Content & Co’s Stuart McLean on Entertainment Financed by Brands

Stuart_McLean_241x180Stuart McLean is founder and CEO of Content & Co, a company that creates, produces and distributes content for brands to engage with their audience. The Makegood recently spoke with Stuart about original content, consumer insights, and cross channel engagement.

The Makegood: What are the challenges brands are facing in producing original programming, how does Content & Co help them, and how do customers respond?

Let’s face it, getting an audience today is hard. It’s become more important than ever for brands to talk directly to their targets and have the brand, the talent and the distributor all sitting on the same side of the table – pushing together. While this seems intuitive, the biggest challenge is working within the existing business models to get this done. “Branded Entertainment” is a vague term that carries a lot of baggage. It immediately conjures up the old “bite and smile” days of branded programming from about  10 years ago when this model made a comeback.

Those deals were driven by ad sales and value add to existing network programming where the value was measured by brand time on screen. Fortunately, the branded entertainment model is moving to engagement metrics where it belongs. Once the programming folks and talent realize that we are creating entertainment financed by brands rather than branding entertainment, everything falls into place. And the audience loves it!

The Makegood: Stuart, you are pioneering the next generation of content creation, enabling brands to partner with the best creative talent in Hollywood to distribute their own original content. How does your content differ from regular commercials or series and what brings consumers closer to the brand?  

Our content is designed to be a creative expression of the brand rather than the traditional product placement or brand integration model. As I put my old account guy hat on, our process is the same as commercial campaigns, we just use a different creative department. By allowing the Hollywood creative community to work from our brand’s consumer insights and brand essence, we are able to create series that are a perfect fit for the brand and their consumers. And in doing so, allow our brands to spend more time with their consumers.

What’s great about content is the flexibility it brings across channels, and the ability to bring consumers close to the brand, including traditional commercials. While our series falls on the emotional benefit of the brand, we are also able to create brand equity by building spots off our characters and storylines for :30 commercials. Hopefully you’ve seen a few for SUBWAY’s “The 4 to 9ers.” This model has allowed us to extend our programs into multiple seasons because the content is working that much harder for both the brand and the distributor.

The Makegood: You just announced the launch of SUBWAY’s “The 4 to 9ers” Reloaded, the No. 1 short-form scripted comedy series on Hulu. How did you convince “Two and a Half Men” director Jamie Widdoes to write, direct, and produce the ten-minute episodes, and how do you get your target group to watch the series?

Fortunately, with Jamie the stars lined up, so we did not have to do too much convincing. As a brand financed studio we are able to give talent a lot of creative freedom and help get their ideas made. We are lucky that our decision making process is really streamlined and we don’t have the layers of approvals that you find at a big network or studio. All of our partners are also interested in experimenting with different forms of content, and of course, digital is a nice diversion from their dayjob. And in Jamie’s case, who wouldn’t want to work with one of the most successful comedy writers on TV?

To get the audience to watch it was all hands on deck. HULU gave the show prime placement on their home page carousel as a HULU Spotlight Series alongside network programs and promoted it across their network, making it their #1 short form comedy. SUBWAY pushed it out to their 21 million Facebook fans and we managed a social media campaign that included YouTube stars like Megan Nicole whose custom “The 4 to 9ers” video alone got over 6 million views. The combined effort garnered broadcast levels of viewership that we are all really proud of.

The Makegood: You create and distribute diverse content including webisodes, micro series, games, short and long format series, scripted and reality. How do you find the consumer insights for the content and distribution strategy?

Brands have more assets than they realize when it comes to creating compelling content. Not only can brands provide financing and promotion, they know more about their consumers than any studio, network, gamer, social network, label, you get the idea. Through consumer insights and years of behavior research, brands know what makes their consumer tick, where they are and what they’re doing every minute of the day. This is the spark that drives the writers room and lets the talent work the edges for great ideas.

The Makegood: In your experience, what makes an engaging video and what concepts work best for B2B companies?

The recipe for engaging video is giving the talent the freedom to do what they do best.  We’ve been really fortunate to work with the writers, directors and producers who are delivering the hits for networks and studios. This model really works for all marketers, both B2C and B2B. We just had this question asked of us for a company trying solve their B2B outreach. We’d never done B2B before, but we had a lot of fun, and developed a property that not only worked for their salesforce, but also laddered up to a programming idea for broadcast.

The Makegood: What role does the device play in producing content and how does ‘mobile first’ influence your work?

Like everyone else, we to subscribe the content everywhere strategy. The trick is not just cutting and pasting from one channel and forcing it into others. It’s not easy and there’s a lot of math involved, which is never fun, but we always try to build channel-specific executions from a core property. Mobile is part of the mix, but is still pretty experimental for us as the lead platform. We’ve kicked the tires on apps and location based builds, but mostly we are leveraging the big portals and social media networks to deliver mobile for us. We are really intrigued by the 24/7 channels apps that are starting to roll out and the opportunity to build your own network.

The Makegood: Thanks, Stuart.