By Claire Semnacher of Held & Associates
Heather Elder of Heather Elder Represents
and Kate Chase of Brite Productions
interviewed with Workbook about their special event luncheon called Community Table, which is designed to facilitate communication between advertising community leaders. In the past year, Heather and Kate have hosted Community Table events in three major cities and have been kind enough to share the collected information in a series of blog posts that document the various discussions that ensued. Workbook was very pleased when they both agreed to divulge some more information about how these brilliant events come together.
WB: How and why did Heather Elder Represents and Brite Productions decide to create Community Table?
Heather and I are both from San Francisco, and we have a history of doing various shows together throughout the years. So this idea was born when we were brainstorming about having another social to get everybody together while we were both in LA and then, that kind of grew into “What if we made it more?”
I think that sums it up really well. I think Kate and I were feeling like it’s always fun to host a party or to host a luncheon, but how could we make it more valuable and actually make people want to show up? And the fact it was the first time LA, or Le Book Connections had hosted something in LA, we knew people would pay attention and would be excited about the idea of the event. [But we still wondered] how could we add to it, make it a more valuable week for people. This idea just came from all of that.
And then the idea got even bigger: to share—we could share that information with the community at large. There would be a nice component because we would not make it proprietary. Also, we were able to make our jobs easier because if we’re all operating with the same knowledge base, even though it’s certainly about executing, at least you have the information, and this doesn’t make the job harder. Common knowledge makes it easier because if you’re competing against somebody who might not have an agent, who might not know the nuances of what art producers like, then it slows down the process, and things get complicated. And we’re sending too many email blasts, and we’re all getting kind of lumped into those categories. So, I think to educate, that was important too. So, we invited a transcriber: Alison McCreery of the POP
WB: Actually, that was one of my questions! The blog posts are very detailed; how did you manage to make sure you didn’t miss anything?
I think Allison McCreery brought equity to the table with her blog; we really wanted to show people we were serious and that we were taking this [project] seriously. So, it was really great to be able to say, “Hey, we value what you’re saying; we want to get it right, and we’ve brought in not just anybody, but somebody who knows the business and understands and interviews people. Someone who is just like yourself with photographers, and we’re bringing her in because we know that she will get it right.”
The visual is fascinating because she has a recorder and then she’s also writing by hand.
She was probably very busy.
WB: What is the best part of Community Table?
Community Table goes a little bit deeper, and there is a lot that can be shared that way. For example, we find out ten art producers like getting email and five don’t. It helps answer “What do people want?” So for me, that’s a good outcome from this venture.
WB: How do you go about choosing people to participate?
At first, trying to figure out whom to invite was a little bit challenging because you want to get the right mix of people, and you also want to make sure you don’t offend anybody who is not invited. So, we needed to come up with a benchmark of who to invite and how to invite them. We thought the best and most fair way to go about it was to start at the level of managing art buyer or managing art producer and go from there. In a larger market, like NYC, there are more people to choose from than in a smaller market, say Los Angeles or San Francisco. We would have a conversation about the people who were options for us, and we would then go to the people we have heard speak in the industry or seen write things about the industry, or people with whom we have worked who have had experiences potentially valuable to the group. If someone from an agency couldn’t attend, then we would need a backup. Sometimes we would go that particular person and say, “Is there someone in your department who could take your place?”
WB: So far you have hosted Community Table meetings in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. Did you notice significant differences in the discussions in different cities?
The first two events, the one in LA and the one in NYC, had the same questions. They were marketing-based questions. At the Community Table in SF we decided to evolve the questions a little bit, and we focused on estimating and production. So, from a content point of view, SF was very different. From a community sense, all three cities’ representatives were very open and very interested and appreciative to have the time to speak up and share their experiences.
From a marketing point of view, I would say that New York and LA people weren’t dealing with the same issues, and while they didn’t share the exact same information, the tone and the interest in sharing and explaining their points of view were definitely the same. Everybody is dealing with how to handle email blasts; everybody is dealing with the best way to reach an art buyer, and if there were ten people, there were twelve different opinions, and that is what we wanted. We didn’t need a consensus; we just wanted to hear what everybody had to say and what all the different opinions were.
WB: Which did you like better: experiencing the close, tight-knit community in LA or being the force that brought people together in NY, introducing them and putting faces to names?
I didn’t have any separation of church and state: I think it was kind of nice to participate in and witness both situations.
I think both elements are very in keeping with the spirit of Community Table.
WB: The Community Table posts on your blogs are extremely informative for everyone in the industry. How have you implemented changes in your own business as a result?
I thought the Community Table San Francisco that specifically targeted production and estimating, was very enlightening. There were a couple of little tidbits in there that I hadn’t heard regarding usage, production, and estimating. It was very relevant and immediate information that people are questioning right now. I appreciate a new point of view or somebody sharing new information. I think we experienced this at the SF event because we dug a little deeper and tried to keep the conversation very specific. It will be a powerful one when we share it.
WB: What do you think creatives have taken away from Community Table? Do you think they have changed some of the ways they do business in response to their experiences?
That would be a great question for Workbook to ask because we haven’t received specific feedback. I think Workbook would be the perfect catalyst for “Tell us what you think?”
I think so much of the conversation is about art producers’ and art buyers’ connection to photographers and how they work together. We have touched on how to reach the creatives most effectively and what kinds of conversations happen around estimating with creatives. Those sorts of topics do enter into some of our questions, but I don’t know if enough of the content is specific to creatives, that they have actually paid as much attention as art buyers and photographers have. But I would be very fascinated to hear. All the emails I get and comments on the blogs are from art producers and photographers, thanking us and telling us they are happy for the information. We have heard thank you from a lot of production people and vendors; for example, I have heard from some producers and some stylists who are just happy for the insight. I haven’t heard a lot from the creative group.
WB: Do you think Community Table helps facilitate the communication between creatives, reps, and photographers in terms of what they are looking for?
I think the whole idea about keeping the conversation, or at least opening up the conversation and then keeping it going, has been the main focus of Community Table. So, the fact people are just talking about it means that it will be stronger and more effective.
WB: Did either of you learn anything that surprised you?
I was pleasantly surprised by how eager and interested people were to participate. It’s not difficult to get people to come to the table. And I was really happy to see that. I think when you first start something, you get nervous and think, “Who is going to show up; will they take it seriously?” But we have built so much momentum, now it is even easier. Kate, Matt Nycz, Lauranne Lospalutto and I knew the project would be a strong way to communicate to the community, but again, I am pleasantly surprised by how much feedback we get from people. They like it and appreciate it.
WB: How did you go about about successfully pulling this off?
There is a lot of back and forth between Brite Productions and Heather Elder Represents, the four of us, and we put a lot of effort into the questions we create for Community Table. We really try to put ourselves into the shoes of the art producers and to give them questions we feel relate to the world that they deal in, even though we don’t know exactly what that is all the time.
So, we put these questions together, and we create a flow as far as how they fit in the luncheon. Heather taps into some great resources that she has: the questions were all printed out on notecards. Everybody has a beautiful place setting. There is a wonderful menu, and it’s an all-out affair. It’s meant to be an experience, and we didn’t want it to be just a one-sided situation, like we are trying to mine them for information. We treat participants with a lot of respect and thank them for their time. We feed them well and make it something that they want to lend their voices to and participate in.
WB: Are you both going to continue Community Table and if so, how frequently?
We are going to continue. We just started talking about the overall strategy of Community Table and are letting this unfold organically. We are starting to plan events in Chicago and Minneapolis.
And we do like the idea of shaking up the Community Tables some. You know, shaking up the topics a little bit.
WB: Any final thoughts you would want people to know about Community Table?
Well, before we went to NY, we did a blog post in which we asked people to give us their questions. I think that would be great to make it a proactive thing: allow people to submit their questions to us through various channels—Facebook or wherever.
WB: What is your favorite dish from one of the Community Table meetings?
The pumpkin soup with crème fraiche.
Oh yes, that was delicious!
It was really good.
To visit Heather Elder's Blog, click HERE
To catch up on Heather Elder's past Community Table blog posts, click HERE
To visit Brite Productions' Blog, click HERE
To catch up on Brite Productions' past Community Table blog posts, click HERE