Features: If I Knew Then: Tom George
This month, we interrogate Tom George, managing director at Happy Hour Productions. Formed in 2003, the award-winning creative production agency produces TV adverts, radio, video content, title sequences, animation, and corporate and feature films. It’s currently ranked 48 in Campaign’s Top 100 UK Agencies list.
How did you start at Happy Hour?
I’m one of the founders. I’d been producing music promos, short films, commercials and corporates as a sole trader under the Happy Hour name, so we had some brand equity when we decided to form a limited company (and do things properly).
If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?
Where to start… I was always cautious. We’ve never borrowed money and always tried to keep a healthy cash flow, which meant not taking risks, being slow to expand, and probably seeing other companies grow faster.
I’d also be tougher with billing. We’ve been stung by changes in management or companies going into administration, forcing us to write off large payments.
What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?
Trust in your own creativity and remember people come to you for a reason. I’d advise myself to be more outspoken and confident in my ability to answer a creative brief well.
If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?
Definitely! I’m very lucky to have one of my passions as my job.
What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
When I started out, I knew how to produce a TV ad but couldn’t have told you if it would be successful, and making a feature film was just a dream.
Now, I’m more informed about the advertising industry, not just TV commercials but the strategy behind creative and media, brand and response. And I have a thorough working knowledge of the film business, from financing to selling and distributing. My understanding of everything business, from finance and M&As to deals and consultancy, is in a completely different league.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?
Surround yourself with good people, and the rest takes care of itself.
What is your business highlight?
Winning Best British Feature Film at Raindance a couple of years ago with Kicking Off. To get that level of recognition made the whole project worthwhile, and it triggered distribution deals and more festival screenings here and internationally.
What is your business low point?
Early on, we almost let the office go. We were producing TV ads but it was very hand-to-mouth, relying on creative agencies to feed us work. If they were quiet, we were quiet. Then we landed a large job and a few new clients, and the momentum started to build again.
What keeps you awake? (other than pets and children)
Any wobbles with a long-term client. We value our client relationships more than anything and we’ve grown some of our clients from their entry on TV to becoming market leaders in their category. It’s those clients we’re most proud of, that we want to keep and find more of.
What’s changed from when you started out?
The technology side has changed the most. Filming digitally and affordable editing suites make production itself more accessible for everyone. TV commercials and video content can be made quickly for less, and feature films can be produced on micro-budgets!
Plus, the rise of social video platforms like YouTube has turned everyone with a smartphone into a potential filmmaker. That makes our job even more challenging, which we love, because advertisers’ need to create truly engaging video is constantly increasing.
What’s still on your to-do list?
I have a pet project feature film, and a short film I really want to direct, but running a business leaves little time for my own personal projects!
What’s next for Happy Hour?
We’d like to provide a wider breadth of services to our existing clients, and reach new sectors of advertisers for our commercial TV work. As a film company, we’re expanding our post production offerings, with plenty of large-scale productions in the pipeline.