Welcome to the “The Ask” – a monthly content series that gets up close and personal with the people at Weber Shandwick. This month, Chris Sewell took time away from leading our content team to answer important questions about work, cats, and unrealized vocational dreams. Here’s how it went:
What is your creative vision?
Story first. Those two words flash in my brain when I think about where I want us to go. Weber Shandwick has a long history and strong reputation as a PR agency. And over the last few years, we’ve done a lot of amazing integrated marketing and creative work. I want to continue to push that — but rather than solely lead with big PR plans and hope that content creation comes on the heels of that, I’d like to lead more with big content/creative plans, and surround that content with PR, analytics, strategy and distribution to extend its impact.
Favorite film director and why?
I don’t really do favorites. There are so many people doing so many cool things that I find it impossible to pick just one.
Can you just—
Sure, here are a few that are up there:
Wes Anderson: His attention to every little detail blows me away. The color palettes, set designs, costumes, characters … There’s so much precision and care devoted to everything he does. I also like how he’s built an ensemble cast family that he goes back to again and again.
Christopher Nolan: This dude is brilliant. Dark, mysterious, inventive … all good things. “The Prestige” is a favorite of mine. And “Inception” is a stunning piece of work. I’ve watched that so many times and just marvel at the fact that a script so complex came from a human being’s brain. I just saw “Dunkirk” as well. Another incredible film. Yowza.
Edgar Wright: His shooting and editing style is frenetic and furious and funny as hell. Singularly Edgar Wright. I love it. Oh, and “Baby Driver” is out now and is incredible. Go see it.
Then there’s P.T. Anderson and Kathryn Bigelow and The Coen Brothers and Kelly Reichardt and Quentin Tarantino. All have thrown me for a loop at one time or another.
So which one is your favorite?
The creative team produces tons of content every week. How do you make sure it all gets done, let alone done to the standards we expect at Weber?
We have such a talented team. Video, design, animation, UX, writing … all of our creative bases are covered. And everyone is very self-sufficient and driven to do great work. So, I don’t often worry about getting quality work out the door. Everyone knows what they need to do, and I know the work will always be done well. My job is more about providing support and guidance when needed, being an outside eye and constructive critic, and creating opportunities for the people on our team to do what they do best.
Dream job (hypothetically, of course).
Assistant Manager, Home Appliances, Sears
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out in design or copywriting or thinking about a career in content or creative?
I’d say decide what you want to be, and then go be that. If you’re an artist who wants to write or design or direct films as an expression of who you are and your worldview, great! Go do that. Put in the time to make that dream happen. You may need to supplement that dream with a steady paycheck doing something mundane, but that’s fine. People do that all the time.
Choosing the agency route for creative work is a bit different. There’s definitely a lot of opportunity to be original and bring your creative sensibilities to this industry. You just need to approach the work knowing that your talents and artistic expressions are in service of your client’s needs and the needs of their audience. You have to create within constraints, and with specific objectives for the final product. That challenge can be daunting but also really invigorating.
Serious question: How do you feel about cats?
I’m OK with cats. I’ve met some good ones in my life. My dog, on the other hand — he’s less of a cat person. Cats make him insane. Cats and squirrels. He’s kind of cliché in that respect.
New idea comes to mind. When first exploring it, do you go digital (decks/videos) or analog (pen and paper)?
Depends. Sometimes I just need to grab whatever is closest. I have my beloved Kenny Rogers notebook that I scribble in a lot. Or I’ll start typing away in a Google doc until I’m out of brain juice. There have been times when I’ve written on my hand or arm if there’s no paper laying around. And if I’m out walking around or driving, I’ll record voice memos in my iPhone.
How many cranes can you see outside your office window today?
All of them. All of the cranes.
Lastly, what do you think is the biggest challenge overall facing clients when it comes to communications?
Volume. People are bombarded with content all day long and from every direction. Which makes it tricky for a brand that wants to get its message out there. There’s so much content to compete with. The brands that are willing to be bold and inventive and to invest in great content are the ones that will break through the noise.
Despite the content-quantity overload, I’ll always maintain that quality matters. And the mix of art and science in terms of targeting audiences today makes this an exciting time. With the right research and planning, you can figure out exactly who you want to reach, where they are and what they want to hear. Pair that with well-made creative content that is useful, informative and entertaining, and you’re in good shape.
I lied. Here’s the real last question: What’s your mic drop catchphrase?
I’m sorry I dropped your microphone.