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Behind the scenes: What it was like shooting a magazine cover with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Nicola Mendelsohn and Mark D'Arcy

Facebook shoot - Sanberg, D'Arcy & Mendelsohn

We take a trip behind the scenes with The Drum’s US editor, Doug Zanger, for a glimpse at what it was like working to photograph Facebook's top executives on this special guest-edited issue to create four individual covers.

For some reason, a mental GPS was embedded in my mind on the way to Facebook. Though my phone was telling me to go to 1 Facebook Way, I naturally pointed my car to 1 Hacker Way. Since the company established its HQ at the latter, it has been seared into my consciousness. The former, however, is an emerging jewel near the wetlands in Menlo Park, California, where we had our photoshoot with Sheryl Sandberg, Mark D’Arcy and Nicola Mendelsohn.

The growing campus, which also includes Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp, feels comfortable. The wide spaces and high ceilings inside, plus open water on its eastern front overlooking the bay, give it a sense of breathing room. There is an indisputable energy, but also a comfort and intimacy that belies the massive platform’s activity. Though there is no doubt as to the import of the business and company, there is a surprising welcome and friendliness.

When The Drum first started working with Facebook on our annual issue for Cannes, we knew there would be plenty to juggle. There was coordination of the story ideas, assignments and the like. But aligning the schedules of the three executives proved to be the most challenging. Of course, that was to be expected as they all run at a stunningly spirited pace.

What we learned along the way, however, was that even though we didn’t have scads of meetings, all came to this issue with enthusiasm, energy and good humor. Each was prepared with ideas and more ideas, wrapped in collaboration and conviviality, concentrated into small windows of time. In a way, it was a glimpse into how Facebook approaches things: fast.

‘Move fast and break things’ was Facebook’s original and most famous motto, echoing the hacker culture from which it was born. That was changed to ‘Move fast and build things’, a better articulation of what the company is about now. Indeed, the pace hasn’t changed, but with continued maturation comes evolving thinking on how to best move the business forward – and Sandberg, D’Arcy and Mendelsohn are three of the people on the front line of that evolution.

The day of the photoshoot was interesting.

All three were actually together in one place (sometimes challenging due to the ambulatory nature of the roles), plus it was on an earnings call day. Throw in the fact that Sandberg had been trotting around the globe discussing her new book, Option B, and it was clear we had to work in a ‘Facebook-ian’ way. Fortunately, The Drum tends to have a similar work rate, so we were prepared.

What often strikes people on photoshoots is how much time it actually takes to set up. One of Facebook’s conference rooms (facing the open water, a welcome treat) was transformed quickly into a photo studio and the photographer, San Francisco-based, France-born Marc Olivier Le Blanc, leapt into action. While it seemed like a great deal of ‘hurry up and wait’, Le Blanc knew there was a tiny opportunity to capture excellence and he and his team worked fast and furiously (in the Facebook tradition) to get it right.

First in were Mendelsohn and D’Arcy. Game faces were on, yet with a smile. Both are relentlessly optimistic. Even working on an insane schedule, they approached their individual photos in the same way they approached their assignments – good-natured and willing to do whatever it took to ensure it was done well.

Then, Sandberg made her way to the conference room – focused. Even with an earnings report looming, it was impressive to see how she was able to take a moment for the task at hand, without distraction. One can only wonder, and be duly amazed, at how she handles the myriad things thrown at her, and though this may have been comparatively innocuous in the grand scheme, she treated it as the most important thing in the world.

Satisfied, Le Blanc stood aside and the three took their leave. Did we get the right shots? “Yes we did,” he said with confidence. And it proved testament to the fact that, though things can move pretty fast, especially at Facebook, they’re always prepared to get it right.

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