R/GA Studios' Margo Lowry Discusses Pandemic's Impact On Production
Margo Lowry
How we relate to one another--and to technology--has helped redefine the ways we connect and create

As managing director of R/GA Studios, Margo Lowry leads a global team of content producers, creators, makers and artists with a mission to advance storytelling through the use of emerging technology. With media platforms in constant flux, she has evolved traditional production processes by developing integrated working models that allow for greater flexibility and creativity. Lowry’s team creates culturally-driven content that’s on-brand, on-time, and designed for the specific platform via close collaboration with clients themselves, such as Samsung, Verizon and Nike. 

Prior to this position, Lowry was at R/GA Sydney where she established the agency’s regional content offering. She began her career as a line producer in live-action and postproduction, working across both the advertising and film industries. She has partnered with clients, creative agencies, production companies, and crews in the U.S., APAC and globally for brands as diverse as Google, Uber, Beats, Nestlé, Planned Parenthood, Universal Pictures and Toyota. Lowry’s films have been selected at Raindance, BFI London, AFI AACTA, Aria Awards, and the Sydney Film Festival, and her branded work has been awarded at Cannes Lions, Clios, Spikes and The One Show.

Reflecting on the pandemic and its impact, Lowry. who holds a BA in Media from Macquarie University, recalled, “In March 2020, the entire world changed; in my smaller world two things happened: 1). I was promoted to lead R/GA’s Content Studio and 2). our entire workforce went remote--overnight. It was a real ‘oh shit’ moment as we immediately focused on finding a way to deliver all our active and upcoming jobs without access to live action productions or the in-office production facilities that we were so reliant on.

“Two years later, with hindsight, it’s clear the pandemic was a driver of progress in our industry and redefined the way we relate to one another and our relationship with technology as a tool to not only connect, but to create.”

SHOOT posed a series of questions to Lowry to gain insights into the state of production at R/GA Studios and the industry overall.

SHOOT: How has the pandemic impacted your thinking about collaborative relationships and how to best nurture/maintain them? And how has that manifested itself at R/GA’s Content Studio?

LOWRY: A remote workforce can be a great equalizer. Your zip code no longer limits the rooms you can enter, the files you can access, and your ability to hear and understand what people are saying.  A remote workforce has allowed our worlds to expand especially when building teams--we consider language, time zones, cultural experience as factors, instead of bucketing talent by location and by their ability to be in the same physical space together. This is resulting in work that speaks to a broader set of experiences and perspectives. If our audiences are global, our teams should reflect this.

The pandemic has further accelerated a style of work we are already accustomed to at R/GA. We have always been a connected network, building teams cross-office without being limited to regional P&L structure. This has led to rapid expansion for the Studio in our ability to engage talent from Brazil, Argentina, Europe, Asia and even my hometown Sydney.

SHOOT: What practices and/or behavior, if any, do you foresee returning to when the pandemic ends?

LOWRY: As COVID restrictions ease, we will continue to engage the new production models that have emerged during the pandemic--when they make sense. For example, remote shoots are a great solution for creative work that requires no talent with simple visuals that can be easily reviewed and understood when viewing through a screen. However, creative with complex visuals, narrative storytelling and talent performance requires in-person collaboration and direction on set. Either way, we have learned productions can benefit from having smaller, more focused attendance in video village.

SHOOT: Give us a handle on the technology/resources you have put in place to facilitate your staffers working remotely? 

LOWRY: We have implemented virtual workstations, cloud computing and video collaboration tools that allow remote access to terabytes of data, compute power, render farms, and software licenses. Some of these are off the shelf solutions such as Teradici, Frame.io and Evercast. We also have proprietary tools built at R/GA. 

SHOOT: What factors precipitated the change in the way content is created? And define philosophically and/or otherwise the culture change that is evolving in content creation.

LOWRY: First--can we PLEASE stop talking about the shift from TV to digital and how it changed the way content is created and experienced? This happened years ago, keep up. What remains clear is that the medium is the message (thank you Marshall McLuhan) and as media channels and social platforms change, this has a profound impact on the way content is created. As these channels extend their capabilities to become more immersive and interactive, so does our approach to content creation. 

The rise of Instagram saw us partnering more with content creators and influencers, Snapchat platform updates drove an increase in AR production, the popularity of gaming meant we were working more in Unreal and Unity. Now, with communities moving to new, more immersive 3D metaverse platforms, we are expanding our capabilities in extended reality and virtual production. We are engaging more with XR, volumetric capture, motion capture and virtual LED stages. We are hands-on experimenting with headsets, haptics and spatial audio and learning the languages of new platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox. Recently we created a concept store in Decentraland for our client tech-first clothing brand Vollebak. This was built in a 3D engine (Blender) and exported as a glTF file, including materials and textures, and directly imported into Decentraland. 

One thing to remember is that as tools and platforms continue to change, and we are always learning, the best way to learn is to be hands-on with the tech. Our teams are engaging in training courses, we are buying new hardware, testing new software and making space for hands-on play. Last year, for fun, we re-created the R/GA office in Roblox with matching R/GA “verch” (virtual merch). Recently one of our producers created a metahuman of our CEO, Sean Lyons. We can now show him walking through the 3D worlds we are building for clients with a look of awe and wonder on his face.

Another point is the democratization of content creation. Easy access to professional-grade tools for content creation means that production is no longer a gated community; this change has been happening for years. You don’t need to have thousands of dollars to buy a camera or access professional software, you can do a lot of that on your phone. My friend’s 8-year-old son spends most of his time creating 3D worlds in Roblox. 

Although now, GenZ and Alpha are taking the power back, they want to co-author and co-create their online experience and demand a share in the profit. There is magic in engaging these communities as our creative partners. Opening the aperture on how to work with creators, influencers and artists. We shouldn’t apply a traditional framework to these engagements by defining creator talent as on-screen OCP talent or production vendors--but should understand them as multi-hyphenate creative directors who supplement our creative teams and are experts at making for and speaking to their audience. 

We just launched Instagram Creator Lab for Instagram; it is a space where aspiring makers can learn about becoming full-time creators through unfiltered stories and advice straight from the creators they know. We engaged a bench of creators as our creative partners which enabled us to tap into the creators’ cultural expertise, their depth of community understanding, while we ensured everything was aligned to the Instagram branding and driving results for the brand.

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