DDB Chicago’s Diane Jackson tells what it takes to make the impossible happen.


A problem-solving approach to production
Just like in the Cannes Film Festival which inspired it, advertising’s upcoming Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity emphasizes artistry. The execution of an idea, however, is so much more than just craft. We asked Diane Jackson, one of our network’s most insightful, inventive and influential leaders in the production discipline, about the increasingly pivotal role production has in solving our clients problems today.

At the start of this year, you were elevated to Chief Production Officer from EVP/Director of Integrated Production. How do these roles differ? Does it reflect a difference in the overall role of production within DDB?

Brits’ are generally not much for titles, although I always liked the idea of being a Chief or an Officer, but thought I’d have to join the police force for that. My role has evolved over the past few years as I have been called upon to help elevate and expand our production capabilities around the network. I serve on the Americas BullsEye committee, run by Juan Carlos Ortiz, which reviews work from the Americas and Spain. This has given me the opportunity to ensure that our production strengths are maximized and that we create the best case stories to demonstrate the power and impact of our ideas.

What is significant about The Chief Production Officer position is that it validates the importance of production in the work we create. “Where” our ideas live and “How” they connect with people is arguably as influential as “What” the idea is itself. Producers are the third leg of the creative stool. All three disciplines, art director, writer and producer are essential.

Production has always been greatly valued at DDB, but we’ve been able to change the point at which production is engaged. Producers are no longer handed a script and told to find directors. Production now lives far more upstream in the process– understanding the problems we’re trying to solve and the solutions we’re creating for our clients’ business. Executive producers are leaders on the accounts and have strong client relationships. They have a clear knowledge of strategic insights and are part of the creative briefing. And, of course, they will always be the ones who get s**t done.

What does it mean to be a creative producer? Is there a unique perspective that comes from being part of the creative agency team?

DDB only has one type of producers– creative producers. The other type do not work here. John Maxham and I are partners. We are lock step on delivering the best work possible for our clients. That’s not to say we don’t have differences of opinions now and again… but that’s how it should be. We understand that conflict creates sparks!!!! It forces us to defend and justify our opinions. He makes me better. It’s born out respect for what we both bring to the equation. We lead by example and in so doing, set the tone and expectations for our teams.

DDB Chicago has a long tradition of best-loved Super Bowl commercials. Your McDonald’s Twitter initiative in 2015 was hands down Twitter’s best of the Super Bowl and made McDonald’s the most retweeted brand ever. And this past year you partnered with musical icon Steven Tyler for Skittles and emerging artist Morgan Dorr for Jeep. What does it take to produce such diverse campaigns?

At the core of these campaigns are great ideas. The McDonalds Super Bowl Twitter takeover was one of those crazy ones which started as “What if….?” Embracing the unknown and approaching projects with the notion that it is better to try and fail, than not try at all. It’s in our DNA – “The Freedom to Fail”. We planned well and adopted a totally collaborative mindset understanding that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. We rehearsed the day before using the 2014 Super Bowl game. It was like Mission Control in Houston; everyone knowing their part and the rest involved holding our breath. Thrilling.

With Stephen and Morgan it came down to musical talents at either end of the spectrum and likewise with our client relationships. Stephen Tyler, a major superstar paired with DDB’s long and successful relationship with Mars. Jeep was a creative jump ball against multiple agencies with an emerging young talent Morgan Dorr. We approached the projects in the exact same way, which was to deliver above expectation and create work that would resonate with 100 million people watching. The formula worked. The Jeep account was awarded to DDB the day before Super Bowl and over 30 million people have viewed the Skittles “Portrait” spot on YouTube.

What are the biggest challenges of an integrated production department? Is there still a role for specialists?

The word “producer” is just like “doctor” in that there are many different types. There are digital producers, music producers, content producers, post-production producers, line producers…you get the idea. Likewise, there are many different types of doctors. All doctors should understand the fundamentals on how to take blood pressure, temperature, pulse, etc. That said, I would not want my foot doctor doing open-heart surgery on me. We need specialists.

Producers should all have strong general skills in terms of recognizing great ideas and understanding what it takes to get the work done. They will naturally develop discipline strengths based on their talents, desires and the opportunities that are afforded them. A producer charged with the build out of an e-commerce site would probably not be the right fit for a comedy dialogue Super Bowl spot. The majority of my team execute work that lives on multiple platforms – rich media, experiential, TV, print, radio, OOH, mobile and social content. We are experts in maximizing the potential of the idea in a given space.

One of the biggest challenges faced by an integrated production department is expecting everyone else to keep up with us. We move fast, are agile in our approach and need the bureaucratic nature of large organizations to be more fluid in their process. Producers are under greater financial scrutiny than ever with production consultants and procurement involved at every level. With the demands of the “always on” space and the ability to respond quickly to create content, the process can often be a hindrance. We have learned how to navigate the space in this ever changing landscape, but sometimes we have to break a few rules in the spirit of just getting it done.

What is your favorite work from the DDB network right now and why?

As a producer, the ingenuity of using the product as a means to create a film about the product is exciting. DDB Argentina did exactly that in their VW Golf GTI “Fast Film” – the perfect example of a product demo done in a beautifully crafted way.

The John Lewis work from adam&eveDDB, yet again, makes those big emotional connections. “Tiny Dancer”. …perfect. How can you not love that little girl’s spirit?

Another beautifully crafted execution is adam&eveDDB’s “The Miracle of Mulberry”. Trust me, I’d see angels if I were given that red Mulberry tote. Great storytelling, spot on casting and performances and a sheer delight to watch.

The Health Care category is tricky with so many disclaimers and rules. Remedy DDB UK’s “Migraine Experience” for GSK Excedrin is a smart way to use technology to share an experience…even an unpleasant one. It compels you to sympathize. Clever.

I also have a feeling that our offices in Spain and Brazil will be riding high in Cannes…watch this space.

What is the next big trend in production?

Less for more…yeah right, one can dream.

An article published on Hubspot notes that 71% of marketers are getting an increased content marketing budget. I believe there will be a greater move towards branded episodic content. Breaking content into parts and organizing it over a time-period will keep audiences engaged. It builds anticipation as you create a narrative and give breaks in between. We live in the era of quality episodic TV and shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards have given a rebirth to the “Cliff-hanger”. Episodic content has a long lasting impact on people’s minds, which cannot be achieved by a single engagement. If you are able to create suspense, people are most likely come back.

This question always prompt’s “what the latest technology?”…How are those of you who purchased those expensive 3D TV’s doing? VR and AR are still making their way into day-to-day living and we’ll see where that goes.

The magic is in the connections we make, no matter where it lives.