How to Boost a Brand? Extend Its Tentacles Across All Platforms

Magna Global's Bill Hilary Likens Content Creation to an Octopus

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Who: Bill Hilary, president of Magna Global Entertainment.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Hilary, one of a number of high-profile TV executives to switch sides in recent years and start producing programming for marketers, is in charge of branded entertainment at Magna, an Interpublic Group of Cos.' division. The agency negotiates media for a stable of blue chippers that includes Sony, Microsoft, Brown-Forman, Johnson & Johnson and Home Depot.
'In the future I have no doubt that content will be king and the way it is funded a close second. The industry will have to realign to fit that model,' says Magna Global Entertainment chief Bill Hilary.

Credentials: Mr. Hilary has been at the newly created position at Magna for about six months. He's a television veteran, having worked as president-CEO of BBC America and exec VP-general manager of Comedy Central. His new boss, Bill Cella, chairman-CEO of Magna Global, said he wanted to "add girth" to the entertainment division by hiring Mr. Hilary. Magna has produced a number of brand-backed content such as "Blow Out," "The Restaurant" and award-winning TV movies for Johnson & Johnson through the "J&J Spotlight Presentation" series on TNT.

How will your background on the creative side of television help you in the branded-entertainment world? "Having been a producer and a director for many years has given me a greater understanding of the creative process from a grass-roots level and the ability to sell ideas. Being GM of Comedy Central and president of BBC America has given me the ability to take a strategic look at brand development and an overview of the whole creative process. My experience as a buyer at C4 and the BBC networks also helps me to understand the pitching process."

What kinds of projects are you interested in developing for Magna's clients? What kind of content are clients asking for these days? "We are currently developing a wide range of projects: drama and reality series for network and cable television, online content, broadband channels, mobisodes and webisodes. I am most interested in getting a greater handle on the clients' brand needs and tailoring content for them. The traditional method of creating ideas and trying to shoehorn clients into the concept is flawed in my view."

You've talked about your interest in digital and multiplatform entertainment. Can you give some examples of how this could work for your clients and what some of your priorities are in that area? "Multiplatform entertainment is already happening in a big way and it is going to be huge. It's like an octopus. The body is the brand concept-content and the tentacles are the many varied ways of getting the message across to the consumer. The days of creating content solely for linear broadcast are over. Every project we are developing is designed to exist on many platforms. It opens so many more opportunities and ways to reach a more diverse range of consumer."

More and more marketers seem to be interested in branded-entertainment deals, but how well do they understand the concept? "There is undoubtedly more interest than ever in branded entertainment and it is going to become increasingly important in the future. The level of understanding varies considerably from client to client. Many marketers would like it better if there was one simple way of doing every deal. I think the opposite is true. Ideas need to be custom designed and deals need to be tailor-made to fit the needs of all the parties involved. For me this constant evolution is what makes it unique and interesting. When the integration works it creates a very powerful message and fulfills the needs of all the parties involved."

Marketers keep talking about how they want to be as close to the creative idea as possible -- that they want to make deals directly with content producers. Doesn't that run counter to the goals of network ad sales and integrated marketing executives? How do you reconcile the two? "There are going to be many different ways of working in the future. Marketers will inevitably choose the partners they feel most comfortable with. That might be within the existing ad-sales marketing arrangements but it might also be at the source -- the content producers. In the future I have no doubt that content will be king and the way it is funded a close second. The industry will have to realign to fit that model."

How do you measure success of a branded-entertainment project? "Branded entertainment works best where the brand integrations are seamless, the consumer is entertained by great content and there is no doubt about the message. The measurable results are: increased brand awareness and successful brand extensions; critical acclaim and high-quality content; and connection with the consumer, such as TV ratings or hits online."

There's still a lot of debate over exactly what branded entertainment is. What's your definition? "There are so many different bizarre and conflicting definitions. I think there is a real danger of being too definitive. For me it is simply where brands and entertainment meet to get a message across to the consumer. There are hundreds of ways to creatively develop branded ideas and every deal is different. With the constant challenges of new media and new technology, one thing is sure: Traditional methods of funding, creating and distributing content are outdated and branded entertainment is one of the ways forward."

What are the best examples of branded entertainment you've seen lately? "In traditional television I think the 'J&J Spotlight' series on TNT is hard to beat. Strong creative content, high profile, award winning and delivering great ratings."

And the worst? "Anything that is so obvious and uncreative that it is cringe worthy and turns the viewer off."

What are some obstacles branded entertainment still faces? "There are a lot of people making a lot of noise about the future of advertiser funding and content creation. There are very few people who have actually figured it out. Lots of crystal-ball gazing, well intentioned sound bites and definitive answers create a lot of industry confusion. It is very difficult to cut through the noise and come up with practical, positive solutions."

How do you address those? "At Magna Entertainment we are solution orientated. Each project is unique and we employ a group of talented, diverse people to put together custom-made deals and creative ideas. We are working with many content producers, across all platforms and with a wide array of advertisers inside and outside the IPG family. Creativity and flexibility are essential to keep up with the changes in the industry. Our aim is to use our expertise to connect the consumer with many new and diverse forms of branded entertainment."

What's on your TiVo? "'The Sopranos,' 'American Idol,' 'House,' 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,' 'Chappelle's Show,' 'The Closer,' 'Prime Suspect,' 'Project Runway.'

What do you do with your downtime? "Listen to and make music, watch a load of movies, travel to interesting places and hang out with my friends and family."
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