A year ago, Maureen Sherrard, creative producer at Shanghai-based creative agency Goodstein, shared her experiences of being in China during the period before Covid-19 hit the rest of the world. Now, almost 12 months on, much has shifted again in the production and creative industry and for those in China, this period leading up to the New Year festivities is as different as it can be.
LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Maureen to hear about life in Shanghai, the impact of a handful of Covid-19 cases and what this means for Chinese New Year campaigns.
LBB> Last year’s Chinese New Year was overshadowed by the coronavirus, what impact did this have when planning communications for this year?
Maureen> Covid hit Wuhan City just before CNY 2020 and by then most of the campaigns were already produced. However, when it spread, many projects were cancelled because of the lockdown that followed. Most clients and everyone in the industry though were optimistic that 2021 would be better and back to normal.
From October/November 2020 briefs and comms plans were starting to be sent out so there was definitely a sense of ‘back to normal’. There are a lot of CNY campaigns already out there now and you can see that there were healthy budgets behind them. Unlike last year, we at GOODSTEIN are currently in pre-production to shoot a CNY commercial. We have to adapt slightly, but the shoot is going ahead…. We check every day for Covid info. You never know as Shanghai could be locked down in nanoseconds.
LBB> Looking back from Chinese New Year 2020, how much has life changed in the country?
Maureen> China was very quick to contain the pandemic and it is still being successful at it. There have been spots of outbreaks but they have been rapidly contained. There is no national lockdown so when you are outside it all looks pretty much the same as before the outbreak.
But everyone is cautious. You need to wear a mask when outside, have your temperature checked and register your health QR when entering buildings. You need to have tests and self-isolate if you travel outside your province. International travel is pretty much non-existent so most people have stayed in China since last year.
LBB> How has the industry adjusted to all of the changes?
Maureen> Apart from not doing live shoots and major events for product launches, when the number of infections started declining and some cities were almost Covid free, the industry started to bounce back. We got busy with big campaigns from August last year after not much going on during the hardest period of Covid.
LBB> What impact has this had on the messages brands are sending out to consumers?
Maureen> You would think everyone has corona overdose by now but CNY is very much about getting together with your family and traveling back to your hometown. The messages (even before the pandemic) are often about how people can’t get back home during CNY which makes many campaigns have a very emotional and heart-touching approach. I think it will be the same this year but with masks on.
LBB> Have you worked on any campaigns for this year’s Chinese New Year? If so, what was the production process like?
Maureen> It is crazy. We are currently working on a last-minute campaign involving a shoot. (We are very late in the game for CNY campaigns as most people already buy media and put ads out in January.)
With traveling restrictions and being so close to the CNY week, we have limitations on where we can shoot so all locations being scouted are no further than 1.5 hours outside of Shanghai. It would be impossible to send a crew elsewhere as they don’t want to have to self-isolate when they return!
Everyone loves the sunshine, but we are in the middle of winter so we are just crossing fingers that the weather is kind to us. We also have less availability of talent because it is so close to the CNY week. So all in all, a very exciting challenge!
LBB> Do you think the period during the pandemic has and will have a lasting impact on the industry?
Maureen> Yes, it has already. We are now very used to working virtually. I love it and hope it continues. I never saw the point of taking a flight to another city just to meet a client for an hour. And when it comes to concept and scripting stories, we are very conscious of what it is and is not possible to do anymore. Maybe in time, things will go back to how it used to. The good thing is the economy is healthy and clients still want to do good work.
LBB> What have been the biggest learnings for China since the pandemic began?
Maureen> Forget your “freedom rights” and just obey the rules. That’s the only way to beat this bug.