Director of integrated production: only magicians need apply?

Connecting with customers and prospects anywhere, any time is a tremendous challenge. The marketing channel mix is enormous, and ever-growing. Keeping messaging in sync and budgets under control requires an integrated approach, and the fast-growing role of director of integrated production is tasked with bringing order to the chaos.

Seamlessly blending the previously disparate worlds of broadcast, digital, print, and art is not for the faint of heart. One recent posting is positively poetic about the job’s substantial requirements: This person will need to be a magician, a curator, a mixologist, a guru and a mad scientist.

“’Mixologist’ is definitely applicable, because you have to find the mix of skills, circumstances, situations, budget, timelines, and organizational goals to make the project work,” says Ed St. Peter, director of integrated production at AnswersMedia.

Part-time therapist, full-time opportunist

The director of integrated production must cultivate an environment in which producers, technologists, editors, and creatives can move between media and project modes with comfort and ease. Often sitting just one level below a chief creative officer, these directors have a broad mandate and an even broader set of requirements. It’s a lot for one person to handle.

“Is ‘psychologist’ on the list?” says Joe Calabrese, EVP and director of integrated production at Deutsch NY. “I say ‘psychologist’ because I’m here to catch bullets all day and repackage them as candy. I have a great group of producers who do the magic.”

Calabrese has worked in this demanding role for a total of seven years, spanning two agencies. As budgets and timelines shrink even as the slate of deliverables for every project grows, it’s not easy to keep every contributor from feeling marginalized or overworked.

“Things are a little crazier, the position has become a lot tougher,” he says. “But the agenda isn’t being set at my level. We’re doing what clients are asking us to do.”

Peter Morgen Blitzer, director of integrated production at J. Walter Thompson Atlanta, is also a seven-year veteran of the director role. He’s seen many changes. “Back then [at a previous agency], we called it ‘integrated production’ but it was, typical of the time, not at all integrated in my thinking,” he says. “Print and digital were still completely separate, so I was actually managing three different groups.”

The good news is that significant constraints create significant new opportunities. A well-prepared director of integrated production can seize that opportunity and find innovative ways through the obstacles. That includes taking advantage of much stronger competition for production tasks once reserved to high-priced providers. Calabrese recently wrapped a multi-day shoot for a Web series with an independent production company typically geared for the reality TV market. “A few years ago, that job might have cost five times as much,” he says. “You learn to find the people out there who are hungry and want to do the work.”

Staying out in front

Directors need to work constantly to manage changing expectations, for clients as well as employees. It’s easier to introduce staff and freelancers to the concept that their work is evolving and will look different next year than it did last year. Clients need firm education in the new realities as well.

“Clients need to understand that their demands mean they may not be entitled to 12 rounds of approvals and to take lots of time for casting,” Calabrese says.

These leaders are charged with implementing the industry’s long-term vision to gradually phase out media silos and create a new generation of marketers who knew nothing but the integrated approach.

“That hasn’t worked out exactly as planned. I don’t know many digital broadcast producers with any interest in print, for example,” Blitzer says. “There’s no shortage of billboards, magazines, newspapers, and direct mail, but most of the cross-pollenating is still happening at the digital content levels.”

Even as they work to create tight-knit, interdisciplinary departments, they must also be aware of the next great integration challenge. St. Peter puts his money on interactive TV. “It’s going to be a sonic boom, and a lot of the onus for making it work will fall on the technologists,” he says. “We will have to make sure that we always bring it back to square one, which is the story that will make the brand resonate in people’s lives.”

Technology is important, but in the creative disciplines, people and personalities still matter most. That’s why the single most important task for the director of integrated production is to instill the well-founded faith that everyone can handle the substantial, and growing, challenges of the omnichannel reality.

“When people are confident, they do their best work,” Calabrese says.

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.