Q&A: Deutsch/LA’s Dunlap

LOS ANGELES Tom Dunlap’s arrival as svp, director of integrated production at Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., underscores co-president and CCO Eric Hirshberg’s desire for “integrated people, not integrated departments.”

But Dunlap, 32, has helped integrate departments, too, first at Omnicom’s TBWA offices in Tokyo, Paris and Playa del Rey, Calif., and most recently at independent Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he won a silver Lion at Cannes for the Coca-Cola “Happiness Factory” spot.

Here, he talks to Adweek West Coast editor Gregory Solman about integration, branded content and the changing roles of agency producers.

Describe the trajectory of your position since you started in it.
My first experience with integrated production was at TBWA\Chiat\Day with Richard O’Neill’s in-house production company, Mutiny Productions [from 1997-2005]. That was set up for projects like Nissan, Infiniti and Pedigree. The idea was to produce branded content, but we never did any. We captured a bit of profit and gave clients a discounted production rate. There was another unit called Studio B, which was there for long-form content and corporate video and which started doing interactive work for PlayStation.

When did it become “integrated production” as you recognize it?
I didn’t really know what integrated production was until after the Mutiny experience when I moved to Amsterdam for Wieden [in 2005]. I started working with [founder of Wieden Entertainment] Bill Davenport while he was back in Portland. When we got the Coke business, it was clear that they needed out-of-the-box thinking, things that had life—and life beyond the spot. We came up with “Happiness Factory,” which we saw as a property, not just a spot. We had characters, an idea. We wanted mobile phone characters to license and make sure that the spot could live on, like a Disney movie. (They don’t stumble upon stuff like Nemo, they plan it.) Looking around the room, I was the only one equipped to do all the executional extensions of it: the events, the movies, the trailers, all the things that make a property successful. On top of that, I could see that entertainment, digital and interactive were becoming paramount, and I wanted it all.

When did you get it all?
At Wieden, they were responsive to letting me try. The first example was for EA’s Burnout Dominator Web site (Kahrashin.com). The videogame is all about crashing cars, and you can’t show that on TV. The campaign was about releasing your inner violence. We made up a global cathartic community with a monk, where you break things and that’s the best therapy for you. I’d done some interactive work, but I didn’t know that much about coding, etc., and finding the right producers was a bit of a struggle. That’s been a tricky thing. It took a combination of TV producers and directors, Flash artists, programmers and traditional creatives to come up with a nontraditional campaign and leverage the budgets, schedules and media dollars. That to me is integrated production.

Why did you take the Deutsch job?
They have a great tradition in production and in digital production, and it was a chance to get back to the U.S. and work at a shop that I could really have an impact on. It is at a crossroads, where it has amazing opportunities with its clients and very open-minded leadership willing to try new things. Its proximity to the movers and shakers in Hollywood will allow us to take advantage of those opportunities.

What’s the greatest challenge?
Finding the right people. There’s a certain mind-set to people who operate in this manner. Not everybody is interested in digital and interactive and producing an event. It’s hard to find those people with the skills who are curious and open-minded. And this department is not so big [33 people] that we can be waiting around. We have to be open and willing to jump on anything.

What are your greatest hits?
The [Wieden] “Coke side of life” campaign—the print, TV stuff, the interactive viral film campaign [with music from emerging artists]. I spent 70 to 80 percent of my time on Coke. We just released a three-and-a-half minute “Happiness Factory” movie in Second Life. We’re hoping it runs in theaters. And EA Europe gave Wieden all their digital business. Dan Wieden established a goal: to be digital agency of the year by 2010, so it’s all hands on deck. And I loved being part of the initiation of [TBWA\C\D’s] Apple “Think different” campaign, as Jennifer Golub’s assistant, working with Steve Jobs and Lee Clow. I got to do an ad with Hal, the talking computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was really my first job as a producer. Richard O’Neill came down the hallway when they announced it would be a [1999] Super Bowl ad and said, “You can handle this, can’t you? Because if you can’t, there’s not much I can do for you.” The idea was that maybe Hal went crazy because of the Y2K thing. That was fun. I felt like I was part of a revolution.

Are there technical challenges ahead?
The people here have to come up with the ideas and find the opportunities with the current clients to take advantage of integrated production. My job is to execute those ideas, no matter what.

What are you up to now?
I’m working on DirecTV. Being a national programming outlet, it is a natural platform for different types of branded programming. And I’m excited about GM, too, though I don’t quite have a handle on those initiatives yet. We have some neat technology ideas for TGI Fridays and with the “Happy Cows” of Real California Cheese. There are all kinds of opportunities here.

Who works under you?
I oversee all the TV producers, all the business affairs in traffic and we have in-house editorial. We are talking now about how the interactive producers report in to me. That’s the goal here.

Is there a head of broadcast separate from you?
No, we’ve done away with that title. It is antiquated and points to television production, and I want what I do to be more holistic. The position was pioneered by people such as Rupert Samuels [formerly at Crispin] and now David Rolfe. David Verhoef at [Publicis and] Hal Riney also took that title. It reflects the changing model of ad agencies.

How do you expect your department to develop?
Into one that has the ability to respond to any creative challenge. And in that respect I’m still evaluating the staff. I want to give them the chance to try new things, be curious and open-minded and have fun—at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. I can’t wait to get to work.