SunsetDDB’s head of production Taís Caetano on why the pandemic has been a watershed for sustainability, bringing data into production and why diversity is such an important topic for the Brazilian ad industry
Taís Caetano is a consummate producer, who has spent over 20 years working in Brazil’s production industry. Last year she joined SunsetDDB, where she’s been knitting together the production department with data and strategy, helping adapt workflows to the challenge of Covid-19 and pioneering new techniques. But the work she’s proudest of is driving sustainable production practices in her department and also the wider agency. Diversity and inclusion is also something she’s keen push both on screen and behind the camera, particularly given Brazil’s structural and historical context.
LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?
Taís> The pandemic imposed on us the challenge of continuing an activity whose dynamics implies, in most cases, bringing people together so that production can happen. To adapt, we have been working with a hybrid model, in which people on the front lines of production go out to the field, with fewer team members than in the past, and another group works remotely.
There are also cases where our art directors follow photo shoots remotely. And recently we set up a virtual ‘war room’, using digital tools to connect our professionals and the client to produce real time content from a famous TV show here in Brazil.
We also seek to work in controlled environments, such as the studio that we created to produce content for one of our clients.
Finally, whenever it is necessary to go to the field, we strictly follow a rigorous health protocol that, among other things, made Covid-19 testing and personal protective equipment mandatory for every professional who works on a film set, limited the number of people, and recommends spacious and ventilated locations whenever possible.
LBB> Sustainable production was becoming a big topic before Covid, now the pandemic has forced the industry to adopt practices like remote production etc – what do you think the future is for green production?
Taís> As in so many other industries, I see the outbreak as a watershed moment for labour reorganisation and optimisation globally. A huge learning experience to evolve the way we work.
It is no different for green production, and I think we have accelerated a process that was already inevitable. We have adopted several green production policies at the agency, many of which can be applied to our daily lives: choosing less polluting modes of transportation, such as bikes or cars fuelled with ethanol if a car is unavoidable; preferring disposable items that are biodegradable; reducing consumption of red meat in favour of plant-based products; reducing the use of printed documents; using more efficient lighting, such as LEDs, which consume less energy; using virtual resources instead of visiting locations, whenever possible, and when this is not possible, reducing the number of people who visit the location.
LBB> And I know that sustainability in production is really important to you personally – what have you been doing with the team at SunsetDDB on this front?
Taís> In fact, sustainability in different aspects is important to me in production, as I see it as a civilizing, moral and ethical imperative in a personal and broader context.
There’s an excerpt from “The Uninhabitable Earth”, written by David Wallace-Wells, illustrates my thoughts about the importance of sustainability: “The slow pace attributed to climate change is a myth, perhaps as pernicious as the one that denies its existence. Lethal heat, famine, floods, fires, worsening air quality, desertification, death of the oceans, economic collapse (...) If we do not completely revolutionise the way billions of human beings live, much of the planet will become uninhabitable by the end of the century.” Another tragic consequence of all of this is new wars being triggered, which will further accelerate the deterioration of our planet, including probable pandemics in the future, in addition to the one we already face. This is not the world I want to leave for my children and future grandchildren.
Since I arrived at SunsetDDB, I have been insisting that the agency's entire board pay attention to this issue. I participate in the agency's Sustainability and Diversity committees, through which we are establishing the systematisation of processes and practices that will be implemented and organised in a playbook, considering our activities and those of our partners.
We have also discussed and decided that, even after the pandemic is under control in Brazil, the agency's routine will not be the same as before: the efficiency of home office has been proved and it will be mandatory in the future. Keeping employees at home triggers a chain of events that is beneficial to the environment and to their quality of life. Going to the agency will be optional.
I believe that my work on these fronts will represent my greatest legacy.
LBB> Diversity is another important topic, in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality. What are the diversity issues that agency production really needs to address and how should it be approached?
Taís> I add another aspect of diversity which rarely receives proper attention: age group.
What you mentioned in your question reflects the problems that we face. Structural problems as a society, because our colonised country was built entirely on the exploitation of slavery and the perpetuation of privileges that make Brazil one of the most unequal countries in the world.
But the fact is that things are moving forward here, and the diversity debate is gaining more and more momentum. In the last election for the City Council of the biggest city of our country, for example, we elected the first black transgender representative. There was an increase in political positions occupied by females in general. And I see a new generation that is becoming more conscientious.
In video producing companies, I see that greater inclusion has been brewing for a longer time. In the agencies, this topic was put under a spotlight and is addressed with different degrees of priority. But the important thing is that it is here to stay.
LBB> Around the world, we're seeing more conversations about casting and representation on screen – what’s the situation like in Brazil?
Taís> Nowadays we try to be more inclusive, but it still seems to me something that is more of an obligation than something natural, that should flow without friction and represent what our society is. We still have a long way to go, but we are on that path.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. What do you make of that idea?
Taís> I agree, no doubt. At SunsetDDB, we have the mantra “less interruption, more flow.” This means that we should no longer enter people's routines intrusively but in a contextualised way, with content that is useful or entertains them.
In this regard, I focus on one point of your question. SunsetDDB's goal is to become a reference in content production, especially digital. Advertising pieces and campaigns will continue to be part of our scope, of course, but on a smaller scale. The premise is to innovate, always. And this is linked to your question, as new capabilities will be created and improved constantly so that we have employees who are knowledgeable of new trends and working in multiple functions.
LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?
Taís> It was a path of so much learning and satisfaction, which made me happy and extremely proud.
For 20 years, I worked at some of the main production companies in Brazil until my most recent experience at SunsetDDB.
From the beginning at Grupo Ink Filmes, where I worked in different support functions, I developed all my experience in day-to-day activities.
Over time, this allowed me to see the full context that involves all the work for different types of production, from advertising films to documentaries.
With that, I evolved, asked for and got different positions along this journey until I became executive producer, coordinating processes, budgets, and the routine of dozens of people in top companies such as Delicatessen, Omni, Conspiração, Academia de Filmes, and Maria Farinha. I also served as alternate chairperson of the Brazilian Association for the Production of Audiovisual Works for four years.
Now, I’m bringing my experience to SunsetDDB, the advertising agency of global giant Omnicom, where I am head of production. My goal is to share a new outlook on things and innovate in the agency's effort to become a reference in the production of On and Offline content, far beyond traditional advertising as we know it. In this context, the production area that I lead has a strategic role.
LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes?
Taís> I will emphasise the change in mindset that was biased until recently, that digital productions were supposedly less important. This mindset must be put behind us. In the United States, for example, the share of investments is already leaning toward digital communication.
What surprises me is that some people still have this anachronistic take on things.
LBB> There are so many ways to approach a production - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?
Taís> In fact, there are so many production models, which have evolved a lot over my 20 years in the industry. But I would like to highlight one in particular, with innovative technology that has everything to do with sustainability.
For the campaign of one of the biggest global food players, we recently produced films using StageCraft technology, also deployed in Hollywood blockbusters, which comes down to using huge LED panels to create different scenarios in a single studio.
The result was incredible, because in addition to quality, we optimised our assets, saving resources on our planet.
LBB> How have you approached integrating data with production workflows and processes?
Taís> In the beginning, by demanding greater integration and establishing more fluid communication between production and other areas of the agency, as I had realised that there were gaps and failures in communication that hampered the process.
LBB> And, generally, how has data and the fact that we have constant live feedback on content performance changed production?
Taís> In our case, for digital production, and based on the strategy outlined by the content and planning areas, we have already produced optimised pieces for different networks. And, in general, we work with more than one version or pieces that are modular, malleable, easy to change. This allows us, using A/B tests, to evaluate what performs best and to make agile changes, when appropriate. In other words, we work before and in real time so that we connect with the constant feedback that the digital world brings to us.
LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating lots of stuff at speed - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible?
Taís> Yes, it is possible. And this is related to what I said before, about changing the mindset about what it means to produce for the digital environment. In Brazil, we have a proliferation of smaller producing companies that focused only on digital production from the start, with costs and timing that are different from traditional companies.
This is great, but it also presents us with a new challenge: balancing agility and quality in what we deliver. But that is another discussion. What I can say is that, from our point of view at SunsetDDB, the production craft can never be sacrificed in favour of agility.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?
Taís> Innovate in a world that gets increasingly digital.
LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?
Taís> Be curious. And immerse yourself in learning about how people are consuming content today and will consume content in the future.