Sean DuffyFighting preconceptions is never an easy task, particularly when those preconceptions have been a long time in the making.
But that’s exactly what Sean Duffy, business development director of SMG Broadcast and Event Solutions, was faced with when he joined the company late last year.
A division of Scottish Media Group, SMG Broadcast and Event Solutions employs 90 staff working across production and post-production and currently produces the coverage of the Scottish Premier League for pay TV channel Setanta, as well as hiring out production and post-production staff to other broadcasters and producers, including the BBC. Last year the department also organised several awards events, including the Scottish IPA Awards and the now infamous Scottish Politician of the Year.
Duffy was recruited by David Reilly, managing director of Broadcast and Event Solutions in October, with a brief to grow the amount of revenue generated by the department, and has set about doing so over a number of different areas.
One of these is in the world of commercial production, a sector which Scottish Media Group has not traditionally been associated with. Duffy said: “Up until recently agencies like 1576, The Leith Agency, Family or whoever it may be, wouldn’t necessarily consider SMG commercial production as a viable production house. They’ll get on a plane and fly down to Soho rather than come down here. Now most of the people that have come in, in fact all of the people that have come in, to this business over the last two or three months have been pleasantly astonished at the facilities here.
“It’s still something that rankles with me, that we’re not seen as a viable option by agencies. I think people just look at us and think, ‘you’re not sexy.’ The fact of the matter is you can do your production here better, and you can do it here cheaper.”
However, in the three months Duffy has spent promoting the SMG commercial production service to agencies he has come up against a barrier, in the shape of Scottish Television.
He explains: “Unfortunately people say ‘I didn’t realise you could do that at Scottish TV.’ In actual fact our business, Broadcast and Event Solutions, is the commercial unit of SMG Television. Now Scottish TV is a client of ours, in the same way as Grampian TV is a client, in the same way as Setanta is a client, in the same way that The Herald is a client. Scottish TV is a brand, within SMG Television, for which we provide all the studios, cameras and crew, and outside broadcast is all under our control at Broadcast and Event Solutions. Scottish TV is a channel which uses those facilities from us, so it pays for them in the same way that Setanta pays for them, and that’s the way the business operates now.”
With the perception of Scottish Media Group as consisting solely of Scottish Television and nothing else, wouldn’t it have been an idea to brand the commercial production arm of the business separately? Something that would have given it more distance from its broadcaster stablemate?
“It’s quite funny, because there’s two ways of looking at this,” remarks Duffy. “We look at ourselves and we think ‘we’re almost a start-up, but we’re not.’ One of the things that start-ups suffer from is brand awareness. You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘well, people may not know what SMG does or is, but they’ve heard of it.’ So you say ‘let’s use that as a positive, let’s go on the back of that.’ People’s perception of SMG is not accurate, because they’ve probably not taken the time to look under the bonnet and understand it.
“That’s the market education we’re going through just now, sitting down and telling them about it, tell them the structure of the business, tell them how it looks and feels, what it does, what it’s capable of.”
As well as educating Scottish agencies, another step forward has been the recruitment of award-winning commercials director Alex Paton, who has worked at several ad agencies, including The Leith Agency and, London-based, CDP.
“I bumped into Alex at The Drum’s Scottish Advertising Awards and the deal was done there,” Duffy explains. “He was sitting at SMG’s table. I started the job on the fourth of October and I met Alex about 20 days after that. Clients buy directors, agencies buy directors. Creative directors sit down and say ‘I want this guy to produce my campaign.’ That was one of the things that I was taking out of meeting all the agencies. What could we do to make ourselves more attractive to them? They said, ‘well you need to start building up a relationship with directors and building up a good stable of directors.’ So the first thing we did was we went and got Alex Paton.”
Prior to Paton joining the company, SMG Broadcast and Event Solutions had already produced new television campaigns for both The Herald, with Clayton Graham, and S1 Jobs with The Union. The company also has an existing relationship with Arnold Clark to create and produce its television advertising. However these campaigns have all arrived on the back of existing relationships: S1 Jobs is, after all, owned by Scottish Media Group, and The Herald was previously an SMG title prior to its sale to Newsquest. Success in the commercial production arena will mean convincing the Scottish agency scene as a whole that SMG Broadcast and Event Solutions can hold its own against Scottish competitors such as Plum Films and, current market-leader, MTP. So have the Scottish agencies become more receptive to the SMG offer?
Duffy comments: “We’re only three or four months into it. I’d like to be in a position in a years’ time where I’d sit down and say ‘yeah they’re more receptive to us and we did this, that, that, that and that.’ But if we do one job directly with an agency this year I’ll be delighted. I’ll be absolutely delighted. What I do want to be is a viable alternative to MTP for production. And there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be.”
MTP, in particular, is a rival that Duffy has a lot of respect for and, as such, has clearly in his sights in terms of what he would like to achieve with Broadcast and Event Solutions. He said: “I would certainly like to see it higher up the value chain in terms of production. I look at MTP, and I look at what they do, and if I can do anything close to what they’ve done I’ll be happy. Simon Mallinson’s [MD of MTP] done very well. It’s well documented, what he’s achieved and what he’s produced. And that’s the target for me. And I don’t mean that in terms of his business is a target; what I mean is I want to be considered in the same way that MTP is, from a commercial production standpoint.
“Agencies have alternatives now, and that competition can only be good for everyone. Good for us, good for them, good for the clients, because it creates a more competitive marketplace.”
In fighting the preconceptions about Scottish Media Group and its subsidiaries, Duffy may have his work cut out – but perhaps not as much as he thinks. After all, competition, particularly against London-based rivals, is something the creative agencies of Scotland know all about.