What branded content means to the future of your agency

Four perspectives on the scramble among creative, media, PR and production shops to own the entertainment space.

As branded content occupies a larger and larger portion of marketing output, agencies and production companies are scrambling to claim the space. Does the future of your company depend on your ability to produce quality content quickly and affordably? We asked executives from a creative agencies, a media agency, a PR agency and a production company to share their view.

Teressa Iezzi
Director of PR and Publishing
Wieden + Kennedy New York

No one here can predict the future, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where it WON’T get harder to reach the young, affluent people that we all love with traditional, interruptive ad messaging. And so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where it won’t behoove agencies and brands to get really good at making things that people actively want (content) not just things that interrupt things people want (advertising).

Doing so requires streamlining processes to be more responsive to what’s happening in the world, but "faster and more" can’t be the only guidelines. Content is driven by an audience-first mindset (and a strategic underpinning, and purpose) not simply the declaration: "We need to do content."

The aim shouldn’t be to sneak an ad message past people’s digital or emotional filters, but to create something that they welcome, that’s inherently useful or interesting.

The best content seems to be made with the recognition that there are people on the receiving end, not "consumers" and demographics.

Anush Prabhu
Chief Strategy Officer
MediaCom USA

Ever since content become Branded Content, there’s been too much of it, and most of it’s been bad.

There are several contributing factors to this sad state of affairs, including poor alignment with business objectives, weak storytelling and falling production costs. Whatever the reason that a specific piece of content might disappoint, 80 percent of the stuff gets fewer than 2,000 views.

Marketers deserve better, and I have two thoughts on how to make it so.

First, content must be relevant and engaging, not just funny, beautiful or packed with celebrities. Data can help brands make content more personalized than ever before. Far beyond the practice of dynamic creative optimization (DCO), we are approaching a point at which we will be able to produce truly cinematic content driven by an individual’s interest and need state. Brands that know how to bring messages forward for different audiences, coupled with technology and data, will win.

Second, content must be crafted for each channel, and all those pieces of content riding all those channels have to sing together. When’s the last time you saw a brand’s TV ad sound nothing like its Facebook posts, etc. etc.? Me too.

Media agencies are in the game now because no one understands consumer behavior and channels better. Content comes after that understanding, not before. This is an advantage that’s not going away anytime soon. As long as we seize the opportunity brilliantly.

Lori Beecher
EVP, Media and Content Strategy

Brands today need to reach and engage their audience in every way and in every place that the public is consuming content. Well done branded content is authentic, entertaining and, at the core, a compelling story. A story that moves people and is relatable.  

As communications professionals, it is our responsibility, not just a 'nice-to have,' to our clients that we provide high-quality content in every form available. I’ve often thought that Walt Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger captured the value of content best when he said that the creation of high-quality branded content and experiences is one of their core strategic priorities to increase long-term value to shareholders.  

As strategic communications counselors we must include effective, nimble and affordable branded content in our toolbox. Our clients depend on us for this expertise as one proven, very effective way to help share their story.

Bob Friedman
Bungalow Media and Entertainment

Branded content has always been important for brands, because memorable, narrative storytelling cuts through the clutter. But I feel it is really a misnomer to characterize certain content as branded and other content as short-form, reality, scripted or some other narrative form.

There is also a certain irony that even the best "branded content" has often appeared in non-ad-supported vehicles, like pay TV. Who would have thought when we were starting MTV that smart, narrative commercials would have become a part of our daily programming and deliver bigger ratings than the traditional content itself? Or that New Line Cinema we would help launch a nascent Virgin airlines through a marketing partnership with Austin Powers (who was "urgin for a Virgin").

Given the rise of a la carte programming, skinny bundles and new platforms, it is even more difficult to cut through today, particularly for brands that relied on broad-based network and big-event programming. Great content, not unlike a great commercial, starts conversations and gets consumers engaged and talking about brands in ways we've never imagined. 

But I would be remiss if I were not to say how important "branded content" is, and will become, for producers, networks and buyers themselves. Although the appetite for, and price of, content right now is robust given the addition of new platforms, we will have to change the economics of producing when the market flattens out and audiences become even more fragmented. Only the advertiser has the financial resources to change the economics of producing content for what was once a license or subscription model.Today, at Bungalow, one of the reasons that content buyers are nice to us is we’ve partnered with media-buying partners, like Horizon Media, that spend lots of money with distributers. But we’d like to think it’s also because we create great short- and long-form programming that tells great stories and reflects the true DNA of a brand.

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