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Michaela Jefferson 

Five questions with Kathryn Jacob OBE, CEO of Pearl & Dean

Five questions with Kathryn Jacob OBE, CEO of Pearl & Dean

The CEO of Pearl & Dean reflects on the progress adland has made in realising the positive and negative effects it has on culture, what she is most looking forward to in 2021, and how she expects the future of cinema to shape up

We’re half way through the first month of 2021 - what are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?

Professionally, I am looking forward to cinema being back to its mighty best as soon as possible. We are really excited about the plethora of fabulous films planned for 2021 and we cannot wait to bring these to audiences across the UK once lockdowns are lifted.

On a personal note, I miss my Pearl & Dean colleagues hugely. I would also like to do a book talk in person with Sue Unerman (MediaCom's chief transformation officer) and Mark Edwards for our new book Belonging, which was published last year. It will be the first one that we do together since its launch.

Two years ago (at Mediatel’s The Year Ahead 2019), you said you hoped the year would be a benchmark year for change across the media and advertising industry in terms of realising the positive and negative effects it can have on culture and acting upon it. Do you think the last two years have delivered on that hope?

I think that this is a work in progress. We are much more aware of the issues involved and some great work has been done in the last two years, but there is still more to do.

Across the industry I see great initiatives on so many issues and it’s gratifying to notice the change that we are driving. When I talk to family and friends who don’t work in the industry, I feel proud to hear that they have begun to notice the growing shift in the industry on important issues such as racism or mental health. That brings home the hugely positive effects we can have when we use our collective power and influence to change the conversation.

As we persevere through our third national lockdown, how are you feeling about the future of cinema? Will the nature of cinema be irrevocably changed by the last 12 months, or do you expect it to ultimately bounce back to pre-covid “normality”?

I am not sure how we will judge ‘normality’ after Covid-19. It’s interesting that it has had such a huge impact on our working lifestyles now that many of us are based from home. It could create a more permanent change in our perception of flexible working in the future.

In cinema, this change may result in a shift in when we can expect consumers to attend a screening. After all, if you are working from home, you’ll have more opportunities to attend mid-week because you aren’t at your office and facing the commute home.

The release schedule has seen some titles shift to streaming, but the economic reality is that studios make more money when they have a cinema release followed by other opportunities like Sky Box Office.

For advertisers, the basic fact that you can’t advertise on some streaming platforms means that they can’t use it, so I am a bit bemused by some of the speculation that this could replace cinema in the long-term. Talking to colleagues in Australia, their return to a more regular way of operating has been marked by the audiences coming back to cinema and advertising revenue coming back too.

Black Widow, to be released to UK cinemas on May 7 2021. Photo: Marvel Studios

As we enter 2021, do you think the film industry is doing enough to feature female & multicultural talent? Both on screen and behind the camera?

There is great work being done by the BFI – in particular their series Woman with a Movie Camera, which is sponsored by Jaguar and focuses on and encourages female talent. They also work to encourage underrepresented groups through the grants that they give and the various content strands they run.

BAFTA also has a number of initiatives to develop talent and is working hard to reflect the many perspectives we need to have in the industry. We have to open up our sector to make sure that we can continue to both challenge and entertain audiences.

And finally, what is your strategy for Pearl & Dean over the next year?

It’s not so much about my strategy for Pearl & Dean. I believe you can’t deliver anything unless you have a brilliant set of colleagues with you and together deliver great work. What we are always striving for is to ensure our clients are happy with what we do.

However, it is also important to maintain a good company culture - making sure our team is well supported, happy and continues to be creative - whilst also always being kind to each other while we do it.

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