New content studio Highly Confidential comes out of the shadows with Panda Express campaign reveal

Madison + Vine vets Wendy Shay and Ryan Phillips exit and launch their own branded content studio, Highly Confidential / Nick Stentzel

Former Madison + Vine execs Wendy Shay and Ryan Hunter Phillips have opened Highly Confidential, a full-service creative production studio, with Panda Express as its first client.

Shay and Phillips most recently worked together at Madison + Vine as vice president and creative director, respectively. Over the course of their careers, the duo have worked on campaigns, branded entertainment, and commercials for some of the likes of Gatorade, Taco Bell, Land Rover, Samsung and Google.

Shay, a third-generation advertising executive, had joined at Madison + Vine in 2016. She has held various account-side executive positions at west-coast agencies such as Swirl and Wongdoody, working with Google/YouTube, Clorox, StubHub, Pepsi and Microsoft.

Phillips was director and head of creative direction for branded content and commercials at Madison + Vine since 2015. An experienced commercial film director, he has a multifaceted background inclusive of illustration, graffiti, singing in a rock band in Seattle, and making short, interactive and fashion films. Additionally, he directed the music video for the Grammy Award-nominated, "Million Reasons" with Lady Gaga and the breakout British rock band The Struts.

The two cofounders felt a need to combine creative, strategy and production under one roof. In a statement from Highly Confidential, the co-founders believed that “today’s production companies are adding creative services, but lack enough agency experience to properly represent brands. On the flip side, many agencies are adding production services but lack the experience and leadership necessary to run a production department efficiently.”

“With the agency and filmmaking talent around us, we saw a way to make things easier on brands and on the studio,” Shay explained.

The first campaign the new agency launched was for Panda Express, the fast-casual Chinese-American restaurant chain. Phillips helmed “The Finer Things”, a campaign in support of limited-time menu offerings featuring Angus top sirloin. The campaign broke nationally yesterday (April 2) and included TV, digital, OOH, and in-store elements.

In the 30-second spot, a father is reminded of a childhood dining experience involving steak and shrimp at a stuffy restaurant, as he sits with his son at a Panda Express in the present day. The use of chopsticks between father and son reflects the idea that you can enjoy a premium dish in a warm, comfortable environment with Panda Express.

Phillips, co-founder and head of creative, said of the campaign: “Panda Express is an appealing dining destination for young Millennial families. We want to let them know that they don’t need to go to a stuffy restaurant to get amazing meals with their kids,” said Phillips. “We wanted the work to reflect a new era of dining where everyone has options on the menu and an inviting setting to enjoy them in.”

Shay, who is Highly Confidential’s co-founder and head of strategy, added, “Even though more young parents are eating out, they want it to be a healthy eating and bonding experience for their children. Panda’s premium offering and focus on healthy cooking can meet the needs of the modern family.”

The team of Shay and Phillips have a belief that Highly Confidential will be a boon to brands because of their combined home of strategy, creative and post-production is all done in one place from the very beginning. “By staying in the hands of the same team members from start to finish,” they added, “content creation gains efficiency and a more cohesive vision.”

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