Simon Whalley, executive producer, Framestore
Simon Whalley, executive producer, Framestore
A view from Simon Whalley

Think BR: Partnerships are the key to successful content marketing

Brands can get better content marketing results by engaging in long-term partnerships with content producers, writes Simon Whalley, executive producer, Framestore.

Content marketing is the current darling of the advertising world. But in between all the excitable debate about content-driven engagement and catering to the expectations of socially-savvy consumers, there’s a dearth of understanding about how to get real value from content marketing.

With YouTube receiving three-days worth of video uploads per minute, there’s plenty of evidence that content can be created on a shoestring.

But high quality content - the very stuff that high quality brands want to be associated with - has a habit of eating up marketing budgets with production costs.

The key to keeping these costs down is developing long-term partnerships with content producers.

This way, brands can gain instant improvements in ROI: firstly, production costs and schedules can be rationalised by centralising all production elements under one roof. Secondly, by commissioning one producer for all current and future productions, ROI is again improved through long-term economies of scale. But this will not come as news to anyone with even an ounce of business sense.

The more subtle yet no less significant value of content marketing partnerships comes from the culture of open-mindedness and joint guardianship that goes hand-in-hand with long-term collaboration.

Alliances between brands and their creative providers foster an on-going and mutual understanding. This, in turn, leads to content becoming ever more refined and creative with each new campaign.

A case in point is McLaren Animation: a new media company established to create hi-end CG-led content as part a content-driven marketing strategy for the McLaren brand. McLaren Animation is a joint venture with Framestore, a content production company that creates Oscar-winning CG and visual effects. McLaren Animation’s first project was a CG comedy series called Tooned that features digital incarnations of McLaren’s star F1 drivers, like Jenson Button.

Tooned was initially commissioned to drive global audience engagement via digital channels but, thanks to its partnership model, the content was developed to the highest possible quality and has now grown into a fully-blown media property extending branding opportunities for sponsor partners, in addition to being broadcast as a TV series by Sky.

This type of escalation, from digital beginnings to fully-fledged media property, becomes more feasible when created via a partnership.

Every party involved has a vested interest and can produce content effectively thanks to the economies of scale that come from keeping everything under one roof. Such a nimble approach means content can be developed more quickly and ideas have the freedom to grow.

Instead of taking months to germinate, these ideas are part of a continual creative process that quietly goes on in the background of partners’ brains.

The ongoing and mutually-beneficial nature of a partnership means that everyone involved is constantly buzzing with inspiration; automatically creating ideas that evolve organically, rather than being limited by the constraints of a prescriptive brief. The key is to keep creative teams from both companies small but comprised of senior people.

Partnership fosters a mutual ‘guardianship of intent’ which means both parties are prepared to learn about each other at grass roots level and fuse the best of each other’s DNA.

By getting to know each other so intimately, the partnership is more likely to generate enhanced and expanded content that can continue to develop on an upwards trajectory across the years.

This two-way intimacy and resulting trust also cultivates a more open-minded pipeline, with enough flexibility to take results above and beyond initial expectations. Mutual trust also means each side of the partnership is left to get on and do what it does best without interference.

Partnership is a loose term that can take many different shapes. But true believers would be wise to take partnership to its ultimate level: a joint venture. With collective IP ownership and revenue-sharing, each party becomes heavily invested, both financially and emotionally.

This reciprocal commitment, when combined with earned trust, ultimately generates better results; not just in ROI, but also in terms of pushing creative and marketing boundaries.

Digital media - with its democratisation of content distribution - has helped join up the dots where they wouldn’t normally be joined. Without the likes of YouTube encouraging a new type of marketing content, McLaren would not have needed to meet Framestore. But these unexpected alliances are creating exciting new breeds of content... and business models.

Simon Whalley, executive producer, Framestore