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Creation in the Time of Quarantine

Making adjustments during a shoot is nothing new. Weather occasionally doesn’t permit. Scripts require rewrites. Talent informs you that being in front of a camera makes them uncomfortable and visibly sweaty. One time, years ago, we couldn’t find a sound guy because he had wandered off into the woods collecting bird calls. Creative teams pride themselves on rolling with such punches, parrying potential knock out blows in order to capture what’s been painstakingly storyboarded.

More than a few months ago, AMP was awarded the opportunity to create videos explaining what goes into a popular brand of protein bars and butters. Each video would answer questions about ingredients through colorful set pieces designed to inform while entertaining. Everything was going according to schedule. Scripts were approved. Voice talent was cast. Food stylists  saved dates on their calendars. Then COVID-19 changed everything.

As dates were pushed back, we set up home offices. As the realities of social distancing became apparent, we fine-tuned storyboards. And as we were beginning to think this wouldn’t happen, we figured out ways that it just might. Instead of unforeseen issues arriving during a shoot, we faced our biggest challenge beforehand.

We decided to break it down, to focus on one thing at a time. First, we outlined if and how we could have a shoot while keeping everyone safe. Taking a cue from the protein bars we decided to start with basic ingredients. This meant limiting attendees to essential personnel. The shoot was capped at ten, including a medic whose sole responsibility was to make sure everyone was cleaning their hands, masking their mouths and maintaining their distance. Liz Grant and Anika Dhar represented AMP Agency. In addition to their roles of creative and project manager, both were required to wear several hats and in some instances even act as on-screen talent.

After safety was addressed we focused on making sure we were able to capture everything both the creative team and client wanted. This was accomplished by using a live streaming tool, that linked the camera capturing all the video with all parties through several channels. The feed itself had roughly a 30-second delay. Comments would then filter in through AMP Agency members on set to the production team and then be seen on screen moments later. As a creative director being able to watch a feed from my home and have my opinions effect the shoot was nothing short of magical.

While this of course makes it all seem like a well-oiled machine, the entire process was a learning one. There were still the usual challenges and hiccups but it was thanks to trying circumstances that we were able to try new things. No solution seemed implausible. The additional time due to the delay allowed us to have many options for every shot, so if something didn’t work we could move on to the next set up. And from a team perspective, the live stream allowed more people to tune and weigh in than we’ve ever been able to do during a standard shoot.

This experience will change the way we look at shoots and content creation in the future. Because of live streaming approvals can be given remotely, meaning only those really eager to participate need to be on set. This will limit the number of people fielding emails and increase the number of people who craft what’s in the shot. As odd as it sounds, it seems that being kept apart has helped us find a better way to bring things together in the future.

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Hack Your Creativity: How Marketers Can Get Creative In Uninspiring Times

A marketer’s job is fueled by creativity. Whether you’re an Account Manager finding a unique way to distribute an annual budget, a Strategist hunting for an insight, or a Project Manager designing a plan for an omnichannel campaign, we are constantly leveraging creativity to come up with unique solutions for our clients. But creativity is an elusive beast, and the shift to self isolation and work from home life does not help. If you’ve felt a creative drain lately, you’re not alone: the way we live and work now is actively restricting our creativity by sapping most of our daily inspiration. The good news is that creativity can be hacked. By understanding how creativity works we can reorient and take steps to stoke it. So how does creativity work? Think back to basic chemistry: matter cannot be created or destroyed, but rather converted through different reactions. Ideas work the same way. In his seminal book on creativity, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young states that “an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of elements”. In other words: ideas don't appear out of thin air (though they often feel that way). They’re a combination of observations, thoughts, and other ideas. That combining is the creative process. You don't have to be a painter or a poet to be creative, you just have to be able merge different sources of inspiration. What to do when your inspiration well runs dry While COVID has flipped countless parts of daily life on its head, it’s also changed how we get inspired. Our space and interactions are limited, so whereas before we might have noticed a billboard from a new brand on our daily commute or picked up an interesting anecdote from a breakroom conversation, we now have to manufacture ways to take in new information. Here are a few easy ways to get started: Ask your coworkers what they’re up to Regular check-ins with your team are probably a part of your weekly schedule, but it’s key to listen to those outside of your daily accounts. You never know when a tactic or learning from another account can be applied to your own. At AMP, along with regular department meetings, the national Strategy department Slack channel is constantly buzzing with questions, resources, and POVs that can be applied across the agency. Aside from business tactics, it’s also important to ask about your coworkers’ day to day lives. First, because it makes you a thoughtful human being, and second, because it gives you a fresh perspective on the daily lives of consumers that may be different from your own. Recently, a side conversation with a coworker about making TikToks with his family sparked an idea for a cultural briefing deck I had been stuck on. When it comes to inspiration, tangents are just as valuable as shop talk. Change up your routine With so many of us working from home, our daily routines have become even more rote. Following the same pattern every day isn’t just disorienting, it limits your exposure to new information. Shake up your routine by taking a short walk in a new part of your neighborhood, or swapping one of your daily news sources for a newsletter that curates content from across the internet (I’m partial to Open in New Tab, a weekly note from our Associate Creative Director Liz Furze). Something as small as trying a new breakfast food can help you shake up your perspective (I’m looking at you steel cut oats). Take a step back This is a step that often gets left out. Ever wonder why some of your best ideas come to you in the shower? That’s your unconscious mind suddenly spitting out the inputs you gave it earlier. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving your brain space is an essential part of the creative process. As Webb Young writes, after you’ve gathered all the inspiration you can and processed it, “drop the problem completely, and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theatre or movies, read poetry or a detective story. In the first stage you have gathered your food. In the second you have masticated it well. Now the digestive process is on. Let it alone - but stimulate the flow of gastric juices.” (Apologies for the colorful analogy.) It can feel impossible to unplug from work and the 24 hour news cycle. Know that taking a step back is another step in creating ideas. Once you put yourself in a new frame of mind, you open your brain up for thoughts to collide and form fresh, shiny ideas.  We hope these tips help you. If you’re still stuck, give us a shout.

Creation in the Time of Quarantine

Making adjustments during a shoot is nothing new. Weather occasionally doesn’t permit. Scripts require rewrites. Talent informs you that being in front of a camera makes them uncomfortable and visibly sweaty. One time, years ago, we couldn’t find a sound guy because he had wandered off into the woods collecting bird calls. Creative teams pride themselves on rolling with such punches, parrying potential knock out blows in order to capture what’s been painstakingly storyboarded. More than a few months ago, AMP was awarded the opportunity to create videos explaining what goes into a popular brand of protein bars and butters. Each video would answer questions about ingredients through colorful set pieces designed to inform while entertaining. Everything was going according to schedule. Scripts were approved. Voice talent was cast. Food stylists  saved dates on their calendars. Then COVID-19 changed everything. As dates were pushed back, we set up home offices. As the realities of social distancing became apparent, we fine-tuned storyboards. And as we were beginning to think this wouldn’t happen, we figured out ways that it just might. Instead of unforeseen issues arriving during a shoot, we faced our biggest challenge beforehand. We decided to break it down, to focus on one thing at a time. First, we outlined if and how we could have a shoot while keeping everyone safe. Taking a cue from the protein bars we decided to start with basic ingredients. This meant limiting attendees to essential personnel. The shoot was capped at ten, including a medic whose sole responsibility was to make sure everyone was cleaning their hands, masking their mouths and maintaining their distance. Liz Grant and Anika Dhar represented AMP Agency. In addition to their roles of creative and project manager, both were required to wear several hats and in some instances even act as on-screen talent. After safety was addressed we focused on making sure we were able to capture everything both the creative team and client wanted. This was accomplished by using a live streaming tool, that linked the camera capturing all the video with all parties through several channels. The feed itself had roughly a 30-second delay. Comments would then filter in through AMP Agency members on set to the production team and then be seen on screen moments later. As a creative director being able to watch a feed from my home and have my opinions effect the shoot was nothing short of magical. While this of course makes it all seem like a well-oiled machine, the entire process was a learning one. There were still the usual challenges and hiccups but it was thanks to trying circumstances that we were able to try new things. No solution seemed implausible. The additional time due to the delay allowed us to have many options for every shot, so if something didn’t work we could move on to the next set up. And from a team perspective, the live stream allowed more people to tune and weigh in than we’ve ever been able to do during a standard shoot. This experience will change the way we look at shoots and content creation in the future. Because of live streaming approvals can be given remotely, meaning only those really eager to participate need to be on set. This will limit the number of people fielding emails and increase the number of people who craft what’s in the shot. As odd as it sounds, it seems that being kept apart has helped us find a better way to bring things together in the future.

Hey Listen - We Made a Voice App

After months of staying home and not seeing another human being for days on end, it got kind of lonely for me. So with the help of a conversational experience software partner, I built something to keep me sane under the guise of my agency’s first foray into the world of voice activated technology. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. The real story begins when Doug Grumet and Michael Mish asked me to lead a task force to structure our voice marketing offering. I had to think about it for a bit. Sure, my team was well-versed in optimizing web pages for voiced search results from Google Assistant, but there was another side to voice marketing that we had the opportunity to dive deeper into. Our dev team in Boston had experience building voice applications for clients. You might know them better by their brand names like Alexa Skill or Google Action. These apps are capable of doing a lot of things beyond answering queries and should be thought of as web entities that you can have a conversation with. Based on the work that team was doing, it made sense to have Jon Bishop, Director of Creative Technology, join the team. He is passionate about technology of all kinds and has a strong sense of how these apps can connect to a client’s existing consumer platforms. He even wrote a blog post about Intelligent Personal Assistants way back in late 2016. Once he and I kicked things off, we started investigating different solutions available to the marketplace. One of the vendors we found had an office right down the street from us – Voicify. They have a platform that allows brands to rapidly deploy voice experiences across any voice assistant device and easily maintain the content. So, we set up a meeting and got a few demos going. We learned pretty quickly that their platform was going to allow us to create voice apps quickly for our clients with the benefit of being able to publish an app to multiple platforms from one interface. The Voicify Conversation Content Management System™ is an out-of the-box solution that allows brands to create Q&A content and deploy it onto voice-enabled devices with a few clicks. They have done a lot of the development already so that all you need to do is focus on the best content for your voice app. In order to really get to know the capabilities of the platform, we decided to create a voice app for our own agency. To make sure it wasn’t just the brainchild of two dudes, we enlisted the talents of a few other AMP experts:  Sean Adams - who is an SEO Supervisor on my team and helped build out our Q&A structure Rachel MacMunn - who is a copywriter on our Creative team who made sure our content was aligned with AMP’s brand voice Nick Russo - who is on our AMP Marketing team who ensured our agency knowledge was correct With the team assembled, we went to work on what kind of information we would want on the app and how the responses to users' questions should be structured. Once we had the content set, we were able to bulk upload the inputs and responses into the Voicify platform. After a few rounds of beta testing (within Voicify and on Google), we were ready for deployment. AMP Agency’s voice application is our proof of concept of developing a presence for our brand on the emerging platforms for conversational experiences. We’re excited to continue to add to our app over time and play around with a machine learning interface. The Voicify platform has more features that we have the ability to add to our app, such as: Text display, images, and video files for screen devices Sonic branding (playing a brand’s jingle as a part of a welcome message) Audio files, which includes changing the voice of our app to one of our employees like Rachel’s Connections to your ecommerce backend for voice initiated sales These capabilities are all at our disposal and can be used for any brand that wants to partner with AMP to create their own voice app. With our experience, we can shorten the timeline from kickoff to launch. So have a chat with us! If you have an Alexa speaker, try saying “Alexa, launch AMP Agency.” With Google Assistant, say “Hey Google, let me talk to AMP Agency.” Then, go ahead and ask us any questions you may have about AMP.