How adland is overcoming production obstacles amid COVID-19 disruption

"Over the past two weeks we've turned out 18 new ads," said Goodby's Margaret Johnson.

How adland is overcoming production obstacles amid COVID-19 disruption

As coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, agencies and production companies are still trying to create content for clients while keeping social distancing and self-quarantine guidelines in place.

"Business as usual" may not exist right now, but adland is forging ahead and doing their best to produce videos, animations and other work for brands.

Campaign US caught up with a number of agencies and production companies to hear the unique and creative ways in which they’re producing content.

Tell us some ways your agency or production company is overcoming disruptions in production right now as the coronavirus pandemic carries on around the world.


Paul Marobella, Chairman & CEO, Havas Creative North America

Over the last few weeks, three different scenarios have emerged around production: shoots and/or productions in progress when social distancing was put in place; ideas about to go into production; and ideas developed during quarantine, leveraging new production realities.

On March 12th, Havas preemptively began preparing our post-production artists for WFH scenarios. Clients immediately shifted to re-versioning existing broadcast, OLV and social content with new animation and graphics produced by Havas and other partners. We’ve unarchived masters and assets from the past few years and ensured everything was accessible remotely.

With production crews and large-scale content creators shut down, we’re turning to licensing for content footage. Having a creative idea that can be delivered with viral, user-generated content or other licensable footage is surging. In a Santa Margherita wine campaign created by República Havas in the era of COVID, we leveraged viral videos and personal mobile phone footage from the client.

Arnold creates over fifty radio spots per month for a large client. We’ve shifted to casting, recording and producing without anyone in a studio. We’ve pivoted the creative idea and execution in places, narrowed casting for home recording, and simplified execution wherever possible—without quality of work suffering.

There have been times when a live shoot was necessary. Havas Chicago was asked to expedite an idea for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s PSA campaign, "Stay At Home, Save Lives." As the messaging was very unique to COVID, it was powerful for the Mayor to deliver the message herself, so we sent a three-person crew following social distance guidelines to capture her content.


Margaret Johnson, Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

It turns out that one of the best remedies for cabin fever is creativity. With large-scale productions on hold, it’s challenging and fun to figure out what we can make and how we can make it.

We’ve created a strong maker culture here, and that’s paying dividends. We’re shooting with our iPhones at home, having talent shoot themselves, giving them direction via text, and then posting their takes. It’s a little like being in film school—and everyone is an actor, writer and director these days. 

Our in-house production teams, ELevel, Social and Labs, have been godsends. Having them already in place has given us uninterrupted access to a full range of production capabilities—shooting, editing, music production and sound mixing as well as creative technology ideas using AR and Deepfake. In some cases we’re using existing footage for new edit-only work. We also have talented animators and designers who enable us to create content fast and cost-effectively. All these folks are working seamlessly together as a remote team.

Over the past two weeks we’ve turned out 18 new ads.


Ajit Kara, CEO Tag, Americas

In my 30+ year career, I have never seen such an abrupt shift to the way businesses operate, globally. Our employees around the world, are doing an incredible job of working together, to share learnings from markets impacted prior to the Americas. These insights and our creative approach gives our clients a marketing production edge.

In industries from retail to pharma, we are seeing a significant shift from print or in-store to digital. For our pharma clients, we are moving important patient information to digital environments for immediate and easy access by healthcare providers. With store closures and big events cancelled, we are helping our retail and CPG clients augment their digital advertising, social and eCommerce programs. Our clients are able to react quickly and easily by relying on us to adapt and amplify existing assets and focus on messaging and imagery that can be easily changed - swapping out handshakes and crowds for product-focused or single person concepts. The real clincher though is offering CGI and animation solutions. Just because photo and film shoots are cancelled, and travel restrictions means fewer people are available to meet on location, does not mean an end to producing new digital or television content.

While the times are significantly different, the work is nothing new. The very nature of our business at Tag is to pivot daily to meet the needs of our clients so they can respond quickly to customer demand.


Nick Paul, Co-Founder and President at OKRP

Our content creators took cameras/lights/sound gear home with them over two weeks ago.  And just like our outside production partners for live-action/editorial/telecine/music and sound, we are all adapting to the new this new ‘remote’ norm together and shooting and editing in any space, home office, basement, hallway or kitchen that we can.

We significantly upgraded our server one month ago which has allowed all our producers and editors to gain easy access to the files they need from past work so we can piece together new work for all channels today.


Katie Keating, Co-Founder/Co-CCO, Fancy

Unlike a month ago, we’re not thinking of the idea first and then worrying about how to produce it. We’re thinking of the way we’ll need to produce and letting the ideas come out of that. UGC will obviously be figuring prominently in the work this spring, and for who knows how long, but so will illustration, stock and just great graphic design.

We just finished a bold all-type campaign for a new startup focused on solving the lack of PPE during the COVID-19 crisis, which we turned around in 24 hours with some great Fancy designers. In the feed it stands out better than photography. And that’s what we’re trying to do, create work that’s as attention-getting as possible, where the production matches the concept so well, you wouldn’t want to do it any other way.


Tanya LeSieur, Head of Production, MUH-TAY-ZIK/HOF-FER

Everything we do for our clients is built around a collaborative experience. We sit in editing rooms together, we visit potential locations together, we spend days on set. So how do we do we collaborate on a production when we have to either remain 6 feet away from each other or can’t even travel to a set? Producers are a resilient bunch and one of our core job requirements is an ability to figure out different ways to keep things moving when obstacles are put in our way. This terrible time is resulting in challenges for brands, agencies, producers, talent, everybody. But our industry is taking on these challenges and I love that my producer colleagues and my team are finding the best possible ways to still collaborate, even when we can’t be together in the traditional way.

We’ve been using the app Cinebody for project-assignment and easy collection of UGC/social content. Communication is a key touchpoint right now and Cinebody lets producers seamlessly communicate with shooters.

We’ve also embraced remote editing tools with commenting features and started getting creative to re-write work by workshopping new proof of concepts. To do this, embrace open, collaborative mindsets across production and creative teams about how to work in this current climate.


Mark Pytlik, CEO, Stink Studios

As the Coronavirus dissipates in China, we're slowly starting to see film and content production work return to the Chinese market. Since we’re a global network, we’ve started actively touting the fact that we can leverage our offices in Shanghai to help service the needs of our clients elsewhere in the world.

For the right kind of creative idea — something that requires a contained set, for example — there’s no reason that you couldn’t physically conduct a shoot in China with creatives and/or directors working remotely during the pre-production and then video-conferencing in on the actual day. Yes, it’s unconventional, but for clients who have immediate live-action needs, it’s the best available way to ensure that all kinds of work can continue to happen.

We currently have teams in our network conducting remote video-conferencing software tests right now; if all goes well, we’ll be shooting our first remote spot in the next few weeks.


Scott Goodson, Founder, StrawberryFrog

I am fortunate during this Covid-19 crisis to be surrounded by an incredible group of people. Both Inside our company and among our clients. Three weeks ago, StrawberryFrog asked our team mates to work remotely. We worked through protocols and technology (critical to remote working) to ensure that we could work in a new way with all 60 Frogs in their own homes. We also ensured that everyone understood the importance of our culture, of having positive intent on a daily basis since communicating exclusively via Zoom, Google Hangouts, calls, emails, WhatsApp and txt can create frustrations between people especially under stressful conditions in the crisis. The first project that hit was an important film to share reassurance and confidence with New Yorkers by Northwell Health. It was written by one of our ECDs in his home, then the team reviewed it and planned the production - each of the team members from Northwell and StrawberryFrog were working remotely and in their homes. Our producer did the image search in her home. Then we recorded the narration by Ray Romano, lifelong New Yorker, which he did in his home too, he received no remuneration. The edit was done via Whitehouse, remotely and the music too which was done by The Line — remotely. This was the result: https://youtu.be/d2SAHgIsX3A

As we speak Frog team mates are working closely with Truist on a new campaign using the same collaboration methodology and framework, and StrawberryFrog teams are working with half dozen other clients in the same way. Remarkably both our clients, friends and teams have moved seamlessly smarter, better in our new situation. #CreativeTogetherAlone


Ralph Laucella, Executive Producer/Partner, O Positive

It’s obviously tricky because we do performance-based work. That said, we're considering projects which allow us to write and direct voice over talent using either existing footage or virtual sets/ locations.  Clearly, this approach doesn’t work for all, or even most, concepts.  But if we think we can really plus a project in this way, we’ll engage. 


Kelly Bayett, Founder & Creative Director, Barking Owl

Many aspects of our business already work remotely, but when it comes to mix, everyone is very used to working in a certain way.  They come in, direct talent and supervise the entire mix. We have had remote and unsupervised work before, so we were fortunate that we already had a tested system in place. If you just rely on a phone patch, you have no idea what the quality of the mix really is, and so we had to find a way for you to actually get into our sessions.

We use easily downloadable software with the clients and talent and we are able to have them look at the picture with us so that they can hear the takes from the talent and make notes simultaneously instead of posting and waiting.  We are working with talent that have remote systems set up, so you are getting high quality takes that you can hear and direct in real time while everyone is safe in their homes.

We are running sound design sessions in the same way as mix.  Music is often done remotely.   We are using some really amazing programs that connect all of the musicians so they can jam and write together.  You can get that live feel without everyone having to be in the same studio.

The most important part is making everyone comfortable with these new processes and having them trust it.  Everything will work out just as well as it always had. Promise.


Jason Mayo, Managing Director and Partner, Bonfire

The two main disruptions happening in production right now are: Where is the work coming from and how is it getting done? Companies that handle live action production are getting hit the hardest. Most brands have either put a stop on shoots or have put them on hold indefinitely.

At Bonfire, our core competency and main source of revenue comes from post production. The majority of our projects are Editorial and VFX heavy or purely 2D or 3D animation. Because the live action pipeline is dry, we’re fielding calls all day long from clients that want to pivot to all post solutions. Requests have been a combination of all animation or stock footage and graphics. So the sales pipeline hasn’t changed much for us. It’s just happening at an incredibly high speed.

As far as getting the work done, we were built for this. When we started Bonfire, our business model was built around a remote platform that enables us to work with artists around the globe via the cloud. We are able to provide artists virtual workstations and utilize the cloud for high-speed rendering and storage, all controlled by a producer supervising the project.

The biggest issue we’ve had is that clients are delaying payments or not paying at all for work that has been completed. We have a good amount of receivables that are past due and it’s been difficult getting answers from clients about when we might receive funds. There’s a domino effect happening. It starts from the brands themselves. It trickles down to the agencies, media companies, production companies, post companies. Managing funds during this crisis will always be the biggest concern for small businesses like us.


JJ Lask, Founder and Editor, PS260

Right now I am going through the footage of my most recent jobs and finding ways to bend the film into a Coronavirus message. I'm allowing myself to completely turn this crisis into a creative exploration - It's Arts and Crafts Time. I'm also reaching out to the directors I have worked with and informing them of my process. Some are giving me their footage of jobs I didn't even work on to help find a thread in the film. It's ironic because I never look at the boards or script of jobs I work on. This allows me to view the dailies in a way that no one else will ever have the luxury of. In this time, the need for a true editor is now more important than ever to help find the story in the story.


Jared Domow, President, Dippin’ Sauce

The weeks leading up to our WFH model we spent testing remote access to our servers, file transfer systems, cloud based project management tools and redundancies, etc. Getting work done is not an issue.  We also are leaning on our global model by leveraging our studios in NY, London, Malaysia, Sydney, and LA to make sure we meet all of our clients' evolving needs based on the current market challenges.

We have also been taking advantage of our ability to create content in many mediums.  So with shoots on hold we have been doing a lot more with still and motion CGI as well as 2d animation.

We’re really just trying to be as nimble as possible by helping our clients solve whatever creative problems they are up against.  It's forcing us to be even more creative which is exciting for our teams.  Whether our clients need to solve big problems or just add a dash of something extra – like fixing a meal, a little sauce always helps!

Internally we have been using some of this time to do a bit of server organizing, portfolio and case study updates, which always gets pushed to the back burner. We are in the middle of building a new state of the art studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn, this pause has also given us some time to consider how working from home may change how we use our new space moving forward. We are taking it week by week and simply trying to help our clients and our staff as much as possible.


Giacomo Vigliar, Business Director, UNIT9

Our fundamental approach has been to keep pushing our creativity. We're lucky to have digital and tech expertise that provides us the tools to find creative solutions around new models as well as repurpose existing ideas in novel ways. We can leverage this to create experiences that allow for an authentic connection with audiences, which should feel as human as possible. Whether it's by using a director's vision to bring User Generated Content to life meaningfully, or by introducing audiences to interactive Augmented Reality experiences, or even if it's more simply by bringing people together through a Live Stream, the possibilities are endless and all achievable remotely.


Con Williamson, President and CCO, EP+Co 

As travel is halted and shoots have been placed on-hold, we’ve had to Unthink how we’re going to approach live-action production. To help solve that problem, we’ve developed a new virtual production model, "CoVillage," that we concepted and built in-house.

The platform enables clients to remotely sit in on a traditional video village, offering access to any video production by way of the "CoVillage" software. The technology can be utilized for any scale production, but most predominantly when only a small and nimble crew are physically needed on set or for timely quick-turn shoots. An interactive dashboard offers a livestream from the main camera, and with playback options, additional camera views and a feedback mechanism, clients can have full ‘access’ and control of the production from wherever they’re located. The virtual interaction will enable retakes, shot list changes and live direction from clients, without requiring an on-set presence. 

The idea is one that we’ve actually been playing around with for a while – every time we had a shoot with our clients we’d ask ourselves if it was really necessary to have that many people on set. We’d often look around and wonder whether we could be nimbler, leaner, not to mention reduce our carbon footprint. Now is the time to innovate and adapt to this new way of business, so for us it was a no-brainer to expedite the technology.

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