Generating Content During COVID-19 with Harry Lowell


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Lights... Camera... COVID?

During COVID-19, everything has changed over night for every industry. As many people are relying on streaming and digital content now more than ever, it poses the question of what impact this pandemic will have on the entertainment industry.

In fact as an entertainment agency, we have more of horse in this race than other businesses. Recently, our CEO sat down with the owner of a production company that spoke with us about ways in which some production work has continued. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how production companies are managing to continue creating content from the expertise of Harry Lowell of NiteLite Pictures.


A Little More About Harry

Harry Lowell is an award-winning executive producer, showrunner, Television Academy member, and president of NiteLite Pictures in Los Angeles. He began his marketing and entertainment career with Disney. He continues to develop and produce content for some of the biggest brands, networks and studios in the U.S. and abroad.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: I'd love to have you share how you've gotten to where you are today. And then we can dive in and talk about how you are maneuvering and helping brands maneuver through the world of marketing.

Answer: I started off working with Interpublic Group Agencies, so I started off in advertising and marketing with them. Then went to Disney where I really cut my teeth on entertainment stuff as well. You don't realize how important advertising history and background is because in advertising you get an amazing background of production, right? So you're doing comedy, animation, stunts, working with celebrities and animals, so you really have a well-rounded production sense. And then Disney filled in the blanks and helped us with the entertainment side of things. So that was how I cut my teeth. That's where I learned communication.

I think for me, as I've grown in my career, and founded NiteLite, I really love what I do, whether it's a Super Bowl spot, or an unscripted TV show, or some digital content, even a live event like a music concert or something, all of it adds up. I love the challenge. I love the creativity. I love the people we get to work with in our industry. I love really smart brands that have the ability to see forward and connect themselves to really good quality programming, and communication techniques. And so for me, at the end of the day, I just love making great, awesome communication, especially, when it's challenging. One of our big things for me is I love when we're doing huge big projects that take us all around the world, or new technologies that might help tell a story in a better way. So for me, that's where I came from and what I love best about the marketing, advertising world and production in general.

Question: What are people doing that you're seeing as a success? And where do you see this going right now?

Answer: Ultimately, what's happening right now is we have a new norm. So you have to put aside the way we normally do production, the slick commercial advertising look, the deep focus theatrical looks that we can get in entertainment. And right now quality is less important than content. So if you look at those shows, John Oliver, or Saturday Night Live, the quality is not good, but I don't think anyone cares at this point because what's important is the content is touching who we are, and what we're experiencing now altogether as a group collectively. I think what we're trying to look for right now as people are settling in. We know we're going to be here for a while and people need to keep themselves entertained. There are families with multiple kids, there are couples, there are groups of roommates, there's tons of people who are all now looking to how do we get through the day? These are different long days. Monday blends into Saturday blends into Sunday. Skype and Zoom are now every day so you can be working a 15 hour day easily.

So I think what marketers have to understand from an entertainment and production standpoint is that it's all about the content and being authentic in your messaging because that's what's going to stand out. The quality, the look, the feel is so out the door right now. Everyone knows we can't get hair and makeup. I mean, you and I would normally not be sitting on our ... I'm in my bedroom right now because my wife is in the living room on a conference call. My son is doing some schoolwork so this is the only place I could go. I normally have hair, but it is a mess right now. So this is the outfit.

I think everyone is very forgiving right now and that's a very powerful message because we've all been really exposed and broken down to who we are. And I think brands who embrace that and are willing to show their soul and their ethos are the ones who are going to really weather the storm the best even if they're struggling in their marketplace because, obviously, travel business is very down, but packaged foods, and frozen foods are very up, so people are experiencing different norms here, but, ultimately, being genuine in your messaging and being timely I think is more important right now than anything else that we've ever experienced.


Question: When we go back into the real world and our lives, are we going to actually approach it a little bit more casually? Are we going to jump back into the machine that is all of our lives and just not learn anything, and go full throttle and be perfectionists again, or do you think there might be a softening in the tone?

Answer: Personally, I think there's going to be a softening of the tone because I also think we don't know the path ahead. We don't know when we're going to get out of this, how gradually, or how quickly we're going to get out of it, what phases we're going to go through as we get out of this lockdown pandemic thinking. And so there's no way to really act with business is normal. Brands are used to saying let's get some metrics, let's get some focus groups out there. Let's plan 12, 18, 24 months in advance, which is a comfort level for everyone. And then you have some reserved money for spontaneous moments. Right now your entire world is spontaneous because your consumer and your customer is completely unsure what the future holds, not just the future four months from now, but next week, or this week even whether they're going to continue to keep their job, or if little things are open or not open will make a big difference.

I think in the near term brands who are going to be able to toss away their security blanket of data and metrics and go with their gut, and this is when it's really important to have great partners, great advertising partners, great brand partners, brand managers with agencies who can trust each other to say let's connect what we know is happening today because tomorrow might be a different scenario, and a different reality. Things can get better, they can get worse and you have to be willing to move. I think in advertising we planned for, we were doing Olympic stuff, and that was something that was in the plans for a year and now that's all just, I don't even know where that footage is right now. It's somewhere in a drive in some building that we can't even get into, so to finish that up we're not even considering it.

So now what you have to think about is being more in the moment and brands who are willing to do that are making a big impact. And I think it's going to stay with consumers when brands are mimicking and putting their soul out there and connecting to them in a way that they hadn't done before. And there's some amazing brands who jumped on it quickly and early and it really set the tone for who they are and that for us we would want to support that knowing that this brand does a service or a product that we need, but on top of that, this is how they reacted during the coronavirus. It's important at this point because we will remember this.

Question:  What are some examples of opportunities for brands big and small to make a statement, whether that's content that they're putting out there, or actions that they're doing that elicit great press and PR, and responses from people?

Answer: Right away, early on before most people did anything, Amazon came out with a multimillion dollar project and they said we're going to dedicate this money to local businesses in and around our corporate footprint because the coffee shops, the food shops when we sent our people home, we knew they were going to suffer, and so we don't want that because they're part of our community. And I thought, what an amazing message.

We use Amazon often for shipping and production and picking things up. It encourages me even more to continue to give and support that platform when at a huge corporate high-level like that they are still taking care of the small businesses around there. They have a bit of a heart. They're willing to show who they really are in a time of crisis like this. There's no necessarily benefit to them, but that says to me, as a consumer, I'm going to support that because if I know that during times of crisis you're going to reach out and help people like me and like my family I'd love to support a company like that, big or small.

Domino's had a big campaign planned for 2020, and they went ahead and scrapped it all because it was inappropriate for what we're all experiencing right now. You can't have people hugging and having parties and getting together for Cinco de Mayo. It's just not possible anymore that you see that you feel like you're completely tone deaf to what's happening in our world. So Domino's scrapped it all, stuck with their employees and they're even doing ads about, we'll hire you if you need work for delivery and that we're doing safe non-contact pizza that we can deliver to you. So they have changed their entire messaging without fear of saying, oh, but we've spent all this time on brands and logos and taglines and trademarks. They threw it all out the door and said, "This is not what people want to hear right now." So they focused on messages that are contactless and that we're actually hiring. And when would you ever spend broadcast dollars to say we want to hire low-level worker cost, but the point is they're showing who they are to your point. I thought that was really great.

Then there's some people that did amazing work that had nothing to do with broadcast spots. I thought Four Seasons out of New York said, "We're opening our doors. We have no business happening right now, but all first responders can stay here. We want to take care of you." Again, we do a ton of international work and travel. You'll see that when we go out and start filming again once this ban is lifted and we're out there, we're going to make an effort to find some Four Seasons and try to put some crew up there. It's nice to see that that corporate company, even though they are struggling, is willing to still give and help support their community, their towns. I thought that was great and they didn't put any commercials out for that. That was literally just word of mouth press and PR that they deserved because it was a great decision. I think even locally to a little tiny company this is a great example. I saw this on the news in Los Angeles. All the nail salons are closed.

Question: Do you have any additional advice for marketers right now on how they should be traversing this landscape?

Answer: I think the key thing is authenticity and being genuine. You need to go with your gut, which is very tough for a lot of them. I think that you need to scrap things, even simple things. If you've got spots running right now that say things like, come into our showroom, or visit our retailer, all of those messages are affecting consumers dramatically. And because consumers are home and their lives are so in upheaval, consumers are willing to reach out and really throw some shade to those marketers and brands who are not being genuine to what's happening in this world right now.

And the reverse people are also really thankful to see brands have a heart and a soul, whether it's on a community level, or on a national level. Ikea has done some beautiful things talking about home and they scrapped their whole campaign and literally had their ad agency just shoot them all at home and that became their campaign out of Singapore early on. And when everyone's like, why would you do that? They realized what was happening and it's become a huge picked up international program and it's a beautiful message.

So I think marketers need to be aware that the situation is for the short-term not going to change. And if it does start to change, it's going to continue to evolve. So don't think that they're going to flip a switch and we're going to be right back to what we normally do. I think they have to get comfortable with this uncertainty and the uncomfortableness, and adjust as our lives adjust. Adjust as we slowly get back into what life is going to look like. And to your earlier question, which was great, will we have remnants of this leftover? Will people take some of this slowed down pace, this ability to be home with the family? Is this going to become an overriding feeling and scenario? You need to take that into consideration when you start to plan for your next year as bigger productions and campaigns.

Check Out The Podcast!

Harry has a LOT of great information from his experience in digital marketing, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business with digital marketing!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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