Why Digitas Isn’t Afraid of Publishers’ Branded Content Studios

They make Vice and CNN better partners


Specs
Current gig Chief content officer, DigitasLBi
Previous gig Chief content officer at Interpublic Group's UM, head of UM Studios
Age 47
Twitter @sdonaton

Adweek: What does a chief content officer do?
Scott Donaton: It's about helping brands find and tell their stories in unique ways. People get caught up in the conversation of "what is content versus what is advertising." What we're really talking about is the move away from an intrusive, self-serve model where brands talked about themselves to a world where brands have to tell stories that are worthy of people's time.

Are brands actually thinking about content like that?
It's not just about an add-on to the things that they're doing—it's about how does this impact everything from the skill sets of the people I hire to my budget to the way that I measure success and return on investment. If you're creating content but then you're not amplifying it and having it be part of a greater marketing program, chances are you're going to be disappointed by the results. We do find that the brands that are the most successful in this space—Red Bull, GE and American Express come to mind—are brands that truly commit. They make it the centerpiece of their marketing as opposed to something thought of as an experiment.

Media companies like Vice and Snapchat also are starting to roll out branded content. How does that change the role of a traditional agency?
When we see partner companies like Vice, Maker Studios, CNN and The New York Times developing brand studios, I actually don't see that at all as a move into agency space. I see that as them becoming better partners to us because it takes the relationship and moves it beyond transactional.

Buzzwords you'd like to retire?
I will admit that I hate the word "content." I hate the word "branded entertainment," [and] I hate the word "native" even more. But I do think that we haven't really captured the right language around what we're doing. I don't think we have good labels for it right now, and I think sometimes that holds us back. We just want to make good shit.

After your nearly two decades of working in advertising and media, what advice do you have for someone just starting out?
People shouldn't get caught up in the technology—they should think about what it enables human beings to do.

What are you most excited about in digital?
I'm somewhat obsessed with virtual reality right now. I understand that it's a medium that looks like it may not scale for a few years, but it has this inevitable feeling to me that the immersion into narrative [storytelling] is really going to change the world in ways that we're just starting to imagine.

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.