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Impact 2020: A Creative Agency Q&A

Entertainment marketing strategist Lee Hunt interviewed 12 creatives on how their agencies navigated COVID and what's next.

All year we’ve read about the massive changes impacting media companies—layoffs, mergers, restructures. But what about the companies that service the entertainment industry? How have they adapted to the new realities shaped by a global pandemic? As co-founder of CMOmarketplace, a digital platform that connects media companies with creative services agencies, Lee Hunt sat down with a dozen agencies to understand how they’ve dealt with the upheavals of 2020.

Their responses to his questions – some of which appear below – are a fascinating glimpse into the unique ripple effects that have changed entertainment marketing.

CMOmarketplace co-founder and entertainment marketing strategist, Lee Hunt

Over the past several months, how has the workload for your agency changed?

Black Label Content, Joseph Uliano: The first four months (March – June) were a standstill. The next six months have broken all of my historical records in terms of number of jobs in any quarter, mainly because of our COVID-19 protocols and helping forge those within a few networks.

Lava, Robert Kirkpatrick: I think everyone kind of froze initially, and now we’ve all learned how to do what we do despite the challenge of the pandemic. After a steep drop-off from March through May, Lava has regained momentum. While several projects were canceled or delayed by COVID-19, other opportunities arose because of it, as our clients shifted concepts from live production to animation and motion graphics.

Undefined Creative, Maria Rapetskaya: Literally everything went on hold mid-March. Then a month later, after the initial turmoil passed, everyone was ready to proceed all at once. It took a couple of months to clear up the bottleneck.

 

How has the way you work with clients changed?

2C 2.0, Bob Cobb: Due to the remote workflow, we now have to receive assets at our IO person’s home and then assets are placed on to encrypted HDs to be given to remote editors. The logistics of getting assets into the pipeline, as well as delivering finals, has certainly become more of a learning experience. In addition, we have had shoots that relied completely on remote supervision.

2C 2.0, Chris Sloan: I’d also add that in the early days, it was more difficult to corral all the stakeholders, but everyone seems to have adjusted to the new normal. Strangely, it’s almost become second nature. For us, remote workflow was never an issue because living in a hurricane zone, we’ve had procedures in place to ensure continuity. This has been tested a number of times. Now, in this case, the pandemic is an endless hurricane in terms of time and disruption.

Black Spot, John Laskis: It’s actually been easier to collaborate in certain situations, such as virtual writers’ rooms where we collaborate in real-time with the client on ideas and scripts. That would never have happened in the Before Times. We’ve also gotten used to remote edit, mix and color sessions, and have leaned heavily on distance-friendly tools to provide as close to an in-the-room experience as we can.

Pilot, Louis Venezia: Nearly all phone calls have turned into video chats — about 90 percent. It’s a happy move. The video chats are much more engaging and direct. And, what’s more, when we do have phone calls with select clients, they’re profoundly more intimate and special.

Red Bee Creative, Aileen Madden: We really miss the energy shift of a face-to-face meeting where we could pin things up on boards and crumple up the not-good-enough first attempts. Shoots are really different too, of course, and we’ve had to find new ways to make clients feel part of the ‘live’ action.

Troika, Kevin Aratari: I’d say we are in even closer and more frequent contact with them than before.

 

What do you think the business will look like once we get past the initial pandemic?

Trollbäck, David Edelstein: This is the million-dollar question. We are going through so many reorganizations at all the major entertainment companies that I don’t believe we know how this will all play out. We understand that the business is not going away and that spending may increase for outside agencies depending on how things settle. We also need to know where the spending may come from. As these significant brands restructure and consolidate, our clients may change. From someone who has been through many ups and downs in this industry, you need to stay positive and adapt.

And-Or, Kendra Eash: I think it will be similar, save people will be much more comfortable working from home or being onsite part time. I think the one good thing that has come of this is removing the expectation of spending all your time physically at your desk or onsite. I think people have been surprised by how little working from home has changed productivity, or at least that’s our experience!

Black Spot, John Laskis: I don’t think things will ever be the same. Now that we’ve all learned that we can work efficiently and well remotely, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to large facilities in central locations. The COVID-19 experience has opened us all to worldwide talent and 24/7 workflows, and has enabled creatives to live anywhere they’d like. This enables all of us to hire more, happier talent at better rates, which ultimately will improve the quality of the work we all do.

loyalkaspar, David Herbruck: The pandemic and the move to working remotely have taught us many things about ourselves and the way creatives do their best work. While transitioning to a fully remote workflow seemed daunting at first, we quickly learned how to collaborate and create in a more agile and flexible way than ever before. Our industry has changed in ways we couldn’t have foreseen, and we’ve been able to maneuver around those changes to remain as productive and effective as ever before. We’ve learned that geography and being tethered to an office isn’t required to make incredible work with great people, and on the other side of this, we’ll have valuable experience in finding creative and efficient ways of working together to accomplish any goal. As a company and as an industry, we will most likely never fully go back to the way things were before, and to us that’s a positive.

 

To read the full version of Lee’s interview, register FREE at CMOmarketplace and find the story here: https://portal.cmomarketplace.com/#/pages/agencyroundtable2020/

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