McCann’s EMEA head of integrated production on the production agency model, imposter syndrome and exhaustive list of hobbies
Sergio Lopez is a consummate producer, in love with the process of turning an idea from a theoretical construct into reality. And production has followed him throughout his life, from his teenage days creating album covers for his friends’ bands to heavy-hitting jobs with the likes of Leo Burnett Chicago, Cramer-Krasselt and Anomaly.
In 2014, he arrived at McCann as head of integrated production and since then has turned their production agency Craft into a powerhouse, taking on challenges like the Tomb Raider Survival Billboard and Zombie Christmas Lights. He’s notched up a fair few industry awards. Having built up these new structures in London, around 18 months ago his role was expanded to take on the whole EMEA region.
McCann and Craft are finding success in their new approaches. Around a month ago Craft won an MTV award for a music video it produced for Martin Garrix & Dua Lipa after it became one of the top 20 most played videos of 2017, with 332 million views - an indicator, perhaps, of one of the many ways the remit of the agency production department has shifted in recent years.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Sergio about the agency-production landscape in 2018.
LBB> Craft Worldwide is now winning awards for producing music videos - not something that ever used to be related to agencies. Do you feel that’s an indicator of the direction things are going, with the various agency and production company models that now exist?
SL> We’re not really a production company. I call this a production agency. Production agencies will continue to work with production companies. It’s not one or the other.
The materialisation of creativity - what people make - is the connection between brands and the consumer. At the end of the day what people see is not a PowerPoint, it’s not the strategy - what you end up seeing is what you make. So the making of the stuff nowadays, as complex as it is, cannot be left until the last minute.
Clients are really good at buying media, talking strategy and brand guardianship, but they also need to think about television, online, print, experiential. They need to do a lot of stuff! All of these things are an expression of the brand. So they need to partner with somebody who can build a production system for that and say, “for your brand, this is how you should work - this is the kind of talent that you need or the production companies that you need to associate with.” But that needs to happen in a holistic way.
That’s what we do for clients like Aldi in the UK. In Manchester we have the second biggest studio to the BBC, where we shoot at least 15,000 photos a year for all their catalogues, print, signage. We shoot for all the promotions they do for their products. And then we bring companies like Psyop to the do things like the Christmas commercial. But we have an oversight over everything that we do and can translate that into every brand that we have. It’s the combination of being able to tap into the things that are right for our client and organising it in a way where you can deliver better creative in a more organised way and help them spend the money wisely so they can produce more. That’s what a production agency does.
A production company is focused on producing one specific project and doesn’t have visibility of what happens before or after - it just looks at a small portion.
It’s something we started doing four years ago. It was quite different here and there were a lot of misunderstandings about us being a production company. If you look at the clients we have, there are some like Mastercard that do need an in-house director because with 90% of the stuff they do, they have a very specific strategy, very specific things that they do and an expression that changes from project to project. Consistency, agility and being able to understand how to make that “priceless moment” is critical. That’s not something that should be far away from the brand. So we built the team around Mastercard that does the print, the TV, all the social and digital [content]. And now it’s inherent to the way the team works.
So we don’t work less with production companies, we actually work more [with them] than we ever did before.
LBB> You joined Craft in 2014. What have been the biggest evolutions and changes since then?
SL> When I joined, I merged the television production department and the digital studio. Everybody that had to do with the making of stuff - anything - we brought into a unit called Craft. It’s a truly integrated production department.
We started looking at projects from creativity all the way to adaptation - from the fun to the boring part. We went from a team of six to now, where we’re about 84 people.
Look at the Survival Billboard or Zombie Christmas Lights, music videos, the product development for Bisto. They’re projects that, if we didn’t have one department - a one-stop shop that could look at production problems holistically - you just wouldn’t be able to make it happen. Which is what’s happening to a lot of agencies. With the old model of having TV producers and separate studios and print producers, the minute you don’t have a brief that’s straightforward, it’s very challenging for them. And these non-straightforward projects are where you find innovation.
LBB> About 18 months ago you moved into a role that spans the EMEA region. What are your feelings on that shift?
SL> In my previous job [as global head of integrated production for Anomaly] I had a global remit. I’ve always felt that production is a very international business. We’ve been used to working with people around the world for the last 10 or 15 years. Look at production companies like Smuggler or MJZ - a lot of them have offices all over the place.
Most of our clients are international, like Mastercard, L'Oréal, Microsoft. And yet production departments don’t get the best out of everybody. I saw that with the network that McCann had, it was great to leverage that opportunity.
I started developing the content studio in Barcelona, which is a great city. You have all kinds of locations, great talent, great production companies to partner with. So we’ve been building that network, continuing working with the UK, working in Spain, as well as the French, German and Italian market - those are the five places where I’ve been talking to clients, helping to develop the departments that same way we did here in London. And building one culture across one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, which comes with its challenges.
LBB> With such a border-spanning role, are there any markets that you find particularly exciting at the moment?
SL> I think that once again it’s history repeating itself. We modernised the production department in McCann London and McCann London is doing really well. McCann UK recently won Chivas [Regal]. Something is working with that model. We’ve been building in Spain and McCann in Spain is doing brilliant work. The work for Vueling and Beko is beautiful. The work coming out that I can’t talk about is gorgeous. I think there are great things to come from Paris.
In Bucharest too - we’re doing some of the most innovative work in the region out of our Romanian office. They have an entrepreneurial spirit, they have the kind of clients that want to do it, and it’s one of those self-fulfilling situations where the more creative you are, the more people are willing to take chances with you.
I do feel that there is change to happen in the next couple of years. I think in Spain there is a renaissance of television production. There are some production companies like Blur, for example, who are doing some really interesting work. In Paris, Iconoclast is doing a lot of beautiful work. In Italy you have Indiana - with Karim Bartoletti - he’s doing very well. We’re seeing consistent, good, straightforward television work. I think what’s going to change over the next few years is that some companies that are doing more content or working with social media channels directly will start developing some television work. It’ll be interesting to see what they do.
LBB> What was your childhood like? Were you always into producing stuff?
SL> I grew up in Spain and I started out just making stuff. When I was a teenager, even before that, I loved everything to do with cinema and television. I started, pre-internet, going to libraries, trying to get as much info as I could.
In my teenage years everybody around me had their own band so I started producing their records - electronica music - and I’d do the covers and music videos. A little bit of everything.
That led me to start working on a television channel when I was 16. And from there somehow that led me to work in an advertising agency called Tapsa in Spain. Back then it was the number one agency. It was massive and had the best talent in Spain. It was very important to have my first job with people who had a lot of talent. There was an expectation of what creativity should be like. Seeing how truly creative idols work when I was just 16 affected me for the rest of my life.
That was pure luck. Being in the right place at the right time and being hungry. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do the things I like doing. I taught myself to edit. I was editing and producing and very quickly I became a producer, working at Leo Burnett in Spain. Leo, back then, was just turning into a creative powerhouse. So once again I was surrounded by creatives.
And that’s what brought me to Chicago at the same time that Mark Tutssel was going to Leo Burnett Chicago. I went from being a small fish in a small pond to being an even smaller fish in a massive pond. America was where I really learnt production. It’s hardcore. They’ve been doing it a long time. They have a business around it. And that’s where you prove your chops working for massive clients. And also where I had the opportunity to start travelling and meeting people from around the world and realise that I really like global production, working with all kinds of clients everywhere.
LBB> Why was it production that you stuck with out of the various agency departments you could have gone into?
SL> I think production has two things I really like. One, I think production is very creative. And for that same reason, production is where the idea becomes a reality. I really like the ‘making’ part of it. I don’t think I could live in the theoretical world of just writing ideas and leaving them on a piece of paper. I love seeing an idea coming together bit-by-bit and being able to influence it. I’ve been lucky to work with creatives that ask for my opinion and respect producers. These days, I don’t think I could work any other way.
LBB> Is it to do with the challenge of bringing together all the constituent parts and talents that make a piece of work?
SL> There’s a difference between a producer and production broker. I think that’s something that gets mistaken a lot. A lot of the agency producers that I’ve met, especially since I came back to Europe, call themselves producers but are really production brokers. They just make the deal - connect a production company with an advertiser and project manage the job.
That, to me, is not production.
A producer is somebody that works closely with the creative and has a deep understanding of what’s going on. How are we going to bring this to life? Who is the best director? What is the best approach? Do we need to approach it in a different way? And actually help production companies understand what we have in mind and help them understand how to put it together. If you call yourself a producer but you’ve never production managed anything, you’re not a producer.
LBB> What do you think have been your most career-defining moments? Are there any projects that stand out as times when you learnt a lot?
SL> I think the biggest challenge I took was when I left Leo Burnett to go to Cramer-Krasselt. I was very fond of Leo Burnett. I had been working there for a long time and I was doing good work. At 28 I left because I had been offered to be a head of production - which I was massively underqualified [for]. To be a 28-year-old Spanish boy running [production for] the second biggest independent agency in the States. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking!
That was even more difficult because within a year-and-a-half the digital revolution had started. I had to figure out how to do digital, print and a proper integrated production thing. I was terrified. Many times I thought about quitting because I thought that I was a fake and this was really scary. I didn’t want to let anybody down. Just having to go and do it made me realise that in moments of innovation, I’m as qualified as anyone else who doesn’t know what he or she is doing to find a solution.
Often, we get into situations where we convince ourselves that everybody else knows the answer when they don’t. But I just try to figure it out, to use everything I know, and come up with a solution and listen and learn. It was a really critical time for me to take that job and stick with it for four years, consciously, to see how far I can take it and how much I could learn from it. It was good. We won a Webby, a couple of Lions. I definitely wouldn’t be running this department if it wasn’t for that.
LBB> You’re obviously a consummate production fanatic. But do you have any passions outside of work?
SL> I paint. I write. I travel a lot with my son. I’m a single dad and I’m with him half the time. One of our favourite things is to travel and do photography. We’ve done that for a long time and love it. It’s a lot better now that I have a 12 year old, because taking photographs is how you see the world and it’s beautiful to see the difference between how I see the world as a 40-something point of view compared with the way my son sees the world and how life has made me see the world in a different way.
Listening to music is something we do a lot. We ride bikes, go to museums, galleries.
LBB> What kind of things do you paint and write?
SL> Painting is 2D acrylic painting - landscapes. I fly so much that I’ve been doing a collection of paintings with always an aeroplane flying in the sky. People seem to like it. So it’s something I’m doing more and more.
I write short, two-page stories inspired by what is around me. I’m a horrible writer and because I’m a horrible writer, I push myself to write to see how I can get better. I find it very therapeutic.
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