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Role Call | Danielle Bennison-Brown, Director of Video Content

Danielle Bennison-Brown, director of video content at Condé Nast (UK) says that "there is a real benefit to understanding the process of making video content end to end," from strategy, to commissioning, to production, to distribution and pitching.
Danielle Bennison-Brown | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Rebecca May Johnson

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more jobs like this, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

LONDON, United Kindom — Danielle Bennison-Brown is director of video content at Condé Nast Britain, where she works across the publisher's brands to create a schedule of programming for digital platforms. After studying at the University of Teeside, where she gained a first class degree in business, marketing and PR, Bennison-Brown moved to London in 2007 and entered the world of media as creative producer and commissioner at Vice media, where she worked for four years. From there, she moved to Nowness as senior content strategist and commissioner, and then to i-D, where she was global head of video content and helped to swell the magazine's online community with a range of short narrative films, documentaries and episodic content. She took on the post at Condé Nast in January 2015.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I am the director of video content for Condé Nast Britain, which means I am primarily responsible for helping to translate the editorial vision of our titles into successful and engaging video content. This includes building the team, developing video ideas into one-offs and formats, then overseeing the creation of the final product. Additionally, I am charged with ensuring that our video operation is successful in reaching and engaging new and existing audiences, creating more value for our brand partners, and in ultimately building a sustainable and scalable business.

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People often say, Don't stress, everything will work out, but the reality is that when you are in charge of a project it won't be fine unless you personally do something to make it fine.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

First and foremost, I’ve loved the Condé Nast brands my entire life, and I knew that the chance to help them begin this new chapter was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Video is such an exciting challenge for any brand. There are so many different creative and business elements at play, from the physicality of production to the visual aesthetics to the creative vision to the nuances of distributing to a digital audience. Building a strategy that successfully accommodates all of those considerations is an incredible challenge, and one that I love. I believe that, when it comes to video, sophistication and scale are not mutually exclusive.

It was my role at i-D that really helped me understand that this was possible. There, I was presented with a similar challenge — turning a text and photo-driven title into a digital video brand. I was very lucky to have been given incredible freedom by VICE to explore what i-D could be. They provided me with room to experiment, to learn, and ultimately to hone in on a vision that helped i-D quickly grow a meaningful audience.

I knew that taking what I’ve learned and bringing that to a portfolio with the legacy and prestige of Condé Nast would be a whole new challenge, and a unique opportunity to be a part of a company whose creative work shapes British culture in such significant ways.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

In the scope of my entire career, I think it would be the A-Z series that I launched on i-D. The first one we shot was "The A-Z of Wink," which absolutely exceeded all of our expectations. On the shoot day we had nine models confirmed and we needed 27! The director probably could have killed me at the time and his first assistant director thought I was absolutely crazy. I kept telling him it would be fine whilst thinking "Hmmm, maybe this won't be fine…" but we pushed through and with the power of Chaos Fashion (Charlotte Stockdale and Katie Lyall) we soon had Miranda Kerr and Natalia Vodianova on set and we were on track to make an incredible film.

The series later evolved to include a collaboration with Diesel called "The A-Z of Dance" directed by Jacob Sutton. This was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a shoot, with power producer Laura Holmes and Jacob’s endless good vibes. The video itself was a huge viral hit and I still enjoy watching it today.

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We’ve just been getting started here at Condé Nast, so it’s early days. That said, it’s been incredibly exciting to get to know the teams and hear their ideas; there’s a seemingly endless amount of creativity here and my goal is to make video a new place for the team to channel their thoughts and ideas.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

Whether you’re a publisher, brand, or marketer, video is a significant business opportunity. As a result, the landscape has quickly become incredibly cluttered and highly competitive. Our audience has more choice of what to watch, so anyone looking to be successful needs to find ways to cut through. Condé Nast Britain understands this, and has made the decision to fully dedicate resource to pursuing a video strategy. As video continues to evolve, it is my responsibility to make sure we understand how to create content that delivers real value to our audience and brand partners, whilst maintaining the quality and credibility built by our editorial teams, in the case of British Vogue for nearly the past 100 years.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

There have been times where I’ve stretched myself too thin; as a result, it’s led to work not being as good as it should. Learning how to focus and prioritise is critical. There will always be more work to do, but work out what has to come first and focus on that. Likewise, I’ve learned to identify my strengths and weaknesses, which has allowed me to find colleagues who can help fill in the gaps, ensuring that the work we do is the best it can be.

Having said that, it is important to be mindful of the fact that video production is an extremely meticulous and considered sort of work. The quality is in the details and whether that is the creative, the production contract or the talent handling you must always check and then check again that everything has been accounted for and that your collaborators are totally aligned on the end result.

A mistake that springs to mind is from a long time ago but it taught me a really valuable lesson. I was booking talent through an agent and worked on the contract myself, I sent it over, and the agent signed and returned it with no problems. When the project launched I emailed the agent asking that the talent post the film to their social media as per the contract, he told me no it wasn’t in the contract. I went back through the contract, looking at the one I’d sent him and it was in there, then I got the signed hard copy from the production folder, read it over and over again, it wasn’t in there. It was at that point I realised that I’d sent the contract as a word document and he’d amended it without telling me. While this was underhand of the agent, it did teach me that you must always send contracts as a PDF and always read them thoroughly when they’ve sent their signed copy back.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

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There is a real benefit to understanding the process end to end. Over the past several years, I’ve worked on all elements of video content, from strategy, commissioning, production, distribution, to pitching, all of which gave me a well-rounded understanding of the content process. I’d advise anyone wanting to get into video to have a try at various elements. You’ll quickly learn what you love and what you’re best at, and in the meantime, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your role in a much broader context. And you don’t have to keep switching jobs to get this experience. You can learn so much just by being willing to volunteer to help others around you. Of course, that has to be balanced with not stretching yourself too thin.

I have personally found throughout my career that people often say, “Don’t stress, everything will work out”, but the reality is that when you are in charge of a project, website or publication it won’t be fine unless you personally do something to make it fine. In production, this means ensuring that you’ve thought of everything including the stuff that might happen as well as the millions of other things that are definitely going to happen. This is literally everything from “Do I have the right sort of stills for social media?” to “Have I factored in 2 hours of overtime in case the talent is late?”

As with the "A-Z of Wink!" it was only fine in the end because every member of the team worked to make sure it was. It didn’t just randomly work out. This does have its up sides because in production you are always learning from your shoots. Each project benefits from the project you did before and as a result your work is always improving.

The other thing I would advise is to watch everything, look at everything. Watch feature films, documentaries, and be sure to read a lot because you need to be inspired to make great content.

If you want to be successful at anything then ultimately “work hard” is the best of advice anyone can give you. Regardless of what career path you choose, at the beginning of your career be prepared to work harder and longer hours than everyone around you. Know that it will pay off.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more jobs like this, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

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