Weathering the Ad Biz Storm

My First Job in Melbourne, Australia
My career started in Australia. As a star-struck youth of 17, I sat for three consecutive days in the lobby of a Melbourne TV network until the personnel director offered me a job in the PR department. I think he was tired of seeing me sitting in the lobby and said, “Okay, young lady. I have an assistant position in the PR department. Do you know what PR is?” I replied, “No, but I will learn.” I have since learned to say “yes” to every question in business. Never say “no”. It was a marvellous career start. I worked with the Melbourne press and hung out with people you might know: Olivia Newton John, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Helen Reddy, who wrote the hit song “I Am Woman (I Am Invincible)”. It was an amazing first job and I loved working. But, in spite of how great my first job was, I did what almost every Aussie does and went on a trip to America and Europe. But then, I did what most Aussies don’t do – I remained in Canada.

Toronto Ad Agencies – A Lucky Break

Toronto was where I began my very long career in the ad biz. The ad biz process for the making of television commercials was a 3-step process – from the Advertiser to the ad agency (mostly US-owned) to the television commercial company.

I somehow convinced MacLaren McCann, the ad agency, that I could be an ad agency TV Producer. I worked with the ad agency creative art directors and writers, and when the concept was approved by the client, I selected the TV production company with the director and team who had the skills to turn that script into a 30-second commercial that would entice consumers to buy that product.

I paid my dues working with several global ad agencies: MacLaren McCann and Doyle Dane Bernbach. I was fortunate enough to work on international award winning television spots with incredibly talented people, and equally important, lucky enough to work with the top film directors in the US; I didn’t realize at the time but these early connections were the reason why my own company would be so successful. It truly is “who you know”. It was a wonderful time in the ad biz; the ad agencies were respected by the advertisers as part of the team. It was a great life; most of the days ended by meeting the executives from Molson, Unilever or General Motors and having dinner while we planned the next big TV campaign to win awards and move product off a shelf.


Over to the TV Commercial Services Side
The next move pretty much changed the next 30 years for me. One of the television commercial production companies to whom I gave business asked me to join them. In essence, I went from an ad agency that handed out millions of dollars of business to TV commercial companies to a TV commercial company that chased the business from the ad agencies. Same industry, but a really different role and a great learning curve. There was a lot of money around the ad biz world back then and the average TV commercial that went to air was around $250,000 for production.

My Own TV Production Company

The owner of the TV commercial company I was managing decided to go into the post production world and that ended my job. He asked me, “Why don’t you open your own company?” And there I was in 1981, the owner of The Shooters Film Company. I wanted a production company that was exciting, stuffed with really talented directors, and medium-sized (around 30 staff). I was fortunate enough to have the help of a Deloitte accountant who took me to a bank in Scarborough. I was sitting beside him at the bank when he said to the bank manager, “She might be a girl but she has the stuff”. Imagine saying that today! But, he got me the $40,000 loan and I never used a penny of it. It took just two years to become a “go to company”. I did get to 30 staff and it was an honour and responsibility to have a happy and profitable workplace.

For the first 15 years, my role as the sole owner of Shooters was all about bringing in the big jobs. That was when the earlier years of working with the ad agency people paid off; that “who you know” thing helped a ton. So much of my work came out of the US that I opened an office in New York. The second 15 years of running my company has been years of ups and downs, but upon reflection, I have learned so much more from the not-so-easy years.

How the Ad Biz Changed Over 30 Years
Through the last 10 years, I was forced to re-invent Shooters’ services. I was fortunate enough to have worked directly with advertisers, and adding strategic planning and creative concepts to my services was easy for me. This has opened up new opportunities for my company to survive and occasionally thrive in these fast-changing times, when roles and services are changing and budgets are decreasing.

Everything has changed since I opened my company: the equipment has changed, everything is digital, crews come with different skills, directors need different skills. Most advertisers large and small are unsure about how the new media and digital marketing world will help them sell. The only thing that has not changed is the importance of “THE IDEA”. No matter how things change, one thing remains consistent: A good idea is a must. Throwing money behind a bad idea will never increase sales.

What I Have Learned from My 30+ Years Career
When I started out, it never occurred to me that it made a difference that I was a woman owner. But it did make a difference; surprisingly it was the ad agency male producers who didn’t hesitate to give me huge projects from the day I opened. I read somewhere that our daughters thought the feminist movement of the 70’s had changed everything for them. I believe we have a way to go.

In spite of all the ad biz changes and learning curves, I am still passionate and positive about my company and the ad biz in general and am currently working at developing young talented teams of directors, creative writers and art directors for the new marketing world.

But, something has changed. I now have my own rules as to who I will work with. Rule 1: I will not do marketing projects for nothing, a rampant practice in the ad biz. The old adage of “do this one job for nothing for more work in the future” is unacceptable. If you, Mr. Client, give me 3 or 4 paying jobs, then I might do one for nothing. That’s the way it should work. Rule 2: I will only work with clients who are collaborative. No stress allowed. In fact, clients must make me laugh in every meeting. That is only fair.

Pamela McNamara, owner of Shooters International and SpotDocs, has been creating television campaigns and marketing videos for major advertisers around the globe for many years. Whether it is television broadcast, web video, business- to-business video or a hit on YouTube, Pamela will passionately bring your story to life, ignite your brand and elevate your company’s image. With her team of top-notch writers, directors, editors and filmmakers, she collaborates with clients to help define their identity. Shooters International’s services are based on Pamela’s experience and passion for the marketing business.