Talent Will Always Reign Supreme: Thibaut Estellon, REVERSE

by Dasha Ovsyannikova

Thibaut Estellon
Executive Producer/Founder REVERSE
New York, United States
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Which trends from 2020 will continue into the new year and which will not?

In 2020, so much was tied to current events, politics, the virus, and economics. The ad industry as a whole will need to keep rallying around these issues, not just check the box for PR’s sake. Meanwhile, we are all still learning how to navigate these social issues, while juggling our personal and professional lives with a sense of balance and optimism — during a pandemic, no less.

On the production side, things shifted virtually overnight, which may have fast-tracked logistical changes that were already taking place, such as remote tools and processes. Some will slowly disappear with the rolling out of the vaccines, but some are here to stay, such as remote collaboration, Zoom calls, and fewer clients on set. Several of our directors were already accustomed to remote pre-production processes and they are only better at it now. Pandemic or no pandemic, the experience has been a reminder that being efficient and being prepared for a plan B, C, or D can be the tie-breaker in a pool of good ideas and stories.  

Ultimately, adversity has a way of pushing you beyond what was thought possible, to see the silver linings with more clarity, and for us, it’s been the opportunity to problem-solve and collaborate with clients on a deeper level. It’s a role we embrace enthusiastically and we hope that trend continues. 


In your opinion, what will 2021 look like for advertisers and agencies?

Not all industries are created equal for a pandemic: cruises, airlines, amusement parks, and live entertainment are taking a big hit while big tech is booming. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of Covid and economics, marketing and advertising strategies are adapting accordingly. My only hope is that in their pivot, these brands take a long look at diverse and emerging talent to help solve their business challenges with fresh ideas and perspectives -- including us, as we want to make diversity a priority in growing our own roster with future signings. 

Social media will continue to be scrutinized for its influence on politics and society, with misinformation becoming a real threat to democracy. Will advertisers emphasize transparency and accountability on these platforms? And will they be able to exert pressure, so that social media platforms don't contribute to the spread of misinformation and distort the narrative? 

In cutting through the noise, we hope diversity, social justice, and institutions of democracy will ring loudest. The Biden administration looks to already be setting that tone here in the U.S., and hopefully, that reverberates and makes our society better as a whole. These are the values that brought me stateside, so it feels good to get back to a tone of normalcy. That said, I believe it will be difficult to undo the harm done by our previous administration and, perhaps, we won’t know its full impact for years to come, including Covid and poor governance, lack of education, and PTSD on kids, for that matter. I hope 2020 serves as a wake-up call for greater government investment in education, justice, health, global governance, diplomacy, and the environment moving forward. 

Lastly, we are increasingly seeing advertisers package multiple campaigns under one production to benefit from economies of scale. I think that’s a great way to maximize production value and offset extra Covid-related costs and contingencies without impacting creative results. One or two-day shoots are still doable, of course, but costs have jumped between the extra planning, Covid protocols and testing, etc.


What will your clients value most in the next 12 months?

I still think talent will always reign supreme. There’s no strong production company without strong talent backed by production know-how, collaboration, and transparency. But again, it all starts with talent. Values will also be important, as we’ve seen recently with the implosion of legacy agencies or the shift in advertising dollars from one platform to another due to conflicts of values, social or political. We are all accountable for the way we impact our society.

As for navigating another 12 months of a pandemic, there’s no light switch to end it. More than ever, seasoned crews and production partners are crucial to the success of a shoot. You simply can’t cut any corners. The creative has to deliver on budget at a high level while making safety THE top priority. While REVERSE has always thrived on efficient planning of shoot days and running a buttoned-up operation, Covid safety protocols have made this a prerequisite across the board. It's actually been a great exercise for all parties involved. Last-minute changes aren’t what they used to be. There’s simply no room for scrambling, so productions require absolute planning, focus, and anticipation from every team member.  

All said, it’s paramount that the agency, production company, and end-client are a unified front, solving problems together to deliver on their message at a premium level — from script to wrap. At least that’s been the value of our most successful jobs over the last year and we’ll continue to do that. 


What agency models and skills will emerge by 2022?

We’ve seen a lot of mergers; legacy creative shops with more recent technological shops, such as Grey x AKQA. It seems this trend will continue. In-house agency studios have been churning out a high volume of content during Covid. Advertisers seem to be shying away from retainer-based models and developing more project-based collaboration with agencies. Brands bringing creative in-house have been crushing it by doing this and this also allows for new opportunities to work hand-in-hand with brands.


As countries are entering lockdowns again and vaccines begin to roll out, how should brands look to resonate with consumers?

Sadly, there’s a growing lack of trust in institutions. People are on edge, worried, scared, and angry. So, careful messaging is critical for any brand right now. More than ever, brands need to be genuine and true, not opportunistic.