Creative Director Erin Gavle

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Earlier this year, a creative team including Erin hired me as a photographer for Verizon’s ongoing social media campaign. She was part of the team that conceived of and pitched the idea of having original photography produced on a regular basis. She was a huge part in establishing how the team approaches making content for social media, and championing original photography.

I caught up with Erin recently at her home in Venice, California. We headed down to the beach to snap some pictures and talk more about the conception of the project, and her thoughts on the future of advertising within social media.

Part of the pitch for the Verizon social business was having a photographer working as part of the creative team. Can you tell me more about that? What inspired you guys to do that and how did they react?

I think we immediately saw this pitch as an opportunity.  As the art director, I was very adamant that stock photography was not an option. Occasionally, we can try our luck in finding a good stock image, but that just can’t be how a brand makes aspirational and impactful messaging on Facebook. So very quickly we decided a major part of our pitch revolved around making our own original content – basically hiring a photographer as a full-time team member.

It was kind of humorous because when we started to approach the logistics of how to turn this idea into fruition, we found that everyone was a bit puzzled, including our own art buyers, as to how to pull it off. Basic questions arose like “what would you pay someone for this kind of project” to “how would we even arrange the photo shoots.” That made me start to realize we were on the forefront of something. It was obvious, this was going to be a new way of working. From the beginning we knew we wanted the photographer to play an important role in the ideation phase.  Having five to seven posts a week meant we needed to be a bit crafty in the execution process.  Figuring out a concept is one thing, but having to execute that concept (location scout, find talent, shoot, get approval, and post) within a few days is a whole different story.  We needed a photographer to help ground us into what could actually be possible, and then work within those limitation.  It’s very run and gun and I think that’s really exciting. It sort of makes the advertising industry rethink how creative can get done.

When you were in that pitch process, was the original photography aspect a surprise to your client?  Were they on board with it or did it take some convincing?

We came to Verizon with the notion that we needed to revamp their Facebook page and create a visual voice. Verizon is an industry leader and their social media should represent that. From the get go, Verizon always seemed on board with the photography style we proposed; observed but not contrived, artfully flawed, spontaneous real life moments shot in docu-style. So, when we advocated for hiring a photographer to work side by side with the creative team to create truly original content in that style, I think it was welcomed as a refreshing change.

A lot of big brands are still cutting and pasting stock photography and it’s being seen in this newsfeed where your friends are posting pictures that don’t look anything like that at all.

That’s true. It can’t be authentic if it’s stock. Bottom line. That’s like an oxymoron. I’m a very avid Instangram user. When we started the pitch I would look at Instagram and say: HERE is what people are posting. THIS is what people who have 300,000 followers on Instagram are doing. These are the kinds of pictures we should be taking, or at least be in this realm of photography. So, it should feel like it belongs in your newsfeed and should tempt you to click ‘like’ or be compelled to share. On Facebook the picture is like 90% of the real estate of a post and the copy is maybe 10%.  So that picture really needs to be eye-catching and draw you in.

When you are thinking of a concept, is the goal to make Verizon just seem like a cool company. Or is it to get them to click on a link or engage in some other way. Or is it to get them to buy a phone?

For me, it’s about how I like to interact with brands. I want to “like” a brand because they’ve created a persona that I want to be associated with or they provide useful information or a service.  It’s about creating positive experiences between a brand and it’s audience. I think it’s more important to make a brand relatable to a consumer by establishing and reinforcing the brand’s reason for belonging in their lives. When the need to buy a new phone pops up, the first thing they’re going to think of is Verizon. So it’s important for these companies to understand who they’re talking to and contribute to relevant conversations being had or better yet, come up with a conversation that’s not being had but that people are yearning for. I guess my goal is really all of those things: a click, a like, a positive feeling you take away from an interaction and ultimately a purchase.

Something else I wanted to talk about is Facebook itself , and how it’s changed as more advertisers are using it as a platform.

Facebook has been around for 10 years. Now you’ve finally gotten big companies to understand “Wow, we need to be a part of this conversation.”  That’s probably happened over the last couple of years. I feel like especially within the last year or so there has been an elevated push for brands to take full advantage of this space. But, at this point when you go on Facebook all you see is people trying to sell you something and trying too hard. No one wants to be talked to in an inauthentic way.  It’s like they’ve taken the fun out of why people go on Facebook. So, I sort of feel that everyone involved from an advertising perspective: companies, clients, agencies, creatives, media buyers, etc. have a duty to create engaging relevant content if they want to keep this platform what it is.

How do you – as someone who is trained in more traditional advertising and who has done print advertising — approach making content for Facebook. How are you concepting differently than you do for like a print campaign?

I don’t know if you necessarily approach it differently in terms of the end goal, I just think you have to concept a bit smarter. I started off in traditional/broadcast then I worked my way into digital which was banner ads or web pages.  When you are writing a TV commercial  or making a banner ad, you aren’t necessarily focusing on the amount of likes it will get on Facebook, hits on YouTube, or retweets.  In social, the content needs to be sharable at it’s core. The first question I always ask myself when creating content is, “Would I share this? Would I like this?”  I know that might sound crazy but I just ask, “Would I do it?” And if the answer is no then it doesn’t seem like it should be content that’s made.

One of the tenants of the project has been to find the space where pop culture and trends overlaps with what interests Verizon and has to do with mobile technology.

I will never forget the day we were post-less. It was a Thursday. We had an old Zack Morris phone on our desk.  And we said, “Well, looks like it’s got to be a Throwback Thursday post.”  We persuaded everyone to let us put it on the interwebs to just see what happens. At that moment we were at a very crucial hurdle of showing our client that culturally relevant things ARE, in fact, important. We proved that even for a client like Verizon, that is always focused on being a tech forward brand, you can still do a successful and engaging throwback post. Verizon started a conversation that everyone could relate to and more importantly, that hadn’t existed prior in that category. Verizon got to imply “look at the strides we’ve made in mobile phones and service” while simultaneously relating to the audience in a way they would engage with friends. Instagram had allowed #tbt to be a cultural phenomenon. By contributing to #tbt it made Verizon seem like “they get me.”  We really leaned into how people already use their phones and apps and just gave them a little more of a helpful conversation around those topics.

What’s next for you. Do you want to keep working in the social media space?

I’m really just interested in making good shit. Aren’t we all? After working on the traditional and digital aspects of advertising, I think I’ve become very spoiled working in the social media space.  I also think it’s made me a much more nimble creative. I was fortunate to find myself on a small but highly efficient team where we were leading the way in an industry. We were functioning as an agency within the agency.  When you are creating work at such a rapid pace and in such a new process we had to wear a bunch of different hats.  We would joke “Well, there’s another title for the business card”  – I think mine is up to stylist, location scout, talent scout, producer, prop department,  photographer’s assistant, the talent- the list grows by the day it seems.

Most importantly though, once you learn that you don’t need to make an “ad” to get people to engage with a brand it becomes very fun. I basically just make really beautiful, interesting, engaging things.   For the first time in my career I found myself not making ads. In fact, in some cases I wasn’t legally allowed to put an advertising message into our creative. IT. WAS. AWESOME. My job is to be relatable and likable and create things I would physically “like” on Facebook. Career-wise, that’s not a bad place to be.