How to Create a Modern Marketing Mix for a Media Brand

CMO Spotlight: Caralene Robinson, VH1

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The ingredient list for today's marketing mix just keeps getting longer. This is particularly true for media entities, which -- in addition to doing social media and advanced analytics -- still interact with traditional press more than the average consumer brand.

Caralene Robinson
Caralene Robinson

So it's no surprise that someone who handles all of these elements particularly well should earn a nod to his or her resourcefulness -- like Caralene Robinson, executive VP of creative group and consumer marketing at VH1. The CMO Club honored her with a Creativity Award last year. Here's how she manages the juggling act to support VH1's marketing.

First, content

Unlike, say, a beverage brand -- Caralene worked for Coca-Cola in a previous life -- media companies operate in a never-ending cycle of change, given the news-driven nature of their field. When she reflects on the differences between marketing consumer products and marketing for TV, Robinson cites several major sticking points: tangible vs. intangible goods, distribution, reaction time and the volume of media plans required to support each show, to name just a few. With TV, she says, "you're juggling three things: brand, launches and the 24-hour basics that keep a network up and running."

However, in a reversal of roles, the brand takes a backseat to content with a media entity like VH1. "You're not leading with the brand, here," says Robinson. "You're actually leading with shows." In other words, the VH1 name is defined by the content it offers. "I could build the most incredible brand, but there also needs to be shows that people want to watch," she explains. "I can say, 'Hey, we're the brand for pop culture millennials,' but then everything needs to deliver. Thank goodness that's happening."

Brand building

VH1 has the opportunity to reinforce and continue building its brand when consumers interact with the content. This is true in a traditional sense -- like when VH1 launched "Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story," and helped Epic Records build anticipation for a new TLC album -- and also in the physical sense. "'Dating Naked' is a great example," says Robinson. Her team released a viral video to promote Season 1, but for Season 2 it executed a much talked-about activation in Hollywood, "an outdoor board that was essentially peel-off stickers," says Robinson. "Consumers could walk up and peel for prizes, eventually revealing the two nude leads of the show."

Robinson credits her consumer marketing team with creating activations like these that "get people talking in a very unbiased way." She says, "Ultimately, I'm just as interested in consumers that heard about it, in addition to the people that actually participated."

Don't forget about press

Many brands nowadays have foregone traditional press for publicity via social media or other marketing tactics, but when content drives your business, press pays. "When I first started," says Robinson, "there was no such thing as social media, and print was the big thing … I am particularly proud of campaigns where we effectively partner with press, which I see as a critical part of the marketing mix."

In fact, Robinson reports that VH1's press team reports directly to President Chris McCarthy. "Press is equally as important as paid media, social and on-air," especially with launches, she says. "So there is never an instance where we're not walking hand-in-hand with the press team, regardless of where it lives in the organization."

Of course, not all content receives equal press treatment. "Some shows are stickier than others. But that's why our press team is really good at what they do. They figure out the starting point and ask the right questions: What do I have to work with? They look at everything -- the actual concept of the show, the talent, our marketing plans, etc. Then they figure out how to create excitement."

Pitching to the correct verticals is also key, she tells me, and the brand doesn't always need to lead the story. "It could be a pitch to the New York Times about adult millennials, for example. And if we're just referenced in the article, that works for me, too. Because that means we're perceived as being culturally connected or culturally cognizant."

While daunting to many, overseeing a marketing mix as diverse as VH1's seems to come naturally to Robinson. "I consider myself a general marketer," she says. "I am not an events expert, nor a media expert, nor a brand expert and so on and so on, but I know enough about each of the respective functions to figure out the right mix, how to put the pieces together in order to get results."

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