MiC Roundtable: Influencers, media strategies and new metrics

From working with influencers to the concept of "working" and "non-working dollars," our attendees challenged content conventions.

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In part two of our roundtable on custom content, the brightest in the business dove into some of the major pain points when it comes to creating work for clients – like the concept of working versus non-working dollars, and the struggles of influencer marketing.

Our attendees also discussed the best-in-class content examples, but also shared the challenges that come with those examples – like what would happen if Lily and the Snowman were made today? And how does the strategy change when a custom YouTube video promotes a product not available in the U.S.?

Around the table were Lindsay Wilson, head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising; Susan Irving, senior director of marketing at Pepsico; Sean Stanleigh, managing editor, Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail; Darcy MacNeil, head of Content+ at Mindshare; Andrew Saunders, CRO at The Globe and Mail; Robin Neufeld, director of content marketing at CBC/Radio-Canada; Nadia Beale, SVP and consumer practice leader at MSL Group; Tracy Jones, managing director of Alternator; and Mike Sutton, president of Zulu Alpha Kilo.

Read part one here.

Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

MiC: In terms of brand-led content programs, what’s some of the work you’ve done you’re most proud of – or work others have done that you wish you’d done?

The Globe’s Sean Stanleigh: SunLife came to us and said, “We want to put a positive halo around our brands.” Media brands are often accused of only telling bad news stories. Insurance companies, likewise, are not often embraced as a positive experience. So we created a channel called “Good News.” We told our readers, “We think of this as a good news story and we’re going to tag it as such.” So we put the SunLife halo around that. The brand awareness was telling editorial stories that SunLife had no sidelines into, but SunLife put their positive advertising around that. And then we also had a native advertising program telling journalistic stories around their product.

Mindshare’s Darcy MacNeil: Were the KPIs conversion?

Stanleigh: They were not. They were brand consideration, and helping bring people to their site, then track. So far, it’s been a very successful campaign.

The Globe’s Andrew Saunders: There’s complexity there, though. From a marketer’s perspective, where do you go? Media agency, public relations agency, media provider?

Pepsico’s Susan Irving: Your media agency would buy the media around it too, right?

Saunders: The interesting question here is, what is the role of the marketer in this situation? Where does the leadership of the marketer determine which platform, which content production outlet can offer that quality?

Irving: It goes down to marketing mixed modelling, it goes down to working versus non-working dollars, like you said.

MacNeil: And I find that so difficult. I come from production, for 12 years. I got into content marketing four years ago. One of the big brands I worked on was a tier-one CPG, and they gave me that “80/20″ figure. I know how much production costs, I knew that wasn’t going to work. I eventually got them to 70/30. That’s something where it was education, and that’s part of our job.

Alternator’s Tracy Jones: I also would challenge the concept of working versus non-working dollars. I know when you’re making something, it’s really easy to say, “Don’t spend more than 20% on production because the rest has to go to media,” but in an age where there’s so much earned media associated with content, how do you quantify working versus non-working dollars.

Irving: When you compare your working and non-working, you should challenge whoever your client is.

CBC’s Robin Neufeld: We’ve done TV executions where brand has been integrated into the content itself, and that is a blend of the production cost and the media value, because you’re reaching your audience by having been a part of that production. So the cost, in so many ways, is a blend between media cost and production. It often means that we’re working with players who play in both spaces. We’re getting KPIs and metrics that come from both sides of the engagement too. If it’s good, it’ll gain you an audience without a lot of the paid media.

Saunders: What we’re seeing a lot of is the monetization, but, ‘we don’t need high-value content.’

Jones: There’s an important distinction to be made, that we’re talking about content like it’s a bunch of spots and productions. The program we just did for Infiniti, and Globe and Mail was a part of it, was we were brought in to come up with a content strategy for the launch of this vehicle. We asked who was going to bring it to life in the best way. Globe and Mail for one aspect, AutoTrader for another, Pressboard for syndicated content. It was a multi-month huge process By making it media-based content as opposed to making a bunch of TV spots, we got a note from Infinity Japan, who saw the Globe‘s content. Not the TV spot. They were knocked out by it and said it’s now the standard.

strategy_Oct9-197Mediacom’s Lindsay Wilson: In Canada, I feel like we’re always overshadowed by the U.S. and Japan. To have another market acknowledge the marketing we’re doing is really great.

Jones: Our U.S. agencies are coming to Alternator a lot to say they love the work, and not just shiny work – SEO work, writing articles for pharmaceuticals brand. This broad definition of content is really something right now, and content and programmatic are the two big things that everyone’s talking about, which is funny because they couldn’t be more different.

Zulu’s Mike Sutton: It speaks to the importance of the media and distribution part of the equation. Looking back to 2015, with Lily and the Snowman for Cineplex, that was a pure digital play with hardly any media, the 80/20 ratio was pretty much inverted. Today, after algorithm changes, it would have flopped. That’s why, what Tracy said about having the media, the PR, the strategy all baked into one cohesive brand is so important.

Stanleigh: Back then, an organic audience meant something. I have a social strategist on my team, and her job is not to rack up followers. It’s to execute paid social.

Neufeld: You don’t have to spend a year producing something that’s shiny and beautiful and “here’s the end product and out it goes.” It’s a lot more iterative. Always optimizing for performance, instead of taking a final product approach.

Stanleigh: You can’t jump up and down for a few months. You really need to be in market all the time.

strategy_Oct9-186Jones: You’re with a very very sophisticated marketing company who knows what they’re doing and has done it for many many years. Even within our own agencies, being a creative guy who made the move to media, they’re getting used to the idea of having to think more creatively, and not just about the media side, about the messaging within the media side.

MSL Group’s Nadia Beale: Everything now is so commoditized. Not everything that involves an exchange needs to look and sound like an ad, like a 30-second spot. That is a struggle, all the time. Whether it’s content that’s brand-led or even influencer content, it does not always need to have 20 key messages jammed in there. While I love the UGC-led [Doritos] Instagram feed, that is not the norm. I think there’s an opportunity to evolve the content. New York Times did a really great Orange is the New Black integration. But I still feel like there’s a challenge where brands don’t want to let go of that control.

Jones: A lot of times, we’re using the power of the media buy to pay for production. That was part of the reason I jumped over to this side. I’d ask, “Where’s the money?” It’s over on the media side. We worked on a program for McDonald’s where we asked, “Is a Big Mac with bacon still a Big Mac?” We, on the media side, we have a deal with a company that repped the biggest influencers in the world. We did a few things where they were talking about the topic. We were able to leverage the power of our media buy and our deal with Studio 71 to do the production in a very cost-efficient way. Then we didn’t run the actual video on their channels, we created influencer videos as preroll.

MiC: Let’s talk about influencers. Who owns that relationship now? What are the biggest issues you’re coming up against?

Beale: All of the partnerships we do are meant to be amplified as part of a bigger content strategy. Because of that, the content is seen as a commodity. It’s not seen for what it’s supposed to be. The influence is being lost. I truly believe, if brands are not stewards, there will be no influencers worth talking to anymore.

Jones: They’re not influencers, they’re just people that are getting paid to wear your product. We’ve created this mistique around them, and I’m finding it frustrating.

Wilson: We’ve created a monster. I think that’s where it’s so important for agencies to have their own tools to leverage, to be able to vet and monitor and measure influencer campaigns. You don’t know if they’re right for your brand.

MacNeil: And sometimes it’s just interns going through it and putting an Excel document together.

Beale: We’re testing and learning around performance-based payment so that depending on how they’re performing, their payment will be dependent on that.

MacNeil: And how do you measure performance?

Beale: It always goes back to your KPIs. It depends what stage of the journey your consumer is at.

Jones: But a lot of our brands are global. If I’m working with McDonald’s, they can’t have the Big Mac With Bacon videos seen in Austin, where they don’t sell Big Macs with bacon. Unless you dark-post, YouTube is a mass-broadcast feed. If you want to work with Lilly Singh, she has billions of fans around the world, and she only has [a small amount] in Canada. And can I guarantee you only Canadian eyeballs? No.

Wilson: Influencer marketing is not entirely meant to drive conversions. It’s getting better, with shoppability, but it’s not there yet. So if you have an influencer campaign, I’m going to tell, you, “You need to understand that the KPIs you want to work with might not be the measure of your success. At the end of this campaign, what I’m going to give you is engagement metrics, and you can use that to determine whether or not you were successful.”

Irving: What you can do with market mixed modeling is when you measure your digital, they can separate your social digital from your regular digital. So then you can tell the difference based on what creative you ran to find out if it’s the influencer digital or your regular evergreen digital. As long as you set up from the get-go, you can figure out what’s driving it.

Wilson: But a lot of marketers aren’t putting the influencer in their own channels.

Irving: I just came back into the Canadian marketplace, and I’d look at influencer campaigns and I’d go, “Great, where’s the media buy?” “Oh, we don’t put money behind influencers.” Well, you shouldn’t be working with influencers if you’re not willing to put money to push them out.

Neufeld: This goes back to the early thing about push versus pull. In theory, if you’re enlisting someone like Chrissy Teigen to do something on her social account, you’re not just asking her to rhyme off product points. You’re enlisting her to create a piece of content that somehow organically brings in the brand and hopefully has greater impact on the audience. It’s content that they want to consume. It’s that pull versus push.