Scouring America for people involved in upgrading the quality of our food supply brought me to tomato loving super star Amy Yvonne Yu of San Francisco. As senior integrated content producer at the renowned digital ad agency AKQA, Amy weaves a multi-platform social media network to expand impact and awareness for her clients. The roster at AKQA includes Audi, Levi Strauss and Nike Air Jordan.
What's really enticing are Amy's extra curricular activities with The Selby by aka Todd Selby, a swashbuckling photographer, illustrator, storyteller. One in particular stands out: Chez Panisse Turns 40 Celebration, a delicious anniversary staged over 20 intimate dinners cooked by Chez Panisse alumni at farm to fork heavy weights' homes across the Bay Area. The event ranged from Michael Pollan's backyard pig roast to Alice Waters kitchen and doubled as a fundraiser for the Edible Schoolyard Project. Amy and The Selby documented this event on multiple media platforms, including stories and videos for the New York Times' T magazine in print and digital.
Fellow lifestyle photographer Jacob Pritchard, now takes the stage to mine the mind of Amy, exploring what it takes to make a brand stand out above and beyond in the digital age...
Amy Yvonne Yu works at AKQA, which in my mind is one of the leading digital agencies today. I'm not the only one. Adweek named them digital agency of the year in 2011 and 2012. As senior integrated content producer, she's plays a huge role in the creation of photography (among other things) for AKQA's clients. Outside of AKQA, is a photojournalist, a collaborator on The Selby's latest, and had a previous career as a DJ.
I was excited to have the chance to chat with her and to learn more about her perspective on the current state of commercial photography for social media.
Your official title at AKQA is Senior Integrated Content Producer. That obviously has the potential to mean a lot of different things. What does your job entail?
I work with any kind of content across different media, so that includes stills and video. I do a lot of video at AKQA since there's a lot of demand for it. And we do experiential. Experiential is a broad spectrum. It could be an event, it could be projections, it could be holograms, or any kind of installation design.
For instance, I just finished the Air Jordan All-Star Game Weekend in New Orleans. I produced live streams. I managed two video crews for commercial work, and then I also produced a VIP mansion event that was a digital summit with projections and live tweets on big screens and all that stuff, in addition to just performers at the event. So that's what it all means; just any kind of digital content.
How much original social content are you being tasked to produce?
Quite a bit, actually. In addition to all the stuff I just told you about, I also managed two still shooters, shooting exclusively for Air Jordan's Instagram. So obviously, with social media - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and everything that's out there - there's a lot of demand for content. A lot of people do use stock imagery, but by doing a better job curating your content, your brand can have a voice. You do start seeing a lot of brands are starting to do a better job of this, and actually producing original content. It's a necessity.
Nowadays, with the internet and everything being so accessible, the problem is that there's a lot of information out there. You have to filter through what you're going to digest, including imagery. And I have to say, 95% or more of stuff out there is total crap that you have to weed through. So that's a big part of what I do.
It feels like there was a time when low quality stock imagery, or just repurposing your print ads was enough for social media. But that's changing now.
Different medias have different needs, and if you don't understand the needs and how to either repurpose the campaign or actually create content specific to that media, you're going to fail. You see a lot of that happening right now. Old school agencies are still struggling to go into interactive, and they think, "Oh yeah, let's just take that print ad and chop it up and use it as a banner ad." What they don't understand is the click-through rate of banners is something abysmal like 1% to 2%.
So how do you increase that? Because if you're not increasing traffic, you're failing miserably. And the whole point of these different mediums is to engage people. If you're not, then you're not doing it right.
It seems that there are different approaches to creating social content. One can be a more traditional approach where you have an explicit idea of the pictures you want to make. The other is more of a run-and-gun approach where you're sending photographers out and relying on them to tell the story. How do you work with the Air Jordan photographers? Are they going out with very specific concepts, or are you saying "go shoot what feels cool?"
One of the photographers is actually more product driven, and he'll also shoot a variety of things. The other shoots with more of a photojournalistic style. I think there's a need for both in brands. I mean, I'm sure you've experienced yourself - when you assign a shooter for social media, it's always good to have a shot list, because you're going to have needs, and it's important to get those needs met. Otherwise, without that list, it's kind of like free for all.
But for me as an audience member, I'm more interested in what comes out naturally. Maybe it's because I'm more of a photojournalist. When you're shooting specifically with a shot list, it has the potential to feel much more contrived. And that may not necessarily be interesting to certain people.
Unless you've got a little something extra to offer the audience, the viewer's going to get bored. It's like, "Oh, you're marketing to me again, and this isn't even that interesting." So brands have to consider what is the added value you're giving to your viewers? Otherwise you're just wasting people's time and money.
I look at photographers like Jamie Beck, for example, and I imagine that she tends to work with brands in a way where she is given a lot of latitude.
I think when you hire somebody who is very strong in their voice, someone like Jamie Beck of Ann Street Studio, or The Selby, or say, Hedi Slimane, you hire them to do what they do. Once you force them to work outside of that mode, why did you hire them at all? You're not really utilizing them to their fullest potential. It's kind of like you're just doing it for the name association.
I truly believe when you hire someone, you should utilize them 100%, to their best ability. But I'm an idealist. The way I see it, why wouldn't you use them to do what they do best? That's what you're hiring them for. Otherwise it's a waste.
You've had experience piggybacking TV shoots with still photographers shooting for social media. Do you think a shoot like this can occur in which you capture enough images for all the social worlds that they can successfully be used for 3-4 months or whatever length of time it is between TV campaigns.
Again, it depends on your campaign and what you're going to roll out down the line. I think so. You just have to be really strategic and you have to have the foresight to think ahead. Ultimately, when you do a campaign, it usually lasts for about three months. So absolutely, it can be done, and it has been done. I've done it myself.
What can agencies who really want to anticipate what's next be doing?
I think it's all about being smart about what next steps are. You see a lot of media shifting to online. You see things like YouTube and Funny or Die becoming a channel. You see a lot of television is moving online. To stay ahead of the game, you have to figure that out. Branded entertainment is very real. It's all about that. I think consumers don't like to be advertised to, so I think to be able to be in the game and to be smart about it, you have to be entertaining; you have to be subtle; you have to be taking risk. Branded entertainment's been around for some time. I think it's just a matter of figuring out how to do it smartly.
Amy Yvonne Yu photography by Julie Ann Fineman