Mastering the Art of Transcreation With Craft’s Tanya Bogin

#148 SlatorPod - Craft's Tanya Bogin on Transcreation

Tanya Bogin, Managing Director of Craft London, joins SlatorPod to talk about the company’s end-to-end creative production services across all media channels and languages.

Tanya discusses her route into the language industry; from working as a radio station manager to entering the transcreation industry with Craft. She talks about how the company brings creative ideas to life through cultural adaptation, translation, and transcreation. 

Tanya outlines the rigorous testing process behind recruiting transcreation specialists and how their bespoke workflow yields successful results with clients. She touches on the role of language technology at Craft with a combination of best-of-breed cloud-based CAT tools and human-driven translation.

Tanya talks about the impact of AI and how they have implemented features like SEO, dynamic content optimization, and virtual production to improve workflow. She shares how they partnered with AI video generation platform Synthesia to transcreate JustEat’s Snoop Dogg advertisement for the global market.

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The pod rounds off with Craft’s initiatives for 2023, including continuing to pay translators fairly and using AI to increase the sustainability of their productions.


Esther: Today we’re with Tanya Bogin, Managing Director of Craft London. This is our very first in-person podcast and we are here in the Craft offices in London. Welcome to SlatorPod!

Tanya: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really cool to be here with you in person after years of not being in person.

Esther: Why don’t we dive straight into a bit about your professional background and how you got into localization and creative translation.

Tanya: I actually started my career in radio and I managed a radio station. I had my own show and then from there I realized I needed a real job, quote-unquote, and I got into project management. I worked in project management at one of the biggest translation agencies in the world. I was in the medical field there and I was doing linguistic validation and cognitive debriefing of patient questionnaires. Which is interesting in a cultural manner of speaking because there’s so much to do with how those questionnaires can be tested with the public that has those conditions, so there’s definitely a relationship there. I moved on from there to localization marketing, marketing localization and transcreation to working at WPP and I did that for a number of years. From there I ended up at Craft and I came to Craft to run Microsoft. It was at the time when that account changed hands from WPP to IPG and I was transferred over. I worked my way up. From that point I went from leading that business to transcreation and translation operations. That’s when my remit started to expand a little bit and I went from specifically translation, localization operations and process and technology to the wider remit of regional operations for all of production. Then as I got more and more anchored into the London operation, I took over as Managing Director for the end-to-end production facilities in London, which include not only transcreation, cultural adaptation, localization and technical translation, but content creation, content production, audio, print, TV, digital production. Really the end-to-end offer for our clients and agency partners and I’ve been doing this for coming up to 13 years.

Esther: It’s so interesting that development you described from taking care of patient questionnaires to what you’re doing now.

Tanya: There is definite applications there because when you’re doing cognitive debriefing, you’re basically trying to understand cognitively what patients understand and what will elicit a particular response. There’s a relationship to transcreation where you’re trying to elicit a laugh from someone in China from master content that’s coming from America. There’s definitely a similar degree of process that we have to follow from a cultural perspective to make sure it fits right with that audience. Actually, my training and background in that sort of stringent technical workflow has really helped me bring a custom and bespoke set of rigor to an otherwise industry that has very little rigor in it, which allows me to deliver consistent results for our clients.

Esther: Tell me a little bit more about Craft as a business. What are the range of services that you’re delivering and what are some important client segments?

Tanya: I like to consider us the best content agency, so content and adaptation. So when I talk about content creation, I mean making things. We bring creative ideas to life. That’s our reason for being and that’s sort of the moniker and our tagline, as it were, bringing creative ideas to life. But part of that is all of the elements that go into that, so that’s, as I mentioned, the core services of TV, online, social, print, and digital production. There’s creative content from scratch, so that’s even ideation and making things either from a sentiment or an original idea or adapting an idea. So for example, if you’ve got a master campaign from a client that has all these different elements, adapting it for all the local marketplace and that doesn’t just include transcreation, translation, though that’s a huge part of it. That includes the cultural nuance analysis bit at the front and that includes adapting all of the physicality of the asset. The pictures, the imagery, the relationship between the imagery and the words, and obviously the formats for the local marketplace across all media. But beyond that, we’re underpinned by a world class technology platform and that’s not just tying in our bespoke CAT tool as well as workflow automation and of course business management tool and production automation technology as well, which is baked into that. So we do things like digital content optimization, marrying the media to translation and production engine to make content move really fast. There’s so many things that have changed, especially AI, which we can talk about in a bit.

Esther: Give us a sense of the size of transcreation, translation within the business. How does it fit in?

Tanya: As an agency, we’re 1400 employees globally, 26 different offices. Craft London is the European headquarters. We’ve got over 100 satellites offices. Amongst those 1400 production specialists are of course the language management team and the project managers. We work with over 3000 approved linguists, over 8500 voiceover artists that are part of our network as well and the important thing there is that all of those people are based in market. For us we made the decision early on that if we’re going to bring ourselves to market as a cultural localization agency, that really takes nuance into account, you really need to work with people that are local, native and based in market and that’s very important to us. As far as post-production specialists, we have people in the studio, people like our amazing audio engineer who’s sitting here with us today monitoring this. End-to-end production specialists along with the writers and also of course, cultural experts, strategic planners that work to help us out with our cultural consultation business.

Esther: In terms of the profile of person who would be doing this in market person, is it a translator, is it a copywriter? Who’s the typical profile of the person?

Tanya: It depends on the brief, so it’s different set of profiles for different requirements and we’re actually certified by 17100, ISO 17100. That’s language service certification and that’s obviously certifying our resources and that means that whoever we put against a brief needs to have a certain set of minimum qualifications and experience in the industry and we have a very rigorous testing process. So the person that we paired to do a project that’s for example, a cultural consultation piece, will be a cultural a strategic planner who’s formerly been a creative director at a local agency. Someone who’s doing technical translation for medical white paper or a legal contract will have years of experience in that field. They will usually have a master’s degree in the industry and the specific vertical, in addition to having a minimum of five years of translation experience and obviously having been tested by a bespoke examination within our company and beyond that, another test specifically that might be requested or submitted by a client. So let’s put it this way, I don’t like to make this joke, but it’s still true. It’s quite hard to be approved to write for Craft translation, to be a translator, to be a writer. We’re the elite, let’s put it that way.

Esther: You’re talking about having cultural consultation and translators, and then also putting in place these rigorous workflows. I imagine there’s quite a lot of back and forth and revisions, especially in a creative setting. How do you manage that?

Tanya: Transcreation is not an exact science. The way that we evaluate quality in a translation and localization is completely different from how we would evaluate quality in a cultural piece or a transcreation, which is a mix of copywriting and translation. We don’t even call them translators. We call them transcreation specialists because they’re not quite copywriting, but they’re definitely not translating. We have a bespoke workflow that we use. We call it sort of our magic sauce. It’s years and years a methodology that we’ve honed that’s been really successful. But the phrase first time right methodology doesn’t really apply to a creative science. Do you even call it a science? I don’t know. It’s something that you get right over time by really partnering with your clients and we also we work with a platform that actually allows us live brainstorming so our cultural experts and writers and our clients will actually meet live on this platform. It’s a bespoke platform to Craft and they have a discussion about the initial brief and the content before they even start writing and that is the thing that makes it really a lot simpler and easier of a process and makes our clients feel like they’re taken along in the journey.

Esther: Could you explain a bit more about what kind of projects and what kind of content it is that you’re working on typically?

Tanya: It’s across all media and channels right now. Social is huge, right, so we’re doing a lot of workflow management, community management on social streams as well. Local community management, which is something that, in my experience, translation agency don’t typically do. But it’s something that we’ve been able to marry our account management and technical teams with our writers and basically cut the workflow where you might even go straight from like a creative idea or a brief straight into local language without any English in between, which is a completely new way of thinking about it, right, like mind blowing. But you have to do that these days when you’re working in social, in particular with clients with very short time scales and very, I would say demanding, but actually it’s more particular local market representatives in the markets that really know what they want and also, I mean the world is changing. The local markets and brands, they realize how much power they have now to influence a global brand. You need to be really deferential for those teams and make them feel like they’re part of the conversation. But back to your question about what content types. I mean, of course, there’s the usual TVC, right, that old amazing format, but then right now it’s all about online video. From a technical perspective, I mean, we do a lot of technical work for medical, pharmaceutical, legal and financial services, so there’s definitely a big part of our business that handles white papers and things like that, clinical research protocols, ICS all of that. But on the other side of it, you’ve got taglines commercials, online video scripts, voiceover scripts, radio, that old medium. Love radio, still always love radio, print, out of home, a lot of experiential stuff. We’re doing a lot of localization now for the metaverse. I don’t want to open that can of worms. That might be for another convo, but we’re doing a lot of work with AI right now. We do machine translation, neural machine translation, but we use it for very specific requirements. That’s not something that I would allow my team to do for transcreation because it’s still a human-driven business and there’s still so much nuance and creativity involved that NMT is just not applicable in my opinion.

I always say that the advent of technology and AI is like obviously it’s something that we work with a lot these days, but you still need a human to feed it commands. The algorithm is still based on human knowledge and intellect and cultural nuance. The person still needs to know what’s going on. The machine can’t pick it up just like that. The machine searches the world for existing information and packages it in a way that people can understand, right? But getting that information still comes from someone telling it what to do and that’s kind of our way of surviving in the industry because I see a lot of translators now posting on LinkedIn and everywhere saying, oh crap, what’s going to happen to us? Are we all going to just automate everything? And the answer is, well yeah, you have to adapt, but there’s definitely always going to be a need for what we do.

Esther: You said machine translation only in very specific use cases, but tell us a little bit about the other kinds of technology that you are employing in your workflows.

Tanya: Obviously workflow automation. I mean, that’s basic stuff. Using the best in class cloud-based CAT tool. I’ve worked with so many different tools. From Worldserver to XTM to XTRF. Like all of these different tools I’ve sampled we’ve picked the best one, I think, but we’ve kind of rigged it the way it works best for us, so that’s the basic technology. But then there’s the technology that communicates between the media partners that we have and direct translation, so it’s part of the DCO engine for dynamic content optimization. So you’re going from instructions from media that they get online based on their tools from Salesforce, and that gets translated directly into us producing that work automated and then localizing it on the fly, so it’s pretty cool. It’s like kind of an always on content thing. Then there’s of course, we talked about machine translation. Then we can talk about deepfake technology, companies like Synthesia. Steffen’s a good colleague and friend of mine for a number of years. He’s one of the founders. There’s that technology. There’s, of course, ChatGPT and OpenAI and all of that stuff is now in progress with us looking at real world client applications for it. But then there’s SEO optimization as well, so that’s another core thing that we do, SEO. And then there’s some secret stuff we’re working on at the moment as well around image optimization and automating that. How do you culturally adapt an image from the master image featuring people, and how do you figure out what’s the best localized version of that? And can you speed up that process instead of going to the local market? So we’re doing R&D on that now.

Esther: I remember looking into or at least seeing a few research papers on that topic in terms of lip synthesis and things like that, which is very interesting as well.

Tanya: We went from just facial deepfake with the Synthesia algorithm, now we’re deep faking entire bodies and that’s being used on shoots. Another big thing which is kind of off to the side of translation, localization is virtual production, but actually it’s part and parcel because sustainability is massive for my company and myself personally. And with virtual production, we’re able to recreate the most intricate and incredible backgrounds that you’d never know. And again, pairing that with the technology that we use to translate and localize, and it all kind of fits into one giant ecosystem. What I tell my teams and I also tell this to translators, because at my core I’m still a translation project manager, honestly, it might be the MD of a production company, but it never leaves you. It’s always with you and I have a lot of sentimental value around the written word and I always tell people this, don’t be afraid of technology. Your brain is always going to be necessary. There’s a certain romance to it. It’s never going to die. People need it. Just be open to it and that’s why we have kind of our hands in a couple of different pockets, but we also don’t spread ourselves too thin. I like to invest in things that have real world client applications. We can talk about the metaverse, but that’s like kind of a separate topic. But I know a lot of people are talking a lot about it, but no one really gets how it’s going to help them and for me, it’s part of the tools that I use to help brands communicate to their audience.

Esther: So you’re translating for the metaverse.

Tanya: It’s beyond that. It’s architecting worlds in the metaverse and using copywriting, transcreation to do that because when you’re meeting somebody in the virtual world, how do you speak to them, right? If you can’t understand them, you need a translator there, and that translator could be a machine or it could be the standard transcreation process that we use, but you have to adjust it for that kind of platform.

Esther: Is it clients that are asking for that?

Tanya: Clients, but also proactively we do a lot of briefs for just things that we believe in.

Esther: Could you give us an example of a client case study where transcreation’s played a big role?

Tanya: I might even go a little bit into the past. Some really interesting stuff. So I can talk about this because they’re no longer a client, it’s been a couple of years, but a luxury airline, Gulfstream. Back in the day. Back in the day, it wasn’t that long ago, we helped them figure out how to name a series of their planes because their planes have a combination of letters and numbers and together that combination could have all kinds of superstitious, transcreation feasibility implications in different marketplaces, particularly in APAC, where letters and numbers combination have real serious consequences for people’s feeling about flying. So we had to do this huge naming, branding cultural consultation to figure out what combination would work, and we help them choose an algorithm that allow them to name a series of their planes, like in perpetuity, for instance. So that was one example, but that’s more on the cultural side. Transcreation wise, you know the tagline from Coke, taste the feeling? How do you adapt that? We did that for all of the African and APAC markets.

Esther: I suppose that a literal translation could go quite wrong with that tagline.

Tanya: It’s synesthesia, you’re conflating the senses. To taste a feeling, it’s not a thing. How do you explain that in Burma? Not just in Burma. Burmese is like the font doesn’t have unicode, so how do you write it? What font do you use, right? It’s pretty wild. Yeah, so that was a really big project and I think Coke really saw the benefit of working with Craft in that instance because it wasn’t just you brief us, we give you options. Obviously, basic stuff, options for transcreation. We actually worked with their marketers and had a lot of conversations with them to try to get to the bottom of what it really meant, not just from an English perspective to kind of appease the global team and their goals, but also figuring out what’s important to them locally and how we can communicate that through language and it was really successful. I think we did 15 APAC markets and then we moved into all the African markets. And I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I mean, there’s no single point of truth for some of those languages. Different words. There’s no dictionary, even. So, figuring out how to bridge the gap culturally between Hausa, Swahili, it was pretty crazy, but we did it. We did the production end-to-end and it was used in all their out of home and billboards and everything, and it was a big success.

Esther: You mentioned Synthesia there. You’ve worked with them on an advertising campaign for Australia, is that right?

Tanya: Yes. It’s for one of our major clients, for JustEat. I think everyone’s seen the Snoop Dogg ad, so that was Craft London. That was us and we also did all the localization for it, of course, which was challenging. And where Synthesia came into play really was that the JustEat brand is not JustEat in every market. Different name for the brand in Germany, Netherlands, all over the world. So what we did was we used the algorithm and the software to map Snoop’s face and obviously enabled us to with a custom VO that he prerecorded. We didn’t have to reshoot him in that context, which would have been extremely expensive, right, to fly to LA just to do that with the list of all the different brands, and there was a merger at the time, so those names were even changing. So it was success in terms of sustainability, success in terms of you could never tell that the way the mouth was moving wasn’t really his mouth, it was a Snoop Avatar. And like I said, it went from us using facial deepfake to us using body deepfakes for other clients which are in progress right now.

The other key example is we’ve been using a lot in e-learning. I’m not going to name the client, but it’s for a fast moving consumer goods, big brand, and they have a medical division that they were just opening up. And basically, we did an end-to-end solution where we took thousands and thousands of pages of white paper content, created a script out of that because they needed to train their teams in how to explain what the division does. And we fed it into a custom avatar that we made for them with a custom VO in the back and paired it with an e-learning module that trained their teams. And the template that we’ve created out of English is now being used and is being localized in all the different markets and languages using the same avatar and it’s been a massive success. Obviously, it’s for internal use, but I think you spoke with Synthesia, so you know the platform that they have. It’s like a self serve platform, basically. E-learning is a great application of it.

Esther: Any others that you can foresee sort of in the future?

Tanya: Pairing OpenAI now with deepfake, you can create a shoot out of nothing without any actor. With a couple of prompts. But you know what? Despite all the couple of prompts and everything else, you still have a computerized voice unless you use an original VO. So you can automate pretty much every process and you can put AI into every process, but the spoken word is still the spoken word. It’s getting there. It’s getting there to sound like real, but it’s not quite there yet and you still need a voiceover artist and you still need transcreation and you still need copywriting to get it right.

Esther: Why don’t you tell us about some of the key initiatives that you’re going to be working on in 2023 and beyond?

Tanya: We’ve done a little bit of talking on AI, so like I said, there’s a new platform we’re working on. We haven’t gotten a name for it yet. You can call it the Craft Culture Calculator or something. We’re trying to figure out how we can apply SEO principles to image to basically get nuances, cultural nuances translated into images and try to automate that process a little bit to give clients some ammunition when they’re thinking ahead of how to use images culturally appropriately in different markets. But a lot of work that we’re doing now is in client applications in AI and OpenAI ChatGPT, how we can use it because it’s nice to do these brand collaborations that I keep seeing on LinkedIn, which are amazing and really cool. But also there needs to be an application for brands that’s more sort of straight to market, right? And then the other thing, I think me personally, cost of living is going up and I still want to protect this industry and protect translators and writers. And for me, it’s really important to continue to uphold some of the principles in the past. Paying people the right amount of money, for example. I’m very big on the ProZ blue boards. If you look Craft up on that, I think our rating is really high. I want to keep it that way. I want people to feel like, regardless of the technology, to be motivated to work with us because we treat people right. Because at the core of our business, I think it’s still a people business and that’s still a big initiative for me, continuously, right, but then sustainability. So one of the things that AI helps us do is to increase the sustainability of our productions and that’s not just in translation, transcreation. That’s really in how we do shoots and how we produce ads, we produce videos and all of that. That’s a really big focus for us, reducing our carbon footprint to zero. So, yeah, those are some of the big things that we’re working on.