In September, Makers became the world's largest network of producers for global brands. A series of acquisitions for the Toronto-founded business unified 11,471 producers across 173 countries.
To quote a press release from Makers at the time, "This network, which is available to clients now, uses a combination of people and technology to bring together a thoughtfully curated array of diverse production specialists, resources, and capabilities - allowing brands to execute ideas in new, untapped markets with greater ease."
The network marked an expansion from the company's existing producer-only business model, where producers are a direct partner and business lead for clients, lead the execution from start to finish, and set up the circumstances for collaboration with a team of specialists.
Makers was founded in 2016 by executive producer Sumit Ajwani, who previously worked at agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and The Hive, and has a track record of producing ideas in advertising, entertainment, experiences, innovation and fabrication. The network serves as a pre-vetted extension of the Makers team of more than 60 full-time producers.
Eager to know more about Makers expansion, how the business model works in practice for brands and agencies, and to get his general thoughts on advertising production in 2022, LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Sumit.
LBB> Tell me about Makers - what inspired its launch and what is the company’s mission?
Sumit> Our mission from the beginning has always been to connect all the best producers in the world and demonstrate what producers can really do: take any idea and provide a fertile environment to make pretty amazing things happen. This stems from many years of experience as a producer, seeing how everyone has a different definition of a producer and what it is that they do.
In advertising, producers are relegated to the very end of the creative process after an idea has already been sold to a client. But if you look at the film industry, it's totally the opposite. It's the producer who goes and accepts The Best Picture award. The reason for that is simple; a film starts with a producer and that producer brings all the pieces together that are needed. In the early years of advertising, bringing producers in for execution only made sense; advertisers had unlimited budgets, and were trying to make one thing. But the world is completely flipped now. The budgets have gotten tighter, and we've got to make more things, so you need the producer to be front and centre, just like in music, movies, and TV. It just makes sense. No one was doing this, so we went ahead and built it.
To take it a step further, I actually think producers can do far more in the world than they're given the chance to do. It doesn't just need to be arts and entertainment. We demonstrated this by building a sustainable house in a whole new way – a project that’s expanded into a whole bunch of construction work. Imagine what could be accomplished if you put a producer at the centre of projects in other industries where collaboration and creativity are sorely needed.
LBB> I've watched a few episodes of Grand Designs in my time, and I feel like that's a good enough lesson.
Sumit> Exactly. If you can take a producer and you can train them to a certain standard and set a standard for what it means to be a producer, you can put them out anywhere in the world and empower them to do all kinds of cool shit.
LBB> Tell me about your recent acquisitions - and becoming the "largest global producer network for global brands"!
Sumit> Building a global network was a big milestone and something we’ve been planning since day one. It’s an expansion of what we’ve been doing with our producer-only model. But if we can bolt on this network around the world, where a client is like, 'OK, I need to do something in five countries and I need it now', we can do that. And we are doing that already for clients. When producers start working together all around the world, there's literally no end to what they can do.
It took a few steps to get there. We were growing steadily in North America to the point where it made sense to expand into the US, so we did that first. We acquired Fixation.TV, an independent production company based in London, which led us to establish Makers Europe. Then through a series of strategic acquisitions, we were able to bring together over 11,000 producers and fixers located in 173 countries, making our global network officially a reality. The network is a pre-vetted extension of our full-time team of producers, which now hovers around 70. They are diverse production specialists who have the local knowledge, connections, resources, and capabilities to help our clients make anything nearly anywhere in the world.
The network closes a gap we saw in the industry: global brands are needing to execute ideas in new markets, and they want to do so with speed and cultural fluency. They don’t have the luxury of time or big budgets to open an office or build a team in different geographies. We can provide clients with a leaner and effective way in.
LBB> When you say clients, what is your regular type of clients? Especially from an advertising perspective, is it agencies, end clients, production companies or a blend of all?
Sumit> The neat part is that we've built something that is useful to all of them. For a brand who knows exactly what they want and they've in-housed the creative, we are a great add-on to what they're doing, to build and help them make the things that they already know they want to make. Agencies, same thing. And our day to day is still working with art directors, copywriters, and creative directors and creating ideas just in the traditional advertising sense. But we can do it at so many other levels. Even production companies, they might have a job where they can do certain parts but are missing the tech people - we can fill in there. Or vice versa, a tech company who needs help with the film production. I kind of think of us as a bit like Photoshop.
LBB> If someone does come to you with a request, what is the process from there to find the correct person for that client's need?
Sumit> We set up clients with one of our executive producers, which we currently have nine of, and they will work with the client to vet the project and figure out the right thing to do, and then bring in the appropriate producer or producers as needed for the project. Our extended network is part of that building of the team. Typically, there's one of our full time staff producers on the project, intermixed with somebody from the network - if that's needed, but in a lot of cases too there are projects where we don't need the network at all and we produce those as we traditionally would.
LBB> You started six years ago with a small team - what was the initial inspiration before launching this network? What changes were you seeing in the market to drive it?
Sumit> If I'm going to be really honest, I think the idea showed up in my brain at 16 but I couldn't do anything with it. I started making stuff with friends as part of a little media group in school, and we didn't limit ourselves to just making films, we would just make things that we felt like making. We would tell stories, they could be experiences, we even made a DVD from scratch, and handed it to people with some content on it that was interactive. It was never limited to just one medium, but when I got into advertising, they tried to put me in this one box. We would only make TV commercials, and I'd scratch my head and think, why is it like that? Creatives come up with ideas in every way, why are you telling me I can only make this one thing? Even before there were things such as integrated departments, my department at Saatchi & Saatchi was effectively integrated. And then finally I realised that if I was going to build it the way I really wanted to - where producers can make anything, I'm not kidding, anything - I'd have to leave the ad agency model and go make it outside. And that's where Makers came from.
LBB> Do you think that's still a problem within advertising agencies? That the capabilities of what a producer is allowed to do is still a bit siloed?
Sumit> I think it's certainly getting better, but the problem is still that they're not pushing as far as creative wants to go, so there's always an endpoint. Creativity can literally go into wild areas, and at some point, it gets brought back into this advertising bent. I'll give you a simple example. Most advertising is always disruption – you’re in the middle of doing something and then I'm going to stop you in your tracks. But the kinds of experiences that clients and really smart creators want to create are things that invite people in to participate, something that you want to actually experience. It's the difference between a Lego Movie and showing somebody an ad. I want to watch The Lego Movie, my four-year-old wants to watch The Lego Movie. He doesn't look at it as an ad, but it effectively is. I think, ideally, we would create things that people want to experience, but that gets limited because the advertising production model pushes things into this disruption space.
LBB> A lot of this conversation is about being involved as early in the process as possible. Especially as an external partner, how are you managing that?
Sumit> It's mostly through relationship building. It’s certainly not perfect the first time around with a new partner. Almost always the first time someone calls us is when everything's on fire. We definitely started as firefighters, but two or three projects in, they start asking those questions earlier. What if we didn't want to have a fire? What if we actually wanted to do X or how would you do Y? And then suddenly the conversation changes and we get brought in at the beginning. We've had clients who've partnered us with their creative agency where they love their creative, but not the execution situation, and link us two together. That works really great because we're used to working with agencies. We've had agencies that demand it. They tell their client to not mess with the system and that we're part of the secret sauce. That's what we look for in all of our partners - agencies, creatives, production companies, philanthropists. Do you see that our part of the process can make or break what it is you're doing? And if they get that, then we can start to really work together in a smart way.
LBB> You helped build a house! Can you tell me more about that project?
Sumit> This is such a great example because we're actually breaking industry records, which is really neat. Habitat for Humanity has a lot of land that's been donated to them, but they can't afford to build enough houses. They follow the very old traditional production model of building a house - and I say production because it's what it is - and they've never questioned how they build. When we showed up, I said to them to give me the piece of land that they don't care about, and let us do something different with it, let us experiment and show them what we can do. We said we would also help with fundraising. We got a conversation going with the University of Waterloo in Canada, which is our biggest Building Sciences school, and a really great architect that came out of there. We just got the three groups talking. The scientists never talk to the people who are building houses on site, and as soon as they all started exchanging information, they realised that they could do something differently. We ended up realising that if we engineer the outside of the house and build it in a factory in a modular way, then we spend all the volunteer effort inside the house, we can get a better product for much less money, done way faster, and it's overall a better experience for everyone. We took the volunteers out of the engineering side of it and put the volunteers into the on-site building side of it. We stood up a house in three days, and they were blown away because building a home is typically a month-long process. It just started by all the same techniques that we would apply to a production. Bring the right people together, talk about the problems and how we can make them better, and create a good environment for collaboration. It wasn't creative-led, it wasn't engineering-led, it wasn't client-led, it was truly collaborative.
LBB> From a more traditional advertising sense, is there an example that you want to give that really demonstrates Makers working really well?
Sumit> We do a lot of work with Canada Goose. They do incredibly complex executions, such as shooting in the Arctic or working across multiple cities and time zones. We worked with them on their global conference. They needed to do the conference in China, Switzerland, Canada, and the US, and have all of that work together in sync. That involved content, event, the streaming platform side of it, and we could bring our global team together to work on all those parts and create a seamless experience that all laddered up to one producer that the client was talking to every day. This is where you really see the power of Makers: when a client needs to do something integrated and global that involves a lot of different components, and they can do it all with one executive producer as their point of contact.
LBB> When you're speaking to agencies and other parties, has reception been good and they've understood the model?
Sumit> No, no one understands it! In all seriousness, if I could tell you the biggest challenges we have, it would be education, because our proposition almost seems too simple. Just call us and we'll help you make anything. It's unbelievable at first but once clients start experiencing it, they feel differently, and our 90% client retention proves that right.
LBB> Now you have this huge network in place, what are the next steps for you as the head of the company?
Sumit> The big push now is tech. We're building tech for producers. There will be no more picking up the phone and calling for grips and figuring out how to get someone on a project - this industry needs to join the 21st century in a big way. Everything we're focused on now is building out an engineering team and starting to build tech for our producers. Everything from how we send a talent release, to how we put a team together, to how we talk to each other. For every piece of the production experience, we're going to start engineering tech. Once you sort of create a “walled garden” and set the standard of how we produce, now you can start to change the standards. If you try to go into the freelance world and change the standards, it's all haphazard - someone takes this standard, someone takes that standard. Imagine doctors. Anyone could call themselves a doctor and you had to just believe that when they said they're a doctor that they're going to do a great operation on your kidney. If there was no standard whatsoever, that'd be really scary. But if you can close it off and say, 'these producers are Makers producers and they work in this very specific way, and that's how you know you can trust them', suddenly it changes the conversation. We've created a walled garden; we're going to build tech for these producers and make them the most trusted producers in the world.