Working with directors: What's in a (big) name?

Great directors earn their reputations one project at a time--the next one could expand it or ruin it, writes the chief creative officer and co-head of CAA Marketing.

The team at Campaign US asked me for my point of view on the use of famous directors in advertising and brand entertainment.

Given that we at CAA Marketing have spent the past 10 years creating brand strategies, content and experiences from within the walls of CAA—the world’s leading talent and sports agency—one might think our immediate bias is toward the-bigger-the-director’s-name-the-better.

It isn’t.

And if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, your bias should not be toward big names either.

As marketers, and in particular as creative agencies servicing brand clients, one of the many attributes we’re paid for is objectivity. We have to remove all biases as we step into the strategic and creative development process for the products and brands we represent.

While we aim for disruptive strategies and attractive, effective creativity, we can’t assume that our clients’ creative product should be funny or tear-jerking, one minute or 90, filmed and perfectly edited or streamed live, black-and-white or exploding with color ... and we certainly can’t assume it should be directed by Ridley Scott.

We have to go through the rigorous (and, yes, sometimes inexplicable and magical) process of crafting an idea from inception through story, making careful choices and tough decisions along the way until we land on the idea we believe will make a real difference for our clients’ business. Only then, when we and our clients believe in that idea, can we start to think about which director might be the best to bring the idea to life. And, again, we must be objective.

But as we apply our expertise, experience and objectivity to the task of finding the best director with whom to collaborate, a funny thing might happen. We might find that the answer to the age old question of "What’s in a name?" is that when it comes to directors, what’s in a name is a lot.

Directors do not come by their reputations easily. They gain their reputations through a near-impossible balance of talent, choices, commitment and collaboration, often over the course of decades. And their name is not for sale. In fact, they’ve often turned down blockbuster paychecks in favor of the very passion projects that made their name.

Great directors earn their name one project at a time, and most understand that any project—whether a big budget feature film or your next woefully underfunded commercial—has the potential to either expand their reputation or ruin it. If you choose to collaborate with a big name director, and they choose to collaborate with you and your client, chances are they believe in the power and promise of your idea, they believe in you and your client, they believe your collaboration will deliver business results, and they believe the work will live up to or increase the power of their name.

So, am I suggesting "the-bigger-the-director’s-name-the-better" after all? I am not. I am suggesting that neither great ideas nor great names are achieved by accident.

I am suggesting that process, craft, collaborative spirit and careful consideration on our part as agencies will benefit from a director with equal commitment to process, craft, collaboration and consideration. I’m suggesting that the attributes that make a great brand idea also make a great director. I’m suggesting that whether you choose the biggest name director in the world or give a new voice their first gig, reputations—yours and theirs—are earned.

Choose wisely, and you’ll choose well.

Jae Goodman is chief creative officer and co-head of CAA Marketing.

Click here to learn more about PRWeek and Campaign's Brand Film Festival London, or to submit your film for consideration.

The deadline for submissions is January 26.

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