The Battle to Own Branded Content

Creative, media and PR agencies vie to serve marketers in the burgeoning discipline

Doug Scott’s recent departure from OgilvyEntertainment, the successful unit he founded eight years ago, has raised questions about whether its WPP parent might fold it into another corporate entertainment sibling like media agency Mindshare Entertainment or GroupM Entertainment at the operating level. While Ogilvy execs say that isn’t in the works, such speculation still begs the larger industry question: As media, creative and PR agencies—along with production companies—vie to lead the growing number of marketer content initiatives, where should responsibility for branded storytelling reside? With traditional advertising becoming less profitable, everyone, obviously, is scrambling for these new income sources.

On the creative agency front, proponents argue that without a great concept born from understanding a brand’s narrative, long-form storytelling doesn’t hold an audience’s attention and justify the media expense.

Mike Wiese, director of branded entertainment at JWT New York, which produced the CBS special Yes, Virginia for client Macy’s without paid media, explained: “Great ideas and concepts contribute more than distribution about where to put things. Let’s turn brands into studios, networks and producers that will then inform distribution and media. As agencies, we’re already doing that on the commercial side.”

Media agencies, meanwhile, have jumped aggressively into the content game. Mindshare Entertainment, for example, is close to finalizing a distribution deal for The Rise of Superman TV show, documentary feature and digital effort based on the best-seller of the same name. “With our data and consumer insights, for me as a storyteller, there’s no better starting point,” said David Lang, Mindshare North America’s chief content officer. “Content and distribution are a happy marriage with the right content built on the right insights and data and distributed through the right channels at the right time.”

Some argue that since marketers want to ensure an audience before finding the proper messaging, media agencies find themselves in the driver’s seat (more than creative shops) when it comes to distribution, data, real-time optimization and understanding of creative concepts that go beyond commercials and into new media like Vine. “The reason it’s difficult for creative agencies to get traction and depth is because they don’t control the media investment,” observed Claudia Cahill, OMD’s chief content officer, who on Sept. 17 hosts the Omnicom agency’s second Final Front, a media upfront-like session purely for branded content.

Teddy Lynn, chief creative officer at Mediabrands Publishing, which is combining creative with social media, has watched marketers embrace branded content from a variety of angles: as a Hollywood co-producer; at creative agency jobs at Arnold and BBDO; and a media gig at UM—lending him a unique perspective. “Everyone sees this big change and is trying to morph into it. All these different entities are trying to bring their skills into this evolution,” he said.

But there’s yet another entity looking to enter this crowded field. Doug Scott left Ogilvy to join WME | IMG, the newly merged entertainment and sports talent agency, in the new role of vp, marketing and brand solutions—where he’s charged with building a brand content practice just as he did for Ogilvy.