming

We have plenty of crossovers with those creating programmes, but we should value the things that make us stand out.

"Yeah, we could make a feature film." "Why don’t we do a documentary series?" "We’ve unearthed a brilliant story about the brand – does anyone have a contact at Netflix?"

We’ve all had this aspiration for the ideas we work on. This is testament to the brilliant creativity and ambition that sit in agencies, as well as recognition of where culture increasingly gets created. But it was only when I sat down with my new colleagues on the programming side of the business that I realised just how naïve we all sounded.

Of course, there is a huge crossover between those creating programmes and those of us creating communications for brands. We are both in the business of ideas. We are both striving to get talked about. We both understand the importance of storytelling. We are equally respectful of the need to understand audiences. And when we get it right, we both create groundbreaking pieces of culture. It’s understandable that we should want to apply our creativity to the task of creating programmes for the brands we work on – particularly when we see our audience’s attention drifting away from our tried-and-tested ways of reaching them.

But beyond those similarities, there are also huge differences. For our industry to move beyond just creating more content for brands and to start thinking about creating programming, with all of its associated cultural impact, we need to acknowledge and value the things that make us distinctive. 

Spending time working on briefs with the programming side, I was reminded of how skilled we in advertising are as they left with a newfound respect for what we do. They are excited by how we use data, research and social media to unearth insight and identify topics that are trending. Our more formal approach to idea generation and pitching contrasts with their ephemeral and iterative idea development and pitching process. They are intrigued by the role of strategy and the creative partnership, and excited by the potential of marketing skills to turbocharge programme launches.

For my part, I learned a new set of words – Teflon title, triple tick, slate, access, taster tapes. I appreciated the impact of format to shape an idea. I understood the power of different genres to construct stories and the importance of creating a cadence to a TV programme or event. I got a new understanding of the role talent can bring – the writers, the directors, the actors in changing the direction of an idea and how these details can help get it sold in to a commissioner. They took the ideas for programmes that we came up with seriously, but we had to learn not to be precious about them, to keep moving, changing, iterating to overcome practical barriers and the tastes and agendas of commissioners. 

Critically, experienced TV programme makers bring deep insight into the minds of commissioners and broadcasters. They understand their priorities and the objectives for their channels, and how to take an idea and make it right for BBC One, Channel 4, Netflix or Amazon. 

Agencies could strive to not only pay to get stuff broadcast for brands, but to also get stuff commissioned. This would challenge us to create programmes for brands that sit proudly alongside the content we all share and talk about in our other lives as viewers. 

Our ambition as an industry should always be to create breakthrough advertising for brands. But we also have a role to play with those creating breakthrough TV programmes for channels. As consumers take control of how, what and where their attention is given, this will allow us to create culture for brands in the way audiences consume it. 

Advertising agencies use creativity to transform businesses – rapidly getting to grips with complex problems and creating simple and powerful communications that can reset the fortunes of a brand. We are used to being expert at what we do. But perhaps by embracing the expertise of others and revelling in our differences, we can find a direction forward for our industry that resets it in the same direction as our audience’s attention. 

Ultimately, it will make us all better.  

Jessica Lovell is chief strategy officer at Wonderhood Studios

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