Chris Kennelly fell hard for video production as soon as he arrived at the University of Florida. Internships like working in Los Angeles for a small business that makes movie trailers and commercials only made him more determined to get into the field.
But instead of working for a major firm after graduating from college, Kennelly returned to Jacksonville and decided to start his own business.
“I was a cocky college student, so I just thought I could do this in Florida. My dad is an entrepreneur so I guess I had it in my blood,” said Kennelly, 41. “My mom was more guarded because entrepreneurship is hard and finances aren’t consistent. But at 22 you don’t know any better.”
Kennelly started his business by making wedding videos, but as soon as he got his first opportunity to create a training video for a company he knew he was on the right track.
“That first check was for $1,800. It’s framed because I remember pumping my fist in the air as soon as I got to the parking lot after getting that check,” he said. “That’s when I realized I can do this.”
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Today Kennetic Productions is a video strategy and production company in downtown Jacksonville that primarily serves mid to large companies. Signature clients include Enterprise Florida, TIAA Bank, Landstar, the Jacksonville Public Library and JAXUSA. With six full-time employees, sales at the company are about a half-million dollars.
It’s a company that has had a lot of ups and downs in the last 19 years. For instance, eight years after launching the business, Kennelly had two part-time employees. Still, with a new baby and a feeling of growing tired of hustling so hard for new business, his tolerance for risk changed dramatically. He sold his company to a much larger firm.
But even though the move felt right at the time, and he learned some things from working at a much larger company, at some point he missed owning his own company. Four years later he repurchased Kennetic.
Kennelly said that while he’s faced all sorts of challenges throughout the years, including a recession, this pandemic brought on an entirely different set of issues. The biggest problem was access to interviewing people in order to create a video. That’s a huge obstacle for a company that thrives on showing a company’s passion for its products and services through video interviews.
“Our videos center around real things happening, as in what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “We help companies to connect with their audiences, and the way they do it is through authenticity. We interview a lot of people in person. Suddenly we couldn’t do any of that. We were at a standstill.”
It just so happened that prior to the pandemic, the company had just come off its most profitable year. Even though Kennelly feared the worst, the company was able to hang on to a banking relationship. It proved vital. The company was able to secure federally backed loans that ended up being forgiven.
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Financial help also allowed the company to hire someone during the pandemic. The financial assistance didn’t help them to grow, but it did help them to remain stable so that two years later they were able to pick up where they left off when they were growing.
“I’d love for people to understand that government programs were helpful for us and so many other companies,” he said. “We had no idea that the loans would eventually be forgiven, but we knew that we really needed help in order to get through this.”
Changes during the pandemic
The company lost about 10% in sales from 2019 to 2020, but sales plummeted 25% the following year.
In the meantime when business was really slow, employees focused on learning new skills and creating new relationships. Now two years after the pandemic started, Kennelly said he didn’t realize how much time his team spent working to get better as an organization overall.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy to stay motivated. Like so many other business owners who found themselves clueless on how to move forward when COVID-19 first hit, Kennelly suddenly felt baffled.
“I usually have lofty goals as a leader, but during the pandemic I lost it,” he said. “I could only see the six inches in front of my face. My only goal was to keep moving forward, one step at a time. My biggest goal was to survive this pandemic… At one point, I completely lost the vision. “
New video skills, vendor relationships paid off
I reached out to Kennelly because I was curious about how video companies fared during the pandemic, considering it’s an industry that focuses on getting live shots of people. But what do you do when you can’t interview people?
For the first time business was at a standstill, including newly signed clients that were ready to move forward — but couldn’t.
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The good news is that Kennetic employees had plenty of time to work on trying new things, including animation and getting the rights to run past footage from organizations that include the NFL and Department of Defense.
Kennetic had just secured its largest year-long contract in March 2020 with the Florida Defense Support Task Force when the pandemic first hit. Kennelly said his team was looking forward to going to 21 military bases in order to share stories about the military in Florida because the economic impact of the state’s military and defense industry recently topped $95 billion.
“They were amazing. They could have dropped the contract, but instead they were committed to their mission of telling stories at bases and they wanted to support a small business at the same time,” he said. “That contract is one of the reasons that we were profitable… They stuck with us.”
The company used animation and sourced footage from the Department of Defense and moved from doing interviews to using scripted voices. That was a first.
They pivoted again with TIAA Bank, their oldest client. The financial institution has the naming rights for the Jaguars stadium, TIAA Bank Field. That means they have the opportunity to create a lot of marketing for TV, print and social media.
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But instead of interviewing players as expected, Kennetic had to use existing video of football players that came from the NFL. Then they combined graphics that tied into the message of working a plan as a team, whether it’s being strategic with sports or planning finances.
“They sifted through hours and hours of game footage to get the right scenes for a consistent 30-second commercial,” said Paul Pugh, VP, head of brand partnerships
at TIAA, noting that the commercial is played at Jaguars games, on Jaguars.com and on social media. “We ended up having a fantastic commercial that’s enhanced by graphics.”
The future looks bright
Keagan Anfuso, creative director at Kennetic Productions, was hired at the company during the pandemic. She believes there’s never been a time when video production skills were more in demand, valued, and creatively challenging.
“It forced many companies and organizations to realize modern video capabilities that were greatly underutilized before the pandemic,” she said. “It became necessary to leverage video as a solution, and we were happy to be that solution for so many of our clients during such a difficult time.”
Marcia Pledger is the Opinion and Engagement Editor for the Florida Times-Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.