Leo Burnett Chief Production Officer Emily Marr and Young Arrows 2022 Producer of the Year Hector Murray make for a perfect partnership of experience and ambition.

Marr's background across esteemed agencies such as MJZ and Mother, coupled with her expertise in a variety of formats - from TV to installations - makes for a perfect sounding board for relative newcomer Murray, who has already made waves by creating compelling content for key brands like McDonald’s and ŠKODA. 

Faced with changing times, the pair discuss the importance of support, key learnings and projects to be proud of in our latest Creative Correspondence.

Hector Murray: So Emily, it’s been two almost years of us working together now – time flies when you’re having fun, right…! If I could cast your mind back to our initial chat over Zoom before I joined, what were your first impressions?

Emily Marr: Well you were my first hire after I became Chief Production Officer at Leo Burnett. I really wanted to ensure that whoever I hired clearly showed the direction in which I wanted the production department to go. We had our interview virtually because the pandemic was still rife, but I do remember getting a very good vibe instantly. In my hiring I’m instinctive: I usually go with my gut. So I did exactly that, I went with my gut - and I'm very pleased I did. I think you’re a great example of a producer who is not only fully integrated, but who also has a clear point of view on the creative; very agile and always wants the finished product to be the best it possibly can be.”

Similar question for you - what was it like joining during the pandemic and what were your first impressions of Leo Burnett?

HM: First of all, thank you for saying that - I will try my best to keep my ego in check! So by the time I joined Leo’s, we were about a year and a half into the pandemic and I had been working remotely for more-or-less the whole time. I was quite cautious about joining a new team remotely, but immediately got a great vibe from everyone. There was an ever-present urge to keep pushing the creative vision from all departments and a real collaborative environment as soon I joined.

You can't replicate real-life interactions properly over video calls

I always aim to build close relationships with the teams that I work with on a job and as much as you try, you can't replicate real-life interactions properly over video calls, which is especially tricky when working with new people. One thing that was always strange to me was only getting to meet people for the first time in-person on the first shoot day - but I was relieved to see that everyone was genuinely as brilliant in real life as they were virtually!

That was obviously a huge change for everyone and something that the industry needed to adapt to as a whole, but there’s also been overall cultural and creative evolutions which has changed the way everyone approaches a job. It’s something I’ve noticed in recent years, but what was it like when you first started in this industry, and what changes do you see in recent times as others are starting out?

EM: In some ways I think it was a little bit easier when I started out, but in other ways it was harder. 

Easier in the sense that we had much more access to people because it was an incredibly social industry. It still is to a certain extent, but back then it was almost a prerequisite. It was all about face-to-face meetings, which I still believe can strengthen a relationship like nothing else. I find nowadays we have more luxury to be a little lazier in terms of hiding behind screens and phones… I would always encourage as much human interaction as possible. 

I think now, as an industry, we are kinder and more respectful.

However, it was harder in terms of what was expected from someone starting out. I remember the hours and demands were fairly brutal, they still can be of course, but if you weren't working for someone who had your back, it was a one-way road to burnout land. I think now, as an industry, we are kinder and more respectful. We take more time to teach. I remember constantly having to teach myself things on the go, whereas now I feel we spend more time focusing on nurturing our young talent.”

So over the last few years since you started out, what's the most important thing you've learnt so far? 

HM: “Well something I've lived by over the years is that ‘creative is king’. You can have the best producers, the best directors, the best crew, but it means nothing without a strong creative idea for everyone to rally behind and push forward. It's also the bedrock of who you choose to work with on a project.

Of course, when working in a team, everyone is going to have their unique style in approaching creative tasks, but it’s always healthy to have that open dialogue if fundamentally there’s a strong, shared creative vision between everyone going into a job. Finding a production partner and a director that’s just as invested and excited about the idea as the agency makes for an unstoppable team.”

I’ve learnt that from my own experiences on productions - what advice would you give to young producers in this industry?

Skoda – A Driver's Best Friend

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Above: Murray's Škoda Kamiq work.

EM: It sounds a bit obvious or cliché, but my advice to young producers would ultimately be to work in a place where you will be happy and make good work. 

There are so many places out there that don't get that critical balance right. It's incredibly important not to underestimate the benefit of a nurturing work environment. You want to work somewhere that raises you, not somewhere that holds you back because they think that you're not ready to fly. 

I think we get the best out of young talent when they feel supported and heard. In your case, being crowned Producer of the Year at the Young Arrows is something that you earnt because of working in a place where we recognised all your strengths and pushed you to grow further, rather than clipping your wings.”

Speaking of making good work, what would you say is your favourite campaign that you've worked on so far?

HM: I think Škoda Kamiq Our Best in Show is what I'm most proud of so far. Nothing excites me more than getting a brilliant script and my first thought being: ‘How the hell are we going to do this?’. That feeling is a great starting point for an exciting and engaging piece of work; that's part of the fun as well as the challenge. 

We all felt there was great potential with the idea. The Kamiq being playfully coined as the ‘puppy’ of Škoda’s SUV range: what better way to show off its agility than putting it through a car-sized dog show assault course! It was a clever insight, but obviously a real logistical challenge. Have you ever seen a giant seesaw which can hold the weight of a car?...

It's incredibly important not to underestimate the benefit of a nurturing work environment.

Kamiq was one of those projects where it took a village. A brilliant creative team crafting the idea, a super ‘on-it’ accounts team pushing it through clients and amazing production partners in directors Samuel & Gunnar and the whole team at Tantrum, who pulled off miracles for us – with a brilliant and fun film to show for it.

What more could you ask for as a producer?

Now I know you’ve worked on some amazing projects over the years and with some incredibly talented people. In terms of directors, who are you most proud of having worked with?

EM: “Oooooh that’s a tough one. I have been so fortunate to work with some of the best out there so it would be impossible to name just one! However, my understanding of how incredibly powerful a good relationship between an agency producer and a director could be, was when I did my very first job with Armando Iannucci. I was very young, very naïve and certainly not ready to be working with someone of his calibre but I remember how he included me, listened to me and patiently explained things so I could sound like I knew what I was talking about when I went back to my client! I went on to work with him a few times and I’m eternally grateful to him.

Since we’re talking directors, who’s someone you'd love to work with?

Above: Work from Molly Burdett and Cloé Bailly, a pair of directors Murray is keen to work with.

HM: We're so fortunate that the industry is currently overwhelmed with amazing talent, it’s impossible to pick out just one. To narrow it down to a few, I’d have to say I've admired Molly Burdett and Cloé Bailly for a while. I've been seeing their work developing more and more over the years at the same time as I've been finding my feet in the industry, and I’m always excited to see their latest stuff - they just smash it out of the park every time.

Bobbsey Twins would be another team I’d love to work with. They’ve built a real uniqueness in their style across all their projects, which is now becoming synonymous with them. It’s been great seeing each piece of work just add another feather to their cap, and that’s always exciting to see.

Overall if the vision and drive is there in the director's work and the passion is obvious from just chatting with them about a script, then you've got a good chance of making something special together. To me, that's the most important thing over just picking the same selection of directors to pitch each time.”

EM: So with that in mind, what advice would you give to young producers picking directors to work with?

HM: I think that the days of picking the ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to finding the right directors to work with are passing. Trends are ever-changing and with a cultural move to social-first content, creative ideas are even more embedded in populist culture than ever before. As a result, we’re seeing scripts which suit all kinds of styles and opens everything up to a new world of directors and emerging talent.

I think that the days of picking the ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to finding the right directors to work with are passing.

It’s so important to keep your ears to the ground and not just look at the big names or the big places, always keep watching watch work from people just under the radar, even if you might not have heard of them. A good production rep is also invaluable, chat to production company reps and EPs and get some insights into the work they’re doing and the directors that they’re excited about. That will also potentially inform the future shape of the industry and it’s always exciting to be on the ground floor of something like that.”

That’s what drives me in what we do, but outside of advertising what would you say influences your way of working, and generally gives you inspiration? 

EM: My inspiration comes in the form of books, history, theatre and art. Reading is my joy, as is learning from the past. I studied history and politics at university and for me, there's nothing like good piece of literature. It can transport you and make you see things in a different light. You can also pick up some great tips for diplomacy, which is a vital tool to have in our industry!