TV commercials – love ‘em or hate ‘em, they keep a lot of animators in jobs. That 30 animated seconds that just flashed past on your TV was the result of weeks or months of meetings, brainstorms, blood sweat and tears. A typical pre-production meeting might have 20 people present in the agency boardroom - so it's useful to know what they all do, and which ones are important. Here's how it usually works:
The Client is the advertiser. They have a product they want to sell. The product may be great (or it might be crap), but it doesn't matter how good it is, if nobody knows about it then they can't sell it. The person with the responsibility to make sure their product moves off shelves is called the Marketing Director. The Marketing Director considers herself the "guardian of the brand" and makes sure the "brand values" are upheld during the advertising process. Marketing Directors may delegate responsibility to their Marketing or Brand Managers, who in turn may delegate to fresh-faced young Marketing Executives.
As a general rule when making an animated TV commercial, the Client is always correct (after all they are paying the bill), no matter how absurd their suggestions or requests might be. Bear in mind that the Client is not an animation person, and is more concerned about how much screen time their product gets in the 30 seconds they are paying squillions for, than squash and stretch. Be very nice to them, and don't talk in animation jargon - they won't get it.
The Client appoints an Advertising Agency to work out a strategy to create desire in consumers to buy their product. The Client sets aside a good part of their money for their advertising budget, which can run into big $$$'s and can involve multiple media such as TV, Cinema, Outdoor, Social, Radio, Print and so on. The Client places trust in the Agency to cook up the best way to tackle this. This can be a very creative process, and so the Agency employs a lot of creative people ("Creatives") to come up with these ideas, and they also employ a lot of executive types ("Suits") to take briefs, strategize, plan and generally act as the interface between the Client and the agency Creatives.
Coming back to the commercial - there will be a reason why animation has been chosen by the Client or Agency as the most appropriate medium. It’s often because they want to appeal to children for products such as snack foods, toys or breakfast cereals. It could also be because the product is associated with a cartoon mascot (such as Michelin Man, the Raid mosquito or the Trix Rabbit). It could be it’s because animation is just plain awesome and appealing. Whatever it is, remember that the particular segment of the audience the Agency wants to influence is called the Target Audience, or in agency speak the "demographic". Animators and Animation Directors need to be mindful of the demographic of the commercial they are creating, as this will influence the design and the discussion during pre-production.
The Agency will have a whole gaggle of people on the project. Here's the people you will likely meet on a TV commercial production:
The Creative Director (CD) is the creative whiz who sits in the big office with the view and dreams up ideas to advertise the product. The CD mostly wants to make sure the commercial meets or exceeds aesthetic expectations, while simultaneously meeting the Client's marketing requirements. Basically he's holding the hand of the client through the mysterious creative process. He's a seasoned pro, can talk your language and is usually pretty easy-going to work with.
The Art Director is the person tasked with fleshing out the CD's ideas into artwork, storyboards and sketches. In some agencies, the CD is very hands on and gets actively involved in the creation process. In others the CD might take more of a back seat, giving the Art Director a lot of leeway in developing ideas. Art Directors can sometimes be more pedantic that their boss as they climb the ladder to creative advertising awesomeness - but be nice to them because one day they're gonna be a CD, calling the shots on which animation studio to use.
Keeping a close eye on all proceedings will be the Agency Producer, who's on a mission to get the job done on schedule, on budget, with as little grief as possible. She's the go-to person for everything and won't stand for any nonsense that gets in the way of her mission. She has a phone permanently glued to her ear as she co-ordinates her five other projects, so don't give her any grief of you might never work with that agency again. By the way, if you do want to bring up any problems or gripes, don’t do it in front of the Client, who at all times must have the impression that the job is totally under control.
Agency Creatives usually look cooler and more hip than their suited cousins, the Account Service people, nicknamed Suits, who are, from the top down:
The Account Director - She's the one who has to schmooze the client, keeping them as happy as possible, while making sure the Creatives don't go off on a tangent with the Client's brief. The Account Director has been in advertising for years and knows the drill inside out. Be nice to the Account Director, because she's close with the client and good to have on your side if the road gets rocky during production - which it sometimes does.
The Account Manager - He's an aspiring Account Director working his way up through the account servicing ranks. On some productions, you might only see the Account Director at important meetings, and be dealing with the Account Manager most of the time. They are sometimes jumpy and nervous, as they try hard to keep their client happy. Be nice to them, in fact just be nice to everybody.
The Account Executive - That’s the person who when the Client says "jump", they ask "how high". They are entry-level account servicing general dogsbodies who probably work harder than anybody else in the room. Be nice to them - pity them. I've known eager young Account Exec's to sometimes get creative and pipe up with a bizarre suggestion during creative discussions - curve balls can come from places least expected.
Suits are generally doing whatever it takes to keep the client happy, are often worried and nervous about the slightest hiccup in a production, because it will be their ass that's first kicked with a multi-million dollar account at stake. Because of this the servicing people don't always see eye to eye with their creative counterparts, especially when their creative ideas are perceived as a bit risky or straying from the brief into "I want to win an award" territory.
What's all this "Account" stuff? Well it has nothing to do with accountants or accounting. An "Account" is agency speak for the contractual relationship they have with a Client.
OK are we all clear on that stuff? Had to get that out of the way before I talk more about writing a Treatment in the next post.
1. Know about Malaysia's ethnic mix.
In an ideal world, the ethnicity of the person sitting across the table shouldn't matter. In Malaysia it sorta does. Malaysia's melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and indigenous races, each with unique quirks, is a potential cultural faux pas minefield for the hapless foreign traveller. Luckily Malaysians are a pretty forgiving bunch - but it's a good idea to know the basic cultural dos and don'ts to make a great first impression.
2. Whoa…"relak lah".
Meetings can sometimes be lengthy with a lot of small talk. Westerners who are focussed on doing a transaction quickly might be seen as pushy or impatient - take time to form relationships first. Being too direct may be interpreted as rude or disrespectful. Like people anywhere in the world, Malaysians like to do business with people they know and trust. Don't underestimate the need to establish a relationship before any real business can commence.
3. Business card etiquette.
Business cards or 'name cards' as they are called in Malaysia are essential meeting accessories. All meetings are preceded with an almost ceremonial exchange of name cards. A Malaysian will offer her name card holding it with both hands, face up towards you. Accept it respectfully with both hands and read it, before offering your card in the same manner. Place all collected name cards face up on the table in front of you where you are seated, for the duration of the meeting.
4. Food business.
In all business encounters food will be involved. It may be as simple as 'kuih' (local cakes) served during the meeting, it could be an offer of lunch at a nearby restaurant, or it may even be excessive hospitality in the form of an elaborate dinner washed down with abundant alcohol followed by a karaoke session. In any case, Malaysians love their food and they love to see foreigners enjoy it too. Do partake of the hospitality, and in some cases don't expect to do any serious business until after a lunch or dinner.
5. Be punctual - but don't expect everybody else to be.
In a country where the daily temperature range is only a few degrees (from sizzling to sweltering), where amazing food is a constant distraction, and where the mother of all downpours can erupt at any time and turn already bad traffic into an ankle-deep parking lot, it's no wonder that Malaysians don't really take an appointment time that seriously. They even have a name for it - "Malaysian time", which refers to the rubbery nature of timekeeping in Malaysia and helps explain why meetings often start late or last longer than scheduled. Don't get uptight about waiting a half hour in the reception for the boss to appear, or waiting an hour for a VIP to arrive at an official dinner, before the meal can be served.
6. How many meetings can you schedule in a day?
For a start forget about scheduling anything before 10am. In case you haven't noticed, in Malaysia everything starts late and ends late - shops open around 10am to 11am and close when customers stop coming in - usually around 10pm. A safe estimate is two meetings a day, maximum three. There are just too many variables to schedule more than that - possibilities of extreme traffic, extreme weather, extreme lunches and the effects of "Malaysian time" can torpedo the best-planned schedule.
7. Shaking hands etiquette.
Not all Malaysians shake hands like Westerners. A customary Malay handshake is a gentle clasp - no shaking - then releasing and placing the hand gently over the heart. A foreigner would not be expected to do the same, but anticipate it - don't squeeze and shake the arm off your Malay counterpart who might be giving you this traditional form of greeting. Most Malaysians will probably reciprocate with a regular handshake, but do anticipate the other type. Also, for some conservative Muslim woman (likely to be wearing a "tudung" or headscarf) it is inappropriate to hold the hand of a stranger in a handshake. Rather than risk her having to awkwardly decline to shake your hand, it's probably a safer bet to just greet her with a smile and nod of the head, and wait for her to offer a hand first.
8. "I showed up in a suit and everybody was wearing Hawaiian shirts!"
That's not a Hawaiian shirt - it's a traditional batik shirt, worn tucked out, which is considered formal attire for Malays in particular, or for any race attending a formal function. Business attire for meetings is suit and tie for men, skirt and blouse for women. Evening functions can be more casual and you can dispense with the tie. Women should be aware of Muslim sensitivities when dealing with Malay counterparts, ensuring clothes are modest and not revealing.
9. Understand and respect the concept of “face”.
Many Asian cultures pay great importance to the concept of “face”. It relates to maintaining a status level in the eyes of peers. Giving your client face is important in business and social life. Causing a business counterpart to lose face would be a deal-breaker. It's mostly common sense, but be careful to never criticise anyone in front of their peers; avoid sarcasm or jokes at the expense of a business counterpart (which may be perfectly harmless in western society); never treat a business counterpart as a subordinate; praise business counterparts for their great work in front of their colleagues - genuinely.
10. Apa khabar?
English is widely used as the medium for conducting business meetings in Malaysia. However, knowing a few local words will go a loooong way as an icebreaker, and will gain you respect for having made the effort. Some more conservative organisations such as government agencies might be more comfortable conducting a meeting in Bahasa Malaysia. In which case you will need to have a local colleague or ally, familiar with the business dealings, to interpret. Also, if a business counterpart is not fluent in English, forcing a meeting in English might not be giving him face - if they are seen to be struggling to understand proceedings. Although English is widely spoken and near-fluently by many people, some meanings can still slip through the cracks due to unfamiliar accents or colloquialisms, on both sides of the table. It's best to follow up with a contact report to make sure everybody is on the same page.
11. Expect to bargain over price.
For a Westerner, the quoted price usually is the price - for a Malaysian it's a starting point for negotiations. Always allow some room in your costing to give your Malaysian counterpart a discount. Having no room at all to move in a price negotiation is a deal breaker. It is ingrained in Malaysian culture to expect a small victory in any negotiation, as well as being great 'face' for the victor. Malaysians never pay the opening price for anything - they love a bargain, and probably love the chase for it even more.
12. Safety and Security issues.
Don't assume vehicles will stop at junctions when crossing streets. Don't make yourself a target for thieves by wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Avoid carrying briefcases or handbags in the street. Try to walk with a group at night and don't venture off well-lit streets. Be very careful of the deep, open monsoon drains, which are everywhere. Many a foreigner has come to grief at the bottom of one (including the author), which will absolutely bring your business trip to an abrupt end.
About the author - Melbourne-based Steve Bristow spent 20 years in Malaysia - 4 years as a consultant for broadcaster TV3, followed by 16 years as a co-founder and manager of three media production businesses in Kuala Lumpur. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org