Adam&eveDDB’s Heather Black on Managing Integrated Productions

August 27, 2018

By Holly Stuart Hughes


Heather Black. © Paul McGeiver

Heather Black is senior integrated producer at adam&eveDDB. She joined the advertising agency in 2017, after two years as a producer and integrated producer at Deutsch. We asked her about her work with directors and photographers creating stills and motion for online and broadcast advertising. She also discussed changes in the advertising industry she’s seen since she began her production career at Droga5 in 2011.

PDN: Can you explain your role and responsibilities as an integrated art producer?
H.B.: As an integrated producer here at adam&eve, I look after the art production department and also produce video content—that could be broadcast commercials or online video content. Sometimes the integrated work spills into experiential work. You might do a pop-up event for a product launch for instance. Or an [online event] where we engage with consumers digitally and deliver them a physical, tangible product.

PDN: How often are you hiring photographers, directors, or photographers who direct?
H.B.: I think my answer is different from that of producers at other agencies. As an integrated producer, 100 percent of my shoots have had a video and a photography component, so 100 percent of the time I have hired both a director and a photographer. The photographers I’ve hired for adam&eve do not shoot on the set at the same time as the video production.

There was a time when [clients would] have the photographer work alongside the video crew, or pause the video shoot for a brief moment so the photographer could run in and capture something. I think a lot of clients and agencies have found that the quality of work shot on such a rushed photo shoot was generally not great or even usable.

It’s a rare scenario where there’s a photographer who is equally skilled as a director.

PDN: Photographers describe a lot of logistical problems when they have to shoot around a broadcast production.
H.B.: I’ve been in that scenario many times as an art producer. You’ll have two or three months of prep on the broadcast shoot, then at the last minute the client says: We’re low on social media assets, and since we have the video shoot happening, can we shoot them at the same time? Or: We need to roll out a print campaign to coincide with this. Sometimes that comes up a week or two weeks before the video shoot, so you have only two weeks of preproduction. It can be a mad scramble.

In a lot of agencies, departments are siloed, and broadcast producers are not very familiar with what’s required on still photography shoots. I think the more integrated we all become, the smoother things will run.

© Nik Jung

Nik Jung photographed an assignment for Under Armour. © Nik Jung

PDN: How does the integration of art and broadcast production help?
H.B.: The earlier we can plan out what will be created during the production, the more money and time we can set aside for each component. It’s about sitting down with the team and saying: OK, we’re producing a 30-second film, how can we take advantage of this opportunity and maximize the production of other assets? Can we use this opportunity to fulfill an upcoming need? Often that’s how we discover a photo shoot would be extremely beneficial. I also love when it’s the photographer proposing opportunities to capture additional assets.

Sometimes this results in “shooting blind.” You might not yet have a media buy or any idea where the images will live.

In these instances, it can make things a little more complicated on set. We don’t know the resolution required, or the format or the layout. So many images now are used in banners with extreme ratios so you sometimes have to guestimate what [part of the image] will and will not be seen. We just try to shoot as much as possible, covering various plates, horizontal and vertical orientations, etc.

That’s another reason why it’s inefficient to shoot alongside or over the shoulder of a video shoot. There’s not enough time to capture all of this. Forget about that short video clip or cinemagraph the client is bound to ask for.

PDN: How often are you hiring photographers to shoot short videos clips or motion for social? Is that a skill photographers need to have?
H.B.: It’s definitely a skill photographers need to have now.

I think the types of video skills required for photographers, though, are different from those of a traditional director. I recently met with a still photographer, Clint Blowers, who created a perfect example of what I mean. It was a series of videos of a product that utilized one sweeping camera movement, showing a short vignette. They were simply and beautifully shot and any frame could have made
a still image. Videos like this are the biggest opportunity for photographers.

Analytics tell us that video content gets more traffic than stills, but you don’t need to have massive productions to create motion. They can be small, subtle motion elements.

PDN: How do you find new photographers?
H.B.: A lot of it comes from taking meetings with agents and photographers, keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in photography through social media or platforms like PDN, and really paying attention to great photography when you see it.

I have a meeting with an artist every day, or sometimes two a day. And if someone sends me their work via email, I always take a look, because it’s important to know who’s out there and working.

I still read a lot of print magazines. For instance, I love the New York City Ballet and I get their yearly magazine. A few years ago I was so struck by the photography in the magazine. There was a video on their website that went with it. It was by the photographer/director Bon Duke. I’ve been keeping on eye on what he’s been up to ever since, hoping to one day have the right project for him. A couple of months ago, I got their latest magazine and again loved the photography, all shot by Gabriela Celeste. I came into work the next day and took a peek at her portfolio. I’m keeping an eye on her as well.

PDN: When you’re evaluating new photographers, are there particular skills you are looking for, besides good work?
H.B.: For me it really comes down to the work. If we know the style of imagery we need, I’ll look for the photographer who does that style the best.

PDN: What if the person turns out to be disagreeable?
H.B.: If someone is disagreeable, or hard to work with, I don’t think they’re working. There are so many photographers out there now.  Photographers understand the only way to succeed is to leave people with a good impression.

PDN: How important are creative calls and treatments?
H.B.: So important. I especially love when the photographer can come in person for the meeting. That’s a word of advice to photographers: If you’re in the city where the job is being bid, try to have that meeting in person.

Make the treatment visually beautiful. What you put on paper visually is a reflection of what you would create. Be engaged during the call, ask as many questions as you can, take notes on everything and put all that into a solid treatment.

PDN: Is there anything you wish photographers understood better about the business?
H.B.: I know how difficult it is to reach producers and get meetings, but do not give up on marketing yourself. Even if you’re not hearing back, continue the momentum of getting your name and work out in front of people.

I’m hearing a lot of negativity and despondence about the industry. I get it: If you’ve been in photography ten, 15, 20-plus years, then you’ve seen drastic change and been affected by it. But it’s not worth dwelling on what was. We’re all moving into a new realm—photographers, photo agents, ad agencies and clients too. Embrace the changes, stay positive and keep your momentum going forward.

PDN: How would you summarize the changes in the industry?
H.B.: There are a few things. I think the biggest change is that we need to produce more with less. It might be more assets with fewer days or less money. The other change is where the assets are living. There is a lot less money put into print and more into digital media buys. Ad agencies are also beefing up their in-house production companies, or starting them (Grey’s Townhouse or Droga5’s Second Child, for instance) in order to more nimbly accommodate some of these more-for-less productions.

None of this is all that new, though. I’m interested to see how the industry will continue to change. How do we get ahead of it and prepare for it? I think we’re going to see the traditional models and structures of ad agencies, production companies and photo agencies change in a big way. Many brands are enlisting ad agencies on a by-project basis. Why couldn’t these projects go directly to a photo agency or production company that has in-house creative directors or photographers/directors in place who have the ability and desire to work on projects from concept to creation?

PDN: Will the rates for social uses ever go up as they gain importance?
H.B.: I think they already have. I think they will continue to go up….When I was just beginning to produce social [ads], the budgets were minimal or, in some cases, nonexistent. After a few years,
I started seeing decent budgets being allocated to social media production. And it continues to grow because clients understand how it important it is.

Heather Black
Senior integrated producer
7 Varick Street
New York, NY 10013

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