In mid-March, media and entertainment companies across the globe and throughout the industry began to face what China had experienced since January — the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic social distancing and isolation. Amidst this public health crisis, companies abruptly confronted extreme technical and workflow challenges while continuing to create and distribute content.
During this historic outbreak, Signiant launched “The Pandemic Series,” a collection of articles, interviews, and other content from the industry, for the industry.
As part of the series, Signiant interviewed industry professionals on how they transitioned and maintained remote work, what their challenges and successes were, and what lessons they’ve learned from it. Each one is a snapshot in time from their particular company, industry, geography, and personal perspective.
Fenton, Missouri | April 29, 2020
SIGNIANT: Tell us about Joyce Meyer Ministries. Give us the 30,000-foot view.
ERIC GRAU: We’re an international, ministry-based outreach, daily television program that’s available to millions around the world.
The world headquarters for Joyce Meyer Ministries is just outside of St Louis, a suburb called Fenton, Missouri. We’ve got about 400 employees at the U.S. headquarters and 130 plus at our ten international offices.
SIGNIANT: What kind of content makes up the daily show?
ERIC GRAU: Joyce goes to about 10 different events a year around the domestic U.S. We generate media out of the conferences where she teaches to people that attend. We capture that in 4K and have a six camera, multi-cam line cut.
We’ve got a couple of studios on site at our U.S. headquarters where she’ll teach to a studio audience at the U.S. headquarters.
SIGNIANT: The daily show is the bulk of the work, but you’re also supporting content for other missions, is that correct?
ERIC GRAU: Yes. Also embedded inside Joyce Meyer Ministries is an extension called Hand of Hope. Hand of Hope is directly involved in numerous types of relief efforts around the world, feeding programs, medical missions, children’s homes, disaster relief, prison ministry, human trafficking, and water well digging around the world.
Two or three times a year, we send teams to do documentary style capturing of those great, amazing things that are going.
SIGINANT: Where do you come into this?
ERIC GRAU: Within the creative division, which is our television department, print and web and all that kind of media, is the Media Asset Management department, and that’s the department I run.
Conferences, studio and EFP-style documentaries—those three media productions funnel into our systems. We ingest that media into our SAN, rename, organize, and move it into our asset management system [where] it becomes available for producers and editors. We’ve got whole teams of producers that write and produce the daily show; editors that assemble and edit that daily show—we’ve got a pretty full crew at the U.S. headquarters.
SIGNIANT: Does all that happen with staff on-site or were you already doing remote work other than EFP kind of work?
ERIC GRAU: Pre-COVID, we were all on-site. We would send people out to go and capture those productions, grab testimonies from different opportunities around the U.S. and internationally, but that all came back to the staff working on site.
And then, obviously [after] COVID, we’ve moved into more of a remote pathway. Our editors that are editing the show are fibre-attached to our SAN—those people are still working on site.
SIGNIANT: When did you go into social distancing and isolation?
ERIC GRAU: The best I can recall was around the week of March 16th to the 20th. We were ramping up heavily to prepare for deploying and moving people remotely off-site. We were tracking what local authorities were doing and recommending.
SIGNIANT: How much warning did you have to prepare for that transition?
ERIC GRAU: It was ample warning. Our executive team and leadership were working heavily with the local authorities. It was not just all of a sudden, we’re running for the door.
SIGNIANT: Can you walk us through those first planning conversations? How did those initial days go?
ERIC GRAU: Long days, for sure. We were white boarding, we were meeting, we were brainstorming. Really the main concern was with all of the media. Obviously, with the daily television show — Monday through Friday, 20 to 30 minutes long-form and multi-camera — it was very concerning to us if we ended up not being classified as essential when they were classifying businesses and organizations. We were really concerned. How would we deal with continuing to move the daily show forward?
SIGNIANT: And what did you come up with? How are you managing to produce for an international audience daily in the environment we have now?
ERIC GRAU: The short answer is so much of our operations were already set up. I’m just focusing on the media asset management side and the systems that we run — the servers, the transcoding for the daily television show, and sending that all over the world. So much of that was already set up for a long time to manage remotely.
The main puzzles to solve were the editors. Were they going to have to be moved off site? That would be some big logistical challenges, that thankfully, we did not have to tackle.
And then the ingesting of media, because we’re still doing a little bit of a low-level shooting on premises. We had to work through with the current core staff on site — how do we work through ingesting? Editing and ingesting were our pain points that we were working through.
SIGNIANT: How is your content being made during this time?
ERIC GRAU: We’re typically planned four to six months out as far as that big daily show machine. It’s such a big machine, all those gears are grinding already. We’re typically already in the can and through cycles of workflows that are planned four to six months in advance. We’ve just got such a substantial amount of media still untapped and unused. We had gotten just inside the door of our 2020 conference season and I think we had done maybe one or two conferences at the very most.
We’ve carefully planned and positioned our programming. We’ve expanded it a little bit where we’ve had Joyce starting to do some things remotely from her home generating new content a little bit as well.
SIGNIANT: I want to back up a little bit to make sure we understand this. At the main headquarters you have roughly 400 staff members?
ERIC GRAU: Yes.
SIGNIANT: But once you had to go into social isolation, you went to a skeleton crew of sorts, is that correct?
ERIC GRAU: That’s correct. From just the media side alone, the majority of the four to five departments that make up the creative media division are working remotely, just a small skeleton crew of the editors that are editing the show on Premiere in their editing suites, fibre attached to our storage.
SIGNIANT: For the remaining people who do not need to be on-site, how are they connecting to the media to continue working remotely?
ERIC GRAU: We had about a hundred people in that category in other media workflows that we had to try to solve. Basically, producers that needed to watch media, writers writing copy for the magazine, production working on laying out the magazine, graphics artists designing things for the website or print,
We’ve got a proprietary in-house, web-based application that allows people to watch media and hooks into our Asset Management System. So, we’ve got systems to copy media, watch media, move media back and forth through our own premise systems but do it remotely.
That’s where we flipped the switch and added close to 50 more accounts in Media Shuttle just overnight and have those people up and running. They’re looking at the same storage and file sets and they just download that media and watch it. If there’s a graphic artist working on Illustrator, InDesign, or in different projects, they’re collaborating and finishing projects, uploading that back to the storage through Media Shuttle for others to pick up and start their work.
That’s been a huge key.
SIGNIANT: Now that everybody’s working remotely, how has the staff taken to that environment?
ERIC GRAU: Overall, everybody’s very positive. I think if we’re all honest, even if you could work remotely, you would still very much prefer on-site. Morale is good, but we’re doing our diligence to stay up with people and check on people alongside of our HR department and our leadership.
SIGNIANT: If this goes on for 12, 18 months, how does that affect your group in preparing content further down the line?
ERIC GRAU: I don’t have the answer for that. Honestly, it’s a wide-open pasture. We don’t know how long this is going to go on. The best I can answer is we’re starting to ramp up with how to produce new content where Joyce will be shooting off-site in her home and starting to produce new content from that standpoint. But again, there’s still a ton of content that we still have not gotten to as far as different conferences over the years.
SIGNIANT: Do you envision everybody returning to the facility or will remote work become the norm in the future?
ERIC GRAU: I think we’ll all very curious how this returns to normal, when that happens, how different organizations, including our own, are going to return to normal and is that going to be just a one for one? Everybody that went off-site and is working remotely, are they going to just all return? That’s a great question. I think that we’ll just work that out over time and see how that goes.
I think coming out of this storm I would see remote editing and remote workflows. Talking to other people I know, this is forcing people to solve different problems that had needed to be solved for a long time. Particularly media-based workflows and how people work remotely with those.
SIGNIANT: What have been the biggest challenges for you during this time, professionally?
ERIC GRAU: The biggest adjustment has just been the isolation, even though you’re still dealing with people all day long. This is where I value so much working alongside of people, checking on people, visiting with people, networking, collaborating. Zoom only goes so far, as much as that is a great technology. The big professional adjustments just kind of bleed into personal and social adjustments.
SIGNIANT: If this continues and becomes the new normal, is there additional infrastructure or external equipment that you will have to put in place on a more permanent basis?
ERIC GRAU: I think the key is our editors. As long as those core people are still able to come in with the proper protocols and social distancing on-site, that’s the main core infrastructure that I’m aware of. As long as that’s still intact, then that would be one of the biggest adjustments that we would have to make if something changes there.
SIGNIANT: If you could go back a couple of months and talk to yourself, what advice would you give yourself to prepare for this?
ERIC GRAU: I know we all have these different ways we’re dealing with it. The best answer I can give is just take each day one step at a time. I don’t know if it’s the right way to say this, not trying to sound shallow, but don’t stress, just take it a step at a time. Because in the end, whatever that may be, that’s all we any of us can do.
SIGNIANT: When you look back at this, years from now, when you’re talking with your peers and you’re swapping stories and you look back at this, what story do you think you’re going to tell as one of your most proud moments?
ERIC GRAU: I’m just incredibly proud of the people I work with. There were so many people working together. I was just so impressed with how people were easy to approach. And I’m sure we were all stressing internally, and life was getting ready to change at that time six weeks ago dramatically, but I think I’ll look back and just be very proud of the people that I’ve been able to work alongside and the organization I work for. That’s definitely what I could say.
SIGNIANT: What do you think you’ve learned from as a leader during this time?
ERIC GRAU: I think from a leadership standpoint it’s just continuing to work at empathy to people. It’s such a hard, difficult situation. Some people are working from home, all the while juggling their kids being at home while they’re homeschooling. I think that’s my best answer. From a leadership standpoint, it’s just empathy.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.