Making digital waves with Tim Cawley, Director of makeSHIFT

Higher Order

Truth Collective Truth CollectiveApr 13, 2021


Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought about turning something you’re passionate about into a full-blown documentary. Well, Tim Cawley, founder and CCO of HeyLetsGo, did just that. This natural storyteller is not only an advertising veteran and agency founder but also a filmmaker and the director behind makeSHIFT, a documentary that recounts the changes the internet brought upon advertising in the past 20 years. He went on to chat with some of the most brilliant, game-changing names in the industry, like David Droga, founder and Creative Chairman of Droga5; PJ Pereira, co-founder and Creative Chairman at Pereira O’Dell; Nick Law, VP at Apple; and Amy Avery, CIO at Droga5, to name just a few of the people in this stellar lineup.

We had the opportunity to spend over an hour chatting with Tim about his film, makeSHIFT, and so much more. If you don’t have the time to listen to our Higher Order episode with Tim, just read on.

The beginning

Let’s put it this way: The beginning really wasn’t the start. That’s because Tim was no newcomer to the world of film when he went out to shoot makeSHIFT. He’d shot short and feature-length movies before and even started his own production house. In fact, his independent filmmaking experience is what helped make makeSHIFT happen. A client, WP Engine, approached HeyLetsGo because they wanted to create a documentary that talked about digital transformation, and they tapped into Tim’s expertise to bring it to life. That’s our first lesson: Do the work you want to create on your own, and clients will find you.

As Tim says, “Don’t tell me about a media plan. Tell me about a business problem.”

The shift

The documentary itself is just one of the things that exemplify precisely what the shift has been: Advertising can be anything. It can even be a documentary.  If in the “Mad Men” era advertising was synonymous with TV commercials, radio spots, and long-copy print ads, the expansion of the internet allowed creatives and companies to broaden their idea of what an ad should look like. And for a creative who’s passionate about problem-solving, that’s exciting. If we see ourselves as problem solvers first, then digital is just a wild landscape full of possibilities and opportunities. As Tim says, “Don’t tell me about a media plan. Tell me about a business problem.”

Now is the time—or is it past time?

The speed at which technology is changing advertising is so fast that chances are, we might look at this conversation in a year and think, “Oh, that’s antiquated.” Between new apps, websites, and technologies like AR, VR, and NTF, it’s hard to know what’s just a trend and what will survive the test of time. But if we look at technology as a medium and not a solution, we can use it in a timeless manner.

The audience has become more accepting of a more DIY production look. It’s not about executing the idea. It’s about how you execute it.

Learn as you go

Another issue about tech’s fast pace is that you probably won’t be fluent in a specific medium before being challenged to work on it. And that’s OK. Taking on the challenge and learning as you go, adapting to the challenges as they arise, is all part of the journey. When you see creative advertising as problem-solving applied to marketing and business, you understand that the medium is only a conduit to a solution.

“Production is the new currency”

These words from Nick Law, former R/GA and currently at Apple, go straight to the point. Or, in Tim’s words, “Can you pull it off?” While we can all agree that content is king, a good idea can’t become extraordinary without an excellent production. And an excellent production doesn’t have to involve a seven-figure budget; just look at brands that are killin’ it on TikTok. The audience has become more accepting of a more DIY production look. It’s not about executing the idea. It’s about how you execute it.

Powershift to the audience

“You’ve got to respect the viewer’s time.” These words from PJ Pereira resonate with us. Because if 20 years ago people had to watch ads to get to the content they were looking for, today things would be pretty different. Between being able to pay more to skip ads (think of Spotify Premium or Hulu), to simply using AdBlock, viewers can now choose whether to view your ads or not—as well as how they view them. That’s why we must keep our end-users in mind at all times. How do we entertain them? How do we provide them with the content they might not have asked for but will appreciate anyway? That’s the challenge.

Where do we go from here?

What trends will last? What will advertising look like in five years? These are some of the questions we’re always asking ourselves. But Tim reminds us that more important than trying to predict the future is to create it. To put in the effort daily to make brave work, with brave clients, is the best way to create the future we want for our business. Make sure to check out this episode on Higher Order and catch makeSHIFT, now available on a variety of channels.

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