Lydia van den Dries shares how brands including Johnson & Johnson, Just Eat and Barbie have continued to partner with publishers and content creators during lockdown.  

The pandemic has inevitably impacted the way that we work, changing the rulebook and forcing teams like ours to ‘adapt or die’ as we use technology to replace the previously physical elements of our jobs.

Based on the Partnership team’s experiences over the past year, I have some tips to share on how to deliver successful campaigns in the midst of a pandemic.

A new way of working

The majority of the partnerships we produce are branded content campaigns, bringing together our clients’ brands with trusted editorial voices of media owners/content creators.

Shoots are one of our favourite stages of the partnership process, and often our clients’ favourite too. It’s also essential that the client feels they have creative input to the content being produced, and our team acts as the facilitators between the client and the media owners, so it’s important for us to attend shoots in person. Imagine our disappointment, then, when lockdown arrived and social distancing made visits to the studio impossible.

We had to find new ways of operating; to continue to facilitate the production of outstanding content that met our clients’ high expectations, while overcoming the various challenges of remote working.

A screen is a screen

Earlier this year, we facilitated a partnership between our client Johnson & Johnson, and media company Popsugar. When lockdown restrictions prevented us and our client team from attending a video shoot with Popsugar, we needed to find a way to make us all feel like we were part of the action, and ensure the video met our client’s expectations.

Popsugar were able to set up a Zoom link that broadcast the output of the video camera for us all to watch live, while we were on the video chat for instant feedback/discussion. Where we would normally have had to travel to the studio, stand well behind the camera screen and give feedback sporadically from a distance, the virtual view of the camera screen allowed us to be much closer to the action, to feel fully immersed in what the end viewer experience would be. It also enabled us to provide immediate feedback for the production team.

Ultimately, the process of watching the shoot and providing thoughts virtually was, in a sense, more effective than if we had been there in person. The implications of attending shoots virtually with positive results could mean that in the future, along with our clients, we can attend virtual shoots anywhere in the world, reassured in the knowledge that the outcome is of just as high a standard as if we’d been physically present.

Even virtually, partnerships can still spread joy for our clients

2020 not only changed the way we work as a nation, but also the way we date. For urban singles, lockdown was creating a crisis for their love lives. For our client Just Eat, we facilitated a partnership with LADbible to inject some positivity into the stream of cause-led messaging saturating the media, and create content that encouraged virtual dates.

LADbible recruited singletons willing to go on a blind date with a complete stranger on a Zoom call whilst sharing their Just Eat meals together. With only two weeks’ turnaround time to recruit 10 daters, shoot and edit the content, the project team worked quickly and with agility, in order to produce content to be proud of. With a post-campaign research study, we proved that at a time when the nation’s daters were feeling isolated and downhearted, bringing together LADbible and Just Eat in a partnership spread positive sentiment and joy for the brand.

WhatsApp has brought us closer together

WhatsApp has provided an efficient way of facilitating feedback between clients and media partners during lockdown. Creating groups allowed for photographs to be instantly shared from a British Vogue shoot to our client team at Fitbit, a quick content check during our Popsugar shoot, and speedy approval of social copy for Aveeno’s sponsorship of Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place Festival.

As our inboxes become ever fuller, WhatsApp has provided a quicker way to keep our projects moving. Instant messaging services like WhatsApp allow for a different tone to the traditional email communication our industry is accustomed to. We’re now available more flexibly, the speedy delivery of feedback has never been easier, and we can add emojis or even GIFs to express our excitement at launch of our activity. Sharing these joys has brought us closer to our clients at a time when virtual life could have left us all feeling much more isolated.

Distance needn’t be a barrier to quality

For a recent Barbie partnership with Verizon Media, a podcast episode was created as part of the campaign. This featured Rachel Adedeji as the host, educational psychologist Dr Michele Borba, and parenting journalist Victoria Richards, as they discussed the benefits of playing with dolls to help build empathy skills in children. However, COVID restrictions meant that neither the guests nor the wider team could be in the recording studio together.

To overcome this, Verizon was able to organise sending high-quality microphones and recording equipment to each of the guests (including to Dr Borba, who is based in Los Angeles), to record at home. Simultaneously, they set up one video link that showed the guests recording, and another video link for us to discuss feedback with the Barbie client and Verizon production team.

Working in this way meant that the guests’ conversation could flow naturally while we shared our thoughts separately for Verizon’s producer to pass on via the other video link, allowing for a smooth recording process and very informative podcast episode. The audio quality sounded as though the guests had been chatting with each other in the same room rather than on different sides of the Atlantic.

A year like no other

None of these campaigns would have been possible without the ingenuity of our media partners and the adaptability of our clients.

While it’s been hard, the way in which we have delivered partnerships in 2020 has let us be in closer communication with our clients than ever before, taught us how to use technology in a way that we would never have thought to, and made us realise that you don’t necessarily need to be in the same room as someone to produce creative and impactful work.