Andeer Interviews: Sumer Friedrichs, SVP/Director of Production at GTB
May 17, 2018 by Will Andeer
Today Will Andeer sits down for another interview, this time with Sumer Friedrichs, SVP/Director of Production at GTB.
ANDEER: How did you get into advertising. Was this something you set out to do?
No, not at all. I was an anthropology major until I was a junior in college and I was asked to be part of a documentary with my dad called Tales from Arab Detroit. They followed me for a year. I would come home from college and they would follow my dad and I. They were running a parallel story about foreigners who come to the United States and what they pass down to their children. I was the oldest and the only girl, so they used my dad and I as an example because he brought me everywhere and taught me Arabic and I was more by his side then my two younger brothers.
I thought, this was an amazing team. It’s a small team, but the energy between them — I was like, what are they doing? They had a cameraman, the director, and an AD or line producer. . Everyone just worked so well together and I thought that was kind of cool. I thought this tied into my anthropology studies about people. I took to the cameraman more than the director and thought — what I really want to do is photography and be a camera girl.
I went back to school and got a job at a local ABC affiliate and before you knew it, I was floor directing and working camera and things like that. Then ESPN came into town for a football game and literally one of the commentator’s assistants got sick or didn’t show up and he knew a guy that owned a bar that was near my school and he’s like, “hey, my friend who’s working for the football game needs an assistant this weekend” . I was like, “all right.” I met him and went in and it was the first TV compound that I ever really saw. It was ABC Sports and ESPN and this guy was Lynn Swann, an ex-football player and now a commentator on the field. They gave me 10 minutes and said, hey you’re going to do this & that, and you’re going to tell him when we’re going to commercial. I had a little bit of experience floor directing, so I was like, I got this, you know, and I stepped onto the field saw 14 cameras put my headset on and loved it! So I did that for a little while and, no pun intended, but that drove me right into the CART Autoracing Series, which I did for about 5 years.
It was a lot of travel, so I took a job at Y&R and worked in traffic for about a year and a half , where I picked up a lot of the ins & outs of an agency. After that, I took a job at post house here in town, where I acted as a Facility Producer. Then Campbell-Ewald gained the Chevy retail business and recruited me over as a producer. I did that for about 4 years and then jumped to the national department where I worked on not only Chevy, but Navy, US Postal & Farmers Insurance. From there I went over to a production company called Bandito Brothers in Los Angeles for over a year until Toby Barlow hired me to work freelance at Team Detroit, which is now GTB. I was hired shortly after as an executive producer. About three years ago, I moved into this position, SVP Director of Integrated Production.
ANDEER: What’s the state of advertising in Detroit and in general?
There is a shift in multiple things. One, advertisers have a hard time keeping up with the change in platforms with social media because social media is, well, social. You don’t know if the cat playing the organ is going to be the No. 1 hit or if it’s going to be kid Batman. It’s hard to predict, so you have to be open to risk. If you’re not, you’re just catching up. In Detroit, the brands (predominantly automotive), are rather conservative and of a large scale, so big risk is therefore seldom.
The second is media spend vs production spend. The traditional 80/20 (80% media vs 20% production). In that 20, you also had the digital initiatives & OLA. Now we are seeing a lot added to the back end deliverables to sustain the wide scope of outlets. So if your media vs production spend does not take into consideration brand equiety vs risk, you could be fighting yourself with the end result. Now there are all these new conversations about the earned media and a lot of times I feel like we are a day late and a dollar short with that. It should be happening before we get into production, but now the timelines are crunched, so it’s happening in the middle of it. For example, they might say “Hey, maybe we could use that for Snapchat or Facebook Carousel.” However, I just filmed horizontally at 2k.
Then there has to be a balance between the benefits and post mortem to the waves of things like influencers, real people and testimonials. Really take into account what you contributed and benefited from them, as well as how you impacted this space. For example, I think we, in Detroit, have shot ourselves in the foot a touch when it comes to influencers and ‘real people’. Now being cought up in a viscous circle of costs to return.
Detroit has had a serge of smaller production companies rise up. It’s was a really smart reaction to the change in the marketing in town. Now, only a few years later, you see them reevaluating their structures to accommodate the continually changing media and financial landscapes of the big automotive brands here. They have been smart, so I have a lot of confidence in Detroit.
ANDEER: So with budgets shrinking and fewer productions, do you think that ever changes or comes back?
I think that it’s just moved to another space.
It has to play on both sides. A level of trust to know what your end goal is. You kind of see a little bit of the future from a social standpoint and what’s going to bring in this demographic and get you the results you are looking for in terms of a client perspective. On the otherhand, you have to take into account what they may have not. Do not always eat off the hand that is feeding you. Trust in a partnership where each party helps you with feeling comfortable to feel uncomfortable. Then you have to be smart about who you reach out to. A production partner that doesn’t act like they are bigger than themselves or smaller than themselves They know exactly who they are. There needs to be open communication and cross-pollination of transparency on both sides. Like, “hey, This is what they are asking, I only have this much money and I am going to do everything on the agency side to try and make this work, but I need you to help me come up with a creative solution that I’m happy to go back with”. Being knowledgeable and transparent with your production partners is more important today than ever before.
ANDEER: What is Free The Bid?
Free the Bid is an initiative to help the gender bias against women and involve them in the bidding process. I was the first person in Detroit to sign on to Free The Bid and I’m really proud of that. Automotive is a traditionally and predominantly male-dominted areana., so it was a challenge onto itself. We have had tremendous results and I could honestly say it has changed creative influence.
I just completed an all-female core crew on the internet portion of the latest EcoSPort campaign., I worked with female owned, Chelsea Pictures, Peyton Wilson, we had two DPs on the job —both female — and all female camera assistants. The director, AD, line producer, and executive producer were all female, as well as the wardrobe and production designer, editor, you name it. I worked with two freelance Creative Directors, Martin Insua & Ezequiel Soules who were 100% supportive.
The campaign was called the First Ever Fleet for the new EcoSport, which has a female-driven demographic.. So I thought that it was a good opportunity because I have never had an all-female crew before and I thought maybe we could get a third story out of it. There were a lot of circular conversations and what it came down to was, these people were the best people for the job, period. And they happen to be women.
ANDEER: Other than being a woman yourself, what inspired you to take on this initiative?
Well, I would say in the last couple of years,the climb in awareness has gained traction in marketing and advertising. I work my butt off and I see women around me just working their butts off and struggling to justify it all. Now that it’s become more socialized, it has given myself and women around me a little more confidence to speak up and say, “I don’t agree with that.” I am the expert here, and please give me a chance to tell you how I think it should be done. There is now reassurance that there is someone or some group standing behind you with support.
Like many things, I don’t make this a big issue, but I have hired women and encourage them to speak up and push themselves, just as I do with the guys, based on their expertise and position in the matter.
ANDEER: Any advice for people starting out? Or what would you say if you had to do it now?
If you look at the latest generation of upcoming superstars and producers in general, I would say be a little patient and work hard to try to keep an open mind. Get to know everyone you can know, talk to who you can talk to, work on everything and anything The more knowledgeable you are, the more interesting you will be., the more intestering you are the more desirable.
Here is one thing that I have always done and still do to this day. I think about some of my mentors or people that I admire in the industry or elsewhere. I always envision that I am producing it for them to see.
Will Andeer is a creative rep for charlieuniformtango. His column ANDEER INTERVIEWS appears in SCREEN monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.