For me, the end of summer is ‘Edinburgh’. Or, to give it its full name, the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. Or, to give it its harder to pronounce abbreviation, MGEITF. Think I’ll stick to Edinburgh.
Traditionally Edinburgh is held over the August bank holiday. It is one of the most brilliantly useful, fun and inspiring events of the working year, and a reason why returning from holiday is not too much of a chore for me. This year they even moved it largely out of the weekend and into the working week. How thoughtful.
But each year I’m struck by a lack. Out of nearly 2,000 attendees only a handful are ever from agencies. Starcom, I salute you alongside OMD, Zenith and Adam&Eve DDB. But shouldn’t every agency send someone? Surely, there should at least be representatives from the TV departments of every media agency and planning departments of every creative agency? It is a two day immersion in the stuff that your audiences are so passionate about that they’re spending 4+ hours a day watching it; the stuff that is so effective your clients are investing large chunks of their budgets in it.
But let’s be generous and assume that for some reason Edinburgh simply slipped your notice. Here are five reasons why every agency should attend next year:
1. Get up close
Edinburgh is crawling with media movers and shakers. What an incredibly efficient way to see, hear and question them in person. This year’s MacTaggart was given by Elisabeth Murdoch and the alternative MacTaggart by Charlie Brooker. But we also heard from: Lorraine Heggessey, David Abraham, Michael Jackson, David Elstein, Greg Dyke, Steve Hewlett, Kirsty Young, Martha Kearney, Kate Silverton, Matthew Wright, Kirsty Wark, Mark Lawson, Michael Apted, Clive Anderson, Harriet Harman and Alex Salmond. And at every festival you hear directly from the commissioners of every major channel in the UK about what’s important to their viewers (your audiences) and how their programming plans are developing.
2. Get inspired
There is much for the ad community to learn from the TV industry because so many of the challenges are the same: managing complex creativity within strict budget and time constraints; getting the best out of talent; building on successful creative formats; coping with the demands, and exploiting the opportunities, of emerging technologies.
At Edinburgh you can hear from the most talented and creative people working in televisual communications and discover how they address exactly the same challenges you are struggling with on a daily basis: Steve Levitan the co-creator of Modern Family talking to Richard Curtis about how to pitch successfully, how to structure narrative and how to get the best out of creative writing teams; Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the writers of Sherlock and Doctor Who, telling Boyd Hilton what makes a hit, how to create “fans” and how to harness social media enthusiasm; the creator of Homeland advising on how to adapt for international audiences; the Horrible Histories team on how to create high quality content on a shoestring,; the team behind Educating Essex and maverick, visionary documentary maker Adam Curtis talking on the documentary format
3. Get informed
The TV industry is the one of the few which is not just surviving the challenges of new technology but thriving because of it. We heard from Anthony Rose of Zeebox alongside Suveer Kothari of Google TV amongst others. There was much to learn about the future of viewing, connected TVs, multi-screening, the impact of piracy and how to protect your content and ideas in a world where it is so easy to make digital copies. Plus lashings of insight into the commissioning process and making AFP work.
4. A pleasant agony of choice
We all get bored easily, particularly at the unimaginative formats of some industry conferences. You will never get bored in Edinburgh, I promise. At any one time there is a choice of at least three options. To give you a specific example, between 4.45 and 5.15pm on Thursday afternoon, you had to choose between a ‘Meet the Controller’ session with Jay Hunt of Channel 4 sharing her year’s highlights and her programming plans for the upcoming year; or you could attend ‘Stats, lies and videotape’, a presentation of Deloitte’s annual state of TV report; or you might have chosen the ‘Futureview Address’ from Ted Sarandos of Netflix, described as “the man everyone in Hollywood wants a meeting with” talking about his plans for the UK market and then being interviewed by Ray Snoddy. Any one of those would be a keynote at an ad industry event. And at what other event would you seamlessly segue from Keith Lemon mock-fellating Peter Fincham, the Director of Television at ITV live on stage, to a serious panel debate about the future of the post-Leveson media world?
5. It beats working
…and the brilliant thing is: it is working. You’ll arrive back inspired, informed, smug in the knowledge that you’ve been doing the best possible job for your clients, and armed to the teeth with plenty of name drops and TV programme “did you knows?”
In fact, I have just one final question to leave you with. Knowing what you know now, having read this blog, can you really get away with calling yourself “Head of TV” (or something similar) and NOT go to Edinburgh?