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Q&A: Former Agency Creative Director on Moving to a Branded Entertainment Startup


Current gig Executive creative director, Rec Room
Previous gig Creative director, 72andSunny
Age 43
Twitter @hijanlivingston

Adweek: What's been the biggest difference between working at an agency and working at Rec Room?
Jan Livingston: Rec Room is a startup. I've been filling a bunch of different roles. Day-to-day what I'm learning is that things move really fast on the entertainment side. Once an idea is pitched and somebody in the room likes the idea, then it's green-lit. Coming from the agency side you spend a lot of time deck building and in meeting after meeting. There's more freedom in the entertainment industry.

So do you think traditional agencies are struggling to keep up with the pace of change? 
I do, but we are seeing a lot of other agencies start to make that turn. Sometimes it's not a comfortable turn, because there's so much revenue coming in from the traditional formats that it feels like it's hard to invest time and resources into that. Our ROI is still hard to prove for branded entertainment, but we will pick up the pace.

Are there any cool projects in the works? 
We're working on two scripted series with E! They are both brand-sponsored, digital series. One is a scripted comedy that we just shot the pilot for. We also have a fashion-focused documentary series that we are doing for E! We have two Comedy Central digital pilots, too. One of them is a scripted comedy and the other is a variety show. Those are going to be brand sponsored, too.

Sounds like you're taking on a lot. 
That's what's made me giddy about the whole process. The need is there. A lot of our projects right now have started with the publishers, with the networks, coming to us knowing that they have brands that want to be involved. They want to start with the entertainment first rather than the brand story, and that's what has been our most collaborative relationship so far.

What can we expect to see in the branded entertainment space? 
I think that it's a robust conversation that we are all having. We are still creating pre-roll, we're still making 30-second commercials because they reach a broad audience, but we already know that our audience has moved on without us. They're already watching shows on demand. They know how to move past marketing of communications that they don't want to be a part of. We no longer have that captive audience.

Is there anything that has surprised you about branded entertainment? 
If the material is good, talent in Hollywood doesn't care who is paying for it. Whether it's Universal Studios or Target or Airbnb, they don't care as long as the material is good. We have been able to get amazing talent on [projects]. Actors and actresses who are on NBC and Comedy Central, they worked for peanuts to shoot a pilot because they believed in the material and think it's going to be great. It's kind of the opportunity every creative dreams of. As a writer you always want to do something like that.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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