The Madant Mafia
By Ande Schurr
There is a saying that blood is thicker than water, that the bonds between family members is stronger than those of friendships. When it comes to building a successful company, the rules change. Colleagues become family. Working together is more than just collectively making money. There is love, friendship and an intimate understanding of each other's strengths and how to make use of them.
My interview this month is with Troy Sugrue, creative director of Events and Video Production company Madant. It's brief but still very potent and will provide the kick in the pants needed for any company struggling to climb to the next level of service.
Madant is a company that single-handedly services the biggest clients in the NZ corporate market in both event and video production. They produced the glamourous NZ Film and TV Awards at Auckland's Viaduct Events Center and are currently finishing the new induction video for Fonterra worldwide.
They do things differently here. Troy is everything you might expect in a creative director: creative, dynamic, business-savvy and thoroughly professional. I am incredibly impressed with this company. There are other production companies that I greatly admire however Madant stands apart from the rest of their field with their tenacity, patience and verve.
From purely a technical point of view, I get Troy to explain how he uses the tele-prompt in a unique way to get his corporate talent to look into the camera and fully engage with their audience.
From a creative point of view, Troy shares how the entire staff of Madant contribute to the idea generation for almost every project.
From a business point of view, we learn how the commercial interests we have in a client and a genuine personal interest can live aside one another.
Summarise your business philosophy.
My business is utilizing the skills of like-minded people and my own skills in a way that can make me a living. I've been lucky enough to have a few careers in my life and all of them have been around things I've enjoyed doing. I started as a musician which led into the event production world which led into the video world. They've all involved teams of people who have chosen to pursue their talent and to commercialize it. The video world that I'm in now is the most commercial work that I've ever done. It's about bringing together people with talent and people with discipline and to convert that talent into income.
How important is the Madant team to you?
Madant is definitely a family. I'm sure all the best production outfits in the world have a very close team at the core of them and Madant is certainly one of those. I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't like that. It's no use having a team that regularly works together unless it is bigger then just doing the work, so the team that I work with are people with pre-shared values and people that enjoy each other and are interested in progressing their own careers and success, understanding that to do that they need to forward the careers and success of the people around them. The Madant family is very like-minded, very close, a lot of fun and there is a lot of intimacy. We work intimately. There's an understanding about what people's strengths are and how to support people and get the best out of them. We're a very close team - there's a lot of love in the house.
You have some of the biggest national and international companies as on-going clients with the likes of Coca-Cola, Fonterra, Vodafone and Yellow Pages both with live events and video production. Why do they choose you and Madant?
The reason Madant has such big clients, and probably the most premium stable of clients any production house has, is based on number one, longevity. You can't get these clients overnight. You have to get the reputation slowly, get a great track record, then the big boys are interested in looking at you and then to keep them you have to keep lifting the bar, always doing better each time, staying on top of the technology, keeping the creative and quality high. Number two, relationships. You need to have genuine, authentic relationships with key people with each client. You can't maintain great premium clients unless you're maintaining great relationships with them and giving them great product all of the time.
With your current round of videos for Fonterra, you are using a tele-prompt in a unique way to help their executives to connect with their audience.
Often we've tried to get amateur talent or professional corporate people to look down the barrel and talk to the camera. It's very hard for them to do and if you're not a presenter and used to that kind of thing it's very disconcerting. The classic thing that everyone knows in the industry is that the talent's eyes will flick off the lens or they look at the director or anything. So to keep our amateur talent presenting down the barrel, we use an auto-cue and send a video stream from another camera with the interviewer, onto the auto-cue instead of sending the usual text. It means that the subject can look you in the eye, so they're not just looking in the lens, they're literally looking someone in the eye, they feel a human connection and it just makes for a much more natural performance. It gives them a sense of confidence, it holds their focus, everything about it wins. It's the best way to get talent to look down the barrel.
How do you maintain an authentic relationship with your clients in this extremely commercial setting?
We're pretty lucky that we largely work with people that we genuinely like. I think that it's easy to be quite cynical about the corporate world but there's a lot of high quality people in the corporate world. I think a lot of artists and people in the production/artistic community can look down their noses at the corporate world but they're not seeing the good aspects. I've got good genuine friendships with most of my clients. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations about the value of things, the cost of things. That is always difficult but as long as you never rip them off and you can always look them in the eye and tell them what it needs to cost then you've got your integrity. If you've got your integrity, you've got an authentic relationship. People feel that. They are looking for trust. People want to have a relationship where they don't have to be second guessing your quote or the quality of what you're going to deliver and they get that over time and that's where longevity comes into it. If you've got a relationship that's been going a few years you can really build on that and they will take for granted that you will give the value and quality.
What are some of the non-negotiables of Madant?
The cornerstone of our business is getting the fundamentals absolutely right. That's like, for an event production, having a great sound system and lighting setup. You don't need to have the fanciest stuff but you need to have the fundamentals rock solid. In the video side of that it's working with good glass (lenses), a good camera operator/DoP, good sound equipment and a good sound guy. The creative and content can be whatever, the basics are the fundamentals.
How does Madant get ideas for its clients?
Madant is essentially a creatively driven organization so our expectation is that if you work at Madant you are part of the creative team. Everyone from the receptionist to whatever gets involved in workshops. We have creative sessions with a big team for nearly every project that we do to collect the ideas. Then one or two people go and develop that and bring it back to the team. So it starts with a big group thing and it goes to the creative leads to refine it down and develop it. So ideas generation comes from everybody and it also comes from clients. We totally need to be open to clients having great ideas because they often do and often the easiest thing you can do is take their suggestions and make it work.
What advice do you have for newbies wanting to run their own events or video production company?
Stay out of my space, I will crush you like a bug (laughing). Getting into this industry is very difficult because to get good paying work you have to have the big clients and it's very hard to get them and it takes time to build the reputation. It takes a lot of resilience. You have to do it quite tough for months or years to establish your credentials to get the big clients who can afford to give you good paying work. So it is about hanging in there for a couple of years. You have to have good quality work to show. You have to do projects for free or next to free to get really credible stuff on your show reel. Corporate clients don't want to see your short film. They want to see a commercial project that you've done. You need to work your networks, work your friendships, meet people at a bar, and, if they are working for a corporate, offer to get involved and help them out. You need to help them out to help yourself out. You need to have commercial product on your showreel.
Where do you get your enthusiasm and energy from each day?
If you're not a naturally energetic person you're not going to make it in this career. Just look around you, the people on our shoots today are highly energized people. You can't have people who need any propping up. If you're not naturally driven or obsessed to create something amazing, don't bother. Do something else. I love what I do. I have managed to create an industry around myself that supports my interests. So I am constantly fed by the projects that we have. I am stimulated by the challenges that our clients give us and I love the people that I work with. So I work with a team of people whom I really enjoy seeing everyday. That's critical. Get people working around you that you love working with. Be open to challenges. Things that look really challenging can be the most inspirational. Sometimes the things that you have the most resistance to doing, it is worth biting the bullet and doing because the satisfaction in achieving it and the stimulation in finding the way to achieve it can be one of the most rewarding things.