Peter Christiansen, md at Precious, on making branded content work

In 1998, The Pepsi Chart launched to much fanfare on Channel 5 and was viewed as a groundbreaking programming concept.  Over the years, branded content has long been heralded as a potential solution to cover deficits in programming supply and funding. In reality, successful commercial collaborations in the UK are still severely constrained by OFCOM regulations, but the emergence of content as an important part of the marketing toolkit has opened the door for producers to take full advantage of brand partnerships.
For producers, some simple rules have emerged for how to best secure commissions and funding from brands, without embarking on an endless journey of fruitless, “exploratory” meetings:

Brands don’t want to fund your programmes. Fundamentally, advertisers and sponsors do not want to fund television programmes. To them, a project only makes sense if it can deliver real and tangible commercial benefits to the business. Therefore, make sure the brand objectives are clearly articulated at the very start. If they don’t fit your ambitions and capabilities, then spend your time elsewhere.

Brands always know better than you. Marketing Directors understand their own brands better than anyone else. There is no point in trying to ‘cold pitch’ a concept without having substantially developed the idea together with the relevant marketing team.  In most cases, the shrewdest approach is to allow them to feel they both developed and owned the idea from the very start.

The “Return on Investment” (ROI) ratio does not work in UK television alone. The actual cost of television production compared to the possible return a brand can get on screen will very rarely yield a positive return in the UK. Only by developing a significant digital presence, other consumer interactions or additional ROI from international markets, can you arrive at a business model that any competent marketing executive will sign off on.

Having taken on board these simple facts, developing branded content does have some substantial advantages:

The SIZE of a budget is in most cases not a problem. Content marketing is for the ‘big boys’. If you get the concept right and the return on investment works, then most big international brands will be willing to fund multi-million pound projects without hesitation. Having ticked all the boxes, it’s a lot easier to extract funds out of a brand than a commission editor!

Brands are looking for longevity in project execution. Most brands use content marketing for multi-year brand rollouts or long-term repositioning of consumer perception. Some of the content platforms we manage – such as NISSAN’s GT ACADEMY, the ITUNES FESTIVAL and Diageo’s WORLD CLASS (“Master chef for drinks”) – are on air in 30+ countries, all with lifespans exceeding five years. This translates into terrific format income for a producer.

Brands do not particularly care about rights. While UK producers are always on the back foot in rights negotiations, most brands are much more flexible than broadcasters. As long as the consumer exposure and marketing exploitation remains with them, most brand directors are happy to relinquish all other commercial income.

Given this background, a few practical tips can go a long way in successfully progressing with branded content projects:

Always start with what the brand is looking to accomplish. Stop pitching your own ideas, and start by developing concepts which are aligned to the brand objectives.

Make sure you speak to the decision makers. While media and creative agencies serve a purpose, they sometimes can seem obstructive. Make sure you are in direct dialogue with the real decision makers and the brand owners.

Always do your homework. All brands have ROI and KPI’s ingrained in their DNA. Be as transparent and professional as the media agencies by fully presenting and understanding how the brand will get its return by investing in a programming concept.

Ask for money upfront, and stick to it. Finally, brands do have money. You are not in the business of funding consumer goods. If they are not willing to pay for development and pre-production, then they probably are not that serious nor worth talking to in the first place.

Peter Christiansen is Managing Director at PRECIOUS, which develops global television and digital content platforms for such clients as ITUNES, DIAGEO, NISSAN, SAP, BARCLAYS, SONY, UNILEVER and OMEGA.

Peter Christiansen

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