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Production Line: Lins Karnes on Fostering a Culture of What Is Right for the Brief


Be inquisitive, be interested and talk to producers, says co-founder and director of delivery for The Liberty Guild

Production Line: Lins Karnes on Fostering a Culture of What Is Right for the Brief

Lins is the co-founder and director of delivery for The Liberty Guild. With a degree in computer science and 25 years of delivery under his belt, he is a rare multi-platform multi-format digital native production leader.

He started out in the pre dot-com era and since then has worked across big-tech/ecom/digital transformations for huge multinationals and various non-govt agencies. Led huge teams delivering global, european and national programs for Microsoft, covering CRM, .com, and online experiences. Had stints at BBH during the early years of digital and at Saint@RKCR/Y&R as they went through phenomenal growth and success. Ex-MD/EP of B-Reel London driving innovation and creative excellence across TV, film, content, digital, integrated, experiential and product dev.

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?

Lins> Ok. So here’s the official line on what we are: “The Liberty Guild is not a ‘different kind of agency.’ We’re not an agency. We’re a Guild. An invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world.” Because of that ‘in the world’ bit we mean our team is distributed around the world, and so are our production partners. The pandemic didn’t change that for us in our normal run of business, nor with how we approach production.

LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?

Lins> Finding the best producers to bring into the fold, it’s gone nuts out there…

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Lins> ‘Any’ is a bit of a broad term, but I do believe a good agency producer should be able to handle, if not field any request into the business. Humble enough to know what they don’t know, seek out the knowledge, or trusted partners to engage with etc. 

When it comes to the hands on delivery, I’d say use a producer who has experience in that medium, they know their shit and will mitigate the risks of a complex production in that field. That might mean you need a couple of them working together to cover the different strands of the production, with senior delivery representation sitting over the top tying it together. 

As time goes on we are going to see more and more producers developing X-Shaped skills, with broad and deep knowledge in two, three or four mediums. But any-and-all will be a stretch.

LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists vs generalists?

Lins> We run things in a different way to most agencies (because we’re not an agency). We’re an ideas business. We don’t charge hourly rates. Each project (fixed time, fixed cost, fixed output) brings together the very best talent in their field to  ensure we have the right people for every project. Be they generalists, specialists or specialist generalists. The what and who is dictated by the client’s brand, the brief and the output requirements -- there is no particular leaning in one way or another, except for who’s right for the job.

LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?

Lins> I was in pre-dot com ‘new media’ in 1998, making websites in Flash1 and HTML. Within months I was managing teams of designers/coders/writers and joining the client service team at client meetings. I realised one of the key functions was interpreting. All these skills - the creatives, the techies, the wordsmiths, the client handlers, the clients - have brains wired in different ways, and definitely aren’t speaking the same language all the time.

Back in 1998 there wasn’t that much to get your arms around - you could learn HTML in a day and you’re off. You had print and you had TV. So much stuff - platforms, media, execution types, devices - has grown exponentially since. There was no course to go on, no one to show you how to do it, but yet you’re the one they are asking ‘how’s this work then’. You had to figure it out… So that lesson that is still with me is if you don’t know, go find out, keep learning, keep tooling up. Don’t wait around to be spoon fed.

LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)

Lins> I joined the ad industry proper in 2005. What struck me the most was how siloed everything was - head of print, head of TV, head of ‘what do I do with this’ stuff before we called it ‘digital’. Also an outdated term. Back then each department was flinging stuff away if there was the faintest whiff of it not being Print or TV. Prime example is the old ‘viral video’ which back then was a film put on the internet. Took me a year to persuade the then head of TV one of ‘their’ film producers should be involved in making the film, then we (the ‘digital’ people) could upload it to YouTube; and that only happened until they saw a TV ad they made on YouTube and we’re mightily confused about how it got there.

Hard to say what’s happening in agency land overall as I’ve been heads down scaling up the Guild, but I still see a lot of division. It doesn’t lead to better work, more likely leads to more politics and a lead platform (probably TV) delivered well with poor ‘other platform’ bolt-ons and after thoughts (put the poster in the instastory type vibe).

We foster a culture of what is right for the brief. There is no lead department focussed on any particular medium. Executions push hard into to what’s best for that idea in that medium or platform.

LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?

Lins> There’s a couple that I would pull out…

For some businesses they need small pockets of hyper focussed and efficient teams (e.g. banner crunchers, or content filming SWAT team) who need to be able to do their stuff like a black box without interference. In goes the brief, out comes the delivery, and no drama.

The other is for businesses who don’t know what the next brief is going to bring. They need smart super senior generalists running the show - who are collaborative, team focussed, and unpolitical - that can direct the brief into the right teams that fit the needs of the client brief.

LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?

Lins> The usual. I look at what they’ve done. What and who they’ve done it for. Who they know. Do they have a good rep. Personal recommendations go the furthest. We also put a lot of value on kindness. It’s one of the core tenants of The Liberty Guild, it runs through everything that we do. What we do gets complicated and stressful, but you can always stay kind. Last thing you need is added complications because someone being a d***.

LBB> How important is it to you that there is diversity across all partners on a production? Do you have any measures to promote diversity when it comes to production? 

Lins> Very. Unfortunately, it is still an unbalanced industry. We were founded on the belief that Freedom Works and this is something that has been baked into who we are from the very beginning. Freedom for the talent to work when and where they want, with who they want. And ultimately the freedom to be themselves BECAUSE when people are free to work how they choose, in an environment that encourages, supports, and celebrates them, then we become a powerful platform for change.

Inclusivity is a reflex, not an initiative for us. We see diversity as a catalyst for creativity and innovation, not just a moral obligation. Our network of creative and strategic partners is growing and we’re putting a big dent into evening up those numbers. 

LBB> Speaking of casting, what is your approach to this side of a production? How do you work with directors to ensure a fair and fruitful process? 

Lins> We always stipulate a wide diversity on all production work, from storyboards through to casting. Because. That's. What. The. World. Is.

LBB> Sustainable production is also, understandably, a big talking point and will continue to be so moving forward. How are you navigating this as an agency? 

Lins> We just became a Certified B-Corp so this is up on our agenda. 

LBB> Has the pandemic accelerated this conversation at all, in your opinion? (ie, the number of people on set, less people flying around the world, etc.)

Lins> I’ve always been on the side of sustainability/the environment/climate thinking so it was nice to see a shift in the populus and people thinking in different ways. Now, sadly, things are slowly tipping back up to normal, inching closer to the old ways. The drive for ever more economical shoots is still there, and usually means getting on planes for cheaper locations etc… One upside, is we’re all used to setting up live links and zooming, so some people can be involved and get their voices heard without having to be on set.

LBB> What conversations are you having with clients about issues such as diversity and sustainability? Is it something that clients are invested in or more that agencies need to take the lead on?

Lins> We work a lot with big US clients and they are hot on this already. For them a positive DE&I approach, and sustainability markers are a mandatory. It will become more the norm here too. We’ve been working hard on this, and are getting up ahead of that curve.

LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production? 

Lins> Procurement are our friends. We regularly attend Procurecon and understand that while many in the industry see procurement as the monsters in the attic, we know they are actually very firmly focussed on driving value and creativity. 

LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc, but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?)

Lins> There’s only so much you can get out of a course, and you can’t learn about producering from the internet. Being a producer isn’t something that can be force learnt. You’ve got to be wired the right way, being inquisitive about how stuff is made, and overall have an in-built get-shit-done mentality that’s nurtured by experience: watching, learning, doing. 

Our way of working has stripped out anything unnecessary and streamlined how everything is delivered. This means we don’t/can’t just drop someone in, point them at a project and they are off. Anyone who comes into The Liberty Guild is inducted into our culture and ways of working. The producers are no exception. As the beating heart of any project I’ll work with them super closely, shadowing, nurturing and educating them throughout.

LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?

Lins> Why wouldn’t you?! It’s so important. What happens in production is the output of your business. It’s what you show the world to say ‘we do this’. If you don’t have production representation in the C-Suite I can’t see how you value what you do enough.

LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?

Lins> You need a production voice in the room when you’re in conceptual development, especially if there are potential big considerations; tight budgets, tight timings, relying on a particular tech/specialism (that creatives know nothing about). I have had many, many experiences where I’ve been handed an idea, a budget and timings that are literally impossible and been told it’s been sold to client. Honestly, it’s pretty dumb to commit something to client if you haven’t involved anyone who knows how to make it. 

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?

Lins> So many layers to this question. Exciting that we are working with some of the world's biggest clients. Exciting that we’re in a position to attract the best and sharpest production minds, partners and geniuses. Exciting the The Liberty Guild has build a team of legends that all care passionately about production, and are all in, collaboratively working towards the same goal of excellence. Exciting that there’s so much potential out there of things to learn about and make, we are completely media agnostic, so every project has the potential to bring something new to the production table. Exciting that we DO have production and delivery in the C-suite.

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?

Lins> Gain as much knowledge and experience in as many fields as possible.

Be inquisitive. Be interested. Talk to producers, find out what they do, how they do it. Offer to help. Go watch. Put your hand up to your seniors, tell them you want to learn. Throw yourself in at the deep end and get your hands dirty* (*without compromising the production).

Read up on some different methods and styles of project management (agile, scrums, prince) they all have learnings you can cherry pick to help hone your producing skills.

Research the tech that drives the platforms so you can understand how it works. Talk to some techies in those fields (coders, animators, DOPs, whatever), play with some devices, shoot some film, stick on a VR headset.

More than anything, find your groove. Whether that’s the specialist or generalist route.


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The Liberty Guild, Wed, 10 Aug 2022 05:54:22 GMT