Lindsay Stein
Apr 30, 2020

Microsoft's Kathleen Hall and McCann's Rob Reilly on their long-term creative partnership

The dynamic duo discusses ins and out of working together for 12 years, what has changed since the start of COVID-19 and what to expect in the future.

Microsoft's Kathleen Hall and McCann's Rob Reilly on their long-term creative partnership

Microsoft Chief Brand Officer Kathleen Hall and McCann Worldgroup Global Creative Chairman Rob Reilly sat down with Campaign US to give a glimpse into their social distancing lives and share some insights on how their creative partnership has evolved over the years, especially amid the pandemic.

Working from home has its pros and cons – with some bumps still being smoothed out, like making sure to schedule bathroom or lunch breaks between endless video calls.

For Hall, the disruption in production has been particularly challenging.

"The creating part is hard and not being able to editorialize the way you wish you could by supplementing with shot footage," she said, adding that Microsoft had a campaign that was going to be shot for its video collaboration platform Teams before COVID-19 hit.

McCann and Microsoft wound up shooting the spot through meetings that actually took place on Teams, with footage from the likes of L’Oreal, the London Metropolitan Police, hospitals and more. Hall said she wanted to inject "positive energy and hope" into the campaign.

"I wanted to get something out there that says, ‘Hey this is what we do – we figure out how to work together and we keep going and we’re going to figure this out,’ so that was the Teams campaign. But even in doing that and it’s raw and real -- and I love that raw and realness -- there are times I just want to drop some shit in there and I want to go shoot this or retake that, so you just have very limited capabilities and that’s a little frustrating," she said.

Reilly, who admitted he could see himself working from home more often than he had in the past once the pandemic is over, said in-person collaboration is still key for the creative process. "We do miss looking at each other in the eyes live, and getting to the root of the problem," he said.

In terms of output, Reilly said McCann has been even more productive on some accounts, and less so on others.

"I think the reason we’re productive on Microsoft is because there’s such a good, long relationship, but also the kind of collaboration that we’ve been doing now for so long – not just Kathleen and I – but our McCann team. And it benefits to this kind of pandemic situation. We had been collaborating, and now this is collaboration on steroids because we’re doing it quickly and often, and there’s a mutual respect between people and a family atmosphere," he said.

When it comes to ad spend, Hall said Microsoft doesn’t know what the plan is yet, but "I don’t see it going up a ton." She added that she believes supply may be an issue in the future since networks are not generating any new programming.

Regardless of the supply issue, Reilly said consumers are going to remember brands that have shown up and done things to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

"One of the big mistakes I think brands are making is not concentrating on the basic things people expect from you," he said. "People expect Microsoft to make sure the technology allows them to survive and work and be productive."

Consumers are also tired of "empathy overload" in ads, Hall said, adding that people tend to turn to comedy in challenging times. That can be hard for a brand, however, because there’s a "fine line of what’s acceptable," she said.

Reilly, who agrees with Hall about the overabundance of empathetic coronavirus ads, said: "There should never be another commercial that starts ‘In these uncertain times.’"

"I think that’s over," he added. "It’s the time we’re in, and I think it’s the greatest challenge. If you’re a creative person, there’s nothing more challenging than this thing we’re in and you should be excited by it."

Campaign US

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