For Peak Authenticity, Treat Brand Projects Like Passion Projects

Vincent Lin, Co-Founder, Director, Valiant Pictures

Coming from working with major production companies to launching my own boutique company with Matthew D’Amato, I relished the freedom to pursue the film projects I craved to write, direct and produce. While we’ve continued to work with major agencies and brands direct-to-client, we’ve had the opportunity to balance our time with passion projects that keep our overall creative drive burning.

When our branded work began to scale, what I thought would lead to diminishing time to work on the films I loved instead had the opposite effect: I now had the power to pick and choose the brand projects that aligned with the passions that we had already carefully honed in on. And really, we didn’t have to get choosy often. In a roundabout way, our passion-driven personal projects got on the radar of clients who were aligned with a similar aesthetic in the commercial realm and thus were already bought into our approach.

Still, when working with brands who want to share an authentic message--but might need extra guidance throughout the process--it pays off not to change your mode of thinking between your branded projects and your passion projects. Your approach, in how you incorporate your talent, ideas, and especially your values, should not change.

Here’s how to help a brand see eye-to-eye with your vision to achieve the most authentic message possible in your end result:

1. Remember why they hired you

I’ve been hours deep into a Friday working on my next brief with maximum tunnel vision--we all have. It’s easy to slip into a grind mode, and perhaps more tempting to just smile and nod at every brand request or new idea. In doing so, however, you forget why they hired you: for your own style, own voice, and own ethos.

Whether you’re a director or a production company, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re hired for your brand image. You didn’t get hired to babysit your client. Every project has its limitations, but on every project, you should always ask yourself, how do you keep your original vision without compromising your voice? It’s easy to do “safe”; if you’re missing that originality, your project won’t be memorable, and your client will ultimately suffer. Are you trying to create something great or trying not to get fired? That’s your choice. More and more, brands are seeking to leverage a production company or director’s personal experience to elevate their project. Pat yourself on the back in that regard.

2. Create an immovable authentic standard

If you’re reading this, you probably already have your own moral code or authentic standard that you plug into your work. How well do those hold up against stubborn clients, though? Assuming you already accepted a client project that aligned with your ethos, don’t be afraid to push back on clients who might be apprehensive about new approaches by siding with creativity.

Don’t tell your client how to do their job, but recognize they may be more business-oriented than creative-oriented. Couch your suggestions in two camps: providing consumers the best creativity they’ve ever seen (more on that in point #3), and presenting the most honest brand story to that audience. No brand likes to lie--and if they do, consider resigning them. They, like anyone else, could get caught up in their ways, and need a third-party partner to inform them about best authentic practices now. Most brands know basic authenticity no-no’s and dated practices, but identifying subtle micro aggressions and faux pas based on your own background could become your secret weapon as a director.

3. Work for the consumers--not the brand

We always say at Valiant that we work for the brand, but the brand works for the consumer. At least part of your thinking should also steer toward the consumer first. If the brand isn’t conscious of this line of thinking, educate them. Thinking of what the consumer hasn’t seen before and pursuing your own unique style in delivering that new perspective will ultimately heighten the creativity overall.

If the brand’s own messaging collides with an authentic ad for the consumer, gently let them know. Educate yourself on how your client built those systems and learn why they’re in place. It would be easy for any talented creative to deliver just what the brand wants or asks for, but remember point #1: they hired you for a reason. Give them a reason to hire you again and again. Great brands and agencies like to be at least made aware of alternative perspectives and approaches. It’s up to you to help them see every option for a compelling, consumer-forward result.