We talked to Jay Scott-Nicholls of Circus about creating virtual brand experiences and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: It has definitely shaken things up! But overall, pretty good, I’d say. We’re obviously conscious that it’s a tough time for people and businesses. But at a personal level, we’ve been pretty lucky that family has stayed well, and we’ve been trying to enjoy the silver linings, like more family time at home.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Circus.
Jay Scott-Nicholls: I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the creative industries and had an interest in photography. So I started out working in a small marketing agency creating campaigns for luxury brands. Then I spent several years taking teams around the world, representing magazines like National Geographic and Fortune to create content.
Circus started when Google Street View moved indoors. I felt it was a fantastic product for high street businesses, but there was no plan to roll it out at scale. So when the opportunity arose to partner with Google and created an agency that would deliver the right quantity and quality of 360 photography they wanted, I jumped on it.
How does Circus innovate?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: By keeping an eye on trends and pushing existing technology to do new things. Sometimes we will invest in R&D projects in-house to explore what’s possible. And other times, we encounter clients who share our desire to push the boundaries – so we do it collaboratively.
For example, we’re all familiar with the idea of virtual working, virtual meetings, and events. But we’re now creating virtual product demos, sales journeys, recruitment experiences, and virtual training materials.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: Since we deal in creating virtual versions of real-world experiences, Covid has meant a steep increase in the volume of inquiries and also in the breadth of the types of tools businesses want. It has essentially accelerated what was already a trend towards making brand touchpoints available digitally to a global audience.
This is particularly true in education. We’ve worked for many years with schools, colleges, and universities to create virtual tours and virtual open days. But those types of solutions are suddenly thrust into the spotlight as the institutions’ most important marketing tool. So, for example, we’re being asked to upgrade their functionality to incorporate things like live chat, embedded content, and accessibility features.
The area that has probably evolved the quickest in this new world is virtual sales, where businesses that have always relied on face-to-face sales are having to do it online. So, for example, property, retail, even niches like self-storage and manufacturing.
In terms of how we work as a team, having previously done a lot of remote working, we’ve made the decision to go fully-virtual, which is also in line with our core services. The team is really receptive to this new way of working. I think we naturally attract entrepreneurial types, and so everyone’s very capable of self-managing, -directing, and self-motivating.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: Since Covid has meant an increase in demand overall, we’ve been able to move resources from the areas that have gone quiet, like hospitality, to where demand is growing, like education.
It’s made the logistics of shooting on location a bit more complicated. To protect our clients and our crew, we’ve been extra vigilant at things like distancing, hand washing, masks, and so on.
We also had to respond fairly rapidly to the changing needs of our clients. When the lockdown was first announced earlier in the year, we immediately revisited each and every project with clients to determine what needed to be put on hold, continue as planned, and even what needed to be brought forward. For example, many schools and major tourist attractions made the decision to start shooting earlier than planned so we could capture the ‘normal’ landscape before red tape blocked off libraries, and Covid-related signs were placed around their venues. We had to further balance all this with ensuring our crew was comfortable with the logistics of the project. It all went surprisingly smoothly. I’m incredibly proud of the dedication and flexibility showed by the team.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: On a personal level, I actually quite enjoy the challenge of having a lot going on at the same time. I find mental plate-spinning a good source of motivation and satisfaction. So the stresses mainly come from managing the interactions between clients and crew that Covid has made more complicated and less natural.
I know the team is missing that collegiate contact that they normally get from each other, so we are trying to use video calls in place of phone calls and are planning a fun virtual Christmas party involving cocktails.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: Our competitor landscape is pretty varied. We often find ourselves pitching for budget against providers that are actually offering quite different solutions. So, for example, a company that wants to showcase its new offices could do so via video, a 3-D animation, a slideshow of images, or a webinar. Our solution does the best of all worlds in that it’s highly visual, immersive, interactive, and engaging. But we have to demonstrate the benefits against other more familiar solutions. Saying that the reason we see such strong demand is that the market and the clients we’re talking to have increasingly been exposed to these types of tools, and so we’re doing less education and more innovation.
Your final thoughts?
Jay Scott-Nicholls: Lift your head. It’s very easy, especially when we’re working in our living room-sized siloes, to focus narrowly on what’s in front of us. But we’ve found that the real opportunities for innovation have come from noticing where 2 ideas could be brought together to do something new. Or where we can collaborate with other agencies who have different skill sets.