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Meet Telegraph Hill, the ad agency behind an entire TV series

Internet TV series The Fox Problem

Internet TV series The Fox Problem

The day before visiting Telegraph Hill’s East London office, I spent three pounds on the first umbrella I’ve ever bought.

The timing couldn’t be better, as I end up making the journey in a real downpour. I think if I’d staggered into Telegraph Hill’s (very nice) Old Street offices looking like a drowned rat, electronics fizzing, it would have been embarrassing.

Why visit Telegraph Hill at all? Because this advertising firm are doing things a little differently.

The firm is three and a half years old, and was born out of TV. Founders Garret Keogh,  Jack Simcock and  Barry Pilling had all worked in factual programming for years, and were involved in the hugely successful launch for the BBC’s The Voice, developing additional video and social content they thought of as being part of the programme, but that was quickly construed by the BBC as part of its (very successful) marketing effort.

The realisation that editorial and marketing were becoming increasingly intertwined was a founding principle of Telegraph Hill, and remains evident in everything they do: within its ranks the firm includes a mixture of conventional advertising types, alongside TV producers, directors, designers, camera persons, and more.

At the heart of it all, of course, is social.

This becomes quickly apparent during my introductory tour, conducted by TV Connect keynote Chris Moon, their head of insights and analytics. Almost immediately, we find ourselves blocking the view of two young, male employees, sat at computers, gazing studiously up at a large TV glowing with Sky News.

“This is our Betway team,” explains Chris. “So they’re constantly watching Sky News. If something happens, they can make a piece of content and put it on Twitter within minutes.”

By way of illustration, one of them taps their keyboard and brings up the latest little branded sailboat pushed out on the social ocean: a mock-up cigarette packet, with Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny on the front (it is the day after Szczęsny was caught smoking in the team showers).

Just across from this desk sits the design team, who put the graphic together for them…

Bigger agencies, Chris explains, can’t function like this. They’re nowhere near fleet footed enough for the real time responsiveness needed in contemporary advertising. Similarly, many brands are a little too neurotic to embrace such a spontaneous approach. Their loss. “The new consumer wants current, quick, reactive content,” he stresses.

Chris leads me upstairs, speaking as we go on the changing nature of advertising.

“At agencies I’ve worked for in the past, a brand would come to us and say, ‘we want to do something different’ – and six months later a TV advert will come out of it. Brands really struggle. Their head of marketing’s maybe 40, 50-years-old, not part of the digital generation. They’re so used to this broadcast message – one big TV advert to sell the same message to everyone. What they don’t understand is that people can see through that now, they want more personalised stuff.”

This serves as a very fitting preamble to our next stop, which is with in-house executive producer James Emtage.

Emtage recently oversaw the production of an entire internet TV series for Telegraph Hill, a chat show for 16-30 year olds called The Fox Problem.

“It looks like a live TV show,” Emtage says, pausing his work for a minute. “However, from an agency perspective it’s entirely brand funded, so there’s no channel involved at all.”

The Fox Problem was commissioned by Hewlett-Packard, who approached Telegraph Hill with the problem that they weren’t effectively communicating with ths younger demographic. “We answered this problem by designing a multi-platform entertainment proposition. It was a live entertainment show that launched on YouTube, but also went out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr; with a weekly live show and 24/7 social content.”

The challenge (and opportunity) lay in fully integrating Hewlett-Packard’s values, messages and products into the show’s DNA. “The entire studio was built out of Hewlett-Packard products – the presenters read of HP tablets instead of cue cards. And the brand’s messages were all about championing creativity, and inspiring creativity through technology… we used those messages as editorial benchmarks across the series.”

“It’s being used as a bit of a case study about how TV commissioners and TV channels aren’t necessarily the route to go down to reach the 16-35 year-old audience,” Chris chips in. “Buying an ad spot on Channel Four isn’t necessarily going to reach that consumer anymore, and for the same amount of money you could actually commission an entire series and have a much higher engagement rate.”

I point out that, from one angle at least, TV advertising does continue to be astonishingly effective.

“Yes but I think a lot of that comes from the legacy and the habits of the brands,” Chris counters. “As younger brand managers come through and as the younger consumers get more disposable income and more power…  if you look at what the top TV broadcast show was getting compared to now, it’s massively dropped. It’s because people are on other formats and in ten different places. But these dinosaur, slow-moving advertising agencies, they struggle. I think that model is changing. Brands no longer want to pay loads of money on a retainer and then get one TV advert each year – they want more constant stuff.”

It’s hard not to be convinced. The days of CONTENT – ADVERT – CONTENT – ADVERT are looking fairly numbered.

Outside the offices it’s still raining, but I’ve still got my umbrella. (The message of the afternoon? It behoves us all to be prepared.)

Chris Moon will be delivering a keynote at this year’s TV Connect (28 – 30 April 2015 ExCel, London), as will Tom Eslinger, Worldwide Creative and Digital Director, Saatchi & Saatchi. Click here to see the full, free brochure.

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