If there’s anything that piques our interest here at Scotland B2B, it’s a tale of local success.
We love nothing better than hearing about companies that have started out on Scotland’s east coast as one-man-bands and then gone on to become major players on the world stage.
So when we heard that 20/20 Productions had scooped its umpteenth award in the space of a year and was in the process of kitting out its new office in Dubai, naturally we were intrigued.
We went along – camera in-hand and with a reporter’s notebook and pen at the ready – to spend a day with 20/20 team at its uber-trendy Edinburgh office, which spans three floors of a shared conversion at the Pleasance.
Our mission? To find out what makes these guys tick and, above all, so successful.
Could it be the dynamic production team, which takes internal communications to a whole new level – transforming boardroom concepts into award-winning animations, videos and campaigns?
Is it the table football, sense of fun and laid-back approach to workwear and business hours akin to the modern workspaces of Google or Skyscanner?
Or is it managing director Alastair Scott’s ethos of mutual respect and traditional business values which culminate in ‘The 20/20 Way’ of working?
Our conclusion? It’s an exciting combination of all these things.
20/20 Productions credentials
Not only is this firm racking up the awards after landing a string of accolades, which include Best Digital Innovator as won by senior digital designer Graham Stewart, over the last five years, it runs two international offices as well as its Edinburgh HQ and is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary.
It has a core team of 15 across its Edinburgh, San Francisco and Dubai offices and works with an extended team of freelancers, which include sound recordists, writers, riggers, lighting engineers, designers, editors, carpenters, entertainers, make-up artists, presenters, voice-over artists, camera operators, video engineers, IT specialists, programmers and actors – whose details are all held on one giant database of more than 3,000 suppliers.
[As night fell, we hung out with Andrew Greep, one of 20/20 Productions’ editors and motion graphics artists, as he worked after-hours on a viral campaign for the British Beer & Pub Association.
Andrew, 28, has worked with 20/20 for the last six years after studying Interactive Media Design at Edinburgh’s Napier University.
Look out for the #cutbeertax campaign he is currently adding a voiceover to, working closely with ‘Voiceover Guy’ Guy Harris, who is behind many of the ads and cartoon voices on our TV screens.]
You could say the company grows and shrinks day by day depending on the workload and the projects at large. But it all started – as many businesses do – on the back of a beer mat.
Managing director Alastair Scott, who now heads up the Edinburgh office, had worked as a freelance production manager in London the 80s – lending his talents to the likes of the Eurovision Song Contest, London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards – before moving back to the Scottish capital (his home city) as a newly-wed.
Aware that all the production companies in the UK were in London, he decided to set up shop in Edinburgh and hooked up with business partner Andy MacKay, who now runs the US office, after a series of meetings in the pub.
The company was officially formed in Edinburgh in 1990 and the rest, as they say, is history. 20/20 Productions, which specialises in creative, digital, film and events, has gone from strength to strength in the last quarter of a century (having trebled its turnover in the last eight years) and hopes to smash its UK target of reaching £5 million in turnover very, very soon.
[MD Alastair Scott, who turned 54 earlier this month, says his creative team help keep him young. In fact, his entire music collection has been inspired by them. For Alastair, bad days in business are few and far between.
“We suffered a blow in 2008,” he says. “That’s when I realised the economic crash had hit us. Until then we had been observers, but that day it shot us right in the heart.
“But that’s uncommon. We have a lot of good days in business here. I can feel the atmosphere build in the office and I get a spring in my step.”]
20/20 Productions’ work in 2016, so far, has included projects for Standard Life, Rezidor Hotels, Heineken, the English Cricket Board, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and the British Beer and Pub Association – to name but a few.
The team has shot seven different films with Ewan McGregor for the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) charity, has recently worked with the Save the Children charity supporting its event attended by HRH The Princess Royal, and is currently considering sending a cameraman to Africa to capture some of the issues faced in the developing world.
It has held Investors in People status since 1999 and hosts student placement from Edinburgh’s Napier University every three weeks.
Alastair is also the Scottish Regional Director for the IoIC (the Institute of Internal Communications), from which 20/20 has landed a string of awards during the course of its membership.
Here, members of the 20/20 Productions team, editor Calum Baird and producer Marii Stoltsen, discuss how the introduction of digital has opened up opportunities in internal communications…
The power of good communications
Now those credentials are all very well but we wanted to find out the secret to this sustained, global success.
Surely, as we struggle to rise up out of austerity internal communications budgets can’t be much to shout about? Wrong.
It seems that companies are realising, understanding and acting on the benefits of a motivated workforce more and more – hence the renewed emphasis on internal communications.
“It’s never been easier – or cheaper – to communicate,” says Alastair.
And he should know.
“Companies are quids in when it comes to digital and they’re really seeing the benefit.
“Internal communications budgets are going through the roof as employers make the link between investing in motivating their staff and staff retention – particularly in what is now thought of as a ‘candidate-led’ job market.”
Alastair explains that company spending on communications is being repurposed – tying in nicely with a vigour for all things digital.
In fact, effective employee engagement is a staple for 20/20 Productions itself – especially since it understands the impact more than most.
Perhaps that’s why there’s table football and a rooftop boardroom overlooking a volcano. It’s certainly an environment that would get our creative juices flowing.
And when it comes to communications, 20/20 is finally enjoying the fruits of its own PR. Since hiring an Edinburgh agency, Alastair says he’s seeing the 20/20 name pop up everywhere.
“It’s extraordinary, the power of PR. We’ve had a few false starts but it really pays off to work with the right consultancy.
“Just last week, I was giving an interview to a global business magazine. This is definitely a great awareness exercise for us as we look to attract new business. Our client numbers have already grown through the use of PR.”
[We hung out with editor Chuck Cummings and Craig Munro, a 20/20 Productions producer (pictured here having a game of table football).
Chuck and Craig originally met when they were both up for the same IoIC award – for the SAME client. Now they work closely together, with Chuck specialising in 3D graphics and Craig acting as the go-between between creative and client.
“I speak creative,” says Chuck, 35, who has more than 15 years’ expertise in the production industry.
“But Craig speaks both creative and client so can translate the lingo and help us come together to produce something that’s truly amazing. He helps to make the magic happen.”
Craig, who describes himself as a ‘country boy’, having grown up in Findhorn in the north east of Scotland, was the victor all those years ago – landing the Best DVD award for Edinburgh’s Inspiring Capital.
A former photographer who went on to work as a freelance technical producer and on events for the likes of Sony Music, Craig, 48, helped out 20/20 Productions during a ‘mini crisis’ and has been there ever since.
Describing the industry as a lifestyle choice of sorts, Chuck and Craig cite no internet restrictions, being able to go to work in T-shirt and jeans, free coffee and getting to experience some really cool gigs and venues as some of the perks of the job.
“I remember cancelling plans to go and help out with a live event. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the wings at Live 8, with Bob Geldof and Bono dotting about behind me,” says Chuck.
“Another time, I had to fix an auto-cue in front of 80,000 at Murrayfield.”]
But when it comes to going global, we wanted to know ‘why San Fran and why Dubai?’
“We didn’t see the point in opening another UK office – especially since the majority of production companies are in London anyway,” says Alastair, who originally wanted to be an actor.
“Apple had made ground in San Francisco which had established itself as a real .com start-up area and it had the added bonus of being English-speaking, so we thought ‘why not?’
“Our first project there was a huge international event for the United Nations in 2004 which proved a great success. Then, after doing some work in Dubai, we were advised to open an office there.
“It works out really well, especially when we have a tight turnaround. We work through their night and vice versa. “
“It’s very culturally different, however, so we have to be sensitive to that.”
A typical day for Alastair, who originally studied engineering, involves many meetings.
“We have a myriad of deadlines, so I like to know what everyone’s doing and that we are hitting our timelines,” he says.
But, above all, his one piece of advice to other business leaders is to find a mentor. It’s the one essential ingredient in his recipe for success.
So much so that, after finding one, he’s recently become one himself.