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Agency Heads of Production reveal how the directorial selection process has changed in the remote working world.

Posted on January 28, 2021

The pandemic has changed so many habits, procedures and practices in the ad world, it’s hard to keep them all straight. With almost an entire industry working remotely, things are quite different today – including the process by which agencies would review and select directors to bid on their commercial and brand video assignments.

Drawing on our ongoing series of Heads of Production roundtables, Simian reached out to a quartet of agency production execs to ask about how the process has changed, how sales reps have been handling the changes and which shifts have made the process better. We also asked about what’s missing in today’s ‘all Zoom, all the time’ environment.

Graciously agreeing to take part in our Q&A were (pictured above, clockwise from upper right) Jack Epsteen, Sr. VP, Director of Production, GSD&M; Spring Clinton, Sr. VP, Director of Content Production, North America, Momentum Worldwide; Trish McKeon, Executive Producer/ Consultant and former Director of Broadcast Production at FCB Health; and Vince Genovese, Executive Director of Integrated Production, BSSP.

Here’s what they had to say:

Has the process of selecting directors changed since the industry went to remote status? If so, in what ways? Has it become more difficult or cumbersome?

Jack Epsteen: Just like the entire creative process, it’s more difficult to get a large group of people to make a decision. Things just take longer when we can’t be in the same room and discuss the questions at hand. The technology has definitely made it easier to share, discuss and get feedback, but consensus can be challenging.

Spring Clinton: The process of selecting directors has become more demanding as producers need to have somewhat of a “crystal ball” to see weeks into the future and gauge where productions/production companies might be allowed to work due to Covid restrictions. It requires a lot of legwork / conversations with production companies and reps to ensure you have the most up to date information on whom to share with your creatives as options, gathering potential ways of execution and ensuring that you have the best Covid protocol process in place for your entire team.

Vince Genovese: The process of director selection hasn’t changed all that much (sharing links) amongst agency creatives and production teams. In fact I’ve found the process to be more focused and less cumbersome, since remote work has allowed people to manage their own time, thus carving out time for focused attention on reels and creative talent evaluation.

Trish McKeon: I don’t think the process has changed drastically. Before pandemic shutdown, we would send links to our creative team and often have an in-person meeting once or twice to discuss best director options, but those meetings were becoming a luxury. Lots of these steps were being done via emails already, but not having in-person meetings with the creative and account team to have a final alignment has definitely been harder. Zoom works, but it’s just not the same.

When it comes to screening reels with your creative and production teams and clients, how has that process changed?

Vince: It hasn’t, from my perspective. Our clients and creatives are familiar with the process of reviewing links and presenting creative materials digitally.

Jack: We can’t blame the pandemic for people being very busy and juggling many jobs at once. That’s been happening for quite some time. So I guess the process hasn’t changed much in that respect.

Spring: Agreed, it hasn’t. Sending links with a few notes from me is still the easiest way to initially share options, and then we meet to chat about what we liked. My job is to really share as many options as are relevant, and then to provide some out of the box ideas. I think teams now might have a little more ‘quiet space’ to review the reels/links you send them, versus trying to do it in a noisy, shared space office.

Trish: It’s a much more independent and remote process. Recently, I picked a director with a creative team in one Zoom call, after we screened reels independently. Many director approval calls with clients were remote already, or via phone or WebEx, so that’s not a huge change honestly.

So how are rep screenings taking place in the Covid era? And do you think they’ll ever go back to to way they used to be?

Jack: At our agency, we’ve not had success with remote screenings. I think people just have Zoom fatigue. Since every conversation has to be a meeting in the remote workplace, people are in front of their computers 24/7. It’s hard to convince folks to come to remote screenings. I really feel for reps these days. I’m confident we'll go back to screenings in person.

Spring: We tried to do this in the early stages of the pandemic, but I couldn’t get it to work. Our days are so packed with meetings right now, I could not get people to take a half hour out of their day to sit through an additional Zoom call. I now just forward new and interesting links to work I see out there, and I also like to share film screenings – there always seems to be an interest in those. I still like screenings – even if they are virtual. But I do miss seeing everyone and reviewing the work in person. I look forward to doing those again.

Trish: Rep screenings are much less in quantity, and if they happen, by Zoom. I find that annoying, as I prefer in person better. Not sure it will go back, but I certainly hope so! They were creatively inspiring meetings that were a highlight of producers’ days sometimes.

Vince: They’ve been atypical and varied throughout the Covid era. I’m uncertain if the screenings of in-person presentations will resume when or if we all return to our respective agency offices.

How are you managing the submission of reels and the review and selection process? Is there any kind of tool that you think would be great to have? (If so, we’ll build it!)

Jack: Great question. I still very much respect the value a great sales rep adds to the process. The ones that really listen to the brief and come with great unique solutions are still very necessary. I can’t think of any tools at this point that would replace the human factor.

Spring: Honestly, I don’t think there’s a replacement for putting in the time, effort and legwork to reach out to reps, review your saved folders of starred directors, go through production company rosters, or expanding your vendor vision – just ensuring that you’re not using the same talent over and over, making sure you’re including diverse talent and understanding what the main concept your content idea is looking for. It takes time, and it’s your job.

Vince: Our primary submission process is through digital/link viewings. The selection process between producers and creatives is usually an evaluation and, for lack of a better description, a rating scale. If there was a check list or spreadsheet where viewers could enter their rating, comments and/or criteria, that would be helpful. Now we use a very standard Excel form.

Trish: Not that I can think of. This process was more independent and remote already. ‘Reels’ are just are websites and customized links.

Do you think the directorial review and selection process, as well as how prod co's pitch jobs, will ever go back to the way it was before the pandemic?

Spring: I don’t think it will. The pitch/bidding/award process is much faster now. Schedules are incredibly condensed, and productions are pushing decision-making until the last minute possible before engaging.

Trish: I think it’s almost the same now, just not in person. We’re still having creative calls with directors, asking for treatments, reviewing reels. I’d like to see the whole process more streamlined overall, but it depends on the agency team you’re working with.

Vince: The production company pitch process seems to be status quo since pre-Covid. However, I’ve noticed the bidding of projects has become more arduous, to cover contingencies and Covid-related mitigation.

Jack: I’m not seeing much of a difference in the review/selection process, aside from the struggles of not being in the same room to facilitate discussions and agreement. I anticipate we’ll get back there once people can be back in an office environment.

What do you like most about the way directors’ conference calls and pitching has changed? And the least? Has it in any way become better than it was before?

Jack: I think having video conferences versus phone calls is a nice benefit of everyone going remote, and I anticipate that will continue. I’m constantly amazed by how quickly we as an industry adapted to the work from home environment, and we’re so lucky that our business was able to continue and in some ways get stronger.

Spring: I don’t think we used video conferencing as much as we do now. I have more of a connection to everyone in the room, now that I can see the people on the call. It’s something quite simple. It’s a wonder why we didn’t do it before.

Vince: I like how most of the production/agency world is now accustomed to video conferences now. Director calls where we have some ‘face time’ is a more personal experience, one which I think adds to the relationship and helps agencies, production companies and directors best evaluate the project.

Trish: I’m not sure here – before it was phone calls, and now it’s Zoom? I don’t think it’s that much different. We had a few instances where the director we were interested in happened to be in the New York so he could make an in person visit, which is usually a nice aspect. I remember meeting director Michael Sugarman in person once, and thinking, his chill and creative manner is so right for this agency team, and that team later hired him! We’re missing that in person ‘vibe’ you get about a good agency team fit, but again, those were luxuries, and not the standard way that we worked. Agency teams are usually too busy for that! Sadly.