Pamplin Media Group – HOW’S BUSINESS: Brand Definition Handles Coronavirus Depression

Digital marketing agency moved to a bigger office when the economy plunged, but the work continues


Digital agency Brand Definition had just moved its offices when the coronavirus crackdown hit in March. The Northwest Portland company, known for its campaigns for LG monitors, Enterprise Ireland, JVC USA and Hitachi, had seen its lease in the old Albers mill and moved into spacious new digs to Field Office, the brand new office in two part building at 2035, NW Front Ave, just north of the Fremont Bridge.

However, unlike many companies in the media industry, Brand Definition did not put its 15 employees on leave. He kept them, working from home, producing scripts, videos and animations for social media campaigns.

Field Office is a ghost town right now, but CEO Daniel O’Connell was in the new office recently assembling the racks that will hold the cameras and lights in their new studio, which will be double the size of the old one. PMG FILE PHOTO - Brand Definition CEO Daniel O'Connell puts on his mask.There are ottomans to make a seating area for a small audience, as if the old normal life would someday come back.

Since the technology is so affordable, in their old space the company created content, releasing 51 video podcasts called Output PDX, where they talked to technicians and creatives in Portland. This show will be relaunched in the new space, O’Connell said.

He unboxes one of the new Spark Plus IO 4K PTZ cameras that they have entered into with a client they represent, NewTek. Pan Tilt Zoom cameras allow a video director to create spectacular shots from a distance, while sitting behind the glass of a control panel – in the next office or across the world. Shots can be written as macros in the system controller, saving time and manpower. The new equipment is all about automating and improving the workflow. They use NewTek’s Network Device Interface app which, in theory, turns any phone into a reliable source of video for presentations.

It’s a new start. “The technology needed to be improved anyway, it was five years old,” O’Connell said. “But you walk into this space and you’re not going to do it halfway, are you?” ”

Keeping the studio live in Portland is important as it wants to continue tapping into local talent. “You can’t do it all remotely.”

PMG FILE PHOTO - Brand definition during the COVID-19 era.  CEO Daniel O'Connell (right) and Erik Hidle in the digital agency's new office at the Field Office on Northwest Front Avenue.  The updated technology will allow them to shoot and edit video content remotely, and manage workflows across time zones or just across Portland.

And video for all

The content they are creating now, he calls it “almost personalized feeds” which speak, for example, of electronics maker LG, for the hospitality market. The content is aimed at the person who could buy thousands of TVs for a hotel chain and should persuade them to buy LG. It will never be seen by the public, but there is a lot at stake.

The new setup allows Brand Definitions staff to create sophisticated videos almost on the fly.

“Before, you really had to plan and set up the equipment. Now we can go in and express it right there. And if you’re wrong, you can go back and do it again.

O’Connell just had workers to install this studio glass and cut holes in the walls for the power and data cables. Cameras, mixer, editing suite, and storage all use a single connection, making setup simple.

The space is set up in such a way that the two small conference rooms can also be turned into studios in a plug-and-play fashion. It’s a good place to hold a virtual press conference, with speakers called remotely and backgrounds on green screens. The goal is for the studio to be able to be operated by one person during times of extreme social distancing, which may well happen in the future.

PMG: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Daniel O'Connell and Erik Hidle move into their new office / studio at the Field Office.  The 15-person staff has been kept as customers ask for advice on how to make boring webinars and video conferences while homework continues.

Recession strategy

O’Connell believes in long play. He will keep in touch with a sales manager for years to come in the hopes that one day they will do business together. He sees an advantage in being a small agency during a recession, as marketing is often the first thing to be taken from a company’s budget, and larger, more expensive agencies are more vulnerable. Its young employees are graduating from a communication school and already know how to edit videos. Currently three can do it at home using Final Cut and others use Adobe After Effects and Adobe Suite.

“If you position yourself as a very high-end consulting firm or a very expensive service provider, then you are the first to be cut. I like to think about how Volkswagen is handling its lineup.”

The line starts with SEAT at entry level, and goes up through Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini.

“And we’re like Audi, at Volkswagen prices. We’re not the Porsche. But if you look at these cars, it’s all the same chassis, everything is made the same way, with the same platforms.”

The definition of a brand is partially protected from the recession because it is business-to-business. Mainstream brands are having a harder time now, as consumption has effectively been reduced to grocery and streaming media.

But he clings to the staff for the future.

“I keep my staff because they’re really hard to find. Getting out and replacing these people would be a very expensive proposition. You build something and you build it strong, hoping that downturn can strike anytime.”

Everything worked out well, with a contraction of 4.8% of GDP in the first quarter of 2020 and a national unemployment rate at 14.7%. 36 million jobs were lost in mid-May 2020.

“So when he hits you are in a decent position,” he said.

As for other digital agencies, “the big guys are all boastful. You will see their faces, they will tour the speakers, they will go to Davos. But it’s the middle tier and the lower tier of these big agencies that are disposable because clients are going to migrate. But the figureheads will be fine.

O’Connell, who is from Ireland, landed the PR contract for Enterprise Ireland, a state agency that supports Irish business interests in Ireland and abroad. They worked with Vigor Industrial to build the OE Buoy wave energy converter for Irish company Ocean Energy. It is now at the US Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site on the O’ahu Coast, generating electricity from the motion of the ocean.

Right now, they’re also making videos for businesses that need to learn how to use social media, give an online presentation, and use Salesforce, as traditional businesses scramble to digitize their communications. They are preparing a 10-part series on how to build social media for Enterprise Ireland, using Irish and American experts.

Brand Definition applied for a Small Business Administration loan during the first installment of scholarships, under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, and was successful. O’Connell won’t say how much they got other than saying it was “five digits.”

Joseph gallivan
Journalist, The Business Tribune
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