Olivier Koelemij is the Managing Director for MediaMonks LA, one of the world’s leading creative production companies. In episode 3 of Creatives Offscript, Olivier takes us on his journey moving from the Netherlands to the US and his experience joining MediaMonks. He talks about how he balanced his transition from entrepreneurship to contributing to a global organization, and how even at this scale, MediaMonks still operates as a single, cohesive team. Tune into this episode of Creatives Offscript to hear more about Olivier’s extensive experience, and about the powerhouse company that is MediaMonks.
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Nate Watkin: Welcome to the Creatives Offscript podcast, sponsored by Assemble. My name is Nate Watkin, and I’m extremely excited for today’s interview with Oliver Koelemij, the Managing Director of MediaMonk’s West Coast Operation. For those of you who don’t know, MediaMonks is one of the largest, if not the largest creative production company in the world, with 21 offices around the globe, and we’re expanding film, VR, app development, experiential and much more. Oliver founded the LA office and has grown it to more than 100 employees in five years, as well as opening their beautiful studio space on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach. Welcome, and thank you for joining us, Oliver.
Olivier Koelemij: Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to it.
Nate Watkin: So, first things first. You’ve experienced such incredible success in the creative industry, but I wanted to start by taking it back to the beginning, and understanding really how you did it. So, I would love to start by hearing about the first company that you founded.
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah, sure. So, it’s been a little while ago. But, I’m born and raised in the Netherlands, close to city of Amsterdam. And I started my first company during my business and economy MBA that I was doing. Which is a production show, not a big surprise. Called Amsterdam Productions. And I- I was kinda like, end-to-end solution for brands that needed web design. So I started that, I think it’s over 15 years ago, doing everything from start to finish. And it was a one man powerhouse. And so, from supporting new commercial opportunities, actually, the production of it, from UX design to front and back-end development. So, yeah, it was an exciting time.
Nate Watkin: That’s awesome. So you started your career as an entrepreneur. How did you initially get involved with MediaMonks?
Olivier Koelemij: It’s actually quite straight forward. So, the entrepreneurialism on the one hand, started, but there’s this second thing that’s always been driving me and that’s to have love and desire and the passion that I have for technology, I guess, if it’s what we want to call it. And, the success is defined by bridging those two worlds and being able to understand commercial opportunities and then actually produce it. And whilst I was doing that, in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, I had a need for, and an ambition to go larger. And there was only one place to do that for me. And that was the United States of America.
I think I always considered this to be the champion’s league of it all, considering the amount of eyes that you get on the work that you do, and so I left the budgets and all the other things and MediaMonks was an opportunity for me, then, allowed for me to bring those two worlds together in the former role of producer, and they gave me the opportunity to make that jump to the US. So, that’s kinda how I got in the mix with MediaMonks a small decade ago.
Nate Watkin: And what was that experience going from being an entrepreneur, you know, in charge of your own schedule, your own company, to now working with, you know, a global organization? What was that like?
Olivier Koelemij: Up until today, it’s been the most difficult decision for me to make, and the reason for that is, I’ve been an entrepreneur and being able to manage your own time is, kinda having that- that freedom is what drives a lot of entrepreneurs. But what’s amazing about this company is well, out here, we don’t work with time sheets. So we expect for people, there’s another way to roll. Our average responsibility that you carry, you manage your own time, because if you like constraining someone by time sheets, it doesn’t ask you to work. It doesn’t feed passion and good creative. And passion doesn’t work on the clock. It comes when it comes. So, knowing that I have that freedom, it was a great way your saddling into this company.
Secondly, the fact that I have the desire to go abroad and have an impact on a much larger level is, it just doesn’t come, huh? You need to be experienced to get to that point. In order for you to be a good leader, I felt like it’s mandatory to know what it is to be led as well. So, I think bringing those two things together was for me, a big concept, to join this company and make that difficult step.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, that’s really insightful and you needed to learn how to be led, but then of course, you rapidly grew into that leadership position within the company, which is amazing. So, tell me a little bit about being tapped to open the LA office and what kind of challenges did you face in growing the business there?
Olivoer Koelemij: Yeah, for sure. So, I actually made move to New York first, before I moved to LA. And as being very stubborn Dutchman, we felt like when we are in New York, we can do US business. Clearly doesn’t work like that. You need to have your local presence. You need to be there all the time. Work your clients, and be relevant and in the moment, and that is definitely what we got when we were in New York, it hit us as soon as we found the opportunity to actually open up that office, and I got tapped for that opportunity after showing the desire of doing so, of course.
Nate Watkin: So what is your day to day like? Tell me what it’s like to be in charge of the LA office. How involved are you on an individual project at any given time?
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah, sure. So nowadays, it’s very different than when we started, of course, and the, and the role is asking 100% of my time. I am not necessarily very much heads down in production itself. But being able to be there for the team, and support them on all fronts, is I think, the biggest chunk of my work, as well as defining the strategy that ladders up to our global goals and ambition that we have as a company holistically. So, trying to be relevant and make sure that we perform as good as we can as a single collective here in LA, but for most, I have always ladder up to the larger goal that we have as a company. And the reason why that is so important is, and I think the true power and our competitive advantage that MediaMonks has over many other companies is, is the fact that we operate around a single PNL model. That means that yes, we have over 20 offices, our locations are across the globe, but we operate as a single team. And that’s why it’s so vital that the things that we do locally always are perfectly in sync and ladder up to our global goals and ambition.
Nate Watkin: Yeah, that’s amazing. And, just the fact that you’re able to coordinate all those offices around the world towards one shared goal is really impressive.
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah, and I think also, to just take a step back, is what allowed for me to get to that point and to do that is being in the trenches for a little over a decade. And actually doing the work myself, is and it’s kind of been key and vital to get me to the point that brought on today.
Nate Watkin: Absolutely. And so, what at MediaMonks, your approach to branded content, is very data driven. Why do you feel that it’s important to start with that data before diving into the creative?
Olivier Koelemij: To answer question, I think the connecting creativity with strategy I had it moving into production, allows for you to make smarter decisions. And it sounds like a very logical thing, but the reality of companies and what they’re facing in this day and age is to have working with their creative teams, with their media, agencies or internal teams, they tend to operate very siloed. So, although it’s a given that if you connect those things ahead of moving into production, it’s not always a possibility. And I think that’s what make one of our, things very unique, is being an end-to-end solution for those brands to be able to bring those both worlds together and really look at those things before moving into production. It’s what makes the biggest impact, because it allows you to make some decisions that are truly relevant, if that makes sense.
Nate Watkin: Absolutely. And your studio has this emphasis on producing transformable content that can live on many different platforms. Why is this important, and how do you do it? What makes MediaMonks unique in that regard?
Olivier Koelemij: A beautiful question. I make, I think, going back to your previous question, is to be able to cycle into this one. If you do that, bringing those worlds together, ahead of moving into production, talk about creative and strategy, it then allows for you to approach your production in different way, considering that I guess we call Mother Marketing Mix. So those different channels and platforms that the customer of our clients are at, where they move and how they operate, and being able to craft and produce content, that’s for something we call Fit for Format, is vital. So it’s not as traditional as it was back in the day where you have to focus on a single channel, maybe two or three. Nowadays, the Mother Marketing consists of so many different platforms and the way people interact with those platforms and formats is so different. That’s why it’s so vital to feel, understand that first, and connect your creativity to still drive or produce content that is consolidated or at least the same as these channels, when it comes to the tonality and brand voice.
But very different from an executional level. And I think that’s why it’s so important. If you are able to create or make an, what we call an appointment with your audience, you’re doing a drive. For that, you need relevant content.
Nate Watkin: And I’ve noticed you’ve built an in-house studio there in the LA office, right, specifically tailored towards producing that digital content.
Olivier Koelemij: Exactly. That’s right. So we noticed that the need for that one always on content, or also that Fit for Format content is vital, and for us to get to support our clients, we wanted to have that studio, that custom-built studio, that’s optimized and tailored to specifically serve that need. And I think that ladders back up to thinking about the briefs that we receive and reading through the brief and understanding what the clients’ needs and challenges are in 2020, and it’s interesting if you think about like that. If you’re asking your clients, “What is your, the biggest problem, like, you have?” And it tends to always boil down to speed and go to market. And having this studio where we have creative, where we have media, where we have strategy sitting in the same room, as well as the folks that produce the work, allows for us to literally, and always on fashion, produce content that is optimized for these platforms and channels, and then always on format. Day-to-day, we’re going through hundreds and hundreds of assets, that do that specifically, which is interesting.
Nate Watkin: Wow. That’s incredible. So let’s say a project isn’t going the way you want it to go. What do you do?
Olivier Koelemij: I have not seen that before. Like, it’s the reality of the production that we’re facing. I think it’s the reality of today, I think problems that didn’t exist yesterday exist today, whether it be because of the ever-evolving platforms and channels, or the introduction of new technology, for it’s AR, VR, AI, it could be all sorts of things. I think the luck, I guess, what we have is we are producers to its core. We are makers. We are defined by we’re, I guess, problem solvers from the ground up. And we’ve been challenged and faced with different problems and I guess not only for the Monks, but for, I guess, most creative agencies and shops out there is help producers think to be the solvers. And the fact that we are ingrained or, the fact that that’s our nature, allows for us to be always on our toes and find solutions that help us get to where we want to go.
Nate Watkin: And so, you work across so many different mediums from films and interactive, VR, AR, what across all this, what has been the coolest job that you’ve ever worked on?
Olivier Koelemij: I think, that’s excellent question. I’ve asked it myself often in the last several years. And the reason for that is I find it hard to define “cool” or “success.” Looking at the evolving landscape, so we’ve considered success, and we still consider success for a lot of our interactive digital experiences for them to be, hey, if they are award-winning, we can pick up an FWA, or a cli- Cleo, or a Cannes Lion. It drives that going ambition that we have, that looking at what success means across those different formats and channels and platforms and considering, the power of data, it makes me think of what success means. I think if you can produce a small snippet of content, data-driven, personalized, and tailor it to the right moment and to the right audience, that to me is good creative. That, to me is a great example of success. And tell that means that the spectrum of cool and success can be quite broad, and super honored and excited by the fact that MediaMonks offers that across the board. We do all of that. But, yeah, so from the one end, shooting, taking sandwiches into space to get away with our friends over at Y&A and Kennedy, all the way up to produce content that is driven by data and performing better than we’ve ever seen before, for some of our other brands, and clients, has been exciting.
Nate Watkin: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on a shoot?
Olivier Koelemij: Oh, good question. I had a very enjoyable shoot, I think it’s been two or three years ago now. Maybe even four. With an excellent gentleman, Terry Crews. I assume you know who I’m talking about, and he’s one of the most passionate people I’ve ever seen. And so skilled and it gave me so much energy to see that man at work. And what he did was between every shoot and scene, he went back to his dressing room, pick up his dumbbells, his weights, brought back his beautiful man muscles and go back to the next scene when he turned himself from a devil into a grandma to a grandpa to a little kid. It was very incredible to see a man with that much passion and energy doing something so extraordinary. And I think that, I guess me mentioning this right now, is something that has always stood by me.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Dedication to his craft. I like that. So, speaking of, you know, the global nature of MediaMonks, you produce a massive amount of content worldwide. How do you connect the talent? I mean, I know you said you were working under one unified organization. But I’m curious to know, how do you actually manage connecting all of those offices around the globe?
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah. So to your point, we’ve been provided with the opportunity looking at their model that we are having, I think, be a single PNL, that we have the foundation. We are structured in that way. So, we have the opportunity to actually develop this, to pretty much the largest global creative talent pool in the world. And hire subject matter experts, or people with such specific skill set, it’s incredible and I bet by default, if you get or receive new RFP or brief, you look at the formative challenge that the brand, or that the thing that the brand is trying to solve, you by default go and look at what is it that you need in terms of team and talent to get to the best result? And it’s not only always set of skill, think about Terry Crews, but it’s also about passion.
If we have people that are hyper-passionate about the subject, the amount that it has, that we have in hand, it’s so vital to get those people on the project. So, you have this luxury of looking globally, looking at the talent pool, several thousand Monks, and go, these are the right people to get us to the very best result. So, on the one hand, I guess that structure, that single PNL model, allows for us to do that, which is unique and incredibly powerful. Then the other hand, we’re digital natives. We developed a, it’s a tool set that allows for us to also accommodate and surface that. So I think that helps. That helps as well.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Incredible. And that leads me right into my next question of what kind of collaboration tools are you using to coordinate all those offices?
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah, of course. So I think it’s a combination of two things. One is just like most other production shops out there, we use several service provider companies that produced certain set of tools that it simply wouldn’t make sense to try and build your own. But what we have done is, we created a propitiatory tool considered to be a API layer that connects all of those different very excellent tools that have been produced, bring them together into our proprietary backbone that we use as some sort of a foundation for each project or opportunity that we get. That’s on the shoulder for, and start there. So that’s a combination of both worlds. It kind of a unique model. And that’s supported by processes and pipelines that we developed over the years to be able to do that global work.
Nate Watkin: That’s incredible. So you’re obviously a very tech-forward company. It sounds like you’ve basically, essentially, built your own proprietary dashboard to manage all the variety of different tools that you’re using across the board?
Olivier Koelemij: That exactly what it is.
Nate Watkin: That’s great. And how do you stay nimble as technology changes over time? I mean, if that’s just part of, that’s what’s built into your DNA is always looking for new innovative ways to do things?
Olivier Koelemij: Short answer is yes. It’s baked in our DNA. This is who we are, and this is what we do. And I think in order for us to keep doing that, is being able to embrace change. If you can embrace change, it allows for you to always be open minded and find new source. So, I guess on the one, it’s DNA, it’s that problem-solving mentality, but also the passion and enthusiasm that drives us to find new ways and always find ways to push the industry forward, I’d say, and help brands solve their problems or challenges, considering the very complex customer decision journey of 2020.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Absolutely. You’ve made a couple acquisitions in your time at MediaMonks. Let’s start with the acquisition of Stop. How has VR become a core part of what you do, since the acquisition?
Olivier Koelemij: Excellent question. I think, back in 2014 or 2015, we saw the second wave of VR hit us, and I think the first one was early 2000s, but we all in 2015-16, we all hoped that everyone would have this gift VR under their Christmas tree, so to speak. That didn’t happen. It didn’t take off, and I think it’s because of the lack of technical maturity and reach, those combinations. But VR has been a defining or driving tactic for some of the most astonishing work that we’ve done, because it’s so incredible opportunity to build experiences that are highly engaging. And I think, if you consider innovation as part of your strategy from a client or brand perspective, it’s definitely a platform that you want to consider using, depending on the things you wanna try to do or solve. If that makes sense.
So, yeah, it’s been a powerful, one of our powerful solutions or offerings for many years now.
Nate Watkin: Sure. Awesome. And then, another merger, acquisition, was the Influencer Marketing Agency, IMA. What does that signal for MediaMonks’ next wave of growth in terms of tapping that Influencer network?
Olivier Koelemij: Yeah, I think it ties back to being able to provide or being this end-to-end solution for brands in this modern day and age and being able to support them across their marketing needs, considering the fact customers that we talked about. I think nowadays, if I recall correctly, a customer has a little over 12.9 touch points with a brand before moving into conversion. And those tend to be across a variety of platforms, whether it be social or on native like Apple or whatnot. And Influencer Marketing’s played such a vital role in that. So, it was a logical next step in the evolution of MediaMonks and I was trying to build this new vision or new era, if I may, driven by creative production data, media and technology.
Nate Watkin: So in today’s world, what do you think it takes to run a successful production company? If you were starting from scratch, what would be your number one piece of advice?
Olivier Koelemij: Grit, positivity, energy and find the best people that you can find and surround you with them. I think in a nutshell that’s, those are the key things.
Nate Watkin: And in terms of the leading right into that in terms of surrounding yourself with the best people, when you’re looking to sign new talent, what’s the number one thing that you’re looking for?
Olivier Koelemij: Good question. We talked about passion a lot. I think passion has always been a driving factor for success. The other thing is looking at who we are, and what we’ve been doing for over two decades is MediaMonks is, we’re makers. We are production-oriented folks and having that mentality, I think, is vital being action oriented, as well as being a team player. So there are a variety of things you want to consider when finding good people. I think that, they kinda encaptured it.
Nate Watkin: And what would you say to an up and coming director that wants to get noticed by you?
Olivier Koelemij: Excellent question. I think it’s one of the, if I look at the people that have been very successful within our company, is the people that take ownership of the work that they do. And understand what is relevant in today’s day and age. So on the one end, take something and own it and run with it is vital within the people, the most successful people have done exactly that, whilst understanding what’s relevant and what’s working out there right now. And that requires a lot of constant development and learning on new ways and finding new ways and being able to embrace that change that we talked about earlier. And find new ways, it’s something that we call Little Big Ideas, I think, is defining for a success.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Absolutely. And I would love to touch on that. I know you make a strong differentiation between big ideas and Little Big Ideas. What is the difference between that and why is it important?
Olivier Koelemij: Great question. I think it’s something I’ll call Flipping the Pyramid. If you think it in a very traditional way, our directors or brands, producing TVCs, said that the marketing mix was much more simplistic back then. And the TV, radio, all of it, online, and print, but it’s developing a TVC, maybe do a few, two or three cut downs and pushing it out there. If you look at where the people are at, versus the media spent, you wanna consider that, and acknowledge that there are many more platforms and many more ways to communicate with your audience. And doing it in a single big room, a single big idea doesn’t room. So you still need that strategic or core insight. But then look at each channel specifically and produce content that is hyper relevant and optimized. And again, something that we call Fit for Format.
So, those Little Big Ideas for each of those channels, platforms, is vital, ideally driven by data, because they’ll ask you to personalize and also measure and constantly evolve the content that you’re producing, making sure it’s the best forming. But then on the other hand also embracing the power of the platform that you’re producing it for, and understanding how the people react and move on that platform to be able to be relevant is powerful.
Nate Watkin: What would you say is the most underappreciated aspect of your job?
Olivier Koelemij: Fun question. I’ve seen a lot of those. But what I’ve also seen is what I mean with that, you see them on a day-to-day basis. But what I get out of it is, I try and turn them into opportunities. It could be growing from zero to 100, 120. It came with HR challenges. But it also allowed for us to build an extension of our HR team here in the United States of America. And through that, during these challenges, or the things that might distract you from your larger goals of being a leader, into opportunities and turn it around, it is something that actually becomes one of your strong suits. And the HR example was one of them, but there are many of them, so I guess looking at those things and being able to turn them into opportunities is my takeaway here.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. That’s great insight. I mean, there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that aren’t necessarily been all sexy. Creative parts of the job, but sounds like there’s opportunities for innovation everywhere. What’s a lesson you’ve learned the hard way on a project?
Olivier Koelemij: I think it’s not necessarily tied to a project. I think it’s the collective of many mistakes that you make as you maneuver through time that then, if you are also embrace that, and learn from your mistakes, and the challenges that you are facing, whether it be on a project or on the department level or an office level or whatever level you’re at, it’s embracing those mistakes, learn from them, and move on. I think that’s vital.
Nate Watkin: Yeah. Absolutely. Just that collective learning. So, last question. I love to ask this to everybody that we interview. But if you had to start your career all over again, 20 years old, trapped in a city with no network, no resources, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Olivier Koelemij: Beautiful last question. I think how I look at this is, you mentioned all the way back to the beginning of your career. I consider this to be the start of my career. It’s been a short stint. It has been a decade and a half, but it feels to me like this is only the beginning, and continue to embrace the mistakes that we are making, and learn from that. And then also, be able to embrace change. That’s something that I call “kill your darlings.” It’s something that you have to do every single day. I’d love to hold onto some beautiful moments from back days, weeks, months, years ago, would be able to embrace both change, and embrace the mistakes that you made and learn from them, is something that I’ll continuously do so for the rest of my career.
Nate Watkin: Well, that’s some incredible advice. Kill your darlings, and embrace change. I love that. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the Creatives Offscript podcast, and it was excellent talking with you.
Olivier Koelemij: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it. Thank you.