Multi-Talented – Solving the talent pool problems & business profitability
As a business consultant, or general manager for hire, for creative businesses for a number of years I have been lucky enough to come across a myriad of different business models and a wide pool of differently talented people. The exciting thing for me has been learning what works and what doesn’t work for businesses, and understanding that key that makes one business succeed and another fail – or simply to stay stuck at the one level despite their best efforts. These learnings then help bring a fresh perspective to solve business problems for others including the talent pool problem and ongoing profitability issues.
Without question, it is by taking baby steps to achieve lasting change without culture shock. For an established business to improve service delivery and profitability (and in some cases for staff to feel more engaged) some baby steps I recommend include helping staff expand on their skill-base and become more multi-talented, or to start your new hires with the multi-talented one at a time.
Multi-talented individuals allow for communication lines to become shorter and simpler, there are less sets of hands involved that means there are less head hours accrued; processes become contained and maintained, efficiencies increased, service offering to clients increased, clients feel more connected, initiative and innovation become commonplace and more people take ownership of the work they touch.
In the past I have felt restricted by the old way of working where a producer had to be either in the agency, film company, post/VFX or design worlds and crossing from one into the other seen as some kind of taboo and not fitting properly into any. I’ve started to see the tide turn and the emergence of a new generation of talent that solves both the talent pool problems and business profitability issues. I predict now that these multi-talented people will continue to grow and the combinations of roles more varied and specific to client and business needs.
These are just a few of the roles I have seen emerging. I can think of individuals I’ve met, and loved working with, for each of these extraordinary roles with wonderful creative work evolving as a result and certainly more profitably for the agency, or more affordably for a client:
– writer/art director/film director/producer
– agency creative/film director?- account manager/producer
– project manager for digital/tv/print?- director/DOP/producer
– strategy planner/media planner
– gaffer/grip?- sound recordist and camera assistant
– editor/designer/after effects animator
– offline editor/online editor/motion designer
– creative services managers across digital/print/tv?- writer/producer
– producers that work across events, stunts, commercials, web content, tv shows, print, radio, podcasts
These are all multi-talented individuals who have filled these combinations of roles as one overhead, when in the past they would have been filled by all of these roles independently and simultaneously.
Someone (fighting hard to keep conventions as they are) said to me the other day that if the agency were to do in-house production the number of hours involved in producing that work would still be the same as if a production house was doing the work and they believed it was a false economy doing it in-house. They were in fact mistaken, in my experience. I have seen many multi-talented people that are much more effective, and the head hours across the board have been much less than the combined roles, by a large margin. The skills of each role are not so untouchable that one person can’t do more than one, just as well in many cases.
In my experience the agency’s production budgets tend to comprise of internal charges based on what the producer thinks the job can handle, and not usually reflecting the actual hours needed to get that work done – with massive write offs and losses for the agency as the norm. This happens when there are three or more people having to attend every step of the production process together in particular, or both a writer and an art director having to take every step together on top of a raft of external suppliers – found in the traditional agency model. Think about this instead – with just one multi-talented individual being able to do a number of roles simultaneously, communicating just once, one approval line, touching the project fewer times, one chain of command, interpreting directly what the client wants, and directly accessing the people they need more readily.
I was lucky enough, many years ago, to experience this first-hand (well before time), with a legendary creative director who used to refuse creatives attending shoots, leaving me to be the on set producer, creative team, account director and at times an unofficial director. It was highly controversial at the time and it was complained about freely by industry peers (like anything that is out of the ordinary or innovative). My experience of this was that decisions were immediate, I knew exactly what the creative director wanted without relying on writers and art directors interpretations or trying to justify their roles; and just got on and made it happen, the client got what they wanted and could clearly see who to communicate with and felt they were dealing directly with the people that made it all happen for them, I was personally very rewarded by the experience, the work was highly effective, the director was able to do their job in a more stream-lined way and felt more rewarded by it, I felt I could initiate more ideas without fear of breaking conventions or stepping on someone’s toes, and above all – for the agency it was a highly profitable account.
This won’t work for every piece of business, of course. Thinking about facilitating this with baby steps here are some questions to ask:
• Is there one account where you can make a shift? Is there someone in the agency that can take on multiple roles (that’s not the same as giving them twice as much work remember!)
• Is there an account that is the right size that a producer could be a self-sufficient account manager/producer/creative??
• Can a designer also be a director?
• Can a producer be a creative, or at least implement creative established by someone else??
• Can writers and art directors be used for idea generation (where they are the most value) and get others to get the ideas made?
• For your next hire can you source a Promo Producer rather than a typical agency producer? (Promo producers can write, art direct, design, direct and do their own edits)
• Are there people that have untapped talents that when utilised will make them feel more engaged and empowered to initiate more solutions?
• Are there skills that can be trained to expand on the business’ current offering to clients?
• Can your creatives set a convention or ‘look’ and then just let others implement it to a template?
What this also requires is some acceptance of individual strengths and weaknesses and clear guidance to help individuals grow into their skills without judgement and without reprimand. Mistakes have to be okay, and an environment of growth and trust needs to be established. Like with the account where I had to be multiple roles all those years ago, the thing that made this work was the acceptance from the creative director that I was doing my best to do a good job. If there was a time where I didn’t deliver to standard (because I didn’t have the skills on board to do any better) The Creative Director worked with me to train me or he acknowledged I had done my best and that we just needed to work together to plug the holes. He accepted that I made decisions, and they were to be respected – even if he’d have done them differently if he were there. He only changed my work or replaced it when something was totally off brief but otherwise accepted my judgment as part of the process. At times I felt I could go to him and clearly ask for help when I was out of my depth and he would assign someone for that particular task, knowing I didn’t ask unless it was a real issue. This is all about a relationship of trust between us. This ended up being one of my most rewarding experiences ever – working with a creative director that was otherwise feared by all and had a reputation of being difficult. It is only in hindsight that both of learned what a special experience that was.
The down side of this methodology is that the best experts in each individual skillset are not being used for every project; but my argument is that they’re not needed for every project and not every part of every project either. Using the talent sparingly and at the right times seems to be the balanced place to be.
Personally, I am quite excited by the opportunity my own business gives me these days where I am the Account Director, Producer, Creative Director, Writer, Art Director, Marketing Strategist, Digital Strategist, Film Director, Finance Director, HR Manager, Social Media Manager, General Manager, Entrepreneur, Blogger, Marketing Content Manager, Chief Cook & Bottle-Washer and I’m sure beyond a doubt that there are many others that enjoy using their broad ranging skills, taking further responsibilities. There are many multi-talented out there if you look, many not using their full range of skills.
Clearly the current agency model is becoming unsustainable, so something else has to evolve and perhaps this multi-talented concept is it? It is worth a couple of baby-steps, right?