How the Digital Content NewFronts have already changed PR

For one, they've created a new category of communications: m-to-m.

Over the past 10 years, during which digital video has evolved from its grainy origins to a dominant medium, the phrase "every company is a media company" has permeated its fair share of strategic planning meetings and new business pitches.

Fast-forward to 2015, or the "Year 10 ALS," which stands for After Lazy Sunday, the iconic 2005 Saturday Night Live digital short that introduced the masses to an upstart site called YouTube and the term "viral video" into the vernacular.

Today, in the midst of an original digital content revolution, I would argue that the tried-and-true counsel above is in need of an update: "Every media company is now an entertainment brand."

Beginning April 27, the dollars and decision-makers of digital content will gather in New York for the fourth installment of the Digital Content NewFronts. It was launched in spring 2012 by a group of partners led by IAB—just months after the "YouTube 100" initiative formally ushered in the original content movement started five years earlier by Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die and Rob Barnett’s mydamnchannel. The 2015 roster boasts 33 companies, a blend of media stalwarts, distribution networks, MCNs, and upstart content sites.

This cross-section of media companies is focused not just on creating original content, but showcasing that content and the talent behind it – often to outlets and influencers that might otherwise be considered competitive. As a result, this digital content revolution has quietly also given rise to a new strain of PR.

The PR glossary has remained consistent over the years, filled with acronyms like b-to-b, b-to-c, or p-to-p in which the "to" was invariably the media. At Bender/Helper, we call this new content-driven category media-to-media communications, or m-to-m. And there’s a new methodology developing behind it.

The challenge to the PR professional pitching a media property is clear, if only because the default response of "that’s what we do already" from a target outlet is so easy. How then does a news platform, lifestyle content site, or aggregator or curator showcase its original wares to destinations potentially seeking the same audience? How does a rising talent become attractive as a contributor to other potential outlets or mediums?

What follows are the five pillars that have already emerged:

A seat at the table
Too often, content reaches the PR or media team as a finished product that must stand on its merit and can only be evaluated after the fact for missed PR opportunities. Inserting that perspective during the content-planning process – perhaps even for extended or behind-the-scenes content that warrants attention beyond the original piece – can yield results without co-opting the integrity of the content itself

The pundit makeover
Well-known digital-content contributors – the Katie Courics and David Pogues, for instance – possess credentials and bodies of work that precede them. To take that diamond in the rough and create a pundit from the ground up is a process of evaluating an individual’s social media and industry profiles beyond their core content and seek to fill in the gaps. That creates platforms along the way that create an attractive expert or contributor profile.

Content partners, not distributors
Too often, content "syndication" is a process of "spray and pray." The m-to-m approach is to create mutually beneficial content partnerships, whether they are short-term campaigns such as co-branding opportunities or contests or longer-term efforts. The key often is seeking partnerships that cross over into unlikely arenas such as HBO’s Game of Thrones and Elle Décor magazine.

Deconstructing data
One need look no further than the NewFronts themselves for an example of a media organization—IAB—creating an event that has become a reliable part of the industry calendar. The m-to-m method visualizes a company as a collection of its data sets and identifies the most shareable, marketable IP assets. This can result in the establishment of regular indices or barometers that can measure politics to pop culture and potentially provide the foundation for consumer initiatives or events

Think like the Internet
For media companies to truly capture the pulse of entertainment and pop culture, their content approach must mirror that of its audiences—many of which will be quasi-competitors. Seek the crispest, "buzziest" content—life hacks over lists—and use it to fuel blogger or influencer outreach programs that extend the reach of the best material

The Digital Content NewFronts launched as an evolution of the TV Upfronts that have historically set the agenda for that medium. With the emergency of m-to-m communications, it’s bound to be a fascinating category in the years to come.  

Jerry Griffin is general manager at Bender/Helper Impact.

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