7 ways to get commissioned by MTV

MTV influenced an entire generation when it launched as a nonstop music channel in 1981. Three decades on, and the Viacom-owned brand continues to innovate and experiment across multiple platforms.

From branding and advertising to broadcast, motion, interactive and beyond, each year MTV commissions a vibrant smorgasbord of creative skill sets and styles from partner studios and freelancers around the world – most recently for its new identity, released in June.

MTV's audience is vast: if you collaborate with the network, your designs could reach up to 500 million households in 170 territories. So how can you get a super-brand like MTV onto your client list?

According to Sean Saylor, vice president and creative director at MTV International, there are significant opportunities for collaboration.

"Our day-to-day is to create campaigns to promote MTV International's priorities and brand campaigns," he explains. "I would say the split is 50/50 between in house and collaborations."

Read on to find out where MTV sources its cutting-edge creative talent, and what the global super-brand looks for in potential new collaborators.

How do you choose who you collaborate with on new campaigns and projects?

PepperMelon workd on MTV's Voices campaign

PepperMelon workd on MTV's Voices campaign

We have a roster of collaborators that we usually work with, such as PepperMelon or Plenty in Buenos Aires for motion and Pogo for design. Landia and Primo are two production companies we love working with because of their history with MTV and proven track record - they're familiar with the brand, which allows us to go deeper, faster, in projects with tight timelines.

On the other hand, we're constantly searching for young and talented studios across the globe that provide a fresh approach to creativity.

Where do you look for new studios and freelancers to collaborate with?

Everyone on our team is responsible for proposing new studios and freelancers. Word-of-mouth is very common, especially because we like working not only with great talent but also with great people. A recommendation from someone we trust is invaluable.

We're continuously keeping an eye on blogs like Motionographer, Stash, FormFiftyFive and The Creators Project, as well as publications like Vice and Dazed. We've been using Vimeo, Behance and Dribbble to recruit talent as well.

We have periodic meeting in which our creatives share interesting projects with the rest of the team. We also keep an eye on industry awards such as the Art Directors Club, One Show, Promax, The FWA and Shorty.

What do you look for in new collaborators? What kind of skills, visuals or technical abilities might catch your eye?

We partner with a wide range of collaborators, from freelance creatives to big production companies. The concepts are usually developed in-house so when we look for talent we tend to have a very clear idea of what we expect from collaborators:

  • Sometimes we find a creative with a unique style that fits perfectly with what we want to create.
  • Sometimes the style of the collaborator wins over the concept and we just go it.
  • We are usually driven to choose collaborators with a strong body of work, rather than just a fancy client list.
  • We're looking for creatives that push things to the next level. That might be a new style or a new technique or a new way of using something that has always been there.

Can you tell us about a time when you found a talented studio outside the normal roster of MTV collaborators?

I remember watching the animated short "Parallel Parking" by Yum Yum London on 2010. At the time I think they didn't even had a proper site built. We found an email address and our producer got in touch with them. After a phone call we knew we wanted to work with them.

We try to keep risks at a minimum and we have a creative process that allowed us to do so, but at the end of the day you have to trust who you are working with.

Fortunately we have a very strong in-house creative team that can solve any problems that we find along the way, but I can't remember any project in which collaborators weren't able to produce the goods.

For us, it's imperative to have a clear idea of what the expectations are and be able to translate that idea. That's why we spend a lot of time discussing the projects internally before even reaching out to a collaborator.

How much creative freedom do you tend to give studios you're working with?

It depends on the project. For some projects we have an idea that needs to be executed and we are more open to visual or narrative proposals by the studios. On other projects we have a structure that we need to make work and the whole process is left to the studio.

We do have internal sign-offs, but we're lucky to work with people that understand the value of creativity so even in projects that have more layers of approval, everyone involved tends to push for the better product.

What's a typical collaborative creative process like?

RG\A's microsite for Steeping With the Family reacts to lights inside the viewer's room

RG\A's microsite for Steeping With the Family reacts to lights inside the viewer's room

When we collaborated with RG/A Buenos Aires on an online interactive experience, Sleeping With The Family, we brought the agency onboard because they master the balance between creativity and technology. We had a clear idea of what we wanted the site to be but they helped us find the how.

The concept developed as we talked and met, and their input was invaluable. Both teams worked together as one. The fact our offices are just 200 meters apart also helped, but this is definitely the type of collaboration we enjoy the most.

What advice would you give for getting onto MTV's creative radar?

  1. A strong portfolio or reel is what we look for; it doesn't have to be commercial work.
  2. We want to see the work and not a client list – take that section out of your site.
  3. Create amazing work, share it work online.
  4. Become a part of the community.
  5. Give feedback.
  6. Collaborate with others.
  7. Send your work to publications, blogs, sites and awards.

This interview first appeared inside Computer Arts issue 231. Subscribe to the world's best-selling creative design magazine and save up to 54 per cent.

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.