Brandfuel won ‘Production Team of the Year’ at The Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021, as well as the new ‘Best Response to Change’ category. Here, the team behind the wining entry explains how it transformed its offering to thrive despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the past year, Brandfuel has adapted to working in a pandemic, but no team has been more on the frontline of change than the production department. From a team of eleven, rooted in physical event delivery - building large-scale stage sets and exhibition stands – it now comprises eight experts in online events, virtual platforms, and a multitude of new software systems and production techniques.
Where once they were solely managers - bringing in specialists to provide audio, video, camera and other expertise - now they’re platform builders, vision mixers, audio technicians and stream encoders, managing all technical aspects of events.
Brandfuel invested £10,000 in equipment and software to help secure its future. Production quickly set about mastering it. Using skills such as coding, web design, videography, motion graphics, computer science and networking, Production “played” on internal R&D projects to finesse the new software and digital platforms.
They turned Brandfuel’s storage facility into Fuelstudios - creating our broadcasting studio, two green-screen studios, and a master control room - so they could test techniques, equipment and operators during internal company meeting broadcasts on Fuel TV. The 14 broadcast-quality episodes were scripted, designed and produced by staff. Skills learnt included, vision mixing, remote autocues and presenting, filming, sound engineering, green screen and XR stage management and encoding. One green-screen project was successfully replicating the President Obama interview with Oprah Winfrey, which took place in two locations, but appeared to be in only one.
They invited suppliers and experienced broadcast freelancers to pass on their knowledge of directing, vision mixing and sound engineering, and attended countless product demos as new software was developed.
Within eight weeks of the pandemic starting, Production was ready to offer clients a high-quality virtual events experience.
When working with remote presenters, they quickly transitioned from video-conferencing tools such as Zoom Webinar to vMix and QuickLinks to achieve the highest quality outputs. Such was the speed of their conversion to digital delivery that Brandfuel went from having one free vision-mixing licence to five paid-for vMix licences in a matter of weeks.
The team continues to evaluate platforms, over 40 so far, to understand features as they are added and to ensure the platforms clients choose for specific events are fit for purpose. If not, they bridge the gap.
When the platform chosen by one long-established financial client was clearly not fit to deliver a global annual summit, manager Tom Robinson had only ten days to rebuild its entire back-end video and broadcast elements to ensure it was robust enough to deliver the quality the client expected.
On another occasion, Brandfuel was working on Hopin on a project for Slack they wanted to deliver in three languages; two weeks before deadline, Hopin launched new multilingual features, so Production quickly learnt how they worked.
As their experience has grown, Production has tried to create back-up systems at all levels of delivery; for example, Brandfuel now uses Wirecast software in tandem with vMix to overcome internet connectivity breaks within seconds, not minutes. By using pre-recordings, or sending out quad sim mobile uplinks to speakers to improve internet stability, Production has learnt to minimise risks for clients.
At the heart of the production team’s work has been a focus on health and safety. First, they safely deconstructed our office and ensured everyone had equipment for remote working. They then learnt how to run virtual events safely, maintaining Covid sanitising protocols, for example, when sending audio and video kit to speakers around the world. As hybrid events began, Production ensured studios could be set up and run within Covid constraints. Now that office working is gradually returning, Production is rewriting and applying protocols to keep safety at the forefront of Brandfuel’s work.
Brandfuel has delivered 60 virtual events on 18 digital platforms, with which Production have become adept, onboarding well over 1,000 speakers globally. We are continually driven by clients to go one step further, using innovation and creativity to deliver the ‘wow’ factor that makes events stand out. We have produced award ceremonies, BBQ masterclasses, conferences, virtual exhibition stands, dinners and huge charity events.
After understanding the limitations of other platforms, Production developed Fuelstudios Air, which offers more potential for bespoke designs and includes special features such as “audio watermarking”.
We have used this for seven virtual events, including for the Building Societies Association, IPA, and the Advertising Association. Their agenda-setting RESET 2021 conference and virtual exhibition hall, which included nine bespoke interactive 3D virtual sponsor stands, was attended by more than 800 delegates. The accompanying microsite received 3,300 views.
We are also working with new technologies for events such as volumetric video, binaural sound, facial motion capture, XR virtual stages and AR.
As well as rebuilding the backend of one platform for a client in ten days, and leading the creation of our Fuelstudios Air platform, Tom is now leading the development of a huge platform for a pillar client to run two major global events, one of which will have up to 20,000 registrants online.
Digital production has become so fundamental to Brandfuel that Tom has been promoted to Production Director and Digital Lead, to help us deliver the increasingly complex virtual projects we believe are here to stay.
One of our biggest achievements was the first virtual BGC Charity Day, held to commemorate more than 650 of their colleagues killed on 9/11. We had worked with BGC Partners for 14 years, but eight days before the annual event they decided to go virtual.
With banking sector IT notoriously locked down, particularly regarding firewalls, we needed innovative solutions to do this huge fundraiser justice. Previously, celebrities visited BGC’s offices in Canary Wharf to make phone calls with BGC Partners brokers and clients, sealing huge trades.
This time, our Production team came up with a virtual solution that linked 21 BGC clients with 18 celebrities all over the world by video conference calls at scheduled times, capturing interviews and producing a live microsite that was broadcast to BGC employees internationally.
The celebrity to client calls worked brilliantly. BGC Partners were delighted by the new intimacy of the face-to-face calls. Not only did Charity Day raise $10 million in one day, in keeping with previous years, it won the Best Digital Event Fundraising Award.
“Brandfuel has been on a journey of immense change. What we’ve achieved over the last 12 months has been monumental. Virtual has become our bread and butter and we’re smashing out virtual events every week. We should all be proud of that because our initial groundwork in R&D, building our own platform, testing new technologies and not being afraid to try things has got us where we are today.” Tom Robinson, production director and digital lead at Brandfuel
“The working relationship with Production has never felt so close-knit as it does today. As project leads, the past 16 months have challenged us with the unthinkable with almost everything going virtual. This took away a lot of our control over a project, as we relied so much on technology to ensure the event was a success.
“Having a reliable pair of hands in the back-end of pre-records, whilst I'm in the front-end ensuring things go smoothly from a client side, has reinstalled the sense of being and ‘onsite family’. It really takes a well-rounded team from both ends and all angles, which would not be complete without Brandfuel’s Production team.” Alice Barry, Project and Event Coordinator