Your Ad Agency's First Task: Educate Your Clients

A Lesson From the Branded-Entertainment Front

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We run, I'm proud to say given the landscape, a growing branded-entertainment and alternative-marketing agency. That said, we continually face the same challenges as other agencies when looking to work with new clients. In spite of its popularity, no one really knows what branded entertainment actually is -- how much it costs, where they can get it or what their expectations should be. Funny really, since it's been around since about 1950.

Let's start with the definition.

Branded entertainment is not product placement. It's not the ability to put a brand's name on the side of a building. It's not the excuse for a new challenge in the reality show, or the prize for caller 105 on the radio. It's not a sporting event, or a mention of your favorite footwear, candy or mode of transport in this week's top 40. It's not the ability to finance a TV show or produce a web series. It's not an article in your favorite rag, and it's not a mind distractor at the gas pump. It's all of the above, none of the above and much more. And that 's the problem (or at least one of them). Depending on whom you are talking to, almost everyone has a different definition -- primarily based upon their own experience or capabilities.

We believe that entertainment, broadly speaking, is everything that you, or I, spend our hard-earned money on when we are not at work. Hitting the gym or the spa, reading a book (analog or digital), going to the theatre, getting your hair done, watching the game, surfing the net, grabbing a bite, watching the TV -- you get the idea. Branded entertainment therefore is the ability to integrate brands into any of those social activities. The trick, however, is to ensure the integration is strategically relevant. If it's not, the result will be as intrusive as more traditional forms of marketing and far less effective. However, when it is relevant, consumers willingly invite brands into their world and the return is outstanding. Jay Z's new Life Times site is a great example of good branded entertainment.

Given that the opportunities for branded entertainment are so extensive, it's not surprising that that the demand is increasing. Every agency has a branded-entertainment executive or department, and every agency, which just five years ago was focused on a single discipline, can now do it all. Some can, but many can't, and that 's a worry for us small agencies. To complicate matters further, clients often don't know what they are buying, how much effort and time it takes to move the needle and what success looks like.

Here's an example. Just after we formed, we entered into negotiations with a new client (a well known pop-culture brand). We presented our understanding of the scope of the relationship and suggested our fee structure based upon a full-time team of three and access to the agency as a whole. Our client countered with an offer that (quite frankly) would not have covered the cost of just one team member. When we drilled down, it turned out that the client had been down the branded-entertainment path before and "had nothing to show for it except the apparent need to buy more media to obtain the results we're looking for."

That said, and perhaps foolishly, we went for it.

Why had the client spent vast amounts on a previous agency and not set clear goals and objectives and why, when it wasn't seeing results, didn't it make the necessary changes? A clear indicator that it didn't know what it was buying or what it should have been looking for in return. The previous agency over-promised and greatly under-delivered. Clearly, although it was offering branded entertainment, it wasn't too keen to move away from its traditional-media comfort zone.

On the flip side, what kind of results did the client now think would be possible with our agency given the reduced scope necessary to meet the budget? The client was looking for several million dollars of incremental revenue, yet was willing to invest less than 1% to get it.

We're not entirely blame free either. We took the assignment! Although the client was happy with our work (it could clearly see and track our efforts), it didn't get the exact results it was looking for and that was disappointing for us all.

We have to work harder to better define today's branded entertainment. If we can, we can be measured, be held accountable and can stretch the limits of the medium. What's more, so that they might have more realistic expectations, we have to help our clients fully understand the cost, scope, pros and cons of one of our fastest growing and most effective global marketing segments. If we can, this will be one of the most exciting resurgences ever seen within marketing.

Matthew Sheppard is a former entertainment producer and award-winning marketer. He is the founder of The Sheppard, a branded-entertainment and alternative-marketing agency based in Los Angeles. Follow The Sheppard on Facebook and Twitter.
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