Going Hollywood


In most every crime-thriller movie, there's always that scene where the local cop uncovers the big lead that'll break the case wide open -- only to be blocked by some G-Man who claims that the whole thing is the Feds' jurisdiction. The two square off, and the dedicated cop (most likely a loose cannon needing to make amends with an ex-wife) will begrudgingly hand over his information to the suits from the FBI. Inevitably, the cop will continue to work the case on his own -- defying the business-as-usual process and (of course) solving the crime and becoming a hero.

Predictable as this scenario is in the films that Hollywood churns out, it seems equally common in the world of advertising. Here, we face the same cop-flick clichés: Planners with British accents, broadcast producers wearing ironic t-shirts, and the battle amongst the agencies regarding who has jurisdiction. Just as in the case with the rogue cop, jurisdiction can prove to be a tricky thing to define when it comes to branded entertainment. (I define branded entertainment as original content and experiences produced to entertain and engage with an audience. I'll defer product placement and brand integrations to the media agencies.)

So who has jurisdiction? Is it the creative agency, since they control the brand strategy?  Is it the media agency that controls most of the budgets? And what about the PR agencies with their focus on earned media? This debate only gets more intense and complicated when we add digital content to the mix.
But you know what? Clients don't care about these turf wars. They want a solution. The fact of the matter is: If agencies want to succeed at branded entertainment, they need to think more like the competition. And, no I'm not talking about other agencies. I'm talking about Hollywood.
The agency that thinks and acts like an entertainment company, challenging the usual business process of advertising, will ultimately lead entertainment solutions for client.

To do this, there needs to be an investment made in developing ideas that are not requested by a client RFP. Instead, there should be a slate of projects being created. The fact is that creative agencies are filled with creative talent. So why not give them an incentive to come up with ideas that can become branded entertainment properties, even if it's not part of the billable, scope of work for a client? The talent agencies and production companies are not waiting for a brief. Neither should we.

Creatives need to collaborate outside of their comfort zones -- and work with the best partners who can bring forth the best solution. Projects often flounder because creative directors can't see the sense in attaching themselves to another company's idea, effectively being creative partners in the development, packaging, production and brand activation.

In Hollywood, that's called a co-production. And (to borrow another Hollywood concept) it's better to have 10 percent of something than 100 percent of nothing. Think of yourself as the executive producer. (I mean the Bob Evans type, not the ironic-t-shirt-wearing type.) After all, executive producers in Hollywood are the guys who get to accept the trophies and make speeches at awards shows. And we all know how much agencies love awards.

Responsibility also falls on account teams who need to challenge clients. Branded entertainment is too often seen as a luxury item -- a "nice to have" versus a "must have." Granted, account-team jobs are filled with status meetings and focus groups, but you need to push clients to integrate branded content into their overall plan.

Your client is already flirting with Hollywood anyway -- and you can get yourself in the middle of that. Separate branded entertainment from the day-to-day agenda, and regularly pitch your client. Demonstrate to the client that the agency is committed to doing more than just advertising. After all, media agencies are showing they want to do more than just buy ads.

The reality is, we're at the point right now where those who are going to be successful at branded entertainment need to step up and be the hero. Let the others argue over who has jurisdiction.

Mike Wiese is director of branded content and entertainment for JWT New York. During his career, he's created entertainment initiatives with the likes of Bing, Smirnoff, Reebok, Nike, Samsung, and Chrysler, in addition to developing current programming for TLC and Discovery Networks.