Innovation & Risk – How to Encourage Clients to Take a Leap of Faith, and then Deliver

2:00pm in Studio A

When trailblazing with new creative technologies, we experience the highs and lows of working in an innovative space. There is a rush of excitement to push the envelope on a design and then solve a range of challenges to realize the vision. However this is partnered with the inevitable lows of hitting technology walls or the boundaries of time and budget. How do we set client expectations to take this journey with us while delivering on a contract? How do we support a team to meet the job requirements while letting them explore their creative potential?

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Soren West  00:13

Check one, two,

Blair Neal  00:15

check three four.

Soren West  00:17

Soren and friends I like that. I knew. This is my favorite joke. I knew a German audio engineer. I knew a Czech one, two. You’re welcome.  Hi, everybody, we are going to talk about innovation and risk, how to encourage clients to take a leap of faith and then deliver. Let’s start by getting to know who’s on stage, Luca. Hi, guys, are you and what are you doing here?

Luca De Laurentiis  00:57

Hi. My name is Luca De Laurentiis. And I’m an EP, I’ve been in this space in this innovative space. Since 2016. I started at unit nine, I helped open up their North American office with Michelle Craig. And that was sort of the beginning of the forefront of a lot of what we call now sort of experiential, innovative work. So I spearheaded a lot of that work did that for about six or seven years. And then I was working at a company called VT Pro for the last two and a half years. Also sort of working in the hardware in the robotics space as well. So happy to be here.

Blair Neal  01:35

My name is Blair, and I’m a creative technologist working out in New York, started in the space more in the sort of live visual space and started working at a company called Fake Love and 2010 doing a lot of weird Technology, stuff for advertising and events. And a lot of like, just unusual asked through that, and a lot of strange problem solving across like fully digital things to fully analog experiences. And just learned a lot of generalist stuff there. And right now I’m the VP of creative tech at Deep local, which is a Pittsburgh based experienced design and creative Technology company that does a lot of like fabrication, electrical engineering, software development, creative concept being sort of like full service stuff, both in permanent and event based work. But everything is sort of custom every time. So all this stuff is a lot of unique problem solving every time and it’s a lot of fun.

Soren West  02:38

Excellent. I’m Soren West. And I’ve been practicing in live production for entertainment and brand communications for over 25 years. I’ve owned and operated several small businesses that all have serviced live event production from one angle or another. Today I have a production company that doesn’t do any, or does very little music and concerts, which is my origin, but does more b2b theater and brand activation. And I have another company called Sierra whiskey entertainment that invests in location based, Immersive experiences. When people ask me what I do. Sometimes my answer is it I don’t really do anything. I just know all the people that do the things. And so I I put the people together who can do things. And then things happen. And as it turns out, that is can be a full time job. So I’m not a technologist. And I have such incredible respect and admiration for what you do what so many here, do and it’s a great honor to work with such incredible talent. And so I’m here really to learn to represent you will and to defend you well. Today, we’re going to explore a few questions. How do you say yes to a client? Before you know that what you’re after is even possible? How do you support your team while you navigate the rollercoaster of innovation? And lastly, have you ever taken a risk on a project and then find that it’s all going pear shaped? I’m guessing that we can all relate to these questions. So with that, we’re going to dig into some case studies. And I’ll just remind us as we do that I really like the ethos of no victory lap. This is not a sales event. And yet, everything we do is very cool. And there are tremendous victories in the journey of what we do. So it’s difficult to sometimes not come off as if we’re doing a victory lap or selling. But the real essence of what we’re after here is what happened behind the curtain. So we’ll, we’ll try to focus on that as we get into it. You want to take us out?

Luca De Laurentiis  05:35

Sure. Great, well, let’s start with a project that I did when I was at VT Pro for Heineken. I like to, you know, I think, through hearing a lot of your guys’s talks and being in the last few days, in relate to the theme of, you know, going into the unknown a little bit, and, and, and sort of diving into the deep end in terms of, you know, creating work that’s first to market. And I think that’s, that’s something that really invigorates me, and I think a lot of our community, but also sort of scares us as well. So that’s sort of a thin line, I think that that sort of we teeter between. And I’d like to bring up this project, because this is, as you’ll see, it’s a very bespoke creative tech. But there’s a lot of it’s, I guess, you can consider it non traditional media, but it’s revolving around a lot of traditional media. So I’ll show how those two work together. So Heineken came to us, this was the release of their new they were putting Heineken bottles for the first time or cans, excuse me, and they wanted to create a beer rover that would follow you wherever you went during the summertime. And we were pretty excited with the opportunity. They wanted to create a worldwide campaign using some AI capabilities. And, and have a launch by summer, which was around 10 week turnaround. And, of course, we said yes, and I think a lot of the time is when you get presented a brief or conceptual idea from a client or an agency. That’s really exciting. And that’s, that’s new and innovative. You know, we tend to get really excited and sometimes jump the gun and say yes, and hope that the hope that we can pull it off. And so I’ll show you a little bit about the sort of the conceptual ideas of the ideation phase of where we started, where we ended up just just to give you an idea of, of how ideas progress. And so this is the first this is the first iteration of it, there was a beach cruiser, you know, held about three 312 packs of Heineken, Heineken bottles or cans and follow you all the way to the beach, then there was a little joy that you can follow that follow you around wherever you went on Venice Beach. And, and then my favorite one that we presented was the the party bots are just like a three, three piece ensemble of you, we had the the speaker, the grill, and the skee ball, and the cooler so we’re like, you know, we presented all these client, and then we internally had to sort of rein it in, like we need to, we need to actually create something that’s feasible within that timeframe. So, you know, tying this back back to risk was really like, we started big, and we came together and we’re like, okay, let’s mitigate this risk, let’s figure out a way to actually pull this off, and find some solutions that are more readily readily available to market, as opposed to creating something completely bespoke. So we went to market and we started working with this lumu. Droid,

Soren West  08:50

was that was that totally budget driven? Or was it the fact that you only had 10 weeks,

Luca De Laurentiis  08:56

it was it was more timing, the budget was was Okay, on this one, just because there were a lot of elements to it. But so we started working with this with this little guy here, which was a Segway essentially. So it had a lot of like, the mechanics built in and the software built in. But those are some of the issues that we were having, because we had to adhere this like this Caboose, I guess to it filled with beers that would be able to follow you everywhere. So that’s sort of where we started. And, you know, in our shop, we started sort of understanding sort of the weight capacity to it, we built this this custom rig. And, and keep in mind, we needed to create about 75 of these and also allow them to be shipped worldwide. So we had to deal with that as well. So you know, in terms of like production process, we really try to rein it in while keeping the ethos and the core of the idea while like, like limiting and like mitigating this. The risk as much as possible. And here it isn’t all its glory. This was the microsite we’re live in where you can go Oh, and the client decided to have a sweepstakes in order for us to, to disperse these around the country. And I’ll show you the, the little case study here. Sure, you could put a little bit of sound. This is all done in Camera. We’re departing from pixels here, this is all hardware. And yeah, this is what I tell my wife I do for a living is create custom droid bots that follow you would be so you know, feeling really privileged to be a part of something like this, where it’s like, really allows you to play with, like, custom Technology. And, and, and really, like bake it into a really, really nice, really nice narrative. So this, this was, this was the, this was like the teaser. feeling thirsty. Asked if somebody was thirsty, it had a little script that we wrote, but this was the little teacher that essentially launched launched the campaign. And the campaign was, you know, we were able to ship these to 75 countries. This was the countdown for the sweepstakes and shipped it to influencers and, and, you know, it was important that it was accessible to sort of somebody that never worked at Illumina before. So we created a custom app that essentially was pretty plug and play that allowed you to sort of control it as well. And I really like this because it’s sort of spawned across a lot of different media outlets at Heineken and chant channels that Heineken wouldn’t usually sort of be be featured in so like sci fi and Hypebeast and stuff like that. So it came out as like a really interesting piece of tech. And it was on Tinder of course for those for those thirsty folks. And I’ll leave you with this if it made a made a cameo with Max for spot and in the Netherlands for the Heineken zero campaign. box box box.

Blair Neal  12:12

Have no fear, I’m full of beer.

Luca De Laurentiis  12:21

So that’s the Heineken bot. And yeah, I just I’d like to, I’d like to show this just because it really gives you an idea of like how much you can leverage customer and creative tech while sort of limiting and keeping some of that risk sort of subdued by keeping the the client really close to the process. And

Soren West  12:39

so they they came to you with the idea. Yeah, and no time.

Luca De Laurentiis  12:44

Yeah. For the first phase. Yeah, there wasn’t any time and that sort of, I guess, I think the parameters of time help even, like limit the risk even more? Well, usually it’s the opposite. I think this sort of helped us sort of channel in our, our thinking and our limitations, as opposed to sort of trying to create something completely bespoke.

Soren West  13:03

How did you tell us about the conversation with the client? When you’re preparing to say yes, or you’ve already said yes. I actually think the challenge for most of us is how to say no to anything. But as you’re saying, Yes. How did you or to what degree did you communicate that we don’t know how to do this yet, and we’re going to have to invent it, we’re going to be on a rod,

Luca De Laurentiis  13:31

I think it’s very subtly, I really, it’s I tried to, when we go into production for such unique elements like this, I try to either create a safeguard where it’s either a phased approach or a prototype approach. So if there are some some sort of sort of fail points, they’re sort of flagged along the way. So I think I tried to try to be very clear and concise to the client, but also a little vague, because it’s like, ultimately, you don’t really know what sort of the hurdles are until you until you’re like to approach them.

Soren West  14:07

Was there a point at which it felt like it was going pear shaped, or the clock was ticking, and you didn’t have the answer?

Luca De Laurentiis  14:13

I think we did a really good job and sfbt proud to like, you know, create this this custom Tech, I think we had some issues like with sort of the weight distribution of it, being able to actually be really agile and being able to fall follow you wherever you went. But there was never really like a, you know, a moment where it felt like it was all going pear shaped. I think, you know, we logistically it was tough, because we had to ship these around the country. But um, but, you know, fortunately with this one, I think, you know, like any production you go into, you really try to set sort of a stable bedrock and the plan. I think that we did a really good job at doing that, which allowed it allowed us to succeed in the end.

Soren West  14:55

That’s great. I remember the campaign got a lot of attention, so it seemed like a big success. Was it financially successful?

Luca De Laurentiis  15:03

Yeah, it was great, because, you know, we there were two phases. One phase was the initial 40. And then other phase with the initial, the following the 20, or 30. So after we sort of had an understanding how to do the first 10, you know, because we use off the shelf, sort of, sort of software and hardware, we’re able to just scale it up pretty quickly.

Soren West  15:25

Great. Excellent story. Thanks, Blair.

Blair Neal  15:30

So I’m gonna go back in time to I think it was 2014. I did this project, I’ll kind of play the video while I’m talking over it. It’s a project for Lexus, it was similar case where like, this is too cool of an opportunity to pass up. Even though the timeline is crazy. It’s like we want to make a life size video game using an f1 driver and, and basically, like, invite people to this event, sit him in a car with with the owner truly, and given them an iPad and let them like draw a shape on the iPad, and then basically have them play a game to like, hit all the checkpoints as fast as they can, with with yarn, sort of following the path that they’re drawing. And then it’s, it’s all real, there’s a couple shots in the commercial that are comp like the text on the walls, but like, this stuff’s all real. And it was, I think we had, I think we got the brief in early June, we were on set in mid July. So we had about six weeks to like, figure out how are we? Where are we shooting this? How many Projectors do we need? How many? So there’s, there’s a number of like risk factors for like, hardware, and how does the game work? And how does the how are we tracking the car in the space? And that’s sort of where I’ll, I’ll get into the the like, where things went pear shaped on mine is the the car tracking.

Soren West  17:03

So the client comes to you with this idea. And six weeks. Yeah. And you say Yeah, sure. Yeah.

Blair Neal  17:10

Sounds sounds great. I think we love video games, we can we could do something like that. And I think it was still fairly early career for me. So it was like, being a little brash about like, yeah, I can I think I could do

Soren West  17:24

ignorance is such a wonderful. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Blair Neal  17:29

And, yeah, we had a lot of a lot of game enthusiast. So we couldn’t say no. But yeah, there’s just a lot of just some, like behind the scenes shots. But the, the car tracking was the thing that went sideways for us, because the whole game relies on being able to know where the car is in this. I think it was like 100 foot by 200 foot space. And it’s moving at like, it probably got up like 40 miles an hour in that in that space. And did a lot of research a lot of tests. Like, Oh, do we use GPS, do we use LIDAR too expensive, doesn’t really work fast enough for this purpose. We could have an array of cameras in the ceiling, it’s gonna be really hard to test at scale, have it be fast enough 2014 This, this kind of tracking stuff wasn’t in super great shape. So we ended up going with this specialized Camera. It was just an infrared Camera with a really wide fisheye lens, we did the math of like, alright, if this is 40 feet in the air, we think we can see this whole thing with a single thing. Also it being a car commercial, you can only do so much to the car itself, because it needs to look exactly like the car does. You can’t put a bunch of crazy stuff on the outside and still hope that that it works. So one of our tests was like, alright, we think this is going to work. We’ll go to a warehouse in New York, put a Camera like 15 feet in the air and put a infrared light on a remote control car. And we’ll we’ll see if that if that works. And it did work. But what I think where I failed to notice that would go wrong is like in that small scale with a fisheye lens. One line is straight when the car moves. But when you bring that fisheye curved lens, another like 30 feet in the air, that straight line becomes a curved line. And that was not something that I had built into the software to correct for and not something that I was going to solve like I think it was about 24 hours before the shoot when we had like 80 people coming on set to I think we had like four days of just like projector setup and everything. So it was like 24 hours. There’s going to be 80 people here filming this commercial and it’s not working yet. What are we going to do?

Soren West  19:57

And your clients with you?

Blair Neal  19:58

They’re there. They’re there. It’s a very small, like, room in this, like, I think we’re on an Italian military base in like an airplane hangar. And there’s not a lot of places to just hang out. So there’s like in there with us and kind of breathing down our back of like, is this going to work? Is this gonna? What are we going to do tomorrow, there were things that got like cut and changed. But the way we got around it was, you know, working with with my team of like, alright, we can either fix this curved thing, which I don’t think we can do quickly enough. If we had like three more days, we could probably figure it out. But the next best solution was the Wizard of Oz solution where quickly make up new piece of software that lets me manually override the tracking. And I’ll go up in the ceiling of the airplane hangar with this sort of remote control thing, put a little spotlight on the car that the Camera can’t see and then manually follow the car moving around the track as my like, basically, my mouse cursor, and then just sat up there all day during the like 10 hour shoot, just while we did like probably 50 run throughs of people doing different races. But it almost it almost wouldn’t have worked. I think the game would have had to be very different if we or it would have just been totally faked. But

Soren West  21:23

so in the final 24 hours, prior to everybody showing up and cameras rolling, yep, you had to punt and completely reinvent the way this was gonna go down.

Blair Neal  21:35

Yep. And had to get, you know, had to get everyone on board understanding what the problem was, how we could solve it, what the most likely choice was, while also like, at the tail end of a long production where there’s already been a lot of like other stressful adjustments and things like that. I think the saving grace is like it was a real event. Those are real reactions from people. But it’s it was for commercial. So we could fake like some elements of it. But I don’t know, I watched it was all it all happened. It was real. It’s just some stuff was a little fit.

Soren West  22:11

And in the end of victory. Yeah, definitely. I find that in those moments of crises. There’s often the part of the tension. Part of the tension, obviously, is that shouldn’t go into plan. But then another part of the tension is the communications of we’re in a crisis, we need to solve a complex problem. And we’re under a tremendous time constraint. And I find like the talking about it, the communicating it to the stakeholders, particularly the clients who might not be happy at this juncture, and are hemorrhaging cash and have trusted in you. And now they’re wondering why they did that. And you have to communicate the truth of where you are and what your plan is. And at the same time, you have to be consulting with your team to come up with the answer. And you kind of need a protected cone of silence to do that you can’t succeed with somebody breathing down your neck. So can you tell us about that tension? Or how your team was set up? To succeed? And in that situation? Or how did it go with the client? How did it go with your team?

Blair Neal  23:37

Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of different layers. There was, you know, the the end client, there’s the agency representing them, there was like sort of the film production company, there was us doing this sort of Technology solutions. And I think there was even some, a layer of like the AV aspects to it. So I think it was a lot of like, working with the internal team to like, describe that problem first. And then working with like, it was really just to technologists, and a creative director and a producer there from our side. So trying to explain to our creative director and the producer like, here’s the problem, we think we’ve got a solution. I think we had only gotten enough of the system up like 12 hours prior to even know that it was a problem. So it no one knew that this was coming and wasn’t necessarily planned for. So it’s not like the client was waiting for us to like, do a bunch of demos and and see it beforehand. They were like, we’ll just see it when we film the commercial. And I don’t even know if we had it like fully working until like, shoot day.

Luca De Laurentiis  24:46

Did you have any backups? Like do you have any alternative? fallbacks?

Blair Neal  24:50

I think it would have just been like, probably faking the way that the checkpoints were hit. We just like be like, okay, he hit that one and we’ll we’ll just like Hit Next on the, on the next one to appear or something like that. But I’m trying to think of,

Luca De Laurentiis  25:09

because it’s really easy to you know, when you get an idea like this, it’s, you know, the fact that you guys that are practically is a feat of its own, you know, right. And it’s easy to fall into the, you know, that that movie magic sort of representation of it, which I think we see happen a lot for these ideas, right?

Blair Neal  25:26

Yeah, cuz even in the, in the commercial, there’s a lot of like, fake shots, they could have faked the whole thing if they wanted to. But the story was in that real reaction, and the fact that it did happen for real. But yeah, it’s, uh, I don’t remember it. It was a, there was definitely some long nights. I don’t know that it was like, a high tension. Like there’s not yelling in the room. It was just like, we all have to calmly figure this out right now. It’s good. It’s like yelling. Yeah, it’s no, yeah, that’s not productive. Like, we can sit here and be mad all day. But we have to, we have to solve the problem.

Soren West  26:01

Would you say you left with greater trust? Or was that a call? You never got? Again?

Blair Neal  26:11

That’s a good question. It’s been so long. I mean, I think I think the trust was there. It’s I do remember getting other asks for, for similar things for quite a while from, I think, from that client and other folks. So. And, you know, it ended up being a successful campaign for them in the end. So they got what they wanted. And it’s just, you know, some parts weren’t there. But I think they still got that, that tracking being real or not, wouldn’t have necessarily affected the, the outcome. And I think that’s like, what I tend to lean towards, especially as an engineer, I’d get, I want to solve the real thing. But remembering that it’s theater, sometimes whether it’s a commercial or a live event, like there are aspects that are more important than others. And it’s not always that solving the engineering problem. There’s everyone has their perspective of what needs to be solved.

Soren West  27:08

Good story. I have a story of where we said yes. And in the end, it was a victory, but it did go pear shaped. Alex, I think you were there. Were you there for this one on the speed. No. Moynihan station 2014. It was, this was a Nike activation for the Super Bowl when the Super Bowl was in New York. And there were multiple aspects to this event that ran for, I think, eight days or something, it was a long stretch. And one of them was this 40 yard dash track. And so we set we set up a 40 yard dash, which is for people who know about sports, I do not is the standard thing in the NFL. And we set up a long LED screen that says only speed in this picture. In the foreground, bottom left, you see what was a high speed Camera track. And the object of what we sold was that let’s advance one. Couple other shots here, what we sold was that consumers would enter at, or participants would enter at one end of the track, they would use an RFID bracelet to say, Hey, I’m Sauron. Weston, I’m on the track right now. And then they would do the 40 yard dash twice. And each time they did it. It triggered five Camera and automated five cameras shoot of their Dash. And the the shadow running on the LED screen was the record holder in the NFL. So you’re trying to beat that shadow. Let’s advance this was had some audio to it. But so this is a one by one aspect ratio video. And it’s got this branded top and tails to it. So 2014 Instagram was three and a half years old, I think and had just recently expanded to include video and you were able to put a 15 Second one by one video up and that was it. And so what we sold was the notion that we were going to have this process and be able to deliver to the participant within minutes. Their personalized brand did a 15 Second one by one video that showed them doing the unleased speed 40 to 40 yard dash. Within hours of of opening, we realized that our system had many flaws, and that what was going on behind the curtain was barely automated and was just pretty much a panic. It was a total panic, we had folders and folders full of the Content from each of the five cameras. We had our audio tracks are topping tails graphics that we had to put in it. And we just quickly realized that the automation that we imagined or that we had sold, was not happening. And so this is like hours into an eight day activation. And so we ended up hiring, I think 16 editors to go sit backstage and I see Aleksey, you’re quite relieved, you were not with us on this one. You were not there. Okay. Lauren Frank was with us. Lauren Brignone was with us, we had a we had a really great team. And so you know, here toward the end of the day with these folders full of Content, and very few participants having received what the client expected them to save. So now we’re also tracking the social media impact, right. And so we’re, we’re being expected, the clients expecting to see these spikes in activity and, and it’s not happening. So we had to be in pretty constant communication with them about how this was not going to plan. And what is our solution, and we had to come up with a solution. And 16 people backstage that weren’t in the budget that are now going to sit there for the next five or six days on the budget is not trivial. In the end, while the 16 people were editing with the other four that we already had, our core team was redesigning the automation. And by the end of the week, we actually had it down, but it was it was it was challenging. The

Blair Neal  32:19

How long did you have for planning for for this one?

Soren West  32:22

Oh, it was Nike. So we had nine minutes and 17 seconds.

Blair Neal  32:27

Sounds right. Yeah.

Luca De Laurentiis  32:28

And what did what did clients say? When another? When 16 editors, all of a sudden were were on site? Was that a? Were like, oh, we have a contingency in place? Or? Well, it was that conversation,

Soren West  32:38

I actually prepared them for that. I said like, this isn’t going well, we’re gonna have to punt. And with them the most immediate sort of failsafe response is to throw money at it and throw people at it and go, you know, make it a simple manual solution,

Luca De Laurentiis  32:57

and mitigating that risk. Did you have did you have that workflow already sort of dialed in? Like, did these editors sort of understand what they were doing on the day? Or was that something that you had to

Soren West  33:09

know, that was like, super fast on site in real time training?

Luca De Laurentiis  33:14

So it was, it was a it was an issue that it had no, that you couldn’t foresee at all, in this experience?

Soren West  33:21

Well, you know, in retrospect, one can always say, perhaps I should have foreseen that. But no, we didn’t. We didn’t I, we had been working with the client for several years at that point. And so we did have their trust, and they knew that we weren’t messing about or that it wasn’t they never, at that time, I felt very lucky that they didn’t view it as in competency, but rather viewed the rapid solving of the problem as as real partnership, but we were we were sweating.

Luca De Laurentiis  34:04

I think it’s really important to sort of, you know, have this client that expressed a lot of sort of educational notions to them, because it’s the metric of success when you’re doing a project like this, like, I’m seeing this for the first time. And to me, it looks successful. But if you’re a client on hand, and you see 16 people show up that all of a sudden, it feels like you’ve missed the mark. And I think that like, you know, working in this space in particular, I think that that’s something an initial conversation. That’s that’s always important to, to understand and to educate the client on.

Soren West  34:36

Yeah, I’m glad you bring that up. Because I think that one of the most important things is it’s the clients project, right? Right. I’m a tiny little production company, making tiny amounts of money compared to the multinational My multibillion dollar cap company that’s that hired us to do it. So and this is a point that I think is really important for all of us is that, yes, I’m going to take on the risk, you’re going to take on the risk when you say yes. But pointing to that moment and saying, Hey, dear client, I’m going to say yes to this. And in saying, Yes, I’m going to join you in the risk. But to be clear to your risk, right, I’m now your part, I’m your partner, and your best solution to embracing this risk. And the reason we’re doing it is because we believe collectively, that the innovative outcome is worth it. And we believe as your partner, that we have what it takes to go on this journey and find the answer and get to the end in a victorious way. And, and I think it’s so important to point that out, because in the case of Nike, and this didn’t remain true forever. But Blair, you and I did a Nike project today, sort of in the heyday of their spending on consumer activation, right, right. And we were able to charge an appropriate amount of money to pay for the r&d buffer that risk and to buffer that risk. And so in the end, I ended up, we ended up splitting the cost of the 16 people. But my half of it was generally accounted for, in the fact that we were charging a sufficient amount of money to figure something out that we didn’t know how to do.

Blair Neal  36:47

Right? Can you? Yeah, I think having that like that buffer of like, I think any of these bespoke projects, where it’s like, you just don’t know. You know, how to charge for about, like, 60% of it. And then there’s like, 40, where I’m like, I don’t, I don’t even know what I’m buying yet, necessarily, especially with those fast turnarounds. It’s just, there’s not, you have to throw a little bit of extra money at it, because that’s like the lever that you have. And I think even at certain point, throwing too many people at it, like doesn’t, I’ve had that come up to where it’s like, Oh, can we just we’re, we’re coming up a week short on this deadline, can we throw more people at it, my favorite line to throw at clients is like, nine women can’t make a baby in one month, if if we try to that one, if we try to throw too many people at it, it’s actually going to make it go slower than then if we just like, kind of keep going forward and find more creative solutions.

Soren West  37:43

I think Laura Frank taught me the nine women. One, it’s really good, it’s very handy. I, I just really want to emphasize this again, because, you know, you look at the work that you guys have done, you look at VT Pro as as an incredible example of delivering quality. And that the ability to say yes to something without having the answer. You know, part of its hotspot part of it’s just sort of the terminal condition that most of us were born with. But it’s also the result of you’re able to say that because you’ve been practicing for years. And whether you own it, or you have a relationship with you have the resources, right, you have people that you know, and trust who are practicing, you have products on a shelf, you have the cables to plug in to the right black boxes that will eventually get to the answer. And those things didn’t show up the minute your client called those came from years and years of practice in r&d. And so to that point, Blair, where you say, you know, I can I know how to price this portion of the job, but I don’t know how to price the rest of that. I generally feel strongly that the answer is more that we should be charging substantially for that portion that we don’t, that we can’t quite see. Because, again, I’m your partner in the risk, but to be clear, it’s your risk. And I’m prepared for it. So that’s worth a lot.

Blair Neal  39:36

Yeah, that’s Yeah, I think. And I think part of what you were saying too, is like that team and that communication element. I feel like I’ve heard come up a lot in this in these last few days here. And I think looking back on some of my older risks, it’s like it felt like a lot just on me, but I think understanding, I think as I’ve grown through the career, it’s like, alright, this is all a team, Team risk, there’s parts of this that I need to take on. But I need to make sure that the team is clued in, and that we’re all feeling good about how, how we’re going to approach this thing together and not feel like it’s just a burden on one person. But it’s like, it’s a, it’s a group effort.

Luca De Laurentiis  40:25

Yeah, I agree. And I think that like, ultimately like to button this up, I think, like, risk is why we’re doing this, because I think that’s, that’s what allows us to create something that’s sort of first to market and, and something completely unique that none of us really know what the what the finish line looks like. And I think that like, when you have a great team behind you, and creative minds, all, you know, along for the ride, mitigating that risk with you, and allowing that risk to propel you to do something really interesting. I think that I think that’s what sort of lead leads is sort of an innovative space.

Soren West  41:03

Great. That’s our pitch.

J.T. Rooney  41:06

Thanks so much, everyone. All right. Thank you all, we have time for a couple of questions, five minutes or so questions, and then we shall get started. Hello,

Nicole Plaza  41:20

I’m curious about how you go about building those teams sort of, in general, you know, and you the companies that you guys have been in, you know, what’s the size number of people that you have? And then how do you expand those teams for, you know, doing the actual project? And are you consistent? And going back to the same partners? Or I guess, it’s sort of twofold. And have you ever not been able to do that and had a outcome that was surprising. From you know, I mean, not going through,

Soren West  41:51

not getting your, the, the A squad or the one that you that, you know,

Luca De Laurentiis  41:59

quickly, I think I think being being in this space, it’s you want to you want to allow yourself to, to be flexible. Because, you know, ultimately, you’re going to, you’re going to get ideas and briefs from from agencies and clients that are going to be very bespoke. So it’s like, if they want to do something really unique, but like a glassblower, or something, you need to be able to, like have the resources to like, ping those people that aren’t all going to be sort of in your freelance networks, I think it’s like, building a core freelance network. And then and then having, like, you know, I’ve always been a part of like, really amazing, creative, creative teams that can sort of speak on production, and it worked really well. So that when you go into production, you’re actually able to execute the work.

Soren West  42:51

I’d say I generally have like three core teams that are either employed by me, historically, we used to have lots of employees, but you know, 140, at one point, but not post COVID, we’re, we’re in the teens, you know, so we’re much leaner and bring people on but probably have three core teams that enable us to do multiple projects at a time. But then I have the, the a list that I call if it’s like multi Camera, live, shoot, I have the a list for the brand activation, that’s high touch and you know, people are up close to it. And I have another team for for for b2b if there’s like heavy creative with brand communications, you know, but then, I think part of the, we don’t want to get caught in a rut either. You know, you’re always trying to expand your world. And part of what’s been great about being here is meeting new people that now I want to bring them in. Yeah, so I think incremental changes in team composition is important to not like don’t replace the whole thing at all at once. Did that answer your question? Yeah.

Blair Neal  44:03

I think for me, it’s like finding like talent, but like humble talent, because there’s just like, everyone’s gonna make a mistake along the way. And like finding, finding a team that feels comfortable taking those risks and making mistakes and knowing that, you know, tomorrow, it might be your mistake. Tomorrow, might the next day it might be mine. And being able to just like, work through the problem together, instead of it being an ego based like, oh, I, I need to solve it my way because that’s the only way to be solved is not the way that we’re all going to get through it. Because, yeah,

Soren West  44:38

that’s an interesting approach. We like to have divas that. Yeah. Like highly egotistical throw fits and never make mistakes. Exactly. Yeah, that’s one.


You talked a lot about the innovation and risk and I think there’s a lot of clients that want to be innovative. Have but aren’t necessarily willing to take the risk, let alone pay extra for it. And I heard the word Trust brought up a lot and wondering if there’s something from your side that you do want to identify those clients that say they want to be innovative and are willing to take that risk and are willing to give you the trust that you need to take that risk.

Soren West  45:26

That’s a main question. I think there is so much diplomacy required in in our sales efforts and in our client communications. And, you know, to paraphrase, well, which is it your dumb ass? Like? Do you want to innovate and embrace risk? Or do you want to? Or do you want it to, you want to know that it’s going to cost $12.85, and not a penny more, because those things don’t really exist in the same space. So finding, I would work on my script a little bit, I would change, I would soften it. But I feel like that educational process with clients to bring them in as partners, they don’t practice what we practice, right. And they typically don’t, they’re, I think, generally speaking, we’re accustomed to a much greater deal of risk than they are. And they chose to work under the umbrella of a generally a large corporation. Right. And we chose to work in a small, firm of creatives that embrace risk. And so bringing them respectfully and but firmly into our world and our process and saying, This is what it’s going to be like, This is gonna be wild, and we don’t know how much it’s going to cause then I think, really getting to a place where they own the decision. Unfortunately, I think a lot of clients grow up in a school of thought where they don’t have to own the decision, they’re the client, they’re going to tell you how it is, and you have to eat it. I encourage us all to resist that.

Blair Neal  47:18

Yeah, that’s really good, I think, was like gonna say that. I feel like some clients or like, they can be needier than others for like wanting proof that this risk will be mitigated. And then there’s some that don’t seem to, like, think about it at all until it’s like the day of the event or something like that. And it’s it’s just finding, like, especially when it’s a new client, it’s just, it’s feeling out through presentations of like, how much do you want to see under the hood? And how much do you want to just see the polished product at the end, and like, some of them are very curious. And some of them aren’t at all, or they’re there do need to be times when you have to pull the car over and be like, Alright, here’s the act, if you want to have that change, and you want to understand why it costs so much to change this thing, then, let’s talk about it. Let’s walk you through that process. And sometimes they’re still like, Yeah, but I still want it. And sometimes you just have to make it work. But

Luca De Laurentiis  48:16

yeah, yeah, just to button that up. I mean, I think sometimes we’re, we’re granted with, you know, the, the pre proposal process where you have time to pitch your ideas and to and I think that that’s the time, you can really start picking up on the minutiae of like, what client is saying, and what some of their watch outs are. So you can sort of start basing your production pipeline and how you go about working with them throughout that process, because, you know, some some clients want to be really dialed in and, you know, have a very sort of clear pathway of how we’re getting there. And some, some clients want to be a bit more, you know, take a beat shepherded to the to the finish line. So

Blair Neal  48:57

the white glove service. Yeah.

Marcus Bengtsson  49:02

We have time for one more quick question from Marcus. Jack Jack, it should be on check. There we go. First, quick comments. I really love the the nine women can’t make a baby in a month analogy and reminds me of a book I read. When I studied computer science. It’s called the mythical man month, which kind of states that if you have a project that is late, and you throw more people at it, the project will become leader. But that’s just a comment. I’m wondering how do you how do you communicate risk? How do you visualize risks to the client and how do you still generate buy in but at the same time limit your liability

Luca De Laurentiis  49:47

that’s that’s the fine line sometimes because it’s like as a as a company, you want to win, you want to win the business and you want to win the work and you want to like show enthusiasm towards the idea and show that you can you pull this off. But at the same time, you know, the sort of a little bit to be honest about about the risk as well. And so each client is different each person, everybody has different personalities, obviously. And and I think it’s sort of our job to sort of listen to the moment a little bit and be able to capitalize on it through those conversations.

Blair Neal  50:21

Yeah, I feel like it’s it’s definitely a lot of just like reading, reading that like emotional level that you get back from the client from each presentation of like, how anxious they might feel about certain things. And sometimes you might want to just just get out with it and just be like, here’s, here’s all the things that you might be worried about, here’s why we’re not so worried about or here are our backup plans. And sometimes, you might sense that they’re just totally fine with their they feel comfortable with how you’re approaching everything. And they know that you’re doing that in the background, and you don’t always need to show the risk mitigation, like documentation that you might have internally. That’s a whole different discussion of like, internally, you probably should have that. You don’t always have to show it to them. But yeah,

Soren West  51:08

it’s art, not science, right? I mean, there’s no clear answer to your question, right? Because it’s the human part. It’s not the the, the ones and zeros part. And I add to that, and in, in hiring people, or assigning positions to people that have to intuitively figure out the answer to your question, I’ve always tried to put people with a really great signs of innate emotional intelligence in those positions, because those are the people that can sort of feel their way and read the room with the client, and sort of decide how many cards to show as it relates to risk, or sort of play that dance. In negotiating the setting the bedrock for our relationship through this adventure together, I think that takes a great deal of emotional intelligence. And that’s a that’s a natural gift that doesn’t necessarily come usually doesn’t come with the gifts required to deliver on it. Right. So this is why collaboration in our firms and in our teams is so critical, because we need a pretty broad spectrum of natural gifts in order to get from here to there. And I think one of the great joys of our work is sharing those different gifts with one another and in a collaborative way.

J.T. Rooney  52:48

Awesome. Well, that’s it for our time. Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you. Thanks, everybody. We’ll be back at 305 with the next panels. You have a quick little 10 minute turnaround and we’ll be back in here. Thanks


client, people, risk, work, team, tracking, heineken, feel, project, solve, idea, innovative, put, real, mitigating, production, creative, important, solution, part


Blair Neal, Marcus Bengtsson, Nicole Plaza, J.T. Rooney, Soren West, Luca De Laurentiis