Director of Presentation Productions
By James Blake
Photos by Alexei Zhukov
Sorting out what needs to be said and how best to say it.
All business is about communication, and almost all people involved in any way with business know this when they step back for a few moments and think about it. But despite knowing this simple fact, business often needs help communicating. Sometimes it needs help communicating the message of the product to a customer, or sometimes the message of a customer to a producer. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting through to staff what it is they are expected to be doing, sometimes it is getting through to management what the staff are actually doing, and quite often trying to create in both staff and management a certain bien etre about what it is they are doing.
Brian Dickinson is an engaging Londoner who first came to Moscow in the dark days of 1998 to work in the advertising industry, after having worked in London and the Middle East. In the ensuing economic collapse he was made redundant but made the decision to hang on. The company he subsequently formed is called Presentation Productions and he has been helping businesses communicate with a range of international and Russian clients, including Proctor and Gamble, Oriflame, Bacardi, Duracell, Gillette, Gallaher, Heineken, Citibank and HP.
Presentation Productions create short videos and PowerPoint presentations covering a range of needs, from marketing and sales support, reporting, conference promotion, and HR communication. In every instance it’s a matter of working out what the client is trying to say and then deciding on the best way of saying it, and this is always a challenge.
‘One of the continual frustrations are the companies we go to who don’t actually know what they are trying to say, or even how they want it said; but they want us to head off and create a presentation or video and will let us know if they like it!’ he says with the laugh of a man who can see the funny side of it.
Despite these initial frustrations, Presentation Productions undertakes almost anything from consulting on sales and marketing issues, through scriptwriting, designing graphics, filming and the inevitable post production and editing work. And along the way Presentation Productions has crafted out a niche for itself in the Moscow business scene. It’s a small company – only three people: Dickinson and partners Matvey and Tatiana – but this gives it some advantages.
‘In large part because we’re so small, we don’t have the big overhead costs of the larger agencies, and we aren’t going after exactly the same clients either. They might go after the whole campaign budget for a service or product. We aim at a lower level, the smaller director level who signs off on a smaller budget, but still needs help with presentations; the sort of stuff the big advertising firms won’t be interested in.’
This is useful insofar as Presentation Productions finds that much of its clientele comes from interdepartmental rivalry. One region or department finds that a snappy presentation comes across a lot better than another’s and before long there are two departments seeking the company’s support. The small team approach also allows Presentation Productions to carry out work in both Russian and English, and allow an effective cross cultural liaison along the way. Dickinson relates the story of a presentation he was doing for Heineken which involved the concept of a ‘black sheep’ except that in Russian the concept is the ‘white crow’. As soon as the presentation had been tailored to the Russian audience it worked liked magic, whereas the earlier version with the sheep was being met with blank stares. Little things like this make all the difference, and he quips using another Russian expression he likes a lot: ‘I don’t have noodles in my ears’.
Dickinson is the sort of man who lives in that grey light between the exasperation of the requirements of a particular project, and a particularly English style of bloody mindedness that he’ll get the job done – and his particular joy is pulling off those tricky projects. Like the time that Gillette and Proctor and Gamble were holding their first major postintegration sales conference in Russia. They wanted something special but didn’t quite know what. They’d booked a major theater in Moscow and were having the sales chief arrive by limousine, making an entrance on a red carpet. Dickinson chimed in with the idea of making it all look like the famous film festival at Cannes with a paparazzi feel; flashing cameras, microphones being thrust in the man’s face – the whole nine yards. Having sold that idea the very next day, he was out with his team filming the event, with the bemused sales chief wondering why it took more than one arrival in the limousine. It isn’t easy making even a good short video. But he went along with the game and strolled out onto the carpet before the cheering masses, camera flashes running riot, and delivered his address. From here Dickinson’s team had less than a day to turn around the product with the short film to be played on the big screen the very next morning. You get the impression that he loves the intensity of effort to get the job done, and that he’ll accept the occasional quiet day at the office provided he gets a few days of frenetic activity to make up for it. And so it was on this occasion, and when the results were shown on the big screen at the theater the following morning, it pretty much blew everyone away.
‘That was a real moment, when we saw it on the big screen with the guy out talking in front of it. It sort of makes everything worthwhile. The actual video looked the part, just a little bit tongue in cheek, but very slick – everyone was thinking "hey" this looks like the goods – and the client was happy. Those are the best moments. Two days beforehand both the client and we had only a general idea what they wanted to do or how they wanted it done.’
It’s that sort of spirit that persuades him to stay in Russia despite having a family back in the London area where he returns every few weeks. Dickinson enjoys the sometimes wild and woolly ways of the Moscow business world, and he thinks there is a lot more freedom and interest here in Moscow. He has seen first hand how the communications, marketing and promotion world has changed in a short space of time.
‘Back in the late 1990's everything was about price and quality; but these days the game here is real communications - what are you trying to say? Who are you trying to say it to? And what’s the best way of conveying that message? It’s become far more sophisticated than it once was.’
And this in its way suits Dickinson perfectly. The more sophisticated it becomes the more help his clients need and the more business he gets. It would be nice if the clients more often had an idea of what they wanted before they called, but he laughs at the thought, as though he knows it isn’t likely to happen to the extent he would like and the twinkle in his eye lets you know that no matter what, he will conjure something up, and more than enjoy the challenge of doing so.