Group M Exec Pushes Boundaries of Branded Content in Europe

As EU Legislation Relaxes, Kate Marsh Leads Marketers Into the Integration Game

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LONDON -- Kate Marsh is director of Group M Entertainment EMEA. That means she runs branded entertainment across all three of WPP Group's media agencies -- MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia and MindShare -- in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Kate Marsh: 'It feels like this is the right moment for new dynamic relationships in terms of investment in content.'

While branded content isn't as widespread in Europe as in the U.S., things are beginning to change as European Union legislation relaxes and individual countries allow more marketers into the editorial mix. The developing countries of Eastern Europe are more open to branded content, but the marketing money isn't there to develop the business mode

Ms. Marsh is an M&V pioneer in Europe with a background that gives her credibility with the creative fraternity as well as with marketers. Ms Marsh, who set up Group M Entertainment in January 2006, was head of lifestyle and features at the BBC and also worked at News Corp.'s Sky TV, first as launching deputy director of broadcasting and production and then as part of the Sky Italia launch team.

M&V: How is the branded-entertainment environment in Europe?

Kate Marsh: "We've made huge progress in the last 12 months by finding the right dialogue between media agencies, marketers, broadcasters, producers and the creative community. It's not always easy bringing all parties to the table. We are getting closer to identifying how to talk to each other and work collaboratively. It's about finding people with the right skills to be both a portal and a conduit for conversations.

"The business model is changing and the funding of creative has to change. [U.K. government watchdog] Ofcom regulators are very clear about what marketers can and can't do. The regulations are there and we work with them. The relaxation of product placement will engage more advertisers and be good for higher-cost drama shows. Regulation is made by individual territories as well as by the European Union and different countries work in different ways."

M&V: Do you encounter snobbery from the creative community?

Ms. Marsh: "Advertiser-funded programming is new. We've all talked about it for three or four years but we are just starting to tip. It feels like this is the right moment for new dynamic relationships in terms of investment in content. Production companies will have a dialogue with us as long as we have ideas that are credible and have creative worth. It's a symbiotic relationship as it can be the difference between content being made and not being made. We have brought content professionals in, which makes the dialogue easier and more structured."

M&V: What's the next step for Group M Entertainment EMEA?

Ms. Marsh: "Completing our team of content professionals to work with each of the media agencies. We are also looking over the next few months to appoint executives for specific territories to work with local teams. The U.K., Spain and Italy are the focus right now because of their huge potential and because they are major markets for advertisers. There's also an element of opportunism -- I've just come from Italy so I know people there. The next markets to concentrate on will be the Netherlands, Germany and France."

M&V: How easy is it to recruit the right people?

Ms. Marsh:"Branded entertainment is a new route for senior production people. It's about identifying what the route could be and developing it over the next three years. There's more knowledge and education about the changing environment -- digital, user-generated content, podcasting. It's also new ground for media agencies. It's always challenging but people are increasingly aware that there's a need for a new model, so it becomes easier to find people and doors open. My team are all content professionals who bring nous [savvy] and creative skills into media agencies. They help agencies and clients face the new dynamics through direct involvement in content."

M&V: Tell us about some recent projects.

Ms. Marsh:"We're working on a series of shows for E Entertainment although I can't tell you the name of the client. We're also doing shows for MTV in Europe and Asia. We are a startup and we've already made huge progress in developing, managing, negotiating content, ideas and rights. "Fans United" [a TV series about soccer fans made with Unilever's Axe] was shown in 43 countries across three continents. MediaCom is working with T-Mobile on a Channel 4 music show called Transmission."
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