Branded entertainment has traditionally been the domain of advertising agencies. That’s often where it’s gone wrong. PR agencies are the best steward these projects. Let me explain.
Over the past few years, the Web has emerged as the platform of choice for brand marketers to create and/or sponsor original video programming designed to market themselves, just as blue chips like Texaco, Colgate and P&G did in the early days of television. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it’s like being water boarded, but for better or worse, any marketing exec willing to embrace emerging platforms deserves a raise or at least a really nice pen because it’s tough out there.
Anybody working in PR will tell you the media industry’s various growing pains these last few years has made the daily grind of “pitch and place” exponentially tougher. Our industry’s reliance on third parties in the thick of their own struggle to evolve has lessened the number of opportunities to get that earned media pop clients need to showcase credibility and PR pros need to demonstrate their value. Pitching bylined articles and contributed content to a client’s target vertical helps tell that company’s story in the first person. Producing an original Web series that subtly reflects the client’s brand messages gives that same story a truly visual and visceral element that can be told over the course of a few weeks or months and is more likely to connect with the intended audience.
Another benefit to producing a series is, unlike a bylined article or earned editorial mentions that get archived shortly thereafter and eventually become dated or even removed, a Web series remains online for the duration. With global Internet users spending an average of six hours per day online (a 66 percent increase over 2009 according to Nielsen) and approximately 100M online videos watched by American Web users each week (ComScore) the odds are favorable that with ongoing marketing, your series will be discovered by new audiences long after the PR program it was created for is over.
There will always be a new product or service that needs promoting and the goal of any branded web series should be to improve or enhance the brand’s perception in a way that fosters growth, but quality stories thematic of a brand’s personality vs. a brand’s products placed within the content itself have a much longer shelf life and should therefore be seen as a longer-term investment. Therein lies the reason ever since we created the first brand-sponsored web series, The Temp Life, for Spherion back in 2006, I’ve believed branded entertainment should be a function of PR and why, had web video existed in the early 1990’s, a web series about Crystal Pepsi would have been an epic fail.
Wilson Cleveland is an actor and producer and the founder of CJP Digital Media, a multi-platform content studio.