Television

'While differentiating your channel ID, you need to find the road not walked on before' : Jill Lindemani - BBC Broadcast account director

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One of the attractions of the inaugural Indian edition of Promax&BDA held a few weeks ago in Mumbai was the participation of BBC Broadcast. Representing the organisation was account director Jill Lindeman, who dwelt on the theme of "whether the 30-second television spot had had its day.

Before joining BBC Broadcast in 2003, Lindeman worked in various capacities as a design professional spanning 15 years that continues to scale new heights. The BBC Broadcast Design helps clients globally by providing expertise and experience in channel branding, broadcast design, interactive design and programme packaging. The Design team is a part of BBC Broadcast expanding the offering to play out creative services/access services, sponsorship & branded content and TV commercial production.

In a chat with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto and Bijoy AK, Lindeman talks about the changing scenario in the television branding world and company's expansion plans for Asia and India.

Excerpts:

What has it been like interacting with creative people at the Promax & BDA in Mumbai?

I thought that it was a very successful conference. It was on par with other conferences that I have been to around the world. There was great work showcased. There's lot of activity happening in this market and the energy was reflected in the conference.

Are you looking at doing work with any of our channels?

I would love to work with any of your channels. We have been in contact with a couple of Indian companies, however, at the moment we are not engaged in any project work. What BBC Broadcast has to offer in terms of expertise in launching channels, promoting and marketing channels is something that would be useful to people just making their entry into the television industry. It could be a publishing company or a media company that has not yet tread the path and might want consultation in that area.

Like The Times of India which is launching two channels?

(Laughs) It would be fantastic. I will go on record saying that would be great. What is great about India is the local production talent. When we do work abroad we like to do some of that work in conjunction with local people. We like to work closely with the team that is going to use the package for example. This way everybody can take ownership of it. Also, economically it might be a smart thing to do.

Anytime you work with a country other than your home market you need to understand it. Cultural differences need to be kept in mind. I think that sometimes channels like outsiders working with them as it brings in an outside perspective.

"Indian humour is very funny. There is a lot of clever humour in both Indian and British promos"

Have you seen many Indian promos? How do you rate them? Have any Indian promos impressed you in particular?

Yes. I loved them (laughs). There is a big cultural difference like some of your drama shows. I don't watch the shows and so I do not know the context. However I don't think that there is any difference in quality from the other markets. I cannot deny that there is a language barrier. However, for 95 per cent of the work I do not need to understand the language to get the humour or what the sell is. That speaks a lot about the idea, the concept.

When I was judging I only needed to ask for the translation a couple of times. I had thought that it would be a lot more. I loved MTV's One Tight Slap spot from last year. I don't know what the desk person was saying but I don't think that it was necessary. The Indian humour is very funny and that is what I also like about the British as well. There is a lot of clever humour in both Indian and British promos.

What is your take on the Indian audience segment?

While talking about the audience of any country, you should have a basic understanding of that segment. Still, as per my observation, India is not so different when compared to other global markets I have worked in. Here, in India, there are very capable production people, and that perhaps is important.

As BBC Broadcast's account director what do your responsibilities involve?

What I focus on is branding and designing of channels. Creative Services at BBC Broadcast is a large group of people. We have promo makers, designers, strategists and directors.

My role is to make sure that we get clients. So new business is a part of my role. The other part of my role is making sure that our clients are getting what they came to us for. I nurture the relationship and walk side by side with the client through the project.

Are there any factors that are affecting client servicing at this point?

Over the past couple of years budgets have changed. The way in which clients approach companies like ours has changed. We have to become a lot more flexible. We need to work with different financial challenges and also work with different challenges at the channel level.

We have done a lot of consultation on refreshing a brand and refreshing a design. It is not necessary to redesign all the time. In fact, you will end up confusing your viewer.

However if you can work with the available resources then the project becomes both economical and strategic. In some cases, you might need to do something more drastic than that but not everyone does. We have to find our own flexibility and work best with the clients we have. Agility becomes the key here.

Out of the projects that BBC Broadcast has been involved with are there any standouts?

I have been with BBC Broadcast for ten months, so I am a baby there. One of the most impressive pieces of work that I saw was a brand that we created for the channel UK History. It was gorgeous yet a simple idea and did its job. The channel ended up winning an award for channel of the year at the Edenborough festival.

Our major clients are some of the BBC channels. We work with all of them in one form or the other. We, however, have to pitch for their bigger branding work. So nothing is necessarily handed to us on a silver platter. Holland's public broadcaster NOS is another client. We have just finished doing work around the reality show Big Brother for Channel 4 in the UK. This was a load of fun. We went into the Big Brother House so to speak. BBC America is an ongoing client. We also do a lot of work with independent producers and show titles like Endemol. We have also worked with UK TV. This is a network of 11 channels.

Which was your toughest assignment at BBC Broadcast till date?

My very first assignment. It was for BBC America. The programme in question was The Telly. The show gives you a rundown of the shows on the channel. BBC America wanted to expose the audience to everything else besides just The Office. We did the packaging. BBC America is great fun, because, you have to think half American and half British. You have to think about what Americans think of British content. It was a good project for me being an American living in London. It was a good focus group for the entire team.

What are the major changes that have happened in the television-branding world in the past couple of years?

Of late, something that a lot of channels ask us to do is not just to refresh the channel, the channel packaging and the promos also have become more important. They are the unsung heroes of any successful channel. We have been asked by clients to look at their entire basket and how best the toolkit can be created to get the most out of their identity.

We recently worked on a project for BBC America. We actually had to pitch to win the business. Anyway, they had a huge success with The Office, which won Emmy awards. However, their channel image was not living up to the audience's expectation for the content. We needed to refresh that by giving it a glossier look and feel.

What clients need and what they want has evolved. It does not mean that channels still do not need full bells and whistles redesign. It means that people are now spending money more wisely than they were in 2000. They are looking at new ways to work with us and at the same time they are also looking at making the best use of their own internal teams.

Before it was either a massive project with a lot of consultation and design time involving millions of dollars or the smaller projects. Now there are lot of projects that fall in between. Therefore, the need for flexibility. We are now working on a full re brand project. It involves redesigning their logo, whether or not they want to be called the same thing. Then you have show packaging for a channel that does not have much money associated with it. So we will need to create something very fast in a quick turnaround time. This takes a few weeks while the former takes several months.

When creating an entire network identity from scratch what are the challenges that you face?

Sometimes the biggest challenge is getting everyone together to see the same vision. This part of the challenge can be the most exciting. People have different perspectives on what the channel's vision should be.

The other challenge is differentiating yourself. You need to find the road that has not been walked on before. This is where things can get really difficult. Take the US where there are so many niche channels. Finding that place where you are different from everyone else and where it makes sense to enter, as a competitor is tough.

A television brand is constantly moving and changing. The people internally need to believe in what their identity and image is, how they should be communicating with their audience. We all need to have signed on to the same common vision, otherwise, the project will not work.

"Packaging and promos are the unsung heroes of any successful channel today"

What are the factors that separate a great ad from one that is merely good?

It is all in the idea. People's attention spans are changing and so is technology. Now it is more about putting viewer in more control. Because of that it is important that we give viewers reasons to watch. It is important to have a good idea; the aim is to get people get emotionally attached with that brand.

There are ways in which you can use pieces of the programme in a promo. This way you can give the viewer an idea of what they can expect to watch.

What expansion plans are in the pipeline for BBC Broadcast?

We have just opened an office in the US. Mike Abernathy is working with us there. People who will be working in the US will also be working with our UK team. Michael will be managing and producing the products from the US. We are also looking at doing work in India and Asia. This is a really exciting market. We have project teams. You learn a lot about different people.

An Ad Age piece last month stated that with the influx of product placements, celebrity endorsement and event marketing in the West, advertising is filled with non-ideas. I would like your take on this.

I wouldn't say that there is a lack of fresh ideas. I just think that people are looking at other ways to get their product out there. It could be a channel or a bag of potato chips. The advertiser is diversifying their ad spend.

However, the other side of the coin is that there is nothing to stop them from advertiser-friendly programming. This becomes a very creative process. There are companies out there that have been given permission due to the strength of their brand to do things like that. Budweiser has created films where they are not flat out selling their beer. While people are drinking beers what is being sold is the attitude and what it means to be a bud drinker. Nike, Levis and Coca Cola are the other brands that can do that. People will find new and perhaps more subtle ways to get their message out there.

One of the threats to traditional advertising is Personal Video Recorders (PVR), which allow viewers to delete ads. In addition to product placements what are the other ways in which broadcasters and marketers can get around this problem?

Technologically I am not sure how this is going to be done for television. However, it is a big topic in the industry.
In advanced TV markets does the future lie in advertising led content?

Definitely it is an area that is growing. Lower third promotions where you have the bottom part of the screen used, sponsorship are ways to get the viewers attention. We do work with clients on advertiser-friendly products. What puts us in a unique position is that we also have relationships with the broadcasters. The broadcaster knows the viewer while advertisers know their target audience. They need to gel. Viewers are increasingly seeing the sponsorship identity as a part of the programme.
Due to the fact that it simulates a natural environment, would reality shows be the best platform for a company looking to do product placement on television?

The advertiser has to be careful here. They need to take care about where the product is being placed. There are agencies that specialise in product placement as in who should be using it and where. If the situation is not seen in a positive light then it can damage the brand. Lack of relevance can also hurt not just the brand but also the programme that the brand is in.

Product placement makes the most sense when it is woven into the storyline. There are agencies that work with content creators to weave brands into the content.

Sometime ago NBC had done something interesting for their Thursday must see TV nightspot. They actually had actors from one show appearing in the next show. Actors from Friends were appearing in Will & Grace. This in a sense is product placement. This is one of the new and creative ways that channels are using to get the viewers attention.

What role does interactivity play in helping channels cut through the clutter?

I am not sure that interactivity cuts through the clutter. What it does is give the channel the opportunity to take the viewer on a different axis. Now you are taking the viewer from A to Y. In the interactive space you are able to move on a Z-axis. However the content needs to be relevant.

If you send someone to an interactive space whose content is not relevant to what you have got in the first place then viewers will not bother to go back. Depending on what the application is the viewer can stay within the shows frame of mind without there necessarily being a timeline.

Isn't there a danger with lower third promotions that the viewer might get distracted from the main programme?

I don't think so. We did Living Room research and we determined that the under-24 year olds tend to watch multiple things at one time. They are really not interested in being sold to. They can detect that immediately. They have the ability to watch two to three things at one time. If they are watching a programme that has multiple pieces of content that are all relevant and equally entertaining then I do not think that they will get lost. My mother maybe, but not them!

The success of lower third promotions depends on how much you know your audience and how much you know what they are looking for. The channel also has to know the extent to which the audience can be pushed.

Earlier you were with Lee Hunt. What was that experience like?

I was his first employee. I worked with him for ten years. I worked in many different capacities. I learnt an immense amount about the television industry. I started as a coordinator for anything. Then I became a promo producer. I was also able to try my hand at directing with our first live action around the world shoot for Avon. Later on I moved into the account director position. Then I moved to London to head the Future TV team. He is a great boss, a very good boss.

You have been in the creative field for sometime. What are the rewards of this?

I get to work with really creative people who are fantastically talented. There is excitement in seeing a great piece of creativity. There is also the excitement of seeing what you delivered to the channel getting used. This is the most important part of our job. The handover period when the channel is taking the work as their own is rewarding. If we do not deliver well then it does not get used. If it doesn't get used what was the point of doing it?

Winning awards is great. However, you may win loads of awards but if the creative work does not hit the air or is not communicating with the audience in an effective way then the work is useless. This has never happened to me. I make sure that this situation will not occur. I have worked with people who have had entire packages delivered to them and they never hit the air. We recently delivered a design system for BBC Sport, which they are making use of most effectively. That was very rewarding.

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