Made in Frame: Where the Global Supply Chain Meets the Content Supply Chain
Disclaimer: The author of this article previously worked at WiseTech Global, but has no current affiliation with or investment in the company.
While it’s becoming more common to bring video production in-house, back in 2010 you wouldn’t expect to find a studio tucked inside a software company. But it’s fair to say that Australian software company WiseTech Global has built its success on breaking expectations.
Founded in 1994 by Richard White and Maree Isaacs, WiseTech Global builds software solutions for the global logistics industry, and its primary product—CargoWise—is used in over 170 countries and available in 30 languages. Since going public in 2016, it has grown into an $AU18B company (at time of writing). In-house video production has been a significant contributor to this success and shows no sign of slowing down.
We caught up with video production lead Nathan Schill to learn more about the company’s colossal growth, and how the WiseTech production crew has grown and adapted to meet the changing demands of this global enterprise.
As he explains, video plays a supporting role in four key areas of the business; marketing communications, e-learning, global sales, and the WiseTech Academy—a registered training organization that prepares logistics professionals for all aspects of the freight forwarding industry.
To keep up with this constant demand, production is split into specialist teams dedicated to each area. Nathan and his team of motion designers and video producers are responsible for marcom video content—spanning corporate, brand, and product—developing them from storyboard to stream.
As he puts it, “It’s pretty rare for a software company to have full-on, in-house video production teams, but it happened organically as the company grew and evolved.”
“Originally, we were sending specialist trainers around the globe to implement and train companies in our software,” he explains. “But it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t scalable, so we pivoted to creating a very deep library of training videos as a replacement.”
“Since then, we’ve broadened the scope for our in-house video to include the WiseTech Academy and marcom content that would normally be outsourced.”
Small team, big numbers
To give you an idea of how wide this scope is—and how hard the WiseTech teams work—here are some numbers for scale. Since reporting started back in 2015, WiseTech Global has created over 7,500 discrete videos which have garnered nearly 9 million views. (And remember, this is content for a niche audience of logistics providers and freight forwarders.)
Since reporting started back in 2015, WiseTech Global has created over 7,500 discrete videos which have garnered nearly 9 million views.
According to Nathan, one of the company mantras is “lead with content” and this approach is clearly effective, with an impressive 74 percent average play-through rate for their videos and nearly 30 million minutes streamed.
“For educational content, it’s a no-brainer,” he says. “Giving our customers a guided walkthrough of the sometimes complex processes and concepts of logistics is incredibly helpful.”
One business area that benefits directly from this approach is customer support, with video content frequently used to guide customers. It’s a two-way street. When support staff identify common requests, video content is created to further streamline the process. And Nathan confirms that the desire to streamline and optimize the process is the primary reason to bring video operations in-house.
“With an external vendor you’ll likely be spending a fair amount of time up front trying to communicate what you’re trying to achieve and providing context,” he explains. “An internal video team understands not just the product, but the wider industry and the particular struggles that our clients experience. We’re familiar with the jargon as well as the marketing messages and narrative, while our customers provide the context.”
“Additionally, an agile in-house video team can identify opportunities and areas where different videos or projects may overlap, and working with the same people and teams means we’re all aligned with the business objectives.”
Run and gun
Speaking of agility, Nathan’s crew takes a highly mobile approach to off-site shoots, with a pared-down kitbag that takes its cue from ENG setups. The company runs a small fleet of Sony FS5’s with Metabones Speedbooster ULTRA adapters.
This pairing allows them to use Canon glass—usually an f/2.8 24-70mm USM L lens—without losing too much of the frame to the Sony camera’s 1.6x crop factor. It also adds an extra stop, turning the f/2.8 into an f/2 lens, which can be extremely useful when you’re shooting in a wide range of less than ideal lighting conditions.
In order to get the best out of the FS5’s dynamic range—which, along with its internal rotary ND filter, was one of the reasons this camera was chosen—Nathan and the team shoot to dual SDXC cards using the camera’s S-Log 2 profile, which requires heavy grading in post. It’s for this reason that there’s one piece of kit that goes everywhere with them.
“The one item that goes on every shoot, regardless of size and scope, is the Color Checker Passport,” he advises. “It’s just one of those tools that pays off later in the editing room.” (It’s a pocket-sized color reference that lets you quickly color correct in post, which is ideal when you’ve had to choose between changing the camera settings or getting the shot.)
This might seem like a small detail, but it’s indicative of Nathan’s approach, which is to give his team the support they need to do the job effectively when they’re out in the field. “Our preference is to have two people on a shoot. We find that it generally yields better results. But it’s not always possible and whether it’s one or two people, it’s always a very small crew that goes out to film.”
“It makes for a long day both physically and mentally and you have to keep your head about you all of the time. It requires anticipating as much of the shoot as you can, planning for anything to go wrong and rolling with whatever the day throws at you.”
Being small can also work to their advantage, with a more agile crew being able to move through locations and pivot to new situations, without disrupting the operations of the clients and partners—is an important consideration when you’re shooting in secure or dangerous operations like docks, airports, or busy warehouses.
Fix it in post
WiseTech has long been an Adobe shop, relying on all of Creative Cloud applications to create content across the board, and Frame.io was brought in early on to help with video production and approval across this global organization.
But, as Nathan points out, being split between the northern and southern hemispheres isn’t always a disadvantage, as long your lines of communication are clearly drawn. “We put a heavy emphasis on our daily handover,” he says. “This is the end of the US workday and the beginning of the AU workday when our time zones overlap. It’s critical for everyone to be online, present, and communicative, and the entire team does it fabulously.”
“We use this time to check in on project status, share opinions and feedback, discuss any issues, adjust delivery priorities, and generally set each other up for success. It does require some forethought and preparation, though. If your teammate is expecting you to complete something and hand it off because their work that day is contingent on it being completed, it’s important that it’s ready and waiting at handover.”
With miscommunication potentially leading to a day’s delay, having the right tools to keep the workflows moving is crucial. So the team places a heavy emphasis on the collaboration enabled by Frame.io throughout their production workflows.
Finding the flow
Storyboards are mocked up in Illustrator, with the output uploaded to Frame.io where the markup tools and comments are used to move the project forward. Additionally, the video team will share narrative cuts internally for flow and edit review before they’re passed through the final rounds of stakeholder review.
“I think the whole team would agree that it makes the review not only possible but painless,” Nathan enthuses. “Because we work across different time zones, having an opportunity to sit down and go through every video together to review isn’t feasible. Frame.io gives us a place to store all that feedback and keep track of changes across all of our projects. If you looked at all of the inter-team communication around projects I would say the majority of it takes place there.”
This remote-first approach also meant that the team was well-equipped to deal with the sudden onset of Covid-19, and Nathan is particularly proud of how they pivoted when lockdowns hit. Suddenly cut off from customers, clients, and off-site shoots, the team switched strategy to keep the content pipeline moving.
Using a combination of smartphone and webcam footage with motion graphics—and a very patient hand with clients and customers—the team continued to serve their audience without compromises to message or value. And now, with the concept proven, this approach has been folded in the team’s toolkit.
While it might not compare with the team’s regular 4K production, it’s become another option when approaching a new project. With a process that’s been largely refined, this “low-fi” approach is still in play, particularly as it allows them to record with anyone in the world on short notice.
That’s not to say that there isn’t always room for improvement. As the WiseTech customer journey changes and evolves, Nathan is always looking to add automation and process optimization—the team is currently looking at incorporating Camera to Cloud for this very reason. The result is a constantly moving, always current set of workflows that serve the business objectives of this Australian-headquartered powerhouse.
But ultimately, for Nathan, the most rewarding part of his role is seeing the team working well together, and the element he relies on the most is simple. “Trust is the most important component,” he reveals. “I know that the team is bringing their all, every day, and that we’re all working to the best of our abilities.”
And if we’re helping to keep their team connected, then that’s the most important component for us, too.