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Managing Marketing: Content Versus Advertising

Rohan_Robertson

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Rohan Robertson is the Founder and Director of The Media Mix, a company that connects brands with audiences through content and entertainment. He shares his journey from working in media agencies through to the media sales side and on to content, plus the inspiration that led him to start his own brand content company. Rohan discusses the role of content and the difference between content and advertising and what, from his experience, makes great branded content.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudTuneInStitcher, Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I’m sitting down with Rohan Robertson, founder and director of the Media Mix, who connects brands with audiences through content and entertainment. Welcome, Rohan.

Rohan:

Thank you very much, Darren, nice to be here.

Darren:

I’ve come to visit you in your home town of Melbourne. We haven’t seen each other for ages. The last time we worked together was at JWT and I was a copywriter or creative director and you were in media. Mindshare had just been created I think.

Rohan:

You were creating the content or the ads and I was placing them. I remember it was ‘shit, no-hit’ or it might have been ‘hit no shit’ for the Herald Sun—got to get that headline around the right way but it was the Thursday supplement, I remember that.

Darren:

One of the interesting things for me is that both of us have taken quite divergent paths. I went off and started TrinityP3 and you have had a similarly interesting move from what I call the channel side to the content side. What actually brought that about?

Rohan:

I was very fortunate. Back in those days, they used to talk about J. Walter Thompson being the University of Advertising and it really was a great place to work. And it was a bit of a gag: as long as your parents could afford to send you there.

But it was a great place and whilst I spent a decade in the media department I was really learning about how communications evolve; the power of a double-page spread or a 90 or 60-second Sunday night movie TV spot versus a 30 second. All of that really fascinated me.

After a decade I moved into television sales and got a perspective on how the media functions and how a broadcaster operates commercially but also still having innate interesting content.

Darren:

Conversations I’ve had with the sales side of the media are interesting because media agencies will talk about professionalism but really it’s not till you get to the proprietor’s/ media owner’s side that you really understand the business of media and advertising. Is that your experience?

Rohan:

Absolutely. I come from a creative environment, whether it’s the media department and we were a full-scale agency in those days and you are looking to optimise the best result for your client. A media proprietor is interested in one thing: revenue, sales, share, yield, and it’s very much a fiscal obligation to the shareholders.

That in itself was quite an interesting contrast from the broader industry and different players within it. A broadcaster had a very different perspective on the industry at my time.

Darren:

Where did you go from 10, what happened then?

Rohan:

I spent an interesting and enjoyable period in publishing with the Federal Publishing company and they had something like 50 plus magazines. Every 2nd magazine on the newsstand was one of their mastheads and huge community newspaper businesses, generations old and Australia’s largest independent printer.

It was a content business and it was moving me more and more down this interest of, not so much booking the space or time, but how can you populate this content from a creative perspective.

Darren:

That’s quite unusual. There are a lot of commercial printers that just put ink on paper, package it and distribute it. In some ways, you would equate them to being a media distribution channel whereas to work for a company that not only had the presses but also a big investment in creating the content that goes onto that paper. They used to do it as a way of getting the printing business but then they realised the value was in the content didn’t they?

Rohan:

Absolutely. Hannon Printing was the printing component of that broader group—probably for that very reason—was a sharp enough businessman to realise that if you’re printing so many publications or newspapers you might as well own the presses as well.

That was an interesting business. Part of that remit was product development. I remember being part of the team that put together a Woolworth’s weekly food magazine. We also had the Condé Nast title—there is even a business card somewhere in my drawer that’s got the word vogue on it, which couldn’t be.

Darren:

You are known as a fashion plate especially around Flemington in spring so that could be very valuable.

Rohan:

I’m not sure I did that masthead the justice it deserved but we move on.

Darren:

Was that then what inspired you to set up your own business?

Rohan:

No, it was getting closer. A couple of friends of mine had made that leap from corporate life or were working for television networks and they started a business: WTFN Entertainment.

Darren:

I’ve heard of it.

Rohan:

At a point where we felt there could be enough on the table to feed another mouth for at least 6 months, I took that leap of faith and joined that business. That was a tremendous almost 6 years.

We started with a couple of programs that were no longer than 13 weeks in their tenure and boy did I belt some shoe leather pounding the pavements, and we created because there was no other option, this whole revenue model called brand or ad-funded television programs. It was golf programs, travel, it moved into a small business, health and lifestyle kept coming back to travel—that was pretty lucrative well.

We’re talking in the infancy of digital so online content really wasn’t a threat; it was still very much a 13-week television series proposition.

Darren:

And you can see the logical argument there which is why have a 30 or 15-second spot in content when you can actually be influencing the content that people are consuming, and getting the association or information?

Rohan:

You’re spot on. There wasn’t a lot of education or awareness of that in those days so it was very much trying to take clients or brands on a journey. It was a brave marketing manager who would walk away from a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the media schedule that was a known quantity that the agency would manage on their behalf, to actually put their hand up and say ‘I want to invest in this content and this television series.

And there are a whole lot of components that make that a result. It’s the program itself, the brand-fit. It was drummed into me at this early part of my career that if there is no reason for the brand to be there then you’re not doing the brand any justice. You’re only misleading the brand or marketer or you’re doing an injustice to the viewer.

Darren:

And the audience picks up on it. If something is jack hammered then it stands out. It’s like product placement. How many times have you consciously been aware of product placement because of the framing on the product—they look at the watch –oh it’s a Rolex? Did we really need that shot? It’s almost like ticking boxes but when it gets to the point where it’s interrupting the engagement in the content then it’s actually working against the brand isn’t it?

Rohan:

Absolutely and that was a constant battle, me having the sales/ revenue expectations to keep these projects moving through the cycle but also having that creative challenge to make sure the viewer was always protected with the best product that could be delivered.

A great example was travel because there’s an innate relevance to the content. You go to a destination, you experience what’s on offer and then you work with a travel provider to show how it can all come together. So that’s a reasonably straightforward proposition.

Darren:

And, as you said, this is before digital became fully integrated because we’ve since seen Taste online—the magazine. They integrated the Coles online shopping basket into the recipe. This is before that isn’t it?

Rohan:

This is well before that. We were actually creating a strategy and how that brand can get immersed in this project. So the project actually becomes bigger than just some integration, some content that can evolve and be used more broadly. A great example and I still think it’s probably one of the best branded content examples, is Talk to the Animals.

Talk to the Animals had been a latent brand or television series going back to the 80s. It was reinvigorated by WTFN and we had some great appropriate partners, for example, Purina Healthcare so it made sense. But then there was a whole program running in parallel with what happened in the television series on a trade level.

Dr. Chris Brown, who evolved to become the Bondi Vet, was actually engaged by Purina at a trade level so helping their staff on location, upskilling them with the product merits, etc.

Darren:

It may be a personal choice but I was always a Katrina Warren fan. I’m sorry, Chris is a lovely guy but I felt Katrina had more credibility.

Rohan:

Well, you would never have been disappointed because we covered people—Katrina was very much a part of Talk to the Animals as well. But that comes back to finding the right brand to fit into the right content. And 6 years later it was still an enduring brand.

Darren:

But this is not a new concept is it, Rohan. People forget that soap operas in the 20s and 30s, from radio on to TV were companies like the Lever Brothers (Unilever) paying to have content—radio serials produced so today we’re left with the concept of the soap opera because of them investing in content.

Rohan:

Absolutely. Even today we’re still dealing with new interpretations of old ideas; we’re still borrowing as you say from the 30s—that notion of sitting around the wireless of an evening listening to the Ford Hour of the General Motors Show.

Darren:

Here’s the irony, it’s now called podcasts, and you’re appearing on one as we speak.

Rohan:

That’s exactly right. I’ve got a great poster of the schedule that was printed in the Adelaide Advertiser for 5DN and nothing much has changed; it looks like a radio schedule does today but it’s got the brands and the programs back to back to back.

Darren:

So, where did MediaMix come from?

Rohan:

6 years was a really great foundation for me to be able to start my own business and with the rapid expansion into online content and creating branded content that was affordable, disposable, relevant to today, this week but perhaps needing to evolve and provide content that could span a schedule so it’s ongoing. That was really the appetite that I saw a need for in the marketplace.

We’ve created a number of award-winning TV formats. We’ve migrated what we know about TV onto the small screen or multi-device environment so as I said before, borrowing old ideas and repackaging or recreating them for a new environment. That’s pretty much what we do; give brands an opportunity to have their own content experience and also to use their own channels. They sometimes don’t realise we’ve got 100,000 or 10,000 on our database.

Darren:

Most of what you do is what the industry would call longer-form content. We’re not talking about advertising per se; it’s not the 15 or 6 or 2 seconds ad format—a person clicks on it and the ad’s over but you’re talking about long-form which a lot of agencies struggle with don’t they? Every agency tells me they do content.

Rohan:

Generally speaking, they misunderstand the discipline of advertising versus content. There is a lot of pressure for a successful advertisement to achieve it’s aims within 30 seconds which is to evoke sales or response. Longer form content needs to sustain and engage with an audience not just 30 seconds but over say a 3 month period where it’s a measurable, deliverable campaign in its own right.

You’re right, there are a lot of advertisers that tick the boxes; we’re on YouTube, we’ve got content, we’ve ticked that box. And the agencies say ‘we’ve created a 2-minute version of the ad we we’re shooting (we’ve taken out all the behind-the-scenes and created content) and we’ve done a great job, and everyone walks away.

But really it’s just an ad. I often say to a lot of people, the best-branded content is where you don’t know what brand is involved or where the brand hasn’t become pervasive in the production.

Darren:

Well it’s at a subconscious level, isn’t it? The person takes the positioning of the brand and the value they bring to it at a subconscious level where it’s actually much more effective than consciously thinking about it.

And the other thing that’s interesting about it is that all of the studies on memory show that if memory is laid down with a powerful emotion then people are more likely to remember it. So emotional advertising or content is infinitely more powerful because people remember it longer.

Rohan:

It certainly is and no one loves great advertising more than I do. I truly believe it’s a craft in itself and it’s a shame we don’t get the big brand ads we used to enjoy.

Darren:

I’m not a smoker but there is a brand of cigarette that I remember to this day called Hamlet because there was a whole campaign out of England and it was laid down with a fabulous sense of humour. It was all about the cigar you smoke when life’s gone to shit so that’s a memory I can’t shake because it was laid down for me with a very powerful sense of humour.

The big opportunity with content is that it’s infinitely more available to create emotion when you have time and that’s why advertising gets accused of relying on stereotypes because it’s a shorthand way of getting into the character by delivering a stereotype that people can quickly relate to and then focus on creating the emotion that will become a meme in their brain, remembering and recalling it.

Rohan:

That’s a really interesting observation and I agree with it. The fact that you recall an English piece of creative. There was a lot of cross-pollination back in the 60s and 70s of film making and advertising and that English craft of humour and how that would get immersed into content or popular advertising of the time.

But the point you make about the challenges of creating all of that in the space of 30 seconds without defaulting to a stereotype is very true. A series of extended pieces of content in today’s landscape that gives the brand the opportunity to create an emotional connection, and not always does, every piece needs to be better than the one before. We have a natural tendency that if episodes 1 and 2 hit the mark then 3 needs to be better. It’s not the way we engage with a book. Chapter 4 doesn’t necessarily have to be superior.

So, it’s this light and shade of how you bring the story (and I use the word story loosely). Not all brands are about emotion. Some pieces of content are quite pragmatic or they’re information. Even if we’re putting together a content piece that is about the information you still need to approach that from a perspective of how the audience is going to engage with that content because you’re going to bore the pants off someone.

Darren:

You’re right; it’s about being relevant, accessible—they are the two key things. Emotion is important for memory. You worked for Ford back in your advertising agency days. The car industry creates emotion through surprise and delight. The design of the motor vehicle, they’re constantly looking for those innovations.

We can both remember when you pulled down the visor and there was a vanity mirror there and then the next thing was you lift or slid a flap and the light comes on; these were all surprise and delight. It wasn’t put there because research told them that was what people wanted. But by understanding the audience and putting those innovations there and allowing people to discover them.

You wouldn’t write a TV campaign or a brochure that says, ‘and now with new vanity mirrors’ but by allowing the audience to discover it there’s an emotional connection of ‘you understand me, you’ve surprised me, you’ve given me something I would never have thought I wanted’. And I think content works the same way as well.

You can be doing something that’s quite prosaic or information delivered but if you find ways of delivering that information in ways that surprise, delight, improve accessibility and reinforce relevance, people really value you as the provider, the brand for going that extra step.

Rohan:

You have just unpacked the X factor for what I believe is great content. As I mentioned the best-branded content is where the brand is not obvious or you might need to dig a little deeper to understand. That’s why I say that because if you can create the environment or provide the information or relevance of content that’s important to me in my purchase cycle, life stage then I’m going to have a greater proximity to your brand.

This is where we start saying great content, we’ve spent all this money, we’ve engaged and delighted. Now what? That is really the core component of the strategy. It’s how do we migrate that goodwill into transactions, retention, or acquisition, depending on what the marketing brief is?

It’s not content for the sake of putting together some nice production sequences; there actually have to be some nuts and bolts. Creating that relevance to the audience is the absolute cornerstone of what we do.

Darren:

And then delivering it in a way that creates that sense of delight or some sort of emotion. One of the things that annoys me about the advertising industry is this meme that goes around that people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

People’s memories are being correlated to goldfish—every 6 seconds they need to be refreshed. And yet they seem to ignore the fact that more than ever people are streaming 13 or 22 episodes of a 1-hour show over a weekend in binge-watching.

So, how do those two things correlate?

Rohan:

As far as I’m aware there are still 7 days in the week and we haven’t packed any more hours into the day so it’s recognising the way people are consuming media is drastically different but that’s a good thing because this environment of on-demand content actually makes it quite permissible for advertisers or marketers to utilise the content.

Let’s rewind just 5 years ago. When I was talking about branded TV series; the pressure on that content to perform at 4 o’clock or 5.30 leading into the news on a Saturday afternoon put a lot of pressure on that content investment. As you know technology starts to bring the cost of production down or it should. If there are brands out there paying more then they should probably re-look at that.

Generally speaking, the cost of production is coming down and we can tier our content—tier 1, 2, and 3 so we cut our cloth accordingly and make it fit for purpose. But that environment where we’re consuming content on-demand, when we want, actually allows us to tailor the content solution for the audience more than we ever have before.

It probably explains why I spent the better part of a decade looking over the shoulders of better media planners than I was but if you understand how the content is going to be consumed before you start producing it then that’s a good discipline to have in place.

Darren:

Having spent 15 years writing and producing advertising in various agencies one of the things I noticed is the amount of attention that brands, brand managers and marketing bring to the content of that 30 seconds. People agonise over 12-frame increments.

I remember one of the most ridiculous meetings I ever had was client and agency and they were running this ad we’d made (something was being poured) and quite a senior creative is going ‘at the moment it’s going glup, glup, glup but what you’re saying is it should be more gloop, gloop, gloop?’

And I’m sitting in this room thinking of all the salaries that are being paid and the amount of time over such nuance about the sound effect. If you applied that to long-form content (and you touched on getting the balance right) you would absolutely kill the ability to engage the audience, wouldn’t you?

Rohan:

It’s a good point you raise and as someone who pays those bills, I only too readily appreciate the benefit for all of a swift decision. I call it majoring in minors. We used to get hung up on the name for a series and my boss when I joined WTFN, Daryl Talbot, was very good at calling it when it needed to be called. You can only fill the whiteboard with so many names and then you start to go crazy.

You’ve just got to go with your gut and the name becomes the name and the content is not going to live or die on the name. So you put all this agony into the name or the last 5 seconds or the audio effect.

Darren:

They’re important and they need to be considered.

Rohan:

This is a great contrast between advertising and content; we all know what a 30-second ad can cost to produce versus that cost structure could not exist for a 30 minute or 22-minute series. So does it mean you’ve got inferior people or a different headcount working on it—it’s a different approach?

It comes back to what you were saying before about the pressure that needs to exist within 30 seconds and the stereotyping as a default of that whereas the benefit for a marketer is you’ve got 5 or 6 or 10 minutes to tell the journey.

Darren:

Marketers occasionally bring us in—they get a proposal from a company like the MediaMix for producing content. One client came to us and said we’ve got this proposal, 13 22-minute episodes in travel and tourism, this is the cost. And we looked at it from a purely long-form production point of view (not an advertising point of view) and we said there is about a 30% price contingency built into this.

And we went back with the client to the production company and they said, ‘we know your client’s reputation for being micromanagers. We built in a 25% margin for let’s call it the f-around factor for this client. Now if they’re willing to sign an agreement saying they won’t do more than one set of revisions on the rough edit and one set of revisions on the final edit then we will drop that.’

I thought that was a brilliant way of handling this because micromanaging the content is going to be coming from the point of view of how do I make my brand more integrated into the content rather than how do I make this better for the audience? The production company’s only view is driving the audience’s engagement which should then benefit the brand.

But the brand had a history and reputation of micromanaging their agencies that way so the production company just said we’ll do this but it’s going to cost you 30% more.

Rohan:

That’s very very true.

Darren:

By the way, the client wouldn’t sign, they paid the 30% premium.

Rohan:

And so they should.

Darren:

They couldn’t give up control.

Rohan:

That says to me that that production company was experienced, knew their business.

Darren:

Oh yeah.

Rohan:

We’ve all learned the hard way. Creating content—there is a lot of passion, whatever that dollar or price figure is, as long as you’re dealing with a reputable and experienced production provider they’re going to put their heart and soul into this production, because it’s a reflection on themselves as much as anyone else.

You can only charge a certain amount before it becomes one of those things that just falls off the marketing list. It’s a really important discipline that clients appreciate that the approval second by second that might typically exist with a TV commercial—the economics just can’t be sustained through longer-form content.

Darren:

Which is why you can produce longer-form content more economically. If you took a 60-second ad and then said I’m going to make a 90-minute film it’s not going to cost you 90 times 60 seconds. There are economies of scale but there is also the nuance of every second counts; now it’s every 5 minutes or 3 minutes counts because if the flow doesn’t keep the audience engaged then it’s going to fail as a piece of content.

Rohan:

And that’s where the skill of the producer knows how to hit those high marks. Like every good story needs to have a happy ending. So you need to know how to take that audience on the journey. You leave the audience wanting more if it’s a series but you also do the right thing by the brand so you make sure you end at a point where the audience is satisfied but you also leave them wanting more and that’s what builds.

They’re techniques that any TV producer creating content for broadcast is going to do out of a series. It’s giving that brand the production experience or content creation that they can have and use through their own platforms and we borrow from more broadly.

I just completed, not long ago, a production with Shannon’s Insurance called Shannon’s End of an Era and like anything it started off very detailed in terms of what we’d be doing and it grew into a project that was bigger than Lord of the Rings. I had to remind the client that we’d actually exceeded Lord of the Rings as a piece of content because how do you tell the history of the Australian car industry?

It started in about 1880 something and it finished back in 2017 so there are 140 odd years—where do you finish and where do you start? And there’s always something more you can add.

Darren:

It’s breaking it into the pieces that are relevant. It is a formula in a way; there are formulas around the type of casting, the flow of the content, blocking out stories. The great talents are the ones who can work with formulae in a way the audience will never know that they’re actually watching a formula.

Rohan:

It does need to be templated in the crudest possible way—that’s the formula. It doesn’t matter what reality cooking show we’re watching or any of the popular reality franchises, they all default to the same template. That’s o.k. because that’s how the audiences learn to enjoy these productions but also from a commercial or production management perspective it allows the content to be created in the way it is for the price it is.

We’ve brought reality shows to a brand level. We’ve done observational documentary, travel, hybrids of these formats and it’s providing a new opportunity for borrowed techniques.

Darren:

Rohan, we’ve run out of time. It’s been a long time between chats—more than 20 years—but thank you for sharing the evolution from media to media sales to TV broadcast content and now your own business. I have got a question for you before you go.

There are a lot of people carrying on about the lack of transparency in all of those areas (production and media). From your personal experience, which one do you think is the worst?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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