Our guest Doug Sherin has been working as a director’s rep for advertisers for over 16 years. In that time, he’s seen the industry grow and change, and learned that the only way to move forward is to always be flexible.
Doug Sherin - Co-Founder - Options
Grace Amodeo - Program Manager - Shift
Let’s start by introducing yourself — tell us about your career to this point.
I actually started off at the age of nine in front of the camera for commercials. I went from being a child actor to a talent agent assistant to a talent agent representing actors. I found myself one day applying for a scheduling position at a post-production company called Encore, and that’s where I started to be exposed to the other side of the business. I was a people person, and instead of scheduling the time I was representing these post-production artists and transferred to working at Riot Santa Monica. Working at Riot, I met Kimberly Griswold who is my business partner and life partner, and she was representing directors. She had the idea to quit our jobs and start our own company where we would represent directors, visual effects companies, and editorial. And we did it! We didn’t really think about it, but it turned out to be the best thing that we could have ever done, and that was in 2004.
Tell me more about the company you created 16 years ago — Options.
Over the years, the personality and the face of the company changes based on who you represent and how you’ve represented yourself in the marketplace. We don’t “sell”, I think it’s a misnomer that sales reps or director’s reps “sell”. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you meet with, who you wine, who you dine, who you’re submitting — you still have to have an appropriate talent that’s right for the job. We’ve always booked jobs based on being an absolute resource, meaning seeing a brief and knowing who’s right for it, then putting that submission in such a valuable presentation that you hope the producer and creatives you’re submitting to can see the same vision. That’s the fulfillment that we’re in this business for, to fill those creative voids.
I think it’s a misnomer that sales reps or director’s reps “sell”. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you meet with . . . you still have to have an appropriate talent that’s right for the job.
How do you describe your role in the greater ecosystem of the advertising industry?
It does begin and end with trust. You have to have the respect of your peers so that they look to you to be that resource. The role of the rep has really evolved in many different ways over the last two years. And with COVID especially, because it’s expedited a lot of ways of doing business differently. This business is a hands-on business, it’s a personal business. Personal meetings, personal dinners, personal one-on-ones. And so that aspect has been removed, it was already on its way to being removed, but with COVID and the advent of Zoom, now everything is on Zoom.
There has always been a weird and strange reputation that goes with being a rep. We’re actually an integral part of the process as a team member, not as a standalone. We’ve always operated as part of the process as a team member that has a set of eyes, and taste, and a business protocol that is proactive on behalf of our roster of companies. And that’s still in play. You need collaborative entities to attack this business. There’s a lot of hand-holding and collaborative effort with the rep, not only to come up with a strategy but also to identify who on the roster is compatible for their marketplace. We help identify targets and help our roster of companies have that blanket of respect and respectability that hopefully we, as Options, have instilled into the marketplace. Hopefully we can help open some doors and eyes based on that. There's no guarantees, no matter what the process is.
How do you measure your success in the advertising industry?
You can't just base it on monetary reward. It just can't be that. We’re very grateful, being in this particular business and working for ourselves is a success. We've created our own environment, our own business platform, our own protocol of how we want to be a part of this business. And not everyone's going to fit into that protocol as a potential client, and vice versa. But I deem us to be a tremendous success, each and every day that we're working for ourselves. I don't think a lot of people can say that. Especially during COVID it’s really hard to gauge success, because we’re all pretty much at a level playing field. So that’s the new level of gauging success, how do you adapt? How do you evolve your business? You have to evolve in order to survive, and there has been a tremendous evolution. It’s been going on for years, and COVID’s just pushed it fast-forward.
There’s another part of this business that’s been so wild and wacky, and that is there used to be a time where the freelance director was few and far between. And the industry has changed to the extent that I think there are more freelance directors than there are roster directors. It’s had a big effect on all production companies, at least through my examination. Because not everyone has the right director, so everyone is trying to dig into their back pockets of who they know freelance wise who could fill this void. I’ve heard upwards of 75% of jobs are being booked with freelance directors. It’s a new phenomenon in the sense that it’s a greatly accepted and normal protocol, where once there was a stigma to put on the freelance director. But as I stated at the beginning of this conversation, every job begins and ends with the right chosen talent for the job. Either they have what it takes or they don’t, and that’s the bottom line.
Every job begins and ends with the right chosen talent for the job. Either they have what it takes or they don’t, and that’s the bottom line.
Why are flexibility and adaptability such an important part of your job?
If we're going to keep doing things as we did 10 years ago, the advertising is vastly different. So not only do we have to think differently, so do the directors that we put up. There’s a lot of very talented directors out there that have been very successful for a long time, and adaptability may not be in their wheelhouse at this stage of the game. So what are you going to do? You could go with someone that you know is a superstar and was doing all the Super Bowl commercials several years ago, but now this Super Bowl commercial has 25% of the budget and three more spots to be delivered. So there are a lot of directors that have adapted. I think for the guys and gals that can adapt and have adapted, they’re going to survive. And for the up-and-comers that started off as editors and visual effects guys, they have a multi-discipline background from the start and they could bring all those tool sets to the director position. That’s a huge bonus for a lot of projects, not for every project, but for a lot of them. For these multifaceted creatives, it’s the right time and place.
What’s an example of a success story you’ve had at your time at Options?
I think there were several. And it’s not just inherent to a job, it’s in the submission process in general. That’s really the toughest obstacle, because I don’t know every producer, and every producer doesn’t know me and probably doesn’t want to know me because they have a pool of resources that they know and love. So even as recently as right now, I write producers all the time and it goes into a vacuum. And it’s usually the same producers over a period of time, and that’s okay. Like I said, they don’t know me and they don’t need to know me. But I try. And there are times when you just act as if you know what they’re looking for and you put it forward. And at some point, it is going to be in their hands. And you hope that a producer says, you know what, let me take a look at this. And then you know what happens? They write you! They liked it, they thought it was good.
And the next thing you know, we are bidding our guy or gal. And I just went from, you don’t me and don’t want to know me, to you love me! And if we get the job, that’s the success. We made the connections, we knew what we were talking about. We just needed you to hear us. It is persistence, it is luck, it is maybe that person finally deciding to be a bit more open-minded, or maybe they were at a cocktail hour and you shook hands. There are so many talented people, directors, and artists. There are so many loved and liked reps. There’s just a lot. And in a sea of "a lot", it’s really hard for someone to see you.
Where do you imagine the advertising industry might go in the next 5-10 years? What comes next?
The one constant for the future is change, whether it’s our business or any other business. So who really knows what’s around the corner?
I don't know if there is an answer. It's a constant whirlwind of change on an almost daily basis. We’ve seen a tremendous influx of brand-direct scenarios where the brands themselves are taking control of their marketing and ad dollars. That’s going to be a phenomenon that is going to continue. The traditional agency world is still going to survive, it’s going to be out there. I don’t know how it’s face is going to change. They too are becoming more adaptable, because there is going to be more of an ask from clients of deliverables against the dollars. The one constant for the future is change, whether it’s our business or any other business. So who really knows what’s around the corner? You just have to be prepared to be flexible, because otherwise you’re going to be left in the dust. There’s nothing that’s going to be left that is traditional.
Technology has advanced a million fold in the last 5-10 years, things are very different. I will tell you that I do appreciate this business, the opportunity that it’s given us, the career that it’s given us and will continue to give us for a while longer. It’s still fun, and it’s challenging, and it’s tough, and it’s hard, and it’s exciting, and it’s up, and it’s down and such is life! We’ll embrace it as long as it embraces us. This industry has that same mindset where I think everyone just loves to come up with answers. And that’s what we gotta do, just come up with answers.
Would you like to participate in a future In Conversation video interview? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.