Just like everyone in these unprecedented times, creative agencies and production houses had to pivot quickly when the work-from home order came last month. But what’s proved helpful for agencies is their innate adaptability, flexibility and technological know-how.
“We’ve always been the shop people called when they didn’t have much creative to work with,” said Carson Hood, executive producer at New York City-based Bigstar. Hood already is well-acquainted with working remotely, as he works at least part of the time from his home in Austin and commutes to meet with his team in New York. Bigstar has done such work as produce a season-seven teaser for HBO’s Game of Thrones with no footage whatsoever and create social teases for each major character from HBO’s Westworld with only show footage.
Working from home, on location or from an airport is hardly a new practice for most people in the creative industry. Many agencies have long collaborated with creatives who live and work in different cities, countries or even continents, and most creative executives know how to work on the run.
“The good news is that my company was born out of a remote infrastructure,” said Diana Dixon, head of Dixon in Santa Monica. “We’ve just adapted to technology along the way.”
Technology-wise, agencies are using much of the same cloud-based communication software that everyone else is using: Zoom, Slack, Google Docs, Box, Dropbox. Many have set up virtual private networks (VPN) to ensure security around clients’ materials. And they also have made sure they have large file-sharing capabilities so they can share edits and other work amongst themselves.
“We were super-prepared even though it wasn’t necessarily a new world order that we anticipated,” Dixon said.
What all agency and network executives have said is that they have made a point of increasing communication with their teams during this time, and that’s usually with a daily Zoom call.
While many agencies say they have remained busy during the pandemic, they also say many projects have paused or been canceled altogether. And of course all live-action shoots are impossible now, making things extra-challenging for agencies who focus on that type of work.
But for some agencies, the shutdown order has allowed them to step up and provide their network brethren with some backup. While network-based marketers are not able to go to their offices to produce work, agencies are set up to do just that.
“We’re super busy right now because people can’t cut in-house anymore,” said Andy Meyers, president and owner, M3 Creative. “People have closed their offices so they now need to go out of house.”
Agencies that focus on motion graphics and animation also have found that they have something extra to offer right now.
“With live-action coming to a halt, brands still need to get their story and message out,” said Robert Burroughs, executive creative director at Atlanta-based Creative Mammals. “Animation may be a tool to help brands more than ever.”
For Meyers and all of the agency owners and executives to whom Daily Brief talked, protecting their staff was of utmost importance.
“Obviously, the first goal is to protect your staff and then to protect your client and to be there for them,” Meyers said. “How then do you continue to work and to make sure you execute in such a crazy time? And how do we, as agency owners, ensure we provide the same level of service to our clients? We are trying to provide comfort and consistency just as we have always done.”
Pitching clients in this sensitive time is something that agencies have had to consider. Several said it’s less about the hard sell right now and more about checking in to see how people are doing and what their needs might be.
“We’re just trying to make sure we are reaching out to our clients,” said Dixon. “We’re checking in to make sure they are okay and letting them know we’re here to support them in any way that they need.”
“All the same rules apply with or without this virus affecting our lives,” said Tony Kadillak, executive director at Thornberg and Forester, during Promax’s agency-focused webinar on April 7. “I always ask myself ‘have I done my homework’ and ‘am I offering something they need?’”
While agency executives are having to manage anxiety among themselves, their families, their staffs and the clients amid the pandemic, many of them already have found a silver lining:
“[Bigstar Executive Creative Director] Josh Norton and I talk about how we think we’ll be a stronger company when we get to the end of this,” said Hood. “We’ll keep on being the reliable company that people know we are and that’s the glue. We’ll continue to do good work and continue to be on time.”
“It’s made us at Trollback a much better team, seeing how people have risen up and supported each other,” said David Edelstein, executive director, Trollbäck+Company, also during Promax Tuesday’s webinar. “I think it’s made us stronger.”