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Girl&Bear is the global content creation studio for VCCP Group. Global Head of Operations Dan Montalbano tells Producers & Procurers iQ how the production offering was created to deliver both craft and scale.
Girl&Bear is now a place to which the creatives and strategists at VCCP gravitate, and discuss how ideas come to life; bringing production further upstream
If there is an art form to producing great advertising, it is perhaps in the balancing act between creative magic and the executional skill that delivers it with scale and impact. Finding a provider that can truly claim to excel in both facets has not always been easy for advertisers.
This is a fact that global content creation studio Girl&Bear reflects on its website, when it observes: “Too often you are asked to choose between craft and scale.” The punch line comes immediately: “We do both.”
Easy to say, less easy to make a day-to-day reality, but this indeed was the driving inspiration behind the creation of Girl&Bear, the production arm for the global network VCCP, which is headquartered in London.
It was during the COVID lockdown period that the agency decided to take a hard look at the way production was organised, and the way that its production employees – or “makers” – interacted with its creatives.
“During lockdown we saw an opportunity to re-work how we approached production,” explains Dan Montalbano, Global Head of Operations for VCCP. “We decided: let’s develop a vision, an ambition, a proposition that challenges the traditional approach to production and addresses the industry pain points; let’s dig into the world of making, and listen closely to what our clients are saying. They were asking for more work, more formats, more channels, often in more languages; for less budget and with quicker turnaround times.”
“When you’re hearing that so clearly, and you want to build a production proposition that addresses that, there are a couple of things you have to do, and the first of those is to bring everyone together.”
Prior to the change, VCCP’s makers were dotted around the agency. With Girl&Bear, it brought everyone together, enabling closer integration between creative and production To house the new “dedicated hub of makers” VCCP built a new space in their HQ in London where they could all physically be together. Girl&Bear is now a place to which the creatives and strategists at VCCP gravitate, and discuss how ideas come to life; bringing production further upstream into the concepting and ideation phases, working side by side as the makers make.
Almost as a natural consequence of this closeness, the production professionals are given licence to get involved in projects at a much earlier stage.
“Creative and makers working in close proximity and across multiple disciplines leads to better work,” states Montalbano. “We are actively trying to bring production further upstream, to be able to help shape and inform the creative ideas that come out, so we have the best chance to deliver the best work. Production being considered up front, during both the strategic and creative phases is fundamental. We’re bringing them together as often as possible, and as early as possible. That yields the best results.”
Paving the Pathway
Second on the to-do list after consolidating production makers in one place was addressing the agency’s technology platform. Like all production houses, Girl&Bear needed to be able to deliver more work, more quickly, in more formats. In front of it was a “wide and bewildering land of MarTech” from which to create the right solution. The solution it created is called The Pathway.
“Technology in production is fundamental, but it can be difficult to get your head around. We had to cut through the complexity and the jargon, make the technology solution as simple and as clear as we could for our clients, but also make sure that humans are tied into that solution – that we use the technology to make humans better and faster, to free them up to focus on craft, as opposed to giving the work to the technology and hoping it comes out good enough.”
Getting the technology right was a key step towards delivering the production studio’s brand proposition, as described above, of craft and scale, without compromising on either. It calls this proposition “the Magic and the Machine” – craft that is scaled across multiple channels with no compromise on the quality of the craft. This can only come, it argues, from knitting together the people and the technological sides of the agency in the way that Girl&Bear has done.
Montalbano observes that many clients have looked to separate the creative and strategy from the production execution, partnering with different agencies to achieve this. It could be argued that, realistically, they have had to do this because the true unified offering wasn’t there in the market.
“In our experience, there are some great production companies who have become very efficient at delivering, but I would argue that they have done so at the expense of the craft. We know there is a direct link between creativity and the effectiveness of work – the better it is, the more effective it is. When you introduce another agency for production, they don’t own the creative, so they are not as invested in it. Our ambition is to be able to offer both craft and scale. We’ve got the thinkers, the creatives and the production arm in Girl&Bear that can deliver all of that work with the same love, the same polish, across even the humblest of downstream assets.”
He adds that Girl&Bear is able to achieve this level of service while remaining competitive in a cost sense, and applying a process that is easier than clients would experience when using a decoupled production house. Process – the how of production, as opposed to the what – is a very important factor for Girl&Bear.
“We put a lot of thought and effort into the process,” says Montalbano. “It should be fun. You could make the best campaign in the world, but if the journey to get there was atrocious and difficult, and no fun for the client or for your team, then no-one is going to want to do it again. If you put time and thought and energy into the ‘How’ – the infrastructure and the process – everything runs more fluidly and the experience for everyone is greatly improved.”
Building borderless production
VCCP has a global footprint, with offices in Madrid, New York, Prague, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney, as well as its main office in London. And Girl&Bear can be found wherever VCCP has a presence, with different centres of production excellence being developed in each office.
Montalbano says: “Our goal is borderless production and the way we are approaching things is to look at a brief and determine where in the world we would do it, to create the best work at the best value for our clients. COVID proved that the walls don’t matter anymore, as long as you can make the time zones work.”
There is an agility of thought at work here that is reflected in other aspects of the outlook that VCCP and Girl&Bear adopts. One of these is a willingness to act decisively when new opportunities arise that are perhaps being underestimated by the rest of the agency world. For example, VCCP recently launched VCCP+, a new proposition to address the “completely underrepresented and undervalued gaming space” that Montalbano says is in many brands’ minds.
“People have been talking a lot about the ‘metaverse’ as this new thing lately, but the gaming multiverse has existed for ten to 15 years and is literally the biggest entertainment vertical in the world,” he says.
Another example of the agile approach is in the way that client briefs and the inevitable constraints on budgets are interpreted. Far from being a straitjacket on creativity, VCCP and Girl&Bear see it as an invitation to think differently.
“The mindset that we are trying to encourage is one of entrepreneurialism, of hustle,” Montalbano explains. “To think hard about what the client is asking and think of creative ways we can respond to their brief. Often, budgets are tight, but our mindset is that those constraints can actually be enablers of creativity if we choose to approach it in a different way. It’s about being clever and creative in how we approach the constraints that our clients have.”
VCCP sees itself as a challenger agency for challenger brands, and this philosophy is encapsulated in its logo of a fearless girl standing up to a big bear. It is from here that the name of its production arm derives, and the mindset of challenging the status quo flows with it. It is evident in the way that production “makers” are empowered to have a louder voice in the advertising ecosystem. It is also there in the agency’s fundamental proposition, asserting that clients can have craft with scale: both the Magic and the Machine.
Dan Montalbano is Global Head of Operations at VCCP Group.