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Defining Brands with Streaming Video in Challenging Times

On April 14, brand communications agency Brand Definition was due to launch a decked-out, NDI-driven live production studio in their Portland, Oregon office. Now they've temporarily pivoted to remote media production to meet their clients' shifting communications needs. In this interview, Managing Director Daniel O'Connell and Director of Digital Media Chris Hertzog explain how they're supporting business resilience in a fast-changing world.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: I’m Steve Nathans-Kelly, editor of Streaming Media Producer. And today I'm going to be talking to Daniel O'Connell, Managing Director, and Chris Hertzog, Head of Digital at Brand Definition, a brand communications agency based in Portland, Oregon and New York city. We'll talked a little bit about the kind of video work that they do for their clients and also about a state-of-the-art production facility that they've nearly finished in their Portland offices but really haven't gotten a chance to use yet because of our current situation with COVID-19. We'll also talk about how they've pivoted, like so many of us, to remote production.

Daniel O'Connell: The business is working with B2B and consumer technology brands and helping them with these integrated programs that will start with strategy, but can be anything from PR to social to video to web-based programs. And now we're doing a lot of account-based marketing and video is really important for that. So when you take account-based marketing and you've got this really strong compelling B2B platform, you can just feed them the right video at the right time. It's what we do every day and it's just made the need for taking that step further on video production. more urgent, more compelling, more attractive.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: And then you've had a big upgrade to your video studio in the works, right, and basically it was going to launch this month?

Daniel O'Connell: We were in an old industrial building in Portland, this 150-year-old, red brick, old mill with silos on the side of it, called Albers Mill. And Chris did a phenomenal job on that, making sure that it was soundproofed, and that we had UV filters on the glass. And we did a ton of video out of it, but we were coming to the end of our lease and we decided to look around. There was a building down the street that was newly constructed, and we had an opportunity to go in there and build the studio from the ground up. So we looked at this space and it's about 3,000 square feet. We said, "All right, this is going to be the office space and this is going to be the studio space. And we can have a dedicated control room, and the control room can also be an edit suite. And we can double the capacity." And we even said we could put in an audience area because a lot of what we do in Portland as a biz dev tool is OutputPDX. And we said, "What if we recorded this live, and we could actually have these seating pods around it?" So, we've done that.

And then you ask yourself--you've got this brand new space, are you going to upgrade the gear? We're huge fans of NewTek and have been since day one. We work with them. They're a client, we're a customer. So we talked about what the suite would look like. Chris came up with the wishlist, and I beat him down, and he came up with it again, and we finagled it.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: Have you got the new TriCaster 4K Mini? Or are you further up the line than that?

Chris Hertzog: Further up. We went with the TC1 bundle, so that it's more of a larger fixed area for us and gives us a lot of capabilities coming out of one room. We still have our original Mini as well, so if needed we can take that on the road and utilize that as needed. But for the new space, we really wanted to up our game, and went with the TC1.

Daniel O'Connell: And the network. You have the storage area network.

Chris Hertzog: I've got storage, I got new PTZ cameras. We asked our friends at NewTek for some of the new new Spark Plus IO 4Ks, so that we can utilize some of the other cameras that we already have in our space in addition to the PTZs. And then we're also going to start utilizing the NDI app as well. So we're going to have cameras all over the place in our new office. The goal is to be able to really create video content from anywhere and any type of video content. we want to be quick and efficient and make sure that we can punch out as much video as possible.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: And with NDI, you don't have to be in one fixed production space, right? Anywhere that you can get a camera on the network, you can just start shooting there.

Daniel O'Connell: That was the thinking. In the entire space you can shoot anywhere. So the conference room can be a space. You could do a webinar with a panel--and that's something we do, actually, is have a panel of experts come in--and maybe they're talking about audio networking in the education space--and we can turn the conference room into a studio space. You can do that in the office, the pod area. You could do it with your phone down in the lobby, 'cause the building's got all this cool shared space in the lobby and up on the roofs. And so you can do that. But we still retain the idea that you can walk into this studio environment and you can have everything. The PTZs have been set up and the macros are going to be written so that you get that kind of frictionless creation. So the minute you have an idea, you can actually go and create that idea and test it. And that's something that actually is really interesting I think is, how much when you're doing stuff like account-based marketing ... We do an awful lot of content creation, but we have to test everything, and then sometimes version it. Having that capability to be fast as lightning, to be super-agile, means that you can actually do that.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: So this wasn't finished when you all had to go your separate ways. You haven't had a chance to implement this yet.

Daniel O'Connell: Nowhere near. We've been taking it in turns going in and receiving the FedEx guy with the mask on. We signed the lease in September, and then we designed the space, and they started building it out, and they finished that off on April 1st, and we got into the space on April 13th. But then the NewTek gear came in. So now we're at a situation where the truss work is half up. Most of the NewTek gear is onsite, and we still need the storage area network. I think that's the only thing that we're waiting for. We've got some racks that are still coming in, the lighting, the audio stays the same. So I think, between us, what we'll do is, we'll get the, uh, we'll get the entire set done by the end of next week, and then we should have the studio ready to go as soon as things open up. We can have the studio ready to go on May 1st. That would give us a chance to train people, 'cause we've got people we'd like to get trained on the TC1, and that would allow us to be completely ready when the world truly opens up.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: In the meantime, are you doing remote video production for your clients? If so how are you pivoting to that?

Chris Hertzog: So, like most people, we have had to pivot and we're doing several different things at the moment. We're producing video over Zoom where we are interviewing people much like we're doing right now, recording that or packaging it into a nice presentation that has accompanying PowerPoint files and other videos and things that support that message. And we're trying to do four or five videos a week for various clients. They range from webinar-type content to social media videos, and interview-type setups as well.

Daniel O'Connell: A lot of internal communications. Clients are coming to us that never came to us asking for these things and they want communications to their channel, to their employee base, and in one case, they want programming to their client base on how to navigate this situation. So we're having to create a lot more video then than we did, I would say, even a month ago.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: Are you using any of the NewTek gear for this?

Daniel O'Connell: We're using the NDI to follow the capture, and NewTek has been phenomenal in their timing with the apps. Some clients have rules about what platforms they can and cannot use as security and so on. So we'll go with whatever they give us. Sometimes they'll shoot the video onsite themselves and we'll take it from them, they'll upload it, we'll take it back down. We'll ask them to do it again, maybe a couple of times. But we will do whatever is required and that means using a whole host of platforms and NewTek gear and Final Cut, whatever facilitates getting the job done.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: And so with the work that you're doing post-production on, have you had to develop new ways to collaborate?

Chris Hertzog: A lot of the time when we need five to six people to have their input on a video project, we use Frame.io. It's a great way to be able to put one video up there and have people comment on changes and requests. We have three people who are able to edit video from their house at the moment, all on Final Cut. We have a couple of people that are also using After Effects and the Adobe suite as well, which would be great. I know that a NewTek works well with their premium access and talking to Adobe, so we're looking forward to getting that up and running. We have more and more people at our agency capable of editing video. As the younger generation comes up, they're all already able to edit, based on just their college work. For that it's been nice because we have a much larger group of people who can dive into the video production side of our business.

Daniel O'Connell: You would admit, though, Chris, that, speaking of workflows, there was one hard drive exchange over the weekend.

Chris Hertzog: There are always videos just too big to upload and download, if you're talking 600 gigabytes or whatever. But there was definitely a hard drive dropoff on a porch.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: So there are any outward-facing video projects that you've been able to do for your clients?

Daniel O'Connell: During this COVID thing? Enterprise Ireland is a client, and they are the Irish agency for the advancement of Irish business here in North America. So what we do for those guys is, we do media relations. We do a newsletter. We do a lot of social media. Their job is to help Irish firms partner with the businesses here in North America. And there's usually a mutual benefit to that. And there's some great examples I could go into. But their client base, in many ways, are these entrepreneurial startup companies in Ireland that want to do business over here in the United States. So there's a fair amount of communication that needs to take place, teaching, informing, educating them on how things are changing here in America. We've got a program going with them right now that is a multi-episode series that's about how to deliver an online presentation, how to use social media. So we get third-party experts from the United States, sometimes Ireland who know these markets, and we record the, create the program, and put in an intro, outro, cut it, put the graphics in. And that's one thing that we've been doing. And, Chris, that's only two weeks old, right?

Chris Hertzog: We started that about two weeks ago. We've produced four episodes of that already, and we have six more in the works. We're trying to shoot two of those a week at least. And the focus there really is about business resilience in this time. And we're just trying to create a bunch of different topics for people to engage with.

Daniel O'Connell: And a lot of times obviously, they're interested in the whole webinar thing, and we've got to find a way to deal with webinar fatigue. You could watch training webinars or videos on the A/V industry alone continuously for days or weeks. So what we're doing and what we have with a number of clients right now is two main initiatives we're working on. One is ways that we can make webinars more, um, useful, compelling, watchable, and even evergreen. And the other thing we're doing is looking at InfoComm and saying, how are we going to get through the noise? There's going to be a lot of noise in June because everybody's going to be clamoring for the same space, and we've got to find a creative, compelling way to get our clients heard, seen, understood at that time. So that's consuming a fair amount of the oxygen in our internal Zoom sessions at the moment. In fact, I'm just looking at the calendar and we have one right after this call.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: I'm pretty sure there's three Zoom meetings going on in my house right now. Do you think that there will be ways you can use the studio still follow guidelines while this social distancing is still going on?

Daniel O'Connell: Unfortunately--and this is another thing that we've got on the calendar for this week is--we've got to be prepared for something like this happening again. We've got to prepare the clients for something like this happening again. So that's one of the great things about the automation that we have in the studio: it can be operated by one person and we can actually do social distancing within it because we have the control room and different access points. So, I think we have to be prepared. It's a new world order in many ways. We've got to be able to get content in from everywhere. We've got to be able to edit from anywhere. We got to be able to get these clients to invest inttheir education programs, their training. It's a really challenging time for businesses like for our clients, and for businesses like us. And when I say challenging, I don't mean like economically challenging. I mean technologically challenging. And if everybody is trying to do this, how do you make sure you're more creative, more effective than your clients' competition? I think the most important thing for us is that we are going to have a broadcast-quality studio that can be operated by one person, and that's going to be a game-changer for us. Especially if something like this happens again, we can say, "Look, we'll have one person at the office able to do this video. A client or a talent can come in, be in the studio basically on their own while our employee is in the control room running the show. And we'll be able to create a lot of content that way. I already have clients asking for that. I had a call today about that. And we have people who aren't clients just looking to use the studio as well, which is great.

We are extremely lucky with where we all are as an industry, with video and technology, like the NewTeks, that allow the middle of the market to compete at a much, much higher level than, than previously imaginable. The stuff that we have now--if we had thought about this 10 years ago when we started, you're talking millions, and it's not millions now, thanks be to God, you know?

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