Craft Worldwide Japan’s managing director on the rise of digital asset demand, why transparency is key in relationships and just getting stuff done
In January 2020 Jin Shimada was named as managing director at Craft Worldwide Japan. Prior to this he was a data analyst and manager of the display advertising operation team at Amazon Japan, a role he believes gave him a different perspective on a global business than that of an advertising agency. Jin began his career at Hakuhodo almost three decades ago where he stayed until 2018, heading up the digital data marketing and creative studio of the agency’s ASEAN offering.
LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?
Jin> The pandemic has been a true test for the advertising industry as a whole and especially for production. We needed to evolve in order to work remotely and bring the same quality work while our studios were halted due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, this has sparked many positive changes in our teams because we had to put technology, cooperation, and creativity at the forefront of our production model.
We've been pushed to collaborate in new ways and develop even more meaningful campaigns, leading us to approach production from a totally different lens: We are now able to truly leverage our global teams, removing frontiers and bringing agile results at the speed of culture. What’s enabling us to do this is a reliance on technology like never before. While tech has always been a priority for us, we’re using it now in more than one way – our own tech stack to power the way we work internally among studios, and external production tech to power things like remote shoots, virtual backgrounds, AI-enabled audio dubbing and more. It’s pushed us further into the next frontier of content creation.
LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?
Jin> Covid-19 has propelled the rise of digital asset demand, but this trend has been increasing for years. The creation of hundreds of new channels has been the definite force for agencies to find a model that could create impactful, localised assets that can be adapted to multiple platforms without losing its creativity in the way. With this increase in digital channels and the constantly growing need for assets we’re seeing an increased focus on globally connected production that drives smarter briefing, asset reuse and digital-first content creation.
Another big area of evolution is the traditional view of where production sits in the asset lifecycle. Now with the need for data-driven assets at scale and personalised experiences for global audiences, production has to be much more responsive which requires complete integration with strategy and media teams.
This also ties into shifts we’re seeing in the way clients ask us to provide global asset delivery solutions and production services. We’re constantly asked: “what’s the new content studio model?” At Craft we see today’s content studio as a convergence of social media hubs, ecommerce experts, media, strategy and production – all connected against one way of working in one tech stack. Content studios can no longer be defined as siloed teams of makers working across the globe. This integrated modern view is paramount to delivering agile content in real-time.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Jin> The reality right now is that the lines between the different positions are becoming more blurred. A producer should know about strategy. A creative should understand analytics. In production, it is vital that our producers keep every platform's capability and intentionality in mind. Long gone are the days when "social" was a channel to consider at the end of the creative process. A good producer knows that social and production strategy should be at the core of every creative decision. At the same time, we have specialised staff that masters different mediums, and this way, we can bring the big picture and individual mastery. We have a global network of more than 1,300 employees that allows us to get the best of both worlds.
LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists vs generalists?
Jin> At Craft we have amazing integrated producers who are leading campaigns across regions. As we have moved to have multi-disciplined projects, the integrated producer makes sure the balance is always right. This is a key role, because it allows us to understand and translate the big messaging while letting our most specialised staff bring state-of-the-art skills to every production. As we tear down silos, this balance is vital.
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?
Jin> While it's true that the production panorama has drastically changed in the last decade, the key to effective production remains the same: Bringing meaningful executions to life. Since my beginnings, the ultimate goal of production has been to execute the creative in the best possible way, considering the market, message, platform, and individuals who will see our pieces. As a producer, the success was, and still is, to connect with our audience's needs and ambitions at its very core.
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?
Jin> In production, every minute equals budget spent, so there has always been a need to be as efficient as possible on set. Being meticulously organised has always been one of the defining characteristics of a good producer. However, the most interesting change is the number of assets and the variety of formats we need to consider nowadays. Before, a successful creative campaign could consist of a meaningful TVC piece aired at prime time. Right now, there are many other factors to keep into consideration. How can this piece translate to audiences across the globe? How can we make this campaign as impactful on Tik Tok as on a pre-roll YouTube ad? And the list goes on and on. As complex as this might sound, we have also developed a myriad of services and solutions including our transcreation services or our integrated production model.
LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?
Jin> As I mentioned earlier, at Craft we have developed a new Content Studio Model powered by technology, data, and integration. We think that the only successful model in production is one that allows for transparency throughout the creative process. Our Intelligent Production is a cloud-based operating model that doesn't look at asset creation as the last stop in the content lifecycle, but it's part of a cohesive system that ultimately benefits creators, strategists, marketers, producers, and business partners. This model evolves from the traditional studio model based on asset delivery solutions to deliver business-driven outcomes that maximise production and media investments while driving action among target audiences.
LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?
Jin> The key to trust is allowing transparency, and this is one of the strengths at Craft.
When it comes to client partners, we build trust by offering transparency in our production process and the results. With the click of a button, within our Intelligent Content solution, our clients are able to see metrics such as the average number of projects and deliveries in particular weeks, production work requests by markets, hours spent by project, etc. That ensures our partners and collaborators are getting the best ROI and cost-efficient solution to their marketing efforts. These reports are updated every four hours to offer a real-time look at global activity and allow for constant optimisation.
In addition, as the nature of production business, we need to deal with the condition where the number of assets we’re asked to develop fluctuates so much. In some cases, our in-house resources may not be enough to work with the brief, where we seek for the opportunity to work with third party production houses. Our staff are well trained to work flexibly with members out of Craft network. Also, our Intelligent Content Studio model enables us to work with even third party companies, by providing cloud-base production management tools. Thus, we can enjoy any style of collaboration.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production?
Jin> Usually, we find that the procurement teams and us have the same goal: to create a cost-efficient production system that allows impactful content across languages and platforms. With our Intelligent Content Studio, we can bring transparency and agility to our numbers, and we always keep procurement in mind when updating our system to make it as competitive as possible. At the same time, we find even greater value when we have a balanced conversation with procurement, marketing and production all at the table in equal representation. This collaboration allows us to deliver not only production solutions that benefit the budget and bottom line, but the business and brand goals as well. As production moves into a more strategic role and integrates more and more with strategy, creative and media we see a huge opportunity to change the narrative a bit: production can be a low-cost content engine AND an enabler of sales and loyalty driving content at scale.
LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this? (I know we’re always hearing about how much easier it is to educate or train oneself on tech etc, but what areas do you think producers can benefit from more directed or structured training?)
Jin> As I mentioned before, the production role has drastically changed in the last years, and the lines between positions are becoming blurrier and blurrier. Our producers are now trained in strategy to understand how every piece they create integrates into a bigger, multi-channel campaign. And with the rise of production data, they are also becoming masters at analytics and non-traditional production tech skills such as DCO or AI.
LBB> What new skills have you had to add to the team as a result of the pandemic?
Jin> The pandemic was the final push to show our team that siloes were not welcome at Craft, and that collaboration was the only way forward. And for this, we needed to boost three essential skills: adaptability, agility, and effectiveness. Adaptability, to offer state-of-the-art production solutions despite the circumstances. Our teams built studios from scratch to comply with sanitary regulations, found models and locations with a one-day notice, held photoshoots with the creative director sitting on the other side of the globe, and even filmed and directed from our own houses! Agility, to bring hundreds of assets that effectively translated across platforms and cultures. And finally, effectiveness: Our team learned to work smarter, not harder, by using our Intelligent Content Studio model that unites our efforts, data, and technology into one unified, cloud-based system.
LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?
Jin> My answer is a definite yes. Production has always been the last stop in a traditionally linear process of bringing assets to life, but this is changing. There is no more space for siloed work in the agency world, and integrated teams and collaborations across departments are the only way to move forward. Production proved during the pandemic how it was the key element to make campaigns "happen". Our partners and collaborators realised that our work was essential to bringing creativity to life and meet their marketing goals. With our Intelligent Production model, we allow for more integration with strategy, brand, creative and media teams. When you give production a seat at the table, you ensure that your marketing goals will align with its results while creating space to drive innovation.
LBB> How have you approached integrating data with production workflows and processes? And, generally, how has data and the fact that we have constant live feedback on content performance changed production?
Jin> Integrating data into our production system is at the core of our new Intelligent Production model. To make smarter content and media investments, it is essential to have visibility on production data. From briefing through production and delivery, our cloud-based production process is powered to collect data and deliver such insights. What's more, when our clients pair our production data with their media and content performance insights, they are able to deliver integrated reports that allow for rapid and agile improvements to every content strategy and investment decision. Production data is the missing piece that can bring clarity to the marketing spend.
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?
Jin> Yes, creating agile and effective content at the speed of digital culture is possible, and we are doing it every day at Craft. With our Intelligent Production model, we produce personalised and data-driven assets at scale in real-time, with a unified data model powered by tech (Such as Automation and DCO). By eliminating all silos and connecting production data across countries, brands, users, and channels, we remove duplication and focus on what matters: efficiently creating high-quality multiplatform content.
Another key element of keeping up with the demand for assets is making smart decisions around when to create, reuse or bundle briefs across regions to make more faster and at lower cost. Our intelligent briefs take client requests and use AI/ML to scan for not only brand consistency and standards but opportunities to combine similar briefs that are coming up in more than one part of the world, or flag projects that are ideal for asset reuse.
LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?
Jin> Our production teams simply get stuff done. No matter the circumstances, production has been demonstrating its potential by bringing every idea to life. But now, in a world with new content demands as we’ve been referencing, there is a strategic role for production as an enabler AND as a connector. By putting production at the centre, the delivery team bridges the gap between ideation and reality. There is inherently a strategy involved in this mix, and production is a key component in this.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?
Jin> Everyone working in production right now feels we are part of a significant change in the industry, and we are excited to bring our technology, new modern ways of creating to our clients. Ultimately, we are still in charge of bringing creative to life, and the ways in which we do that are only getting more and more creative in an integrated way. Our talented, relentlessly passionate team paired with the best technology and production data will bring exceptional campaigns for years to come, and this is only the beginning.
LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?
Jin> My main advice for newcomers is to always be hungry for opportunities and be endlessly curious. In the future advertising landscape, professionals who are multi-faceted and can bring solutions across teams will be highly valued, so always say yes to new opportunities, even, and especially, if they are outside of your comfort zone. This is a great time to join the production industry.