Producing content with impact in an empty studio

COVID-19 has hit production hard. What's the answer?

Coronavirus hit. 

Lockdown happened. 

Online, streaming and television consumption went through the roof.

Advertisers dashed to change their media spend, their comms plan and tried to quickly cobble together a plan. 

The issue a lot of them ran into was lack of assets. Millions of dollars in media, endless hours of research, strategy, big idea thinking, creative development… all ended up in a PowerPoint waiting to be brought into life.

While brands such as Ikea were able to go live with the "Stay Home" campaign which felt very much part of the brand, others panicked and started licensing stock footage, hiring influencers or makers (photographers, videographers, animators) at the same price minus the following and asking for user-generated content while scratching their heads wondering where their existing assets were.

But engaging influencers without a clear strategy or licensing random stock footage (or resurrecting outdated assets) during COVID-19 is not the solution to getting new content when you can’t have a shoot. There still needs to be a carefully-woven strategy guiding the look and feel of the content that represents your brand. Crisis can bring out the best work from all of us, but panicking often has the opposite effect. 

If there is one clear outcome of the Global Lockdown, it is the need for brands to have a "making strategy." While it is one of the smallest parts of any marketing budget, production is also one of the most complicated and essential. Creativity, scale, flexibility, reach, scrappiness and rigor are the key pillars of any major brand’s production strategy. 

There’s nothing wrong with using any of the above as part of executing a brand strategy but not as the strategy itself. That’s why hundreds of brands look identical over the last two weeks. You could change the logo at the end of their campaign content and it would make no difference. 

Brands filled out digital media with content that had nothing to do with the brand. Any type of content. Food recipes, tips and tricks, how to videos… without realizing that there was already extensive content around it (top result for how to make sourdough bread is from 2 years ago) and also that their product might most likely not be available in the area and it was opening the door for consumers to try substitutes. 

With production being the last shackle in the process of connecting brands and consumers there are five things needed to build a healthy production strategy:

  • Embrace the power of &: While having visibility and a strategy of the entire brand’s marketing materials is essential, it’s only by coordinating internal and external resources, production companies and in-house studios, makers, influencers, stock, UGC, licensing, that you can unleash the full creative potential of the work. 

  • Keep Everything: Pack shots, product shots, life action, animation, every frame of film or video, every still – whether you’ve used it or not – should go to your library. Doing so will allow you to avoid re-shooting the same thing over and over, it will also enable you to build new materials with existing assets quickly and within brand guidelines. 

  • Be Scrappy, But Operate Like a Pro: Be nimble in the way you approach shoots and projects as long as you have a tight process and a team to do things properly. Otherwise, your work will take longer to run, you might over pay on talent fees or be unable to renew talent for lack of information. 

  • Up Your Tech Game: When you are working on a reactive campaign with more than 30 assets that then have to be adapted to 20 markets you cannot do that on a spreadsheet and over e-mail. Use collaboration technology to brief, track, review and approve. It is obvious but less than 30% of the world leading brands do it. 

Anecdotally, we at Craft have seen a dramatic increase in brands that are reaching out to quickly discuss what their production strategies should be. Some of them learned from costly lessons over the last couple of weeks which, while unfortunate consequence, has had the positive outcome of finally elevating the conversation to a much higher and strategic level…a net gain in the long run. 

There are lessons to be found in the midst of tragedy. In the world of production, the pandemic has shone a bright light on fundamentals that often get lost in the shuffle in more typical times. Learning these lessons and embracing those fundamentals is the lynchpin between producing content that simply fills a void in the editorial calendar vs. content that generates real impact for consumers and brand alike. 

Sergio Lopez is the chief production officer at McCANN Worldgroup and managing director at CRAFT.

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