Crossing over: Why promo directors bring something special to commercial content
"But can you tell a story in 30 seconds?" That was the usual response to successful promo directors looking to break into commercials, but not anymore. Ammolite Inc. Managing Director Kirsten Arongino explains why, and gives tips on how to make the leap from one to the other.
Brands used to be afraid of music video directors. Trust me, I know this from firsthand experience.
When I worked as an agency producer, music video directors were a tough sell. Whenever we presented a music video director without much of a commercial reel, we’d get the same reaction: “This person is great, but can they tell the story that we need to tell in 30 seconds or less?” You may have won a Grammy or a VMA, but 30 seconds was still the criteria.
There has never been a better time for a music video director to break into the advertising world.
Thankfully, the landscape has changed. We don’t just make 30 second spots anymore - not by a long shot - and that’s just one of the reasons I would argue that there has never been a better time for a music video director to break into the advertising world.
Here are my thoughts on taking the leap:
Above: Making a video now is about the multi-platform experience.
It’s not just about the video anymore… and that’s a good thing
In today’s landscape, doing a music video is no longer just about doing the music video. It’s about creating content for a multi-platform world. Along with the video itself, a director is typically tasked with building out a whole social campaign, with multiple short pieces that connect to the concept and spirit of the main/longform piece. You’re making material that lives on TikTok and Snapchat and YouTube and Instagram. It's everywhere.
A music video director’s skill set is now directly transferable to what a typical branded project requires.
And, as we know, making a commercial is no longer just about making a commercial. It’s about… wait a second… creating content for a multi-platform world. You see where I’m going with this? A music video director’s skill set is now directly transferable to what a typical branded project requires. The sell isn’t nearly as hard, because you already know how to make a multi-platform 360 campaign. You’ve already been doing it!
Above: Working on a commercial project, from pitch stage and beyond, requires "digging into the minute detail".
Let’s just say it… the pitch is gonna be different
Pitching a music video is fun and fast and loose. Yes, you have late nights sweating over presentation decks but, in the end, you are typically presenting ideas – a killer concept that will get the commissioner and label and artist excited and make them choose you for the project. They choose you, award the job, and then you’re off to the races. The majority of the details get decided in production.
Get used to going from broad, sweeping ideas to digging into the minute detail, because if you start working with brands, you’re going to be doing a lot more of it!
Not so for most branded work. Pitching a commercial project is fun, yes, but also incredibly thoughtful and hyper-focused. It’s about taking their concept and adding unique detail. It’s about being precise enough that you create a strong sense of what the final piece is going to look, feel, and sound like. Because, in the end, you have to sell to a room full of people whose job is to protect their brand equity, and make them both excited about your approach and confident that you can pull it off.
Fortunately, a lot more music video directors are getting a sense of this experience because of the increase in brand sponsorships in music videos. More and more often, music video directors are figuring out product screentime and exactly what can and can't be shown. They are learning how to retain their creative vision while having all those voices in their ear and working within brand constraints.
It's eye-opening, and a good training ground for promo directors to realise the level of detail and specificity that is required to work with brands and everything that needs to be taken into account. Get used to going from broad, sweeping ideas to digging into the minute detail, because if you start working with brands, you’re going to be doing a lot more of it!
Above: Building trust with a client and forging a lasting relationship is key.
When it’s good it’s good… so build lasting relationships
This one sounds like Captain Obvious, but I’m saying it because it couldn’t be more important. Whether you’re working with an artist or a brand team, establishing good communication and trust is paramount. When you are clear, and show integrity in how you work with them, they begin to trust you, and that trust is the foundation of a continuing creative relationship.
Brands aren’t so different from artists - they're looking for that connection, and someone that knows them really well.
When I worked at agencies, we would be pitching things and I would know, based upon previous rounds, what would fly with that brand and what wouldn’t. It's just like anything - you get into a rhythm. You get to know each other. Most music video directors’ reels generally reflect this. They aren’t one-offs. Brands aren’t so different from artists in that respect - they're looking for that connection, and someone that knows them really well.
Bring eyeballs to the party… because everybody wants them
If you’re able to elicit a ton of views for a music video, that inspires faith from brands that you’ll be able to translate that to their commercials. At Ammolite, we put 23,924,658,799 views at the beginning of our decks (this number gets updated a lot) and it always gets attention – because it matters! The whole point of what we’re doing is to make something relevant that reflects what people care about (and makes them want to watch it again and again and again).
So, start playing around. Grab your smartphone or rent a camera and go out and start shooting things. Pick a brand and do a spec spot. See what it’s like - what it really takes - to tell a story in under a minute. And not just on one screen, but think about all the screens. These days, on set, everything is being framed differently for each different platform.
When I started, 25 years ago, you were either a music video director or you were a commercial director. Very few really crossed over. You were put into these two separate boxes. Not so anymore. That’s your opportunity, if you take it.