Commercials and COVID: Lessons Learned from the Front Line

Commercials and COVID: Lessons Learned from the Front Line

Stratacomm is proud to produce national advertising campaigns about road safety, targeting drivers with important, life-saving messages. Despite COVID upending broadcast production plans, we just wrapped our fourth remote video shoot since March. We had to quickly shift to work within new constraints and under new rules. Social distancing and safety measures replaced many of the typical hallmarks of a video shoot, like multiple people gathering around a tiny screen to watch playbacks and refueling with refreshments at the food table provided by craft services. Here’s what we learned.

  1. Resiliency matters. Nobody wanted to find a way to make virtual shoots work more than production companies. They worked with local governments to determine new protocols around permitting requirements, creating safety on set and how to manage disruptions. Many became certified in set safety protocols and introduced flexibility terms into their contracts that let us postpone a shoot without penalty for shelter in place-related delays. They also used Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms to allow clients to join them on “set” without physically needing to travel to location. It was a tremendous amount of work for these companies, but we are grateful they took the initiative that allowed us to continue our life saving work.
  1. Preparation has never been more important. Navigating the challenging landscape of permit approvals, casting safety, call backs, set safety, technology and Wi-Fi connections is no simple task. We found a whole new layer of nuance when key decision makers are remote. It’s one thing to be on set and communicate a change, but when you’re 3,000 miles away and communicating through the chat feature in Zoom, it adds a layer of complexity. We found that preparing an advance plan for communicating feedback and approvals was critical. We also extended our pre-production meetings to test technology so everyone was comfortable with the software we were using, allowing us to trouble shoot potential hurdles in advance instead of wasting valuable time on shoot day.
  1. Distractions loom large. Time zone differences, chat functions and being at home are all challenges when it comes to coordinating a successful virtual video village (video village is a physical location where the team reviews footage as its being shot throughout the day). As we know from our work from home experience, it’s much harder to stay fully present and engaged when your dog is barking to go out, your kids are home, or your email is constantly dinging. Blocking out the time for the shoot, turning off your email and chat notifications, and having a private and uninterruptible space to watch the feed are all very important.
  1. There’s still value in being there. While we successfully managed the virtual shoots, we still think being onsite is better. This provides you with eyes and ears on the ground to manage complications and setbacks, and mitigates communications challenges that are amplified while remote. There is also a camaraderie on set that is missing when you’re not there, which can make shoots far less collaborative. Although technology has made remote shoots possible, we think in-person shoots will continue to be the gold standard. 

While we were skeptical that virtual video shoots could be successful, we are glad to say we were proven wrong. With resilience and problem-solving, along with the technological advances in the last few years, we’re able to continue as successful communicators in any landscape. There are some lessons we are taking forward for future shoots, such as beefing up the advanced planning, but the most important outcome is the reminder that being flexible, resilient problem-solvers can help us overcome any challenge.   

Anna Albert is a vice president in Stratacomm’s Washington, D.C. office.

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