Why future of production looks so electrifying, according to Hogarth NA CEO

Tim Ayers, Hogarth North America CEO
Tim Ayers, Hogarth North America CEO

Virtual sets, sterilized cameras dropped into clients' homes, CGI, synthetic actors, A.I. and, (most importantly) talent from every corner of the globe. This is the future. And it's better than the past.

If you work in the world of production and are clinging onto the way things were pre-pandemic, let go -- or find another job.

Production will never be the same again. In the best sense, though. 

The new norm is virtual sets, sterilized cameras dropped into clients’ homes, CGI, synthetic actors, A.I. and, (most importantly) talent from every corner of the globe. 

"I think the biggest thing we’ve learnt is, you don’t need to know where I am, and I don’t need to know where you are," said Tim Ayers, North America CEO of Hogarth, WPP’s global production vessel. 

"There’s always been this idea that we need to be together to get things done. What we’re seeing now is that it’s remarkable how -- not just from a work or creative perspective, but from an emotional and personal perspective -- we’ve all opened up a bit and we’re all making room for a much more collaborative experience. 

"Being able to do that is a big shift -- we’ve talked about it for years -- and I think that won’t go away. People will travel less. People will be able to source ideas and production from where they think the best pockets of talent exist regardless of physical space."

In many ways, COVID-19 is the wakeup call production needed. This vital advertising organ will emerge stronger than ever once the inferno dies and a new normal takes hold. 

Ayers, part of the 4,500-strong team scattered across 30 offices around the world, shared his view of the production landscape and how it will evolve for the better.  

Paint a picture: Production has been hit so hard. 

It has and it hasn’t. 

We’ve been built in a way that we’re not a multi-local situation, we are a connected global team, from a technology and a communications and a capability perspective. So when the shutdown started to happen we were able to move work around. While we were still doing primary production and shoots, we were able to do those in appropriate places and move to where we weren’t getting locked down quite yet. 

Ninety-eight percent of us are working from home. So clearly primary production has stopped. We’re doing a lot more post-production, a lot more adaptation, CGI and VFX. Then we’re looking to technology -- what are doing with shoots that can’t necessarily happen on location? How are we using virtual effect, A.I., synthetic actor technology to keep clients and their brands and their messages out there and be able to shift with an ever-changing environment. 


What were the immediate challenges you faced when COVID-19 hit?

Because we were in so many different places, we had the benefit of our teams in China having experienced this first. So we were well educated by them about what was happening and how it was happening. We have an unbelievable technology and IT team which immediately went to work to make sure we had all the right equipment and software. 


What are clients asking of you today that they’ve never asked in the past?

It’s as much of what they’re asking of us as what we’re collectively asking and learning to do. We’re no longer in a world where creative and clients and production get to sit in the same room and work for hours at a time on an edit. We’re using a lot of remote capabilities. We’re doing a lot of language translation and using a lot of existing footage. Most brands have a wealth of creative that they’ve done over the years. It’s helping clients access that and forming the right message for this time. 

We’ve been sending sterilized cameras into people’s homes and working with directors and creatives remotely so you can guide people through the process of actually shooting themselves. WPP has done a lot of that. Nomad, the food brand, has done that in Europe, helping people with meal time. 


Are you shooting on location anywhere in the world right now? 

China has opened up, so we’re back in the studio there. A lot of the other markets are planning now how we can create safe working spaces. Our employees are first and foremost. So if we have a 1,500 sq ft stage in New York, how do we make that a safe environment to shoot in? What does it look like to have a minimal crew? How does it look to have social-distanced talent? We’ve worked a lot of that out in China, and we’re using those plans to help us get sorted in the other major markets. 


What impact is COVID-19 having on Hogarth’s business? 

It really is the slowdown in primary production, whereas we’ve seen resilience in almost all other aspects of production. Right now, we’re watching clients make really critical business decisions. Do they have a resilient partner -- from a production perspective -- that has the ability to span the globe? Do they have a partner that is leaning into modern technology and aggressively looking at new ways to get things done? And how does a production partner become more of a strategic partner to make sure we’re able to withstand the crazy times we’re in and the ever-shifting moment? 


What new ways of working are going to stick in a post-pandemic world?

I think the biggest thing we’ve learnt is, you don’t need to know where I am, and I don’t need to know where you are. There’s always been this idea that we need to be together to get things done. What we’re seeing now is that it’s remarkable how, not just from a work or creative perspective, but from an emotional and personal perspective I think we’ve all opened up a bit and we’re all making room for a much more collaborative experience. 

Being able to do that is a big shift -- we’ve talked about it for years -- and I think that won’t go away. People will travel less. People will be able to source ideas and production from where they think the best pockets of talent exist regardless of physical space. 

We will see a lot more CGI and virtual sets. It’s far less expensive. You will see technology taking a stronger seat at the table so that you’re able to shoot once and repurpose many many times. Marketing budgets have gone down and asset requirements have gone through the roof. 

We work with a lot of very high-end clients where brand consistency, globally, is incredibly important, and you’re seeing a lot more centralization of creative and ideas. 

Synthetic actors. Being able to film an actor or a CEO or a brand mascot once and then translate that into 174 different languages and you wouldn’t be able to tell that that wasn’t the person speaking in that native and language and locally relevant way. The technologies there -- it’s been there for years in gaming -- and now the commercial world is waking up to the idea that there are different ways to do things. 


What production talents are going to be most desirable in a post-pandemic world?

The industry has a lot of incredibly talented people. Those people who have the ability to think differently and in a way that is new and not be afraid to take risks are the ones who are going to come out ahead. The ones in danger are those who really look to go back to the way it was. 

Some brands are bypassing production companies and asking influencers to create campaign assets -- is this a sign of the future? 

They are some of my favorite things to watch because the technology for the production is there for that type of thing. But that’s not going to be everything -- it’s a small part of what happens. A consumer journey requires a lot of different types of assets. When you’re buying a car, you need to have your social influencers, friends and family who are driving that car, but you also really need detailed documents about what technology’s in there and get different types of information about it. Influencers don’t begin to scratch the surface of what a production company is able to do and what we need to do for the brands which we work with. 


What’s your advice to brands? 

Look to the future. Stabilize now. Figure out what now really looks like and really means. Figure out as an organization and a brand what you need to say right now and be very clear and choiceful in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. And begin talking about what it looks like after. Find the innovative people in your organization and pull them in. Get a good production partner that is thinking globally and resiliently and that has technology in place.

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