As SVP, director of experiential production, US, Bryan Baskett incorporates 28+ years of industry knowledge to lead the production of live and virtual events for Momentum Worldwide across the US for brands like Verizon, Walmart, American Express, William Grant & Sons and a host of other amazing brands.
We tapped Bryan for his views on the experiential production landscape in 2021 and beyond.
LBB> What lasting impact has the experience of the pandemic had on how you and Momentum think about and approach production?
Bryan> The pandemic impacted production for us in three major ways.
As the adoption of virtual experiences expanded, we were blessed to have a number of experienced producers with a wide range of broadcast experience and trusted vendor relationships in the digital/virtual/content space. We quickly created a dedicated team to focus on virtual activations to ensure successful executions. As live and virtual elements will assuredly be a part of every experience moving forward, the creation of this team will make us even stronger in the future.
We continued to execute live experiences in 2020 on a large scale, including the production of eight mobile tours delivering 300+ movie showings as part of the Walmart Drive-In. So, the second major area was the development of health and safety protocols to ensure we could execute programs safely for consumers and our staff, which also informed the reinvention of experience design (XD). Our XD team quickly incorporated the protocols into their strategy, reinventing the consumer journey throughout our events while also maintaining the value of the experience. These protocols also required risk assessment discussions to take place much earlier in the creative process, as the ability to execute was no longer a given and could change daily based on local guidance.
Last, but certainly not least, the pandemic impacted us in the same way it did most agencies, we had to get lean and mean. While this made for a very challenging year, it necessitated greater collaboration between offices and provided a window to improve operational processes which have already proven to have incredibly positive benefits and will certainly enhance how we produce experiences moving forward.
LBB> Aside from Covid-19, what have been the most disruptive forces to hit agency production in the past few years?
Bryan> Disruption can have a negative connotation or a positive one. Since Covid-19 covered the negative side, let’s focus on the positive. One of the greatest disruptions in the past few years, and certainly moving forward, is the presence of 5G. While this may seem like a shameless plug for our Verizon client, there is no denying 5G is changing the face of creative and production in the content, live experience, virtual and gaming spaces.
LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital. Do you agree?!
Bryan> I absolutely agree that the mindset and process of a good producer should be able to translate from one medium to another, as well as from one industry to another. For example, a good live events producer could certainly make a transition to home construction, since the project management skill sets are very similar. However, there is no denying that experience in a particular medium yields significant benefits.
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?
Bryan> I look at building an experiential team as very much like building a football team. The vast number of players need to be able to play a number of positions, but you also need highly skilled players in specific positions who can make the big plays. Ideally, generalists become specialists over time as they develop experience with specific disciplines, but given the speed of change in our industry, it is often necessary to bring in some free agents to provide an added level of expertise.
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?
Bryan> Over the course of my career, I have worked in virtually every role within agencies, at shops big and small, and across a wide variety of clients. While every role has its benefits, production has always been attractive to me, as we get to bring the experience to life. We make the connection with consumers. After hundreds of activations and countless engagements, here is what I have learned: the most important person in the process is the individual engaging with the consumer. Whether it is a celebrity, musician, athlete, brand ambassador or local promotional staff, the person executing the moment of engagement determines the success of the program. A great engagement can make up for a poor activation and a bad engagement can ruin award-winning experience design. So, pay special attention in selecting diverse talent and staff that elevate the experience, and you will have a much greater opportunity for success.
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?)
Bryan> Early in my career (before the word ‘experiential’ was invented), event marketing was the bucket where you spent leftover money from your media budget to create a live activation that typically mirrored an advertising campaign. In other words, commercials were cool and event marketing was an afterthought. Over the years, the pendulum swung back the other way. Experiential became the shiny toy that attracted clients and ad agencies dove in to experiential to stay relevant. Now, as content ascends in importance, the question is how you use experiential to maximise its creation and use digital to extend its reach. So, the evolution of agencies has been incredibly interesting and change is the only constant.
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?
Bryan> There is a case to be made for multiple scenarios depending on the size of the agency, the nature and scope of the client work, and overall skill set/utilisation of the production team. Typically, we utilise the ‘Generalist + Specialist’ model where generalists are assigned to a specific account to ensure a consistent thread of brand knowledge, with specialists coming in as needed to deliver technical expertise.
LBB> When working with a new partner or collaborator, how do you go about establishing trust?
Bryan> The best way to establish trust with a new partner is to begin with smaller projects and be sure to take the time to set them up for success in order to fairly test their skills. If you have done everything in your power to give them the tools they need to succeed and they fail, the good news is that it was a small project. When they succeed, give them larger projects on higher-profile programs and, hopefully, by setting them up for success on prior programs, they will gain an understanding of how to work with the agency and your clients to deliver great work.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the involvement of procurement in production?
Bryan> Procurement gets a bad rap because of their reputation to purchase solely on price and, rightfully so, as this happens far too often. When this is the approach, procurement’s success can lead to a poor brand experience that unfortunately can impact how experiential marketing is perceived. However, when procurement is involved in the decision-making process with the goal of balancing quality output with sound fiscal management, they can add significant value to the production process.
LBB> When it comes to educating producers how does your agency like to approach this?
Bryan> This is a tough one. Structured trainings are great for teaching producers about agency policy/procedures and client/brand knowledge, which are usually the biggest stumbling blocks for new team members.
Beyond these areas, structured training gets more difficult. While great producers have an intrinsic thirst for learning, determining what to train against when you are consistently challenged with doing something new is very difficult. There is no substitute for experience. But, for those areas of emerging interest, our typical approach is to identify specialists around a particular area, have them do a deep dive to learn as much as they can and then share this learning across the production team. As more projects come in with that specific need, the team has the basic knowledge to speak intelligently, but, more importantly, they know who to go to for support.
LBB> What new skills have you had to add to the team as a result of the pandemic?
Bryan> Ramping up the number of people capable of producing virtual events was the immediate pivot. Thankfully, we have a number of producers on our team who are very comfortable in the space, but the rapid emergence of new technologies and virtual platforms absolutely created entirely new skill sets.
Creating an agency-wide centre of excellence around Covid-19 health and safety protocols was also of paramount importance as we continued to execute mobile tours and other live experiences.
LBB> Should production have a seat in the c-suite - and why?
Bryan> Yes, production should be represented in the c-suite for the mere fact it represents a significant part of client budgets, manages the bulk of agency risk/liability and lives in the moment of engagement, which ultimately is the critical success factor for any agency.
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?
Bryan> Data is crucial to our desire for a deep understanding of consumers and their behaviors across platforms to reach them at the right places and the right times throughout their digital lives. Having access to live feedback is important, as it allows us to remain agile in our approach.
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?
Bryan> We don’t sleep! But also, we have creative teams who concept great ideas that provide diverse opportunities for messaging on every platform. It’s all about being lockstep with comms strategy and working smart.
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?
Bryan> Before the pandemic, I would have argued production is absolutely strategic and should take place earlier in the process. The reason is simple… creative is only as great as your ability to produce the concept within budget and in a manner capable of achieving program objectives. So, by engaging production teams earlier in the process, you enhance the quality of the output and your speed to market.
The presence of Covid-19 cemented production’s strategic significance as health and safety protocols and risk assessment became of paramount importance to the creative process.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about working in production right now?
Bryan> Without a doubt, it’s the fact we see the light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to the return of live experiences and it is brighter than ever before. The pandemic escalated the appreciation for live experiences and the role brands play in delivering them. Plus, the proliferation of 5G and the adoption of virtual technologies over the last year will certainly expand the reach of everything we do in the future to make live experiences an even more powerful tool for brands.
LBB> And what advice would you give to an aspiring agency producer?
Bryan> First, develop your skills in content production and knowledge around sustainability practices. Content is king right now and understanding how to produce sustainably will yield dividends well into the future.