Digitas' Third Act Steps Into the Spotlight

Senior VP Stephanie Sarofian Helps Clients 'Navigate the Blur' of Media Options

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Interactive agency Digitas marked its official foray into the content development and distribution space in June with the launch of The Third Act. Its theatrical-sounding name is meant to convey the place "where everything comes together," said Stephanie Sarofian, the agency's senior VP-managing director.
Stephanie Sarofian
Stephanie Sarofian

"We really felt that in creating this hub ... if you take all the intelligent marketing that [Digitas] has done that has been direct, targeted and measurable and add that to this arena where we've got media, technology and content all coming together in a nonlinear way, you've got this wonderful act where things have come together," she said.

This month, Third Act launched season two of "The Smart Show," a branded web series for Holiday Inn Express, and a new series of original short videos that are part of Starburst's "Share Something Juicy" campaign.

Ms. Sarofian spoke with Madison & Vine recently about the new venture.

Madison & Vine: Why was Third Act formed?

Ms. Sarofian: We wanted to do something different. We wanted to address the needs of our brands in terms of helping them to navigate through this blur of media opportunities and take advantage of the shifting media dollars [to online media] in a smart way. ... I think, overall, it speaks to the fact that consumers are deciding where and when they are engaged in dialogue, and brand content finds consumers where they are, rather than having consumers hunt for the content.

M&V: There are a lot of players in this branded-content space. What differentiates Third Act?

Ms. Sarofian: There are a lot of different types of companies that are getting into this space, whether it's a talent agency or a media agency or a traditional agency. We're different because this is a ground-up operation. We didn't tear apart a broadcast model and create something new. We didn't tear apart a branded-entertainment model. We created it specifically as a value-add to our clients. And we fashioned it in a way that it integrates with our brand team, so you've got this seamless arena where you are driving ideas out of the insights. We are part of a holistic solution vs. a unit that sits apart and just throws opportunities over the fence.

M&V: How do you figure out distribution models?

Ms. Sarofian: When we look at a program, we sit down when we are ideating and we really and truly look at a strategy around the content. In that planning we have to think about how to distribute, because content and planning are walking hand in hand now. And it's not a linear model. So we work with folks and then we'll strategize around the audience, the demographics, how can we measure, and we will build an entire distribution plan around that, which will involve multiple partners and multiple distribution platforms.

M&V: Distribution seems to be one of the critical lessons learned from the first season of "The Smart Show." After initially working with Time Warner's AOL and HBO, you moved to a more online video site, Blip.tv. What lessons did you learn with "The Smart Show" and what made it a success?

Ms. Sarofian: "The Smart Show" is really attributed to Ben Jones, Digitas' senior VP-creative. ... We started out with thinking about one sort of media deal, where the budget was really media heavy and production was a little bit lower. And we flipped that on its head and said ... let's go with a little bit higher production costs and do maybe a daily show and have some promotional values and look for partners to distribute at maybe a lower cost, but we'll really target the audience that we want to talk to. And the fact that the team was able to see that and [change it] was a tremendous boost to the first season, and they took that to the second season.

M&V: What metrics are you using to gauge your success?

Ms. Sarofian: We're in the business of inventing the metric of this point. It's one of the things that we are very interested in. We are at the table with [a lot of partners], talking about the most efficient and the smartest way to measure this. We are in the audience business now, and we are really buying audience. So a lot of the pitch to the client, when we are selling them a content idea, is to talk about the audience we are going to be reaching, and sometimes there are metrics that you can pinpoint right away. Other times, there is a longer-term relationship that you are building, and the metrics change. We have couple of measurement partners we are using to measure the behaviors around viewing video, and Visible World has done some stuff we think is pretty smart. We are also using the measurements given to us by the distributors when they are promising us a certain number of views and clicks and uniques.
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