Halfway through my discussion with David Sable, CEO of Y&R, it struck me that we were talking about two different things. The topic was storytelling, but David was talking about the story and I was talking about the telling.
Storytelling requires a combination of what and how. We tend to lose that distinction when we talk about content, content marketing and new forms of advertising that put the story at the center. The story is the idea, the central thesis– the what. The telling is the methodology — how that story is told. There are two parts to the telling: interpretation, how ideas are realized and distribution, which is, at least in the advertising world, generally thought of as media.
It was this middle part– the interpretation– that I really wanted to delve into. The story will always be the story but how does technology influence the way the stories are told and how they are experienced? And how do story interpreters find out about new tools for telling stories? These two questions are relevant for content-tech companies trying to position their products and effectively go to market. They are essential as well to advertising, marketing and media agencies as campaign-based advertising moves into always-on content marketing. Here, a quick look into the technology discovery process of three companies involved in helping brands tell stories.
David Sable created Spark Plug to bring new forms of innovation directly into Y&R’s work environment. The program offers office space within the agency to interesting start-ups and idea generators. There are Spark Plug programs in ten Y&R offices around the world and soon there will be a ‘Virtual Spark Plug’ that will enable Y&R’s global offices to access all the participating companies via its Intranet, searchable by skill set and need. So, how do companies get on Y&R’s radar? “We take employee recommendations for sure, but we also work closely with investors and attend key trade shows. We are constantly on the lookout for new ideas and opportunities to grow,” says Graham Smith, who runs the program. “We are working to formalize the application process, but always want to hear from interested parties.”
One emerging content-tech company that sits within Y&R’s New York office is Interlude, whose technology allows users to select the direction of a story’s narrative. It’s a “choose your own adventure” in a digital world. Y&R has incorporated Interlude into several campaigns including these from Pepperidge Farm and Subaru.
Magnet Media is a content marketing company based in New York. With 50 employees and an impressive roster of clients, its website exclaims: “In order to tell stories in today’s world, it is essential to understand technology and use it to its full potential.” Magnet Media’s founder Megan Cunningham says that brands are looking to her and her team to recommend the best technology (currently Megan is on an ‘evangelical campaign’ to get them to pay attention to the video platform Ooyala.) To do this Megan has a weekly ideation session during which technology innovations are surfaced. A recent find: Condition One, an app that gives users unlimited viewpoints of a single video. Megan admits that it is not always easy for tech companies to get through to the person who can champion it to the larger group; “We get inbound calls from technology companies all the time.”
In late February, Mindshare announced the launch of its content marketing division that grew out of the success of its Entertainment Group. Given Mindshare’s media agency backbone, it is no surprise to hear from Stacy Minero, Practice Lead, that “sometimes distribution ideas drive strategy.” She points to a partnership between SAP and NYTimes using the Times’ Ricochet product that got SAP thinking about a broader strategy around content and context.
While Mindshare is able to benefit from its and GroupM’s deep expertise to source technology innovation, Neil Carty, who runs business development for the group, leads the charge in identifying emerging and established companies. Stacy and Neil have developed an evaluation process to help select companies that are best able to deliver on client goals and to quantify elements that do not fit into media buyers’ standard CPM model.
A creative agency, a content marketing agency and a media agency: three companies involved in storytelling via advertising and content marketing. And, at least when it comes to the interpretation part of telling stories, three very different approaches to technology discovery and evaluation. All agree there is no evident process for innovative companies to get a hearing; it’s easy to see how complicated the go-to-market process can be for emerging content-tech companies. Yet among these agencies there is also recognition that, as innovation of content-tech continues, a process for surfacing these innovations will be required. And so the story continues.
A note to readers: Thank you for your input into MediaLink’s Content Landscape. We have incorporated some companies not previously on our radar, updated here. And please continue to make us aware of companies that should be included.