Kathryn Jacob is CEO of Pearl & Dean, the London-based cinema advertising company. To offer just a partial list of her many accomplishments, in 2016 Jacob and Sue Unerman co-authored the book The Glass Wall: Success Strategies for Women at Work and Businesses that Mean Business published by Profile. In 2020 the two women and a man named Mark Edwards co-authored the book Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work. The many boards that Jacob serves on include serving as chair of Home Manchester, an iconic arts venue. Since she joined Pearl & Dean, the company has created the world’s first 3D interactive advertisement for 02, brought pop up cinema to all parts of the UK, and worked with Virgin Atlantic and Ambassador Theatre Group on new ways to reach consumers. On August 1, Jacob began an eight-year term as president of SAWA Global Cinema Advertising Association. Despite the many challenges of the past two years, she remains confident that the industry will bounce back soon because, in her words, “The cinema medium is unique in the media landscape.” I recently spoke with Jacob, via email, about her new role at SAWA and a wide range of other topics related to cinema advertising. Here is our conversation.
Digital Cinema Report: You have served on the SAWA board since 2018 and this week you are taking over as president. For you, what is the greatest value that SAWA has to offer its members?
Kathryn Jacob: The cinema medium is unique in the media landscape. It is far more than just another screen. It has nuances that require respect, understanding and appreciation for us to successfully bridge the needs of the brands, the agencies, our cinema partners, and the cinemagoer. On the one side, we work hard to ever improve speed, accessibility, targeting, and measurement. On the other side, we must ensure campaigns continue to reach full cinematic picture and sound quality—just like the very best feature films. Brands are ultimately buying a piece of the audience’s emotional cinematic experience and attention: that requires us to provide a lot of care and respect over those unique cinema nuances.
Cinema is a global medium and, by and large, offers a global experience. SAWA plays an important global role for us in setting standards and recommendations for the industry. Many of those standards are based on the collective wisdom of its many members and associate members, which help us to advance the global cinema medium towards being ever more ‘digital’ whilst protecting the core quality and cinematic values that SAWA and its members have stood for and cherished for over 65 years. Amongst its many attributes, SAWA’s greatest value, for me, is the collective wisdom that it harnesses and shares amongst its members—acting as a support and a standard to our community.
DCR: How does SAWA benefit companies such as Pearl & Dean?
KJ: SAWA acts as a formal and informal knowledge-share. We learn from each other’s successes and challenges, and we benefit from the members’ insights on the numerous trends and initiatives that happen across the world. These can come from the wider advertising and exhibition elements that SAWA is part of. They might be big or small, but all knowledge is helpful. It helps us evaluate our market within an international perspective and to benefit from shared knowledge. Being able to explore that knowledge involved is a huge help. You just talk to your colleagues in a specific market and get to know the full story.
DCR: The pandemic dealt a terrible blow to businesses around the world and cinema was no exception. How did Pearl & Dean deal with that challenge?
KJ: It’s fair to say that the passing of time has mellowed some of the memories. In a time of uncertainty, it’s hard to manage a situation like the pandemic because you have no control of what’s happening. Our approach was to look after our colleagues because they are core to our business, to communicate actively and clearly with our stakeholders (difficult when you have no handle on the future) and we embraced all the actions of the SAWA Global Task Forces, as they were addressing urgent issues for our sector. We ran regular webinars, which helped cinema to still be active in agencies and clients, even though we weren’t operating. As part of the Cinema Advertising Association in the UK we worked to create a campaign that reminded consumers that cinema was back.
DCR: Now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, what can exhibitors do to succeed in this new business environment?
KJ: Cinema has proved its resilience and demonstrated its true value within the economic life cycle of a production across the various platforms that exist to watch film. The audience is back, the films are back, the brands are back, and—looking at the upcoming slate—we have a very exciting future together. And it our ‘togetherness’ that is the key here. Success will continue to require the careful nurturing of the collaboration between exhibition and the studios and distributors of content that makes up the entire show. The environment will of course remain challenging for a few years; exhibitors are facing unparalleled challenges with the supply of equipment, spares, and of trained staff. It’s also an environment that is ever more cashless, data-rich, and technologically connected. And it’s this aspect that offers us the important chance to get closer to the audience and their needs and target the right message at the right moment. We must work together to achieve that.
DCR: Specifically, what steps do you think companies involved in cinema advertising should be taking in the coming months?
KJ: All markets have their own perspective and challenges. What excites me is the opportunities that a growing focus on attention and viewability is happening with brands. The benefits of an in person and shared experience to make your campaign work harder. We need to remember that what we offer- in both the time spent with the medium, the sheer variety of content that you can be part of- requires us to explore what challenges our customers face and to remind them that cinema is a key part of a media plan.
DCR: How are advertisers responding now that audiences are returning to cinemas in growing numbers?
KJ: They are delighted! It proves to them that we have a role to play in their media mix.
DCR: What does the future hold for cinema advertising?
KJ: There are so many elements to this question. On the technical side, we see a future of exceptional quality in our presentation and the opportunities that brings. We will see a return to a more regular release pattern for films in 2023 as we get back our groove in the slate. The collective knowledge and efforts of SAWA will continue to drive excellence and opportunities for our members.