Production Line in association withComcast Technology Solutions

Sergio Lopez and the Everything Bagel of Production

Advertising Agency
Paris, France
One year into his role as global head of production at Publicis Groupe, Sergio Lopez talks to LBB’s Laura Swinton about bringing his vision of ‘production as a growth maker’ to life and why production in 2023 really is a case of everything, everywhere, all at once

“Without production, there are PowerPoint slides and empty ad spaces.” Sergio Lopez refers to production as the ‘missing link’ between creative, media and commerce. It is the engine that manifests everything that the marketers need, turning it from idea to reality. 

Referencing an upcoming Oscar hopeful movie we jokingly refer to modern production as the ‘everything bagel’ - but it’s a comparison that’s not so outlandish when you consider all that production does these days. 

A year ago, Sergio Lopez headed into Publicis Groupe to help wrangle that everything bagel for the holding company behemoth. In his new role, he’s driving production at a Groupe level, across pioneering data-driven production models for some of the biggest global advertisers through the holding company’s offerings such as Prodigious global production network of 50 offices, LePont’s commerce production, Boomerang, Harbor Entertainment, and the newly launched PXP, its performance-driven production solution.

If you’re going to eat an everything bagel, you have to think big. Nibbling around the edges, tinkering on capabilities here and there was never going to cut it. And so the very first thing that Sergio did when he joined in 2022 was to focus on building a vision and a strategy.

“In production we tend to build capabilities, as opposed to vision. People that start production companies or post production companies start thinking about planning sound studios or being able to build post production rooms or hiring digital filmmakers…But to move fast, I needed to start with building a vision.”

It was a vision and strategy that was built around clients’ very real challenges in a fast-changing world.

“It was clear that clients still have a problem with omnichannel campaigns that they are struggling to deliver, especially at a global level,” explains Sergio. “Even if they have creative agencies that can come up with that, they need production that actually understands omnichannel. A lot of the problems that they have are around how they are targeting people. At a time where everybody gets their playlists from Spotify and their movies recommended from Netflix, we still get the same visuals, super targeted for media. I saw a stat that said that 85% of digital media is targeted and that only 5% of the creative is optimised. So there’s a big discrepancy between the ability that we have to identify the individual and the story that we are telling the individual. So that’s where the vision came from.”

Growing Clients’ Business

That vision sees production positioned as more than the home of the ‘makers’ - it’s the home of the ‘growth maker’. “I was tired of being called a ‘creative maker’,” reflects Sergio. “Of course I’m a creative maker. And, of course, at heart, I love creative makers. That’s who we are - but what we do is make growth in our clients’ business, because we’re at the centre of everything. Production is everything.”

At a time when any content touch point, from a social post to a livestream to an AR experience can be a point of commerce production directly grows revenue for businesses. But that ‘growth maker’ strategy is multi-dimensional - the growth refers not only to clients’ revenues, but the way that production can underpin growth in terms of allowing organisations to easily move at the speed of culture and technological change.

“Large clients change their organisation all the time, right? They’re having to recalibrate because of product change, management changes. Sometimes they need to change the agencies they work with. Culture is moving, as are platforms, so this entire world is changing all the time. And the thing that underpins everything is production,” says Sergio. “If you fix production - if you have a production machine or entity or ecosystem - that means you can change with the client’s organisation. Platforms can change their formats or create new stuff and you can put anything through that system, create it and distribute it across the world, and clients can focus on their business.”

Growing the Future of Production

And so the very scope of what clients need is growing, constantly, amped up by data and new technology. And it’s smart, future-facing producers who are turning that from theory into reality.

When we talk about production in advertising and marketing, most people still probably think about the making of TV advertising or film-based advertising. But the breadth and stretchiness of production now, particularly for global clients, goes way beyond that. Sergio reflects that TV advertising is possibly the smallest part of what his team does, but it’s finite and easy to talk about. But with the proliferation of platforms and the advent of technologies like AI, that requires an understanding of production that’s much more flexible.

“The way we talk about it in the Groupe is that you have creative platforms, which is the big idea… and then you have platform creative, which is bringing that big idea down into something that is fit for platform,” explains Sergio. “When you look at where production has been going in the last year, with things like synthetic talent and AI creators, we are better equipped to do that. That’s been my biggest emphasis, building a production unit that is specialised in platform creative and execution.”

Right now, AI is proving to be a promising tool to create that fit-for-platform content… though perhaps not in the way you might initially think.

“‘All of a sudden all of my images are going to be generated through AI’ or ‘all my copywriting is going to be generated through AI’ is a big leap from where we are. So we are starting to define the things that AI can do very well now. It has accelerated things like modifying images that we need for social, for example if you need to change the background. Things like that used to be very time consuming manually and all of a sudden it takes six seconds and you have the ability to make variations,” explains Sergio.

That, in turn, is helping producers create content that is truly responsive to the rivers of data that the Groupe has access to. “It’s very much connected with two things that are very important, which are distribution and how we learn how the work is performing. It is the thing that we, as producers, rarely got to see before. We never got to learn really what people liked about the work that was performing well,” says Sergio. Now, producers can optimise and personalise content in response to real-time data insights - and tech like AI or real-time games engines or synthetic voice allows producers to turn around new variations ever more efficiently. 

Weaving all that together is ‘synthetic imaging’, which Sergio sees as the thread that brings it all together. “CGI and everything that has to do with synthetic imaging I personally see - and the Groupe sees - as the future of production. If you think about it, it touches everything. It touches web3, it touches AR/VR, it touches backgrounds or virtual sets, it touches talent. It provides incredible possibilities for creativity, it provides incredible agility and it has a good impact on the environment, it ticks all the boxes,” he says, revealing that the Groupe is currently building three virtual studios, with one in New York, the West Coast of the USA and one in Europe.

Growing Tomorrow’s Producers

The ‘growth maker’ idea has another side to it too - a side that’s more human, more personal but just as important. Sergio wants to foster an environment where people can grow and develop as individuals too.

“When I took over this role, one of the things that I wanted to do was build a place that I’ve always wanted to work.” Sergio reflects on his own career journey, having to look for mentors in other industry verticals and the relative lack of structure in training. So the team have been keen to build a training programme that can help develop a cohort of future-facing modern producers - and to help fantastic practitioners more deeply understand clients’ challenges and better communicate with them.

And ultimately that’s all part of the strategic, growth-driving production culture Sergio is driving. He jokes about the all-too-familiar scenario of clients worrying about hitting targets and keeping their jobs while well-meaning producers eagerly talk about camera lenses. He wants to help bridge that gap and empower producers to explain how their decisions will impact the client’s business.

“That’s why it’s not just about ‘where do we find the talent?’, it’s ‘how do we develop the talent?’. How do we become the place where this talent grows and becomes the next generation of production?”

And that growth is something that Segio himself has been experiencing over this past year with Publicis Groupe. Just as production won’t stop changing, even the most experienced producers have to evolve with it.

“My personal journey has involved a lot of learning about a lot of things I didn’t know about,” he reflects. “It’s been quite a humbling exercise to go from feeling that I knew a lot to learning a lot, especially about media and commerce, learning different languages and being more involved in that stream. I’ve just become a member of the creative council for Meta and the creative council for Snap, just to be able to bridge that gap between those platforms and production, which is fascinating.”

Thankfully Sergio is not alone in his journey. Bringing this vision to life, Sergio has gathered together a leadership team to help drive that tech- and data-literate production environment. There’s chief client officer, Mariusz Urbanczyk, who joins from Papaya Films and who led Hogarth in Brazil and Argentina and North America, who will be focusing on those global client relations. Chief product officer Camila Nakagawa brings operations experience in data and production and will be ensuring that the Groupe is developing the most impactful, ‘growth-making’ solutions for clients. Fabienne Queyrane is global production strategy director and she actually joined the Groupe a decade ago to launch its pioneering production environment Prodigious. Strategic operations lead Stephanie Mylam has been at Publicis Groupe since 2015 and will be spearheading the precision content offering. Bryan Simkins is global SVP technology and activation, and he’ll be driving the integration between production and media. Laurence Ferry is ESG and CSR lead, overseeing responsible production. Ed Ellis is global production CFO, ensuring efficiency and effectiveness go hand in hand.

With a clear but flexible understanding of what production needs to do and a global team united behind it, keeping up with all of these changes while steering enormous global clients through them, and connecting production with previously unfamiliar worlds of media and commerce becomes a lot less intimidating. A year into the role, and with some exciting projects ahead, that everything bagel is starting to look more like a googly eye.

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