The recent promotion of two stalwarts in the McCann family--Simon Sikorski and Nathy Aviram--underscores how connectivity figures prominently in the art of Craft, the Interpublic division that delivers world-class, scalable production services across print, digital and video content.
Sikorski was upped from CEO of McCann Worldgroup Canada to the newly created position of global chief operating officer for Craft Worldwide back in January. And in May, Aviram was promoted to chief production officer for Craft North America while continuing to serve as chief production officer for McCann North America.
Aviram’s dual role across McCraft and Craft helps to more deeply connect the two so that they deliver optimum creativity from ideation to execution. In fact, when Aviram assumed Craft’s chief production officer mantle, Chris Macdonald, chairman and CEO of McCann, said, “We are seeing significant growth and an ever-increasing demand for our production services, and there is a clear need to ensure that we can offer seamless end-to-end delivery by connecting McCann and Craft more consistently.” Macdonald added that the promotion of Aviram was “a direct response to those opportunities for growth,” helping to further fortify the Craft/McCann connection.
Aviram is charged with establishing a modern way of approaching production, blurring the lines between creative ideation, content planning and execution through asset development and delivery. With the proliferation of media and the increasingly high expectation of the role of content, a new type of production is necessary. Aviram is being entrusted to architect and innovate a new way of working that will allow for producers, creatives and strategists to bring the most creatively effective ideas into the world--without sacrificing the value and impact of traditional storytelling.
“The best creative agencies must have the strongest production departments to bring ideas to life,” said Aviram. “The role of content has shifted; it’s playing a strategic part in driving brand loyalty and business results, so, to best support our clients, we need be able to deliver the most compelling and impactful work on every platform out there, emerging or established.”
Sikorski noted, “Clients are asking us to bring the creative excellence together with the delivery scale Craft is already known for. With Nathy’s new role we are bridging the gap between creative and production, allowing a broader team of makers that represent different talents and skills to make any idea into a reality, in any medium or culture. This connectivity between the two parts of the content lifecycle will power us to deliver even better creative solutions.”
There’s also the need for Craft to connect with data, observed Sikorski. “My main job is to make everybody realize that the game is changing. Data is being infused into everything. It can inform the idea, what channels we play in, how we personalize and optimize content.” Sikorski said, however, that with the wealth of data, it remains paramount “not to lose out on the human touch. That’s what makes content really sing.” The goal, he continued, is “to marry the power of data with the power of human creativity,” specifically the high level of creative and production “that Nathy is so famous and respected for in the industry.”
Outside the in-house box
Craft is driven to not just connect with brethren shops in the McCann family but to also bring them together with outside resources as needed. While Craft has expanded the depth and breadth of its in-house talent and capabilities in recent years, that growth doesn’t preclude turning to and relying on the marketplace at large spanning directors, production companies and assorted other vendors with expertise in such areas as visual effects, editorial, postproduction, music, sound and so on.
Sikorski expounded upon that. “The value of partnerships in the production world is exploding,” he said, adding that such relationships continue to be vital with production houses but now added to the mix is a coming together with technologies and micro vendors. “We are in a partnership economy,” observed Sikorski who noted that it thus behooves Craft and McCann to “make the most of those partnerships.”
Connecting within as well as with outside talent and wherewithal has become essential, noted Aviram and Sikorski, in order to help brands to better and more meaningfully connect with people.
That ultimate connectivity is the true bottom line, asserted Sikorski. “The game is not about capturing revenue in-house. Anybody who plays that game is going to lose,” he assessed.
The real goal is creating content, telling stories, brands taking a stand, generating information and insights that relate to and resonate with consumers. McCann, McCann Health, MRM and Momentum are among the shops tapping into Craft--as well as outside suppliers--to make that connection with an audience.
Craft is actively on the lookout for partners that deliver. That’s the constant “balancing act,” related Aviram. When do in-house resources more than suffice for a given project? Conversely, related Aviram, “When do I go out and get that niche professional experience that’s needed?”
“We need those relationships and to create new ones,” said Aviram whose collaborations with the production community have over the years consistently yielded breakthrough content such as Lockheed Martin’s “Field Trip To Mars,” which necessitated the creation of cutting-edge VR technology to take kids on a school bus tour of the Red Planet. “Field Trip To Mars” was part of a body of work from McCann New York which earned SHOOT Agency of the Year distinction in 2016. That was the first of two straight years in which McCann received that SHOOT honor. Aviram had been chief production officer of McCann New York for eight years, overseeing production for clients including Mastercard, Microsoft, Verizon Fios, State Street Global Advisors and New York Lottery. Prior to joining McCann in 2013, Aviram spent four years as director of integrated production at Young & Rubicam. He worked as an executive producer at TBWA\Chiat\Day for 10 years.
Recently filling Aviram’s former role as chief production officer for McCann New York is Aaron Kovan. He returns to McCann from his role as chief production officer at VaynerMedia where he oversaw all integrated production efforts and served as the head of production and creative director for Vayner’s in-house production studio, VaynerProductions. In his first tour of duty at McCann, Kovan was EVP, head of production at m:united McCann NY. In addition, he started McCann Worldgroup’s live-action production company Craft Studios, which served as a versatile and fast-acting production solution for making content for broadcast and social platforms.
The pandemic, sustainability, diversity
The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the importance of being nimble, working and producing remotely, and having production and content assets stored and readily accessible. Remote shooting technology is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg as tech advances generally--such as Machine Learning (ML), AR, AI and robotic tasks--will increasingly impact production.
Most significantly, the pandemic sparked creative content solutions. For example with the COVID-19 lockdown and mandate for self-isolation, at-home hair coloring sales grew. As people quarantined and practiced social distancing, consumers still wanted to keep up their beauty routines. L’Oréal set out to provide an authentic and relevant take on the joy and ease of coloring your hair at home. Thus in a beauty-industry first, L’Oréal Paris unveiled its debut television commercial created at home, directed by and starring L’Oréal Paris spokesperson Eva Longoria, with support from Craft and McCann Paris and New York. The Excellence Crème at-home hair color campaign proves that staying at home is no barrier to bringing out the best in your hair. Working from home just took on a glamorous and fun new look that can brighten up your mood in the process.
The challenge was how to capture this story while the world was isolating and traditional production options were severely limited. The idea: Give Excellence spokesperson Longoria two iPhones to direct the TV spot herself. A detailed pre-production book was fashioned to facilitate the process. The spot was shot in her home in Los Angeles with McCann Paris providing her with direction via Microsoft Teams. Longoria did her own hair and makeup and applied the actual L’Oréal Excellence Hair Color product to herself.
This inspired Excellence Crème campaign was one of the ways in which L’Oréal Paris transformed its communications during the COVID-19 crisis. The brand provided genuine connection and support for its followers via dedicated content on Instagram, Facebook, and through its campaigns. The self-coloring Longoria campaign ran in L’Oreal Paris’ core markets (U.S., U.K., France, Germany), among other countries.
The COVID-19 crisis affected production on another front. Sikorski recently penned a piece about how the pandemic accidentally brought about sustainability as the shutdown of conventional production resulted in the industry’s smallest carbon footprint in the last decade.
As personal interaction among filmmakers, crew and creatives returns, we realize how much we missed that in-person collaboration. But while we had yearned to get back to the way things were, we shouldn’t do so entirely. “We don’t need 300 people attending a shoot,” said Sikorski. “There are smarter ways to go.” Deploying remote production and technology to continue creating with less impact on the environment has proven to be a viable option in some cases. Reducing travel and the paper trail, giving new life to props, pulling back on large gatherings can make a positive ecological difference.
Aviram related, “Our product is best served with people on sets.” But, he added, “We can keep the numbers down.” Sustainability considerations need to figure into the equation.
Also under the heading of making the world a better place is a heightened push for diversity. Aviram is committed to that stance and looking to work with AICP regarding that issue, trying to attain greater diversity at the crew level.
Sikorski added that different perspectives in storytelling are invaluable. He said that a major effort is being made “to make sure we are being representative in the way we are telling those stories on behalf of clients--who’s writing, who’s producing, who’s telling the stories.” By opening up to varied perspectives, content can generate empathy and resonate more deeply with general and target audiences.
Creativity’s role in “connecting to culture,” continued Sikorski, is a driving force at Craft. He cited as a recent example Craft and McCann London’s TikTok initiative to make Mastercard’s sponsorship of the 2021 Brit Awards more relatable to music fans. Street dancer and choreographer Ashley Banjo was enlisted to host a dance challenge on TikTok. Mastercard’s BritsMover TikTok activation asked users of the platform to recreate or come up with their own renditions of Banjo’s original dance routine. These dance routines were then posted to TikTok, with the best entries in competition receiving VIP experiences at the Brits, one prize being having that hoofing featured in ITV television idents during the celebration of British and international music.
Diversity, sustainability and creativity are all priorities, affirmed Sikorski and Aviram. Creativity is oft-cited but its importance cannot be overstated. Aviram noted that agency in-house operations generally over the years have not truly emphasized creativity, instead focusing primarily on efficiencies and cost savings. With that emphasis, the quality of the creative product delivered was lacking. From its inception, said Aviram, Craft has been driven by creativity. He recalled Craft’s launch many moons ago as being motivated in part by the agency production department tiring of asking for favors from vendors to produce smaller social content jobs within modest budget parameters. But even during those humble beginnings, Craft put creativity first, said Aviram--and that made, and will continue to make, all the difference.