Antoinette and I took a few classes together at the University of Amsterdam as part of my exchange year. Easily one of the most talkative persons I know, she’s always had a deep interest in media trends and social and political developments. Our paths have crossed somewhat randomly, sometimes in London and sometimes in Amsterdam, over the years. We spoke in mid-January, when I was in rural Sweden and she in Athens, where she used a slightly distracting Zoom backdrop containing the entire cast of the American version of The Office.
Antoinette works as a production coordinator at Adidas’ in-house production studio -- studio A -- in Amsterdam, where she’s part of a team of producers working on content and asset creation for global campaigns [she very recently took up a new role at Inside Ideas Group].
“I’m a freelancer and I’ve been there since March, so I was literally the new girl before we went into lockdown. It was just enough to meet the people and put the name and face together. Since then we’ve all worked remotely. Normally I would be in the office like everyone else but the production team in Amsterdam was one of the first teams that got impacted by the Covid19 pandemic restrictions at Adidas.”
Twentytwenty was shaping up to be a big year for Adidas and just like all media and sports brands they were looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics.
“There was some optimism that the Olympic games would go ahead in the beginning, which reveals how little we knew in March. Normally we do a lot of work in London, Barcelona, Berlin, we had shoots planned in Sweden, and then we realised that we couldn’t really fly anywhere. We had to change a lot within our planned structure and production methods.”
Joining a new company in such an unusual situation would be a challenge for most people, but Antoinette thinks her experience working remotely before Covid made things a bit easier.
“I worked as a creative producer for Philips and I was the only person located in the Netherlands, in a team shooting for television in the Chinese, Hong Kong and Singapore markets. That was like going back to school for me, learning about a new culture and working with a team that had a completely different attitude in terms of communication. Before that I also worked remotely with Nike’s head office in Oregon, so it's not entirely new to me. I’ve spent most of the year in this jacket [showing a very on brand vintage Adidas track suit jacket from the 80s].”
I’m interested to understand if the fact that so many aspects of work, and production, has changed as a result of Covid-19 means that she needs to act differently in her role as a result.
“Yes, I think so, but it’s not a problem because if you want to work in production - in general - you need to be flexible and adapt to new circumstances. If you are what we call a ”fixed” character, or someone who likes routine and things in a certain way, then perhaps this is not the place for you. Production is very similar to project management, different places use different terms, it's just sort of a fancy word for a person who makes sure that things happen. You need to be able to welcome change and think in solutions. If you are like that in your personality you are a perfect match.”
In some ways the role is similar to that of an internal communications professional (my own day job) in the sense that what you do, and the impact you have, often isn’t obvious.
“It can be strange since a lot of times I work on processes you cannot see. If you look at a mobile app for example, there is a huge enterprise behind it and the back-end process is not always as agile and digital as the product itself, which is what the consumer sees and interacts with. Everyone knows the creative director, the awards, the viral stuff, but there are so many people behind this that work day and night. This is true for all creative content out there! ”
One thing that has changed for all content producers, no matter if you are doing Netflix TV series or sneaker ads, is that there is now a captive audience with fewer distractions than before. No social activities, no travel, no events. Does that change how Adidas thinks about content?
“The Covid-19 impact was mostly around online availability of products. We have products available via mail order or via affiliates and we have a responsibility to deliver them through an easy to use app, an app that anyone from you and me, to a mother with a teenager can use. But, in my opinion, in 2020, the biggest impact in terms of brand for companies like Adidas was not Covid; it was the Black Lives Matter and gender movement.
I think all sports brands felt compelled to participate and express themselves to show support. That is also interesting because I don’t think this will go away. The pandemic impact, no matter how severe, is temporary, fingers crossed, but in production there are a lot of people thinking about how we can create a more inclusive community and celebrate diversity.”
It has also led Antoinette to reflect on the impact production companies and producers can have. While producers are usually last in line at creative brainstorming sessions, and don’t have the power to strategically decide what to produce in shoots, there is one important aspect where they can have an impact.
“We do have a very important moment where we can be mindful and even challenge certain briefs; the casting. We need to be as open-minded and inclusive as we can, to research talent and always meet new creatives and be open to review new portfolios. It is a fact that it’s very difficult to maintain a racial or gender representation of, for example, 50% among cast and crew. Most people think: ‘ok, we’re going to cast a black model’, which is what everyone does these days. But as a team behind the cameras we also need to have more voices. The social unrest in the US is going to be with us for a long time, and it won’t happen overnight, but I‘m happy to see that some people have realised that they need to change on a fundamental level and not just cast a slightly darker skin model.”
I ask Antoinette if the producer role has changed as a result of Covid, but except for the increasing importance of communicating clearly, the struggles producers face are the same as for most people.
“We all have a challenge in managing our time, as we don’t stop. Especially when you work from another time zone. It’s important to take a break. We have fragmented communications with our teams, we miss the office and the moments that are ridiculous and random, when you get to know your colleagues better. I know we’re all accustomed to Zoom now but at this stage, a year into this, it can be become like a performance, a curated image of who you are. Another challenge I hear from friends a lot is that you are not as visible to your boss anymore, they don’t really get to see how you work, they only see the result and it’s never your masterpiece, it’s something collective. It will be interesting to see how it will develop as employers will still need to find ways to review and evaluate performance.”
While studying, Antoinette had her eyes set on journalism but she’s happy to have ended up in a creative industry which she sees as much less elitist.
“Journalists are way more snobby in a way, and I’m saying this with love because I have a lot of journalist friends and I love them dearly. Journalism is not only a place where you need to be on top of your game 24/7, you also need to be a bit lucky and sometimes it really matters where you studied, who do you know, etc. In advertising it doesn’t, I have friends who went to Oxford and Eaton, I have friends who don't have a degree, who are self taught developers, I have met lawyers who never wanted to be lawyers, music producers who turned into award winning copywriters, so it’s a very mixed bag of random talents and people.”
When we speak, Antoinette has left her home town of Amsterdam for Athens, where she grew up and where her parents live. We discuss the different ways countries have been impacted by Covid, and the fact that things finally looked up for Greece after a long and painful economic slump just before the world shut down. We also talk about how different personality types have been impacted.
“I’m not sure if the impact is greater on those who used to be more social or those who used to be a bit more introverted and low-key. I think it also depends on where you are from. If you’re from a country like The Netherlands where you had economic freedom and young people could get a job and could travel a lot, your lifestyle has really changed. But if you come to Greece and ask how many young people could do that before this crisis, no one could! So I think it depends, I think lonely people are struggling a bit more, people who by nature are social and like to go out and meet friends, they find ways to do it. I used to organise a quiz every Saturday night from April to July, it was a part time job in the end! I was so into it. It started as a joke and it ended up being 25 friends from different countries joining. I loved it, I don’t remember much of work during the spring, but I remember the quizzes!”
Another aspect of life that Covid has impacted is our ability to make plans for the future. But Antoinette says that Covid doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dream.
“I was planning a hiking trip to Iceland with my brother before his girlfriend got pregnant. We can still plan it. Before, even if you didn’t go, you could dream of going to Paris, to Iceland, to Canada, learning how to drive, whatever. Now you feel stupid when you say that. I think it’s important to still make plans. Don’t set a date, but you can say ‘I want to go to the North of Norway because I think it’s beautiful and make a rough draft of the plan and things you wish to do. At some point it will be possible and then you will only have some practical adjustments to do!”.
And with that reminder that dreaming is still allowed, and encouraged, we say goodbye from our different corners of the EU, with our experiences that in many ways are global.