The Strategy Interview

Doug Keeley President and Founding PartnerThe Multiple Images GroupDoug Keeley is president, and a founding partner, of The Multiple Images Group, a Toronto communications company that supplies products and services for business, entertainment and education purposes.The company comprises two divisions: Multiple...

Doug Keeley President and Founding Partner

The Multiple Images Group

Doug Keeley is president, and a founding partner, of The Multiple Images Group, a Toronto communications company that supplies products and services for business, entertainment and education purposes.

The company comprises two divisions: Multiple Images, a corporate communications firm founded in 1978; and Milestone Entertainment, a production company, established in 1991, that specializes in broadcast and live event shows.

Multiple Images and Milestone are leaders in the creation of multimedia communications software and are rapidly expanding their activities in the field.

Q. When you think of the broad range of communications projects you handle, what portion involves multimedia elements?

A. In terms of energy, it’s probably 50% at least, but in terms of dollars, it’s slightly less than that because the consumer side of the business is very young for us.

If we do a sales meeting that’s worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars, the multimedia component of that could be anywhere from practically nothing, say $20,000, to a hundred grand or more.

The amount varies widely depending on the job, but multimedia is the side of the business that has shown the most growth. Five years ago, we were doing only 10% as much corporate multimedia as we are now.

Q. What multimedia initiatives do you have under way right now?

A. On the corporate side, we are doing a variety of kiosk applications for clients, a variety of lap-top sales presentation.

We’re doing a couple of electronic brochures where the distribution is on disk or both disk and paper. We’re talking to several people about doing cd-rom projects and a variety of smaller projects distributed on disk.

On the consumer side, we’re doing projects in which books are being adapted to cd-rom. We have cd-rom music projects we’re trying to get going. We’re probably going to do a cd-rom version of an animated film, some cd-rom kids’ stuff, and we’re probably going to do a cd-rom version of the awards show [Milestone has won the contract to stage the first annual Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Awards, to be held June 16 in Los Angeles.]

We’re also doing some generic training projects combining video and cd-rom. These are in the entertaining ‘John Cleese’ vein, with the video giving you an overview and a cd-rom giving you the comprehensive training tool.

Q. When a company comes to you about a multimedia project, are you more likely to be contacted by the advertiser directly, or by an ad agency working for the advertiser?

A. In our traditional corporate business, where the client hires us to talk to their people or their customers in face-to-face situations, clients are calling us direct.

But the agencies are now getting hip to this stuff, and they’re calling us about kiosks and about having preliminary discussions to see how their clients can be prepared to take advantage of interactive tv when it comes, and so on.

There’s more and more interest from agencies because they, logically, realize it’s necessary for them to understand this technology in the same way as they had to learn about tv when tv first came out.

The more progressive agencies are going in to their clients proactively and saying, ‘We think you should be looking at this kind of stuff and here’s a recommendation for a program that might work.’

By then, typically, we’ve been called in and helped them put costs, and possibly even creative, together. We’re doing a lot of that stuff right now.

Q. The skill sets required to be a creative in a traditional agency are copywriting and art directing. What are the skill sets required to be a successful creative in a multimedia agency?

A. They’re not, on the surface, different. You need copywriting skills and you need art direction skills. What you really need are storytelling skills, because you have to be able to say what you are going to say well, and you need art direction skills so that what you do looks compelling.

You also have to have an understanding of video and audio, and you have to have the overall production understanding to be able to put all of those elements together in a way that works.

What’s unusual and unique about creating for multimedia is that it’s a non-linear medium. We have all been trained to tell stories from ‘a’ to ‘z.’ We expect a person to start looking somewhere and stop looking somewhere.

With interactive media, a different way of thinking is required, because once users get into a program, they can have a huge variety of choices of what to do next.

So you have to think differently about how you present information, and you can’t assume that because they are at ‘b’ they’ve already been to ‘a.’ That’s not necessarily true anymore.

Q. What are you discovering about the teams? How many people would there be, typically, and what would their roles be?

A. It depends on the project. It could be anywhere from a couple of people to literally dozens. The roles are not that different from what they are in the traditional industries from which they sprang.

For example, if I’m adapting a book, I need a writer who can take the copy and adapt it to multimedia because you’re not just going to read a book off the screen.

I need artists who can take the film or digital files from the original illustrations and manipulate them to work in a multimedia environment. I need video and audio people, and I need a producer who kind of plays a publisher’s or editor’s role to put it all together.

And you need the computer people, who make sure that when you click on things the right stuff happens.

Q. Are successful multimedia creatives coming from anywhere in particular? Are there any recurring themes in their backgrounds or career paths?

A. It’s too early to say. I’m doing music projects right now with a guy whose background is as a tv producer and indie filmmaker in Toronto.

There are a lot of computer programmers and people with design backgrounds who are used to working at computers. There are computer hackers, traditional print-graphic design people, video people.

We’ve trained all kinds of people from all over the place, including some people with no skills at all.’

It’s early to say what the best skills are, but the thing that is the most important is can you come up with ideas that are compelling, that involve me and make me laugh, or make me cry, or challenge my skill or challenge my imagination.

Non-linear

Multimedia lets you combine a number of different media in a non-linear fashion order to do that, which is a really fabulous opportunity.

An interesting challenge we have found comes from the fact that we have to put traditional creative people, who are typically left-brain people, together in teams with computer-trained people, who are typically analytical, right-brain people.

When you put those people in a team, you can get a real interesting mix. We’re really just starting with this and, as you can imagine, there are potentially incredible personality problems.

Then you have the cross-over people in the middle, who are becoming a bit of both. That’s really where it’s headed.

Q. How do you see interactivity and multimedia evolving over the next five years, and how will you position your company for future growth?

A. Let’s put the five years away, because I don’t know about years.

But, conceptionally, users are demanding that the experience of being entertained, or of buying or selling a product makes maximum use of any media at their disposal.

You see this in all media environments, in tv and print, for example, and not just multimedia.

More ways

I think what we’re going to see is there will be more and more interesting ways for advertisers to get their ideas in front of their end-customers, whether that be at point-of-purchase, through direct mail, on tv, built into the dashboard of your car or in a hand-held device.

As with any other medium, it is up to creators of multimedia, and the people who have products and services to sell, to take best advantage of its potential.

Where are we going to be? We’re investing a lot of time and money right now to be at the forefront, to be in a position where we have a really good understanding, and good creative and technical control, over all the opportunities provided by both current technologies and the potential technologies still being built.

We believe you have to be in there playing right now if you want to be a player five years from now.