& Brown

Kerstin Emhoff [left] – CEO, PRETTYBIRD
Ali Brown [right] – President, PRETTYBIRD

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Whatever a traditional production company is, says PRETTYBIRD, they've never been that.

But, with directors such as Daniels, Melina Matsoukas, Tim & Eric, Nisha Gantra and Salomon Ligthelm, as well as company co-founder, Paul Hunter, being just some of the many talents on the roster, it’s no wonder PRETTYBIRD is flying high.

Kerstin Emhoff and Ali Brown continue to keep the company soaring by overseeing offices in Los Angeles and London and, within those offices, nurturing a raft of creative visionaries. Since its foundation in 2008, PRETTYBIRD has produced work for brands including Nike, Audi, Coca-Cola, Apple and too many more to name. It has had success within the advertising arena, of course, but beyond that, creates work within branded entertainment, music, sports, technology, film and television.

Recent acclaimed work includes this year’s Super Bowl campaign for CeraVe which carefully and creatively placed the skincare brand, and campaign star Michael Cera, at the heart of the Big Game. With a raft of Lions already under its belt, you wouldn’t bet against the company picking up some more this year.

In the coming pages you can read why Emhoff and Brown think awards are motivation, why trust needs to be reignited, and what the Cannes Lions festival means to them.

What’s your favourite piece of work from the last 12 months?

KE: Division and François Rousselet’s Gangsta video. They are keeping the art of music videos alive over there. Hallelujah!

AB: I loved This is Footy Country, directed by Mark Malloy. It’s so easy for comedy spots to fall into a rut, but I thought every choice he made was fantastic - casting to cinematography. He created a world that even a non-Australian footyer (is that a word?) like me became fully invested in. I want to see the feature version!

How long have you been coming to Cannes, and what’s your fondest memory of the festival?

KE: I think this is my 22nd year in Cannes! My favourite part of Cannes was always when I’ve been a judge or jury president. I love being connected to the festival in that way. However, my fondest memory is accepting our first Grand Prix for Beyonce’s Formation video by Melina Matsoukas.

AB: I’ve been coming since 2014 and my fondest memory is also being on stage with Kerstin accepting our first Grand Prix on behalf of Melina Matsoukas. Sitting with that Lion purring by our side at the Carlton terrace was a moment of sheer joy.

Who or what has most influenced your career?

KE: This is an easy one! My PRETTYBIRD Co-Founder Paul Hunter will always be my guiding light. In the most unassuming way, he continues to defy all expectations of who he is as a filmmaker and will not take ‘no’ for an answer. He is also the most supportive human being of other filmmakers and creators in our industry. I resisted starting a company, but Paul was going to have it his way. “We got this, let’s make it great!”, he said with a quick wink and very charming smile. Off we went to build the nest.

AB: I can’t say that anyone has had more of an impact on my career than my partner Kerstin Emhoff. Kerstin took a chance on me when she started PRETTYBIRD, and I was just a baby bird myself. I tried to convince her I was absolutely not qualified for the job and she refused to listen… thankfully. To be able to grow the company initially with her as a mentor and then as her partner is a rare opportunity that few people are given. I will always be indebted to her for believing in me with such blind faith.

Are awards important?

KE: I like to complain that, as an industry, we award ourselves too much, and I think that’s true. Despite this, I do feel like they are important for the industry overall. It sets a bar for craft, creativity and efficacy that keeps us doing better and innovating more.

AB: I think awards are important as motivators. Every show I judge, every list of winners, it pushes me to want to be in that mix… to do better work creatively. So, while I think there are probably a few too many of them, I do think that awards keep us inspired as an industry to create work that moves people, not just product.

If there is one thing you could change about the advertising industry, what would it be?

KE: So hard to choose just one! If I have to pick one, I would say that I feel that the industry is very slow to change. As filmmakers we are always testing out the latest technology, but our business models have barely changed over the last 30+ years. This is across the board with clients, agencies and prod cos. As an industry we should be ahead of the curve rather than chasing it.

AB: I would bring back trust. Between agencies and clients, and production companies and directors. Everyone is so afraid of losing a job, a person, an account, you name it, that we have created this relentless ninja warrior death match mindset around every job, only to do it again. When there is trust, everyone is putting their best foot forward so the work is produced more efficiently, with more collaboration and, inevitably, the results reflect that. It’s a cycle we should be perpetuating.

What piece of work makes you think, ‘I wish I’d made that’?

KE: I came across an incredible campaign by SK2 at Cannes called Marriage Market Takeover. This integrated campaign by the Japanese brand tackled the concept of ‘leftover women’ in China — unmarried women over the age of 28. It was both important and inspiring, showcasing the profound impact a brand can have through top-tier storytelling. I’m still inspired by it and dream of turning it into a scripted series one day!

AB: I always hold up Jonathan Glazer’s Ride, for Wrangler, as the ultimate spot I wish I’d made. It has all my favourite things - trains, fire, food, sex, hot cars, dancing, beautiful landscapes and buffalo. But the way they are combined is cinematic perfection. It is a visceral work of art that perfectly imbues you with passion, inspiration and adrenaline.

Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know...

KE: Only my high school friends know that my secret ambition was always to be a Solid Gold Dancer. Google it.

AB: When I grow up, I want to be a novelist.


Over the course of this week we will be celebrating some of the people who are at the heart of advertising's creative landscape, those who - whether creatives, directors, producers or other craftspeople - have made a lasting impact on the business.

Alongside specially commissioned portraits, taken by photographer Julian Hanford, we will be asking our subjects about the work they most admire, both new and old, what Cannes means to them, and what they might change about the industry if they could.

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Icons + Innovators. Ali Brown & Kirsten Emhoff, Prettybirdshots