FIVE MINUTES WITH ALEX KAHN
As part of its new film initiative 'Impact Films', Publicis Sapient's 'Never Done' short documentary helps employees to see the impact of their work. Alex Kahn, who leads a team of writers, producers, and strategists in video storytelling as global head of content at Publicis Sapient, discusses the inspiration behind the film.
When it comes to communications campaigns, people tend to think short and snappy is better. Why was a documentary format chosen for the Never Done film?
Campaigns come and go. Never Done was about exploring something more permanent. What differentiates us as a company? What impact are we having on the world? We chose a documentary format not because it's the right asset for a campaign, but because it allowed us to investigate these questions deeply and honestly, without any spin.
In making the film, we discovered that our work truly is "helping people thrive in the brave pursuit of the next." So Never Done is less like a campaign asset, and more like a proof point. It's helping inspire all sorts of campaigns, from brand marketing to public relations to employee pride.
The film has been described as helping Publicis Sapient to “live its purpose.” Do you think this was achieved?
Publicis Sapient's experience designers, management consultants, software engineers, and product developers are already living our brand purpose every day. The problem was that we hadn't yet visualised the impact that their work was having on real people. "Helping people thrive in the brave pursuit of next" describes what makes us different: we focus on creating the best products and digital experiences for actual human beings, which sounds simple and obvious but is actually quite a difficult and radical approach for a company like ours.
So, at the premiere, we watched as the actual designers of the digital system depicted in the film got to see the impact that their work had on Kersten's life and the life of her kids. That was a special moment to be part of.
Why did you choose an external director rather than in-house?
The point of this Never Done was to honestly and authentically depict the impact of our work on real people. So we wanted to partner with someone who would take a neutral, unbiased approach to discover what that impact really was. I reached out to Ben Proudfoot because, even before he won an Oscar, his films showed an authenticity and tenderness towards his subjects which brought out the truth and humanity in their stories.
We didn't want any spin or fluff - in fact, we had an agreement with Ben that if he didn't find a compelling story about our impact on real people, then we'd ditch the idea of a film rather than asking him to bend the truth. That's a unique approach, as opposed to a commercial or branded content where the end often influences the means.
Will you be using documentary film in your communications strategies in future?
Definitely. Never Done has been featured at The New Yorker Festival and The Nantucket Project, and it's gotten attention from industry analysts and from outlets such as CNBC, Variety, and Communicate magazine! So as a medium, it grants us access to places and conversations we wouldn't otherwise be featured in.
But for me, what makes documentary even more special is not its power as a medium, but its power as a process. It forced us to step back from campaign execution to truly examine our brand DNA, the impact we're having on the world, and how we should be communicating that to our audiences. It's not just powerful in its own right, it's also making our marketing and communications campaigns better. That multiplier effect has been invaluable, and so it's definitely something we're going to continue doing in the future.
What response have your received from Publicis Sapient employees on the Never Done documentary?
Of all the audiences who've seen the film so far, the response from our employees has been the most gratifying. We've had 28 screenings on four continents for over 2,000 employees, and we've heard many of them say that watching this film was the most powerful moment of their career. It's another reason why the documentary approach was so powerful - if we started from a traditional brief with the goal of inspiring our internal employees, we may never have developed something so authentic and meaningful.
But because the process of making a documentary unfolds so organically, there was a truth and honesty in the film that accessed something deeper than what traditional corporate or branded content can do.