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By Leah Montebello
Jillian Gibbs, Founder and CEO of Advertising Production Resources (APR), talks about building a remote consultancy 21 years ago and what she’s doing to make sure the next generation of producers stay focused on positive change.
“There is plenty of room for everyone to have a role and to be successful, as we collectively challenge and change the approach to production to serve the evolving needs of marketers.”
Jillian Gibbs, the owner of the trademark “Production Optimist®” and founder and CEO of Advertising Production Resources (APR), tells Marketing Procurement iQ about building her business and the journey towards redefining the role of the production consultant over 21 years.
‘We are Production Optimists!’ shouts APR’s registered tag line, and founder and CEO Jillian Gibbs most definitely conforms to the sentiment when talking about how the advertising industry should transform, modernize and optimize the traditional approaches to producing ads. “The advertising production industry hasn’t changed much in 70 years, but now it needs to change to keep up with demands of the modern marketer,” says Gibbs.
From Street Smarts to Smart Production
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, to a custodial engineer and a Girl Scout executive, Jillian learned early on to use street smarts and common sense when navigating the neighbourhoods of NY, a skill she uses today to tackle different opportunities in her business. As a classically trained singer, she spent six months singing onboard cruise ships working through her shyness before landing her first job in the casting department at an advertising agency in NYC. She went on to join Unilever as their Production Supervisor, and at the age of 25 was overseeing the production of television and radio commercials, as well as print and outdoor ads for brands at Chesebrough-Ponds, Lever Brothers, Van den Bergh Foods, Ragu, and Lipton. Her claim to fame was getting VFX houses to evolve Mrs. Butterworth’s (maple syrup) ads from stop motion to digital and Snuggle Bear from puppeteers to CGI. Getting both glass and the fur right were key to the transformation.
Jillian excelled quickly in her position, and it was while at Unilever in 1994 that she observed the inefficiencies in the advertising industry and started to move the pieces around the chessboard. Jillian coordinated within and across large agencies to produce ads together, share resources and create efficiencies in the production processes. She put in place best practices to streamline the pre-production, casting, scouting and wrap costs, which cut production costs considerably. In doing so, she coined the term Production Consulting back in 1997, and influenced an industry that, until then, had only cost consultants and cost controllers.
At this point, it was natural that Jillian would start wondering if she could take a similar approach with other advertisers, and in 2000, she started APR, signing Coors Brewing Company (now Molson Coors and MillerCoors) as APR’s founding client.
She explains, whilst working with Coors, “I was addressing a well-known industry fact that assigning work to agencies in silos creates inefficiencies in the production process, like duplication of work, lack of coordination, and missed opportunities to leverage directorial talent and influence the overall production investment.
By “producing smarter and making the productions work harder”, Gibbs was able to serve many of the Coors Light marketers’ needs and produce TV ads efficiently, whilst also raising the quality of the work to be consistent around the globe.
21 years later, APR works with marketing clients across 15 industry categories from energy, technology, automobiles, CPG, quick service restaurants and others. More than 50% of APR’s clients are in the Fortune 100; over 25% are based outside of the US, and APR employs around 200 experts in over 40 countries who oversee over $1billion in annual production spend.
Over the years, the company has built up a way of working with clients and their internal and external creative production partners to great results for all stakeholders, known only to those clients who experience the difference between APR and its competitors. This way of working is based on a collaborative mindset and is perhaps emphasized by Jillian’s decision not to put her name “on the door” of the company, saying she wanted APR to be about “us’, not me.” One of Jillian’s joys as CEO of APR is empowering the people at the company to tap into their life experiences and expert knowledge to be thought leaders and mitigate risks. Success for Gibbs is success for her clients and for her people.
Because of this, APR believes it is uniquely positioned to see what challenges brands face and the opportunities for change. Although APR is a creative production optimization consultancy, Gibbs emphasises that APR does not produce and is vendor-neutral, having no ties to production vendors or creative agencies.
Partnering with Marketing Procurement
APR values the partnership with marketing procurement. As Gibbs says, the challenge for marketing procurement is keeping up with the constantly evolving ecosystem, many distribution platforms, technologies and production models for their organisations. “It’s impossible to be an expert in all things,” she observes, and the partnership between APR and marketing procurement is complementary. Both the pandemic and the WFA’s Project Spring report from a couple of years ago, “paved the way for marketing procurement to embrace a broader, more strategic role to support the transformational changes needed in a modern content creation world.” Jillian predicts procurement professionals will be hugely influential in their role moving forward.
Industry shifts and how to deal with them
Gibbs believes that challenging the norm for production will be essential when moving into a post-pandemic world. We must rethink old ways and define a “better normal” to build efficiencies and effectiveness with intention for the future. In her view, this may mean embracing automation and in-house teams to ensure we are “making production work harder,” but also doing this in an environmentally conscious way. She insists that brands include sustainability protocols and best practices in their approaches to production, and as a founding member of AdGreen, stands behind her words. AdGreen is the UK-based initiative that unites the advertising industry in mitigating the negative environmental impacts of production, led by Jo Coombes.
As the official ANA Faculty Member on advertising production since 2009, she says, “I feel strongly that marketers need options because they will not get all of their needs met by one creative production partner. It’s too complicated now for one agency, or even one holding company, to fully meet the needs of a marketing organization.” Looking forward, Gibbs believes that getting the right mix of creative production partners is key to adapting your video strategies for the third wave of video. In addition, all the things we learned to do differently during Covid, like remote shoot attendance and sending drop-kits to people’s homes to capture video production should cause us to stop and think about doing things differently going forward.
Jillian’s call to action is to put a focus on having all creative and production partners working together (not in silos) to get to a holistic, well-oiled content creation ecosystem that serves the marketing organization best. It’s about building a foundation that allows all partners to come and go with full transparency and flexibility to get the best work out of them.
Coaching, pushing and influencing the industry at large
After 21 years of APR, she is undoubtedly an expert in the field, and was recently awarded the Titan 100 award for top 100 CEOs in Colorado. On being a leader, she says “I lead with my heart by putting people first, but I also love to rewrite the rules and create new ones where possible.”
As her Dad taught her, the golden rule for business – as much as anything else – is to “treat others as you would like to be treated. Relationships matter.” I encourage APR colleagues to think about our client’s money as their own and be very judicious in how it’s spent.”
APR continues to grow through the pandemic, and Gibbs admits, “the pandemic gave me, as well as APR, the space to think more deeply about what really matters.” Over the last 18 months, APR has stood up DE&I and sustainability programs to support its clients and amplify both areas to educate and influence the industry at large. APR joined the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) to “elevate multicultural and inclusive marketing to promote business growth in an increasingly diverse marketplace.”
Vulnerability Breeds Success
Gibbs has a vision and is making it happen. She is incredibly driven and exudes energy that motivates those around her. With so much change in the industry, she is not slowing down. When asked about her proudest moment, Gibbs points back to a specific example from seven years ago when APR was in Nashville hosting their annual company meeting. She walked out on stage, her knees buckled beneath her, and she began to sing – the singing was unplanned. She recalls, “It was a very proud moment, as I was touched by everyone working together and smiling back at me on stage.”
The song she sang was “For Good” from Wicked, and it was these lyrics that resonated at that moment. “People come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them, and we help them in return.” That was a big personal, vulnerable moment for her, which she shall remember fondly as she continues to influence those with whom she comes in contact.
Gibbs is a force in the advertising industry with an unstoppable smile. “I believe that rising tides lifts all boats, so the more I can do to support and improve the industry and the amazing, talented people in it, the happier I am.” She remarks, “There is plenty of room for everyone to have a role and to be successful, as we collectively challenge and change the approach to production to serve the evolving needs of marketers.”
The Women of Influence insight series is published in partnership with Decideware
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