In The Spotlight… Sally Pacy and Cara Kotschy from Fifty Fifty
This October, post and production house Fifty Fifty celebrated its fifteenth birthday. The independent company was co-founded by Sally Pacy (above right), who remains the owner, and is run by Managing Director Cara Kotschy (above left). Between them, the pair have over 40 years’ industry experience and their impressive list of clients includes ITV, BBC, Zig Zag Productions and TwoFour.
WFTV caught up with Sally and Cara shortly after the Birthday celebrations to find out what it takes to run a successful business in an increasingly competitive post and production sector…
“Talent is key. Find good people then nurture and grow those people; give them the opportunity to shine and treat them well.”
Sally, after a number of years in the industry working for the likes of Disney and Universal Pictures, what made you decide to set up your own company?
I’d been working in TV for nearly 15 years (predominantly in Post Production) when an opportunity came up in 2003 to set up a post facility with my then business partner, Tim Whitehead. It wasn’t long in the planning, and we had to act quickly to secure funding and premises, but timing was everything. We were ready at that point to seize the chance of running our own business.
What have been the biggest industry and technological changes that have impacted your business since those early days, and how have you managed to adapt to them?
The traditional post house client base taking working in-house has an impact on our industry, however, we have always managed to maintain a demand for our creative talent and market leading technical facilities to our growing client base whether they have an in-house offering or not. Automation is presenting change to some areas of the post industry but not significantly enough for us for it to be a real concern for our business. The move through tapeless, HD, 4K and HDR represented huge technological change. We strive to stay close to our clients and adapt quickly to their technical demands if it makes commercial sense and we’re always prepared to push the button on new investment at the right point in every new technology cycle. There is currently huge disruption in the market, both in the advertising industry and the PSB/SVOD platforms, this can pose a threat but more excitingly offers genuine opportunity – we continually think, and plan, hard to make the most of these opportunities.
There will always be a place for the post facility. Our goal is to remain nimble, flexible and quickly responsive to changes in market and technology. Being a smaller business can help us do this at a faster pace than some of our competitors.
Whilst technology changes, some of the core principles of running a successful business always remain the same. What one piece of key advice would you give to someone who has recently set up their own creative industries company or is thinking about doing so?
There are many but here are a few that, in my view, are vital (and apply to most businesses…);
Talent is key. Find good people then nurture and grow those people; give them the opportunity to shine and treat them well. They in turn will do the same for the next generation. If we’re lucky some stars stay with the business but inevitably some will move on. It’s a delight working with the good ones however long or short their stay.
Get to know your clients, understand their vision and hopes for each production. Nurture them and treat them well. Become an indispensable extension of their production team.
Keep a very close eye on industry trends and what is emerging as the next big thing and then as a team make a plan for how your specific business is going to tackle being a part of it.
It’s a cliché but look after the pennies – I get very nervous about not having enough put by for a rainy day!
Cara started as a runner at Fifty Fifty and worked her way up in an impressively short amount of time to become MD. What was it you saw in her that made you believe she was the right woman for the job?
Cara started (as you say) as a runner, and our 6th employee, in 2004 and instantly rolled up her sleeves and got involved in every aspect of the business. It was completely natural that, as the business grew, she was given the opportunity to progress and grow with it. Her passion, drive and commitment to be the very best she, and the business, can be is infectious so when I took the decision to have a 3rd child in 2010 making Cara MD with day to day responsibility for running the business was a no-brainer.
Cara and the Senior Team have helped build Fifty Fifty from our Covent Garden beginnings of 2 x edit suites and a small MCR department into a leading boutique full service post production facility. We now have 4000 sq ft across 2 Soho sites; 30 x client facing rooms with grading suites, audio studios, finishing suites, multiple offline suites, cutting edge technical servicing, client break out and production space.
Cara, on the flip side, going from being a runner to MD within seven years suggests you’re a very fast learner! What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far about being a business leader in the creative sector?
To be as inclusive as you can with your team. We have a fantastically loyal and exceptionally talented team of tech people, producers, creatives and runners who work very hard for the Company and I believe it’s only fair to be as open as possible with the state of the business, what’s going well, what isn’t, future plans etc so that they genuinely feel part of it.
When I first became MD my remit was to lead the business out of the recession. 2010 was our only ever loss making year during the worst part of the recession. I was made MD at the end of that year and my first move was to have an all staff meeting to tell the team that we were in the red and that, for the first time ever there would be no payrises or bonuses but if we work hard and stick together we can turn this around. And we did – we were back in the black and on track by the end of the financial year.
What might a ‘typical’ day at the office look like for you?
Currently we’re so busy I don’t have an office – it’s an edit suite – so first of all I have to find somewhere to work!
I like to get in early before most of the team have arrived. I try to chat to the early tech and running staff if they’re in the kitchen while I make my coffee, about how things are for them within the business, what they want from it etc otherwise don’t get to speak to them and I think it’s important to stay in touch with the team on every level.
After that it’s a flurry of emails before the rest of the team arrive, followed by a string of meetings, a client lunch (there is so much value in getting to know those that we work with away from the office), hopefully I’ll have a few hours after that to actually get some things done, before hopping on my bike and racing home to the kids .
“We have always promoted an equal opportunities culture at Fifty Fifty and we’ve always had mixed technical, production and creative teams so I find it very hard to understand why this isn’t the case everywhere.”
That horrible myth that women don’t help other women up the workplace ladder is well and truly busted in your example. But we do know that women are still in the minority in technical roles in the industry. Do you see that changing in your business and what do you think we need to do, as an industry, to make more progress?
Yes I absolutely do. A few weeks ago I walked into our MCR, the technical hub of our building and that day the shifts had fallen so that all the work was being carried out by a team of young women which was great to see.
We have always promoted an equal opportunities culture at Fifty Fifty and we’ve always had mixed technical, production and creative teams so I find it very hard to understand why this isn’t the case everywhere.
Quite simply for the industry to make progress overall we need to stop putting up barriers and make sure we have the right people, in the right roles regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or whatever else is inhibiting equal opportunities.
Also as business leaders we owe it to our staff to keep listening to them to make sure we are creating career paths that enable personal growth and ultimately the growth and success of our businesses.
As Fifty Fifty looks to the next fifteen years and beyond, what do you hope for the future of the business?
Interesting things are happening in post production at the moment which favour a business of our size. Flexibility and agility alongside specialist experience are key to navigate the many different ways of working and the myriad of deliverables we’re now required to make for a whole range of outputs. The boutique model at Fifty Fifty is perfectly suited to working in this way.
So we have no immediate plans for expansion. Our credits from the last 12 or so months are almost entirely for terrestrial primetime programming and SVOD so we’re going to build on this and continue to carve a reputation for specialist excellence amongst our clients and peers.
And for the future, we certainly have no quest to take on the giants, our size has become our USP and we’re enjoying that.
Our thanks go to Sally and Cara for taking the time to answer our questions.
Find out more about Fifty Fifty here.