Sunni Boot on branded content

The ZenithOptimedia CEO updates MiC on the challenges and opportunities in the branded content space, ahead of the BCON Expo.

The rise of branded content brings a myriad issues into the mix for media agencies and clients. To get a sense of the landscape in Canada and challenges the expanding category brings, MiC checked in with Sunni Boot, CEO at ZenithOptimedia and member of the advisory board for strategy’s BCON Expo on March 28 at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto

Agencies are essentially turned into reality show producers with branded content projects. What are some of the challenges associated with building quality branded content programs from the agency side?

Boot: We are indeed becoming reality show producers asking our audience to vote, poll and participate. The challenges are related to who will own the content that is being created, the channels that can be used to distribute it and the life span of the program.

Rights and funding also play a part in the production of a branded content program. Canadian broadcasters participate in the content creation and for full-length content they have to ensure that it will qualify under CRTC’s rule for Canadian status.

In developing content, legal as much as creative must play a role and extra time is being built in for lawyers to review talent rights, indemnification and ownership.

Budgets, both financial and human resources are a challenge – financially, contrary to popular belief, content creation and distribution is not free. Content needs paid distribution just as traditional advertising does.

Feeding the content machine specifically if there is a  social component (and what doesn’t have that today?), must be updated, refreshed and requires someone to manage it.

The question of “how branded should branded content be?” is a big one. There is a risk for the associated brand to be lost within the entertainment factor, but there is also the risk of the brand overpowering the content and having the viewer/user perceive the content as just a brand message or blatant advertising.

What are some new skills agency staff need to work in the branded content space?

More than new skills, agency staff need to hone in on skills they already have, understanding the brand objectives, the consumer insight, the distribution channels and having a solid understanding of competitive pricing, which now includes rights negotiations and marrying these for the best ROI. Piece of cake, right?

We are working with a larger group of disciplines, which do include storytellers, producers and individuals specializing in experiences – all of these are part of the execution of branded content.

Branded content as a strategy takes more time, requires senior level personnel on the client side, the networks, the agency and the creative and production companies. We are developing project managers as part of our execution groups and are really ramping up our capabilities.

One of the challenges is establishing a fee that covers this new and important service.

What makes a good branded content program effective? What makes one not work as well?

Boot: We are all going back to the future – branded content allows us to tell a brand story, but in the old days success was those who told the best brand story – today success is those who not only tell the best brand stories but have the best brand stories told about them!