Q&A with MediaVest’s Brian Terkelsen
As president of connectivetissue, the entertainment marketing unit of MediaVest, Brian Terkelsen helps marketers reach consumers through branded entertainment content. Previously an executive producer of MTV’s Eco-Challenge and ESPN’s Extreme Games before joining MediaVest in 2003, he has paired clients like Procter & Gamble with programs like America’s Next Top Model on The CW and My Black Is Beautiful on BET.
Last week, just as the stalled upfront began to show signs of movement, Terkelsen spoke with B&C Business Editor Claire Atkinson about the state of branded entertainment, the right way to approach digital marketing and how the recession has forced marketers to be more “surgical.”
We’ve seen a lot of changes in the TV landscape over the past 12 months. How is the branded entertainment world different this year?
We’re seeing a lot more ubiquity and acceptance from the client side with regard to broadcast and cable. [Clients are] not delineating between the two. It doesn’t matter if it’s broadcast or cable, [only] if it’s a good show and I can connect with my consumer. Content always wins out in the end, however much the advertising and the media companies wish it were the media [itself].
My perspective is that there’s a lot of great work being done in entertainment marketing. I look to 2003 and 2004, when there was a big hullabaloo around it. Brands that didn’t get in [then] and are not well-versed in how to be in this, they have no learning.
What are those “learnings”? Is it about who to work with and how to do it?
It’s about how to do it-the process, measurement and scoring, and why and how we’re justifying it. A lot of people think branded entertainment is only about awareness and about the CPM, and that’s wrong. The brand objective should be around raising favorability. Those learnings are never obvious from the get-go.
How is the stalled upfront affecting what you do? Are media buys and branded entertainment projects closely tied?
About 50% of the type of work we execute is determined through the upfront. The balance is opportunistic, and we’re working 52 weeks a year, but the other half happens throughout the year. Some of our business is tied up in the bigger conversation, and I’m OK with that. Brands, when they discover they have a product launch, have the flexibility of working creatively and expeditiously year-round.
What did you think of the upfront presentations?
There were a couple of a-ha’s! It was interesting how almost every network [missed] the opportunity to talk about digital work-that was ominously absent. There was also the very disparate nature of how each network approached it. What came out of the presentations to me [was identifying] which companies are in the content business, which are in the playing-it-safe business and which are operating to the bottom line. I respect all of them for doing what they need to do.
Marketers are increasingly working with media companies to create unique online content.
There is an increasing desire by almost all brands to be in the digital space. People will say, “We want to do a viral video.” It just doesn’t work that way. The reality is, digital matters, but it’s the two-way conversation that’s important. Marketers’ thought-structure behind creating campaigns has to change; it’s not a one-way messaging track. A lot more brands are willing to go the way of digital, primarily because of pricing. It’s also very measurable.
How does anyone define what’s successful in that arena?
There is no such thing as a hit. Just because you get broad exposure doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a hit. TV is an exposure play; the Internet should be about targeting.
That’s why the digital guys keep tripping. Yahoo tripped there because they were looking for an I Love Lucy moment. Why use a two-way targetable device for spray-and-pray?
As a marketer, I don’t care about that. Marketers are asking, “How do I find a 17-year-old left-handed blonde girl, because I have a thing to put in her hand?”
Let’s talk about some of the media projects MediaVest is involved with
We had great success with Yahoo’s [style Website] The Thread, and Procter & Gamble has had great work with My Black Is Beautiful on BET. I call out those initiatives because they help drive the business and they are long-term.
America’s Next Top Model [on The CW] continues to drive business and be a gold standard for branded work. We are a strong partner with the show, and there’s utter respect for the viewer. We’ve been doing [P&G’s Cover Girl] for five years. We discovered the repetitive nature of branded entertainment is really valuable. One-offs have their place, but nothing could be more valued than relationships created among all parties, the network, the showrunners, the agency, the advertisers. We’ve been in since the third cycle.
What are your thoughts about some of the shows on now, and what kind of an opportunity will NBC’s Jay Leno Show turn out to be for those looking for branded entertainment deals?
I’m actually wondering if the summer will be robust or quiet. It’s been a slow season, in terms of shows available and the way they’re being trafficked and rolled out by the networks. I reserve the right to be wrong. On cable you look at the Emmy nominations, and you have to say, “It’s here.” It really matters.
I think premium pay-TV is having a great summer with [HBO’s] True Blood, [Showtime’s] Nurse Jackie and [HBO’s] Entourage. It’s a rich, robust territory-not that we can advertise, but it can draw our audience. The better they are doing, arguably the worse broadcasters are doing.
And on Leno?
We’re staying quiet on it at the moment. We have had conversations. We want to see how it rolls out.
With fall shows in production, what is the role of entertainment marketing executives at this time? What is the cycle of your year as it follows the TV season?
This is a slow time for us in that the only thing we’re doing is executing; we’re just producing right now. Come fall, we’ll be in strategy and creating tactical opportunities. In the fourth quarter and the first quarter, it’s about strategy, and in the second quarter, it’s about planning; the third quarter, it’s just to do the work.
The truth is, we’ve moved our business so far away from brands simply being in programs. I’m trying to make what’s around the commercial messaging more relevant. We’re working in concert with video programming and creating new programming that our messaging can sit next to.
Everyone’s in production. Los Angeles is working and the casting directors are suffering because there are still fewer shows and not enough casting work. Look at the economic forecasts overall and look at casting-that will tell you how the industry is.
How has the recession changed the business?
What the recession has brought about for me is that clients are more surgical in their approach. I haven’t seen a client who has said, “I’m running in the opposite direction.” A lot of clients say, “We know it works; we need to be a little bit more selective and discriminating.” That has helped us to fine-tune the whole exercise, and it’s refreshing to be a little bit more specific. I haven’t seen a decline in either the desire or the executions. I have seen a sharpening of the tool set.
The world of branded entertainment used to be a Wild West of middlemen claiming to represent any and every show. Where are we now?
It’s definitely not the Wild West-just the Midwest, and that’s an OK place to be.