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The Sky secrets behind spotting a great idea

The Sky secrets behind spotting a great idea
Debbie Klein, Chief Executive at Engine, reports back from her AWE session with Sky's Director of Entertainment Channels Stuart Murphy

It was a privilege to present a Tuesday session at Advertising Week Europe titled "How Do You Spot A Great Idea?"

Ideas are, after all, why everyone in our industry gets up in the morning, and we love it at Engine when our brilliant specialists work better together to come up with something that truly makes a difference to our client's business.

For the session, I spoke to Stuart Murphy, the director of entertainment channels at Sky. Stuart is the man responsible for Sky Atlantic, Sky1, Sky Living and Sky Arts, and has brought you the likes of Game of Thrones, An Idiot Abroad, Mad Men and Stella.

Stuart covered all elements of the creative process, explaining how big ideas get pitched into Sky, how brilliant ideas get made (and rejected), his relationships with idea generators - everything down to the environment that he tries to create within his team in order to foster and spot the very best ideas.

For Sky, those ideas need to be world class. The broadcaster is the UK's biggest investor in programming, and even if they only need "3 out of 100" ideas to truly work, spotting and developing those three game changers requires a hell of a lot of tenacity, hunger and bravery.

It also requires the right culture. Stuart was very passionate when talking about creating a ‘kind’ environment at Sky.

“Creatives are not always the loudest people in the room,” he said. Indeed “creativity is a delicate thing... the great creatives I admire are insecure and nervous and worried, so we must cherish ideas, not vandalise them.”

So when you’ve picked up on a great idea, how do you then ensure that it’s the best that it can be? As the man who took the likes of Gavin & Stacey, Little Britain and Pineapple Dance Studio from paper to screen, Stuart had a few ideas.

“When we have something, we doggedly feed the core of an idea until the stuff on the periphery falls away,” he said. “Once you’ve recognised the core element, that’s when a good idea can become great.”

It’s also important not to meddle too much. Murphy sees himself as the spotter of good ideas, the one who can give creative visionaries a platform and bring the audience what they want, not someone who should rip the project from the hands of the original idea generator just because he’s the man with the budget.

“Why hire a creative genius, if you’re just going to get stuck in (and ruin it)?” Murphy asked. “You have to trust them.”

And chances are, if you give them this opportunity, not only will you get a big hit, but they’ll also return to work with you again. Take Ruth Jones – Murphy’s process worked so smoothly with Gavin & Stacey that Jones had no hesitation to work with him again when she had her idea for Stella. Three series later, the new show is a BAFTA winner and one of Sky1’s most cherished comedies.

The core of Stella’s idea – along with its magnificent cast – meant that it was never likely to be a flop. But what about the times when Stuart has failed? How has he dealt with that?

It’s hard, Stuart says, but you have to come to terms with it. In some ways, he even prefers big failures to ideas that don’t make a stir either way, because the bigger failures you can actually learn from.

“Moderate failures are more annoying than big flops,” he said. “Obviously you don’t want them to, but failures will happen. Just make sure the successes you do then have are huge.”

Debbie Klein is Chief Executive at Engine

Learn more about Advertising Week Europe at the official website or on their Twitter account

Last updated 02/04/2014

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