Howatson + Company’s head of production Holly Alexander is the brains behind some of this year’s most thought-provoking campaigns including 10pm Mattress and Exhibit A-i – a campaign that used technology to highlight the injustice of offshore detention centres. Ahead of the 2023 B&T Women In Media Awards, she talks about her career in production as well as the importance of social responsibility.
1) The Exhibit AI touches on themes that most Australians will find incredibly confronting, do you think it is important for our industry to bring these themes to light?
I do think it’s important. I also believe it’s our responsibility. Our industry has direct access to Australians’ lives. What we do exists on their screens, living rooms, and public places. We’re best poised to change perceptions and make an impact. In a way, more than politicians. If we have the opportunity to deliver critically important messages like the one Exhibit Ai was focused on, we must make the most of it.
2) A lot of brands may steer away from themes that are political or upsetting, so you think brands should be more involved in human social issues?
Not every brand has the right to talk about social issues. It’s clear when a brand is jumping on a bandwagon to boost its likeability or sales. However, if done authentically, in a way that can make an impact, then I’m all for brands making the world a more humane place.
3) How do you create content that engages the viewer on more serious issues?
It is important to not just write or create from our privileged agency POV. When we are working on sensitive social issues it’s critical to engage the right stakeholders, and the appropriate community groups. For example, with our Belong projects we work closely with accessibility consultants, on a recent Guardian project where we were talking about Indigenous rights it was critical that we engaged an Indigenous consultant, for Exhibit Ai the refugees themselves were actively engaged at every stage.
Then it is important to know if the message will connect – be that by shocking, moving or entertaining the viewer. If we don’t move the dial with the people watching or engaging with the content, we’ve failed. And wasted money that, often, could have gone to helping the cause or charity in a more meaningful way.
4) What does your own creative process look like from conception to final product?
Its always been really important for me as a producer to work in lock step with the creatives.
I sit with the ECDs and my producers are fully integrated with the creative teams so we are working with them on briefs early and often.
We start to talk about partners as early as the ideation phase because often that can help inform the way we imagine an idea into being. Who would approach this brief in an unexpected way? Who would take this to another level? How might that shape our thinking?
Then once we move into production on a project, it’s about making sure all the little decisions that are made in isolation don’t detract from the craft or the idea.
5) The 10pm mattress advert was one that really stuck in my head, what was the inspiration behind that?
10:PM is a start-up company selling eco-friendly, affordable mattresses. They came to us with a brief to launch their brand in a noticeable way. Lacking the budgets of their well-established competitors, we knew we had to create work that punched above its weight.
The inspiration for the Bed-verts idea came right outside our office in Surry Hills. Next door to it is an alleyway where mattresses are regularly and illegally dumped. One day we had the realisation that these blank mattresses are just blank billboards. And they’re completely free. Moreover, there are millions of them scattered right around the country. Then we thought, what if we could treat them like real billboards and craft beautiful long copy to stop pedestrians in their tracks? Everything took off from there.
6) Do you ever feel like being a woman has played a role (positive or negative) in your career and creative process?
It’s really important that I preface this by saying this is my own personal experience, not something I assume to be true for all women.
Being a woman has not been the thing that has defined or held back my career. However, I would say when I became a mother, I noticed the biggest shift in my outlook and attitude – for the better.
I became more empathetic to the world around me and to other people’s experiences. I also found myself growing in confidence. But over time, I also become less tolerant of wasting time – time at work is time away from my family.
If we are going to have a conversation about how to get things done, whether its budget-related or how to solve a production problem, let’s cut to the chase.
7) What advice would you give to women in the industry who want to be in creative roles?
I suppose this is easier said than done but don’t listen to the bullshit. The parties, the lunches, the showbiz side of our industry can get exhausting so reserve your energy for the work.
Stay hungry and hunt for the best briefs. Don’t be afraid to ask for the opportunity to work on something – best case you get to work on it, worst case you get told no and you find something else.
And if you get downhearted with the naysayers, mean comments or tough clients, just remember, most people in our industry are genuinely nice humans who want to do good work and live happy lives.
Generally, people aren’t out to get anyone else but if it ever feels otherwise, it’s always helped to just focus on what you can control: the work.
If you would like to attend this year’s B&T Women In Media Awards you can buy your ticket HERE.
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