In 2011, Aegis hired Angela Courtin to lead its branded content practice. Late last year, the media network spun out her team as a separate offering, dubbed The Story Lab. Adweek caught up with Courtin—a veteran of MTV, HBO and MySpace—to discuss the new unit and why branded content matters.
Adweek: How is The Story Lab changing your role at Aegis?
More than anything it formalizes both the role as well as the mission. I think what we've done is create a brand that really crystallizes where we feel like content is in our world, as well as just the importance it's going to have in the future.
And that is?
As technology has created more platforms and channels to communicate with consumers, brands are looking beyond the 30-second spot. I would never actually say that the importance of the 30-second spot will go away. Certainly I don't think in our near future. But I do think creating more meaningful ways to connect with consumers wherever they might be—with whatever devices they're on—is critically important. We've done it in terms of product placement in the early days of my career, and it's just advanced to be more sophisticated for brands in the space.
So, specificlaly, is the idea to help brands create contents to feed their social channels—Facebook, Twitter, etc.?
Brands really have I think three ways to embrace content. One is that they embrace premium content that's already been created by someone else. Product placement. Integrations. Sort of second, “B” story lines that are outside the main pocket of content.
The second way is you go out and create your own content. This is really more important now in social than ever before because there is a demand to have more than just promotions pushing through those channels. So how can we help brands understand what type of content their consumers would be interested in consuming, and then finding the right content for the right channel.
The third one is just distribution. How do we make sure we're creating different distribution opportunities? So it's not just about if you're Pampers and you've got content online in your respective sites that that content can't appear in other spaces as guest content in sort of respected blogger spaces or in shows— especially daytime shows, that might be talking about becoming a new mom or a new parent. All that content actually becomes expert content, and that's what you want in a brand [like Pampers], a trusted partner in raising your kids.
What are examples of branded content you're jealous of, and ones that missed the mark?
What Red Bull just did with the historic jump. Here's a brand that completely understands it's audience, and understands its mission of giving you wings to fly, and sort of a very not even an abstract concept, but a really sort of on the mark concept, of enabling this gentleman to achieve his goal and then capturing that and turning it into a content experience. Both a live one, as well as the making of and the background of bringing that entire experience to life. So it's yet another example brands that do not stray from their DNA, but understand what is that content experience that we create today.
Is your focus going to be more on integrating with existing premium properties or helping brands build out their own original content?
It's both. I've got a team of what I consider experts in helping to navigate the existing content landscape. And then I've got a team that also understands creating original content. And our concept in creating original content is we want to partner with storytellers who are already in the space… I don't profess to want to hire a bunch of creatives. We're not a creative agency in that regard.
How big is your team?
We build teams around our clients. We've got a team in Detroit that works with our partner GM. We've got a team that works with The Home Depot. We've got a team that works with Macy's and we've got a smaller, more agile team that sits with me in Los Angeles. That [core team] is four individuals.
How have you brought your experience at media companies to bear?
[At MTV] in 2006, we were still in the early days of integrated marketing—what we were calling integrated marketing—and how we weave brands into content. So I had a great opportunity to work with John Shea, who's now the CMO over at NBCU. So we though, 'how we can take brands and place them in our content, and we can also take brands and really tell stories in commercial pods?' And then we were getting more sophisticated and thinking beyond that, how we can create digital series and how we might actually create episodes for brands… It’s kind of like coming full circle because now I’m on the other side where I can sit directly with a brand and say ‘What are your business objectives, and how can we use content to help achieve those?’ and I think within a media agency, the combination of media and content is more powerful than ever before.