With the pandemic having accelerated change, LBB catches up with McCann CRAFT, Tag Americas, Publicis Groupe, Dell Blue and Samsung to explore how agencies and brands are responding
To hear first-hand how content production is changing worldwide and the effect this has had on the industry, LBB speaks with a range of production agencies and brands - from McCann CRAFT’s UK/EMEA CEO Sergio Lopez to Tag Americas’ CEO Ajit Kara, Publicis Groupe’s chief production officer Clare Donald, Dell Blue’s head of production Brent Holt and Samsung’s global creative director Jax Jung.
As the world went into lockdown, consumers turned from high street retail to e-commerce shopping overnight and the hunger for new entertainment and content saw a sharp rise. Such sudden change meant that brands had to adapt rapidly in order to survive, which brought with it a range of new challenges.
Speaking to Samsung global creative director Jax Jung, she reveals, “The hardest challenge as a brand was to ensure that craft remains in the creative process - even when things have to be made faster than ever to answer the demand. As well as that, we have to keep up with the endless social platforms that continue to emerge.”
At Dell Blue, head of production Brent Holt placed great importance on communication with all stakeholders in order to ensure things continue to run smoothly. “When you’re working with people who aren’t production savvy, sometimes it’s difficult for them to grasp why production timelines can be so lengthy - especially with CG projects. So a completely open dialogue with them set expectations early and also gave them production knowledge.”
With brands needing more content faster than ever while most filming was banned, how did the production industry cope?
“With filming becoming slower and more restrictive, the move to computer generated imagery has been significant,” says Clare Donald, chief production officer at Publicis Groupe - the world’s third largest communications group. “While I don’t anticipate an ultimate move away from live action, we now know that we can do things remotely and at speed, which has opened doors to new creativity. We’re using data more and more to inform what we serve up to who, and to drive smarter asset utilisation. Producers are problem solvers and we’ve taken the Covid challenges, and adapted and evolved to deliver for our clients.”
At independent marketing production agency Tag
, Americas CEO Ajit Kara has seen the way in which brands approach a shoot changing too: “Brands are being more thoughtful about budgets, resources and the potential lifetime of master assets. Smart brands are thinking ahead to how these assets will be adapted and used across multiple markets and planning accordingly, bringing in their marketing production partner earlier -- at the pre-production stage. It’s a far more sustainable process.”
And for Sergio Lopez, who recently took up the newly created role of chief production officer UK/EMEA, as well as CEO of McCann Worldgroup’s production arm CRAFT, agility has never been more essential: “Agility on the shift from offline media to e-commerce, agility on the messaging, and agility on the formats produced.”
The Content Race
With so much content being consumed across all different platforms on a daily basis, the pressure for brands to remain ‘always on’ for their consumers has skyrocketed. Yet throughout 2020, many media budgets were reduced worldwide
as businesses navigated the obstacles of the pandemic.
But Clare points out that “the growth in client demand for content, coupled with decreasing budgets to produce assets began a long time before Covid hit. Publicis Groupe boasts a global network of connected production specialists across 40 locations and 11,000 linguists worldwide. We’ve been working with connected production solutions for some years. The pandemic has demonstrated how effectively we can produce work remotely which gives us more opportunity to move production to where delivery can most effectively be done. This coupled with the need to double down on smart asset use has hugely sped up our relationship with data, personalised marketing, and AI tools.”
Ajit Kara adds: “Brands have been forced to produce more content, more quickly, more often - and the challenge is that they don’t have the resources or budget to do this at scale. An efficient global production model such as Tag’s can accomplish this if it's designed to be flexible and agile, quickly expanding and contracting with a specialised network of on-demand creative production resources.”
“Pre-planning assets before a shoot has become necessary to get the most content out of it,” Jax states. “Before, if it was a film shoot, we would only focus on getting the film delivered. Now, with various new social platforms emerging, timelines becoming less convenient and budgets being extra tight, we need to keep all our thinking caps on pre-shoot and during shoot to ensure we get the most out of it on the day. With one film shoot, we try to get enough content to make mini-films, print content, behind-the-scenes, demo videos and how-to videos as well. Things need to be planned way more in advance to make sure we get the time and footage we need to make more. As a creative, it’s sometimes hard to acknowledge that most of our communications are now disposable and often a one-time quick view. But with these new standards, as well as the amount of content that needs to be produced at speed now, it’s far more difficult to keep the creative and craft precious.”
To answer the increasing demand, Tag Americas have continued to grow their global footprint. “In-region resources to support client demands is paramount. We've recently added more creative production capabilities, expanding our digital production resources in South America to service the needs of brands looking for the rapid production of digital content by exceptional talent, within budget,” Ajit explains. “We've also seen the need for more localised content, where marketers are realising that creative must be culturally nuanced from the start, which is where our team of more than 4,000 in region language services experts comes into play. We're very fortunate in that we've been building our localisation capability for the last 30 years. It means we are always getting the best of what's happening locally and we have a global delivery vehicle, to facilitate production at scale.”
Clare agrees: “Assets have to work harder to deliver more targeted content both locally and globally, so tools that allow personalisation (like Vulcan or Dynamic Content Engine at Publicis Groupe) have seen substantial growth.”
For Dell Blue, “Almost everything we produce is translated into multiple languages in-house. It’s such a part of our post-process we don’t ever think of it as an outlying request. One of our main challenges is concepting work that speaks to so many regions and we’ve become well adept at it.”
“Creativity is the entry point but it is not enough by itself,” Sergio summarises. “Being able to bring that creativity to life with the right production partners, fast, across multiple channels within budget, relevant for multiple markets, and personalised, is the new normal. The pandemic accelerated the evolution of our business, and has made advertising production more complex and sophisticated.”
On the Horizon
The past year has seen the majority turn to remote shooting. But what first seemed like a logistical nightmare and hindrance, actually came with a number of positive outcomes.
Jax recalls: “I’m based in Seoul, and luckily we were one of the fortunate countries that maintained a low spread of Covid, but as the pandemic hit the world, we were asked to restrict travel for the safety of cast and crew around the globe. This made us explore using production in Seoul itself, working with Korean directors, and it has been a blessing. The talent and speed at which the domestic teams have worked in Seoul has been amazing.”
Ajit has seen a similar benefit: “We're always going to have the need for great office space and people coming together for collaboration but I think the extent of that has changed now, forever. And I'm embracing it, because I think it allows me as CEO to look at a much wider pool of talent to become part of our business, we are finding remote talent with incredible creative and operational expertise.”
Looking to the future, he adds: “We're also seeing brands more laser focused on maximising existing resources, not just in the form of headcount and budget, but in the form of assets. Assets are being adapted and reused, continuously to create new content or to reach new markets with existing content. We not only have the technology to support digital asset management but the creative production resources to adapt and repurpose content using VFX technology, language services and more. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, personalisation is a serious focus right now. Marketers will continually look for solutions that deliver hyper-personalised messaging and will need resources to do this.”
Although the pandemic has helped us find new solutions and opened us up to new processes that allow us to work globally from the comfort of our own homes, for most, the longing for in-person collaboration remains vital.
At Dell Blue, Brent notes, “I think some aspects of remote production will stay but our teams cannot wait to get back on set. There’s a real life chemistry that can never be matched no matter how great the remote shooting technology might be.”
“We’re always going to need to have key crew in situ for filming,” agrees Clare. “We have established that directors can work remotely (and successfully), but the speed of collaboration and decision making has nevertheless made live action harder to produce. I believe that directors, key creatives and producers will go back to physical attendance on shoots when it’s safe, and I’m excited for that return. However, I am certain that there will be questions about wider attendance. Every industry needs to now look at how it can reduce carbon emissions - travel is our greatest contributor. If the pandemic has done nothing else, I hope it can speed up greener production and more sustainable filming.”
As we reach the cusp of change and begin to plan a return to in-person shooting, there is a lot to look forward to. “2020 was a strange year that forced agencies, clients and production to try things they’ve never experienced before nor felt comfortable doing,” says Jax. “I think the growing curve has been interesting in that what everyone thought was impossible was forced to become possible. The production companies that tended to work more flexibly made the process a lot easier. Budgets and situations are not the same or normal, neither should be the standard on how we make or produce. Working with an open-mind and being a helping hand will go a long way, even after the pandemic is over.”