Production Line in association withComcast Technology Solutions

Production Line: Becoming the Master of Zoom with Valerie Hope

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Walrus' director of integrated production and creative services on her career pathway and surviving a year of panic

Valerie Hope is the director of integrated production and creative services at Walrus, where she leads the agency’s production department, directs the production of creative campaigns across all media, and oversees the creative services involved in campaign development. Val is a New York transplant via Scotland and an entrepreneur; in addition to working at agencies, she founded and ran her own company, Backbone Productions. She brings a wealth of integrated production experience — and a wealth of great stories — to Walrus. 

Get to know her via her Production Line below.

LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and your agency think about and approach production?

Val> Well… when it comes to production during the pandemic, which in the beginning was a whole lot of, “how the fuck are we going to get this done,” panic has become the new norm. The good thing about a year of panic is that is starts to not bother you.

Panic aside, the Walrus approach has been to keep producing and to come up with concepts that we can bring to life for our clients during this time. We have pulled off tons of live action shoots in various states while staying Covid safe. 

LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years? 

Val> I don’t think there have been disruptive forces—except, of course, for budget constraints and the need for millions of deliverables to meet all forms of media for less. But to be honest, the industry has been adapting to this change for quite a few years and it hasn’t been difficult for Walrus as it’s been our approach to production for quite some time. 

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Val> Totally agree. I do think everyone has a first language that they are particularly in tune with, but able to experience and adapt to producing for any medium makes the job all the more fun and you learn something new every day. 

LBB> And leading on from that, when it comes to building up your team at the agency, what’s your view on the balance of specialists vs generalists?

Val> I definitely think both complement each other. The difference is a generalist can typically see through the fog a bit better and provide multiple solutions, while a specialist can reel in that thinking making us all the more well-rounded.

LBB> What’s your own pathway to production? When you started out, what sort of work were you producing and what lessons have stayed with you in that time?

Val> My first ad agency job was working in the finance department for a startup called Carrol Raj Stagliano. I took that valuable training and knowledge to Mad Dog’s & Englishmen, which at the time was also a startup, and my role progressed into producer, and ultimately, partner.  

In the beginning we were producing newspaper, magazine and OOH ads as well as a few Punisher visits. Yes, that 'The Punisher'. He was an integral part of our agency parties (go on, Google him). Those experiences made me realise how much I love working at a startup, there’s so much great energy, creativity and enthusiasm.  

After 10 years at Mad Dogs I started my own production company Backbone which lasted 10 more years. The great recession of 2009 got the better of us and I found myself joining the team at Walrus (which was founded by some ex-Mad Doggers), getting the opportunity to get back to working with great people who I'd known for years.

LBB> If you compare your role to the role of the heads of TV/heads of production when you first joined the industry, what do you think are the most striking or interesting changes (and what surprising things have stayed the same?)

Val> The change in the role of heads of production has been to recognise talent that is not necessarily native to our industry. What has remained the same is the importance of the creative concept. 

LBB> There are so many models for the way production is organised in the advertising industry - what set-ups have you found to be the most successful and why?

Val> The models are unique to each client, you can’t have one model. A private aviation client will have a different production model than a stool softener client. The production approach will vary based on the amount of time we have, the budget and level of production quality we want to achieve.

LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?

Val> Quality of work and creative collaboration is obviously important, but also crucial is being able to maintain an open dialogue and a willingness to be flexible during the production process. 

LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production?

Val> I love the production procurement process and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. 😉

LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this?

Val> Definitely on boarding with team and client personalities. We are all human after all. I particularly like to educate based on the creative idea, to have the mindset that anything can be done even with limited budgets. Also, don’t be an asshole. 

LBB> What new skills have you had to add to the team as a result of the pandemic?

Val> Masters of Zoom.

LBB> Should production have a seat in the C-suite - and why?

Val> Of course, any company would be crazy not to bring producers into the C-suite. As you mentioned above. "We think that understanding production is absolutely pivotal to understanding the future of advertising and marketing”. That kind of says it all.

LBB> How have you approached integrating data with production workflows and processes? And, generally, how has data and the fact that we have constant live feedback on content performance changed production?

Val> We typically massively overproduce which makes it easier for our media team to make adjustments on the fly depending on performance. 

LBB> Clients’ thirst for content seems to be unquenchable - and they need content that’s fast and responsive! What’s the key to creating LOTS of stuff at SPEED - without sacrificing production values? Is it even possible?

Val> It’s definitely possible, we do it all the time. The key is to have great alignment with the account team and clients and for everyone to try and anticipate what might be around the corner so we can best prepare without sacrificing production value. 

LBB> To what extent is production strategic - traditionally it’s the part that comes at the ‘end’ of the agency process, but it seems in many cases production is a valuable voice to have right up top - what are your thoughts/experiences of this?

Val> I haven’t been only at the end of the game for a long time. I usually start with WTF are we doing, let’s come up with a game plan.

LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?

Val> The advancement of technology in how we shoot/create is the most exciting. Shooting films on an iPhone 12 or learning about how the fucked up world of Deepfake works makes production exciting and scary. 

LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?

Val> My advice to an aspiring producer would be to advance their skills as a filmmaker. I hired Olivia Johansson who studied animation then went into the world of post production before joining Walrus. Lots of skills fill many gaps.

And please, don’t eat the yellow snow.

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