It’s part of my job to oversee MediaCom’s marketing and media awards entries. And so recently, I sat down to review the work that did well at last year’s ceremonies, to try and identify what makes a perfect award entry. I was struck by how much of the work involved partnerships with media owners, entertainment properties or some other third party. I was also struck by how the nature of these partnerships seems to be changing.
The old model of "brand partnership" didn’t really seem to constitute a true collaboration. An agency handed money to a media owner, who developed some content that roughly tied in with what the client wanted to say about the brand. Alternatively, a deal was done with an entertainment property for image rights to use in marketing, perhaps with some free tickets to a concert or premiere thrown in for good measure. But essentially, one party paid money in exchange for a service – the "partnership" was no more than that.
But the conditions that affect partnerships have changed.
Brands have more to bring to the collaboration than before – for example, social media followings that can reach into the millions, their own established branded content platforms, or a data pool of people who have engaged with the brands' digital marketing efforts and can be retargeted.
Media owners are more commercially-minded than before – sometimes due to regulation (on product placement, for example); sometimes as they compete more vigorously for ad revenue.
And the entertainment industry is changing too. Celebrities are often media owners in their own right. For example, YouTube is helping to create new video stars broadcasting from bedrooms and spare rooms around the world, each one a potential partner, with huge audiences subscribing to their channels. And it’s providing a new platform to established stars; Jamie Oliver's Food Tube is a good example.
The music industry has become more commercial too, with labels and artists actively seeking alternative revenue streams. On Rihanna’s recent 777 tour, the singer got her crowds chanting thanks to sponsor HTC. And Universal Music recently set up its Globe partnerships division to get brands and their artists working together more closely.
So because of all of these factors, I think we're in the era of what I call Super-Connected Partnerships – collaborations between brands and other parties which adhere to one or more of the following criteria.
More than two partners
Often, to get maximum value out of a partnership, more than two partners need to be involved. Volkswagen’s recent successful foray into branded content – Abbey Road Studios: In Session With Volkswagen Beetle –was a collaboration between the car company, the famous recording studio, Paul Weller and his management, Channel 4 and Spotify.
Nikon sponsored 'Hollyoaks', but also featured 'Hollyoaks' branding and content on its products, packaging and point-of-sale activity, thereby promoting the programme in retailers across the country. There was a benefit to Channel 4 beyond the money that changed hands.
Working hard across all aspects of the marketing mix
Media partnerships can have an impact beyond the communications side of marketing. Nikon used their partnership with 'Hollyoaks' to create an exclusive promotion with Asda, helping secure distribution.
Looking beyond traditional partners
Dell needed to build credibility with hardcore gamers for its Alienware range of gaming PCs. The brand partnered with Stuart Ashen, who has more than 300,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, featuring (in his words) "comedy videos and gadget reviews from a British idiot in an ill-fitting suit".
The resulting content, starring Ashen in his first ever sci-fi thriller drama, featuring Alienware PCs at the heart of the action, gave the brand a credibility with the audience that advertising could not have delivered in the time. Recently, other MediaCom clients have partnered with organisations as diverse as the Scouts, the Science Museum and the Wildlife Trust.
Multi-platform with multiple entry points for the punter
Majestic partnered with The Guardian to teach people the best wine to choose at Christmas. This collaboration included editorial in The Observer Food Monthly, which paired wine to the recipes featured in the magazine; exclusive video featuring celebrity chefs on The Guardian website; downloadable wine guides on the Majestic website, and tasting events with The Guardian in Majestic Stores.
All partnerships need a great idea at the heart, and a set of collaborators with complimentary motives. But by applying the lenses described above, we can build partnerships that are worth far more than the sum of their parts.
Steve Gladdis is managing partner at CID, MediaCom