How did you get started in production? I was an executive assistant at BBDO and wanted to get into production, but the broadcast department wouldn’t have me due to my lack of traditional experience. The good news was that a content department was being created, so I managed to talk myself into a role. A couple of months later, Brian “Dilo” DiLorenzo took over as the head of our three-person department. With his experience with BMW Films, he knew what to do. One of my first projects in that department was HBO Voyeur, a campaign to highlight HBO’s great storytelling. I was fortunate to work not only with Dilo, but also with superstar creatives Greg Hahn, David Carter, Mike Smith and David Lubars. That project was a blast, and I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
What was your riskiest professional decision? Starting Frank Collective. I had quit my job at RadicalMedia and didn’t have anything lined up. I was miserable, but I had recently come across the saying “Leap and the net will appear.” So, as the days ticked down, I just kept saying that to myself. Then, less than a week before my last day at RadicalMedia, I got hired for a consulting gig. I started right after my last day. Three days later, I turned it into Frank Collective with my creative partner and now cofounder, Mike Wasilewski. I didn’t take a salary that first year, and I invested four times more than I had intended, burning through my savings. But, in year two, we began turning a profit, so I was able to take a salary and pay myself back. Since then, there have been ups and downs. Some months, when the jobs don’t go your way, it can feel nerve racking. But it’s always been worth it. Naivete has been both my challenge and my advantage. If I knew then what I know now, I don’t know if I would have had the guts make the leap.
How have your experiences at BBDO and RadicalMedia helped you with the challenges of running your own business? I worked at both companies at a time when everything was transitioning from physical to digital. The traditional ways were fading away. When I began using the BlackBerry and iPhone, suddenly, there was no off button. It was a constant connection to work. I became accustomed to grinding, and if there was a problem, I just figured it out. This skill set primed me for running a business.
But when we started Frank Collective, there were some things I knew I wanted to do differently. I had worked insane hours and had been expected to give up nights, weekends and vacations without any choice or compensation. I didn’t want it to be like that at Frank. I want our staff to know we appreciate them and their time. So, late night and weekend work is an anomaly. I also wanted to see more marginalized people get opportunities, not create another glass ceiling club. Diversity is a big deal at Frank. As well as having an even amount of women and men throughout the company and specifically in leadership positions.
How can content producers keep their work fresh and avoid bland marketing? For one, don’t think within the landscape of what’s being done now; think about ways it hasn’t been done. When we created HBO Voyeur at BBDO, we did it through the lens of telling a story, and didn’t talk about HBO. People thought it was a show versus a campaign. Content shouldn’t feel like advertising. It should feel like the essence of the brand is talking to you, helping you but not selling to you.
Second, tell different facets of the story through a network of channels. Creating a stand-alone video or website is great. But in a multiplatform media landscape, your content will have more dimensionality and greater impact if it lives in multiple channels. A great example is the Squarespace campaign from 2018 that featured Keanu Reeves in the desert, going through a comical vision quest to create the perfect website. It had magical realism, humor and highlighted how easy it was to create your dream site though Keanu’s mystical and oversimplified tutorial. I saw it during the Super Bowl, on YouTube and on Instagram. Each part of the story was told in a different way, and everything built on each other. As a result, the campaign felt more impactful and compelling.
Lastly, look for influences outside of the category you’re working in. We can fall victim to thinking too close to trends or what’s expected in a space. So, if you’re working with a beauty brand, think about it as if it were a car or tech or hospitality brand. Ask yourself: What would the work look like through that lens? How would it be unexpected?
What changes have you observed in the industry since starting Frank Collective? The industry changing is what enabled me to start Frank Collective more than eight years ago. With coworking space, digital tools, new brands and startups, and the expansive need for content, suddenly, it was possible for new agencies to get off the ground without outside funding. Nowadays, there are more smaller and midsized agencies than there ever have been. It’s great to see the makeup of creative agencies be so varied and diverse. The flip side is that I have also watched budgets tighten and timelines shrink. With everything being digital, the turnarounds are expected to be much faster. But, we need to make sure that we are giving the appropriate time to both strategic thinking and the creative process. There are still no shortcuts for that.