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MTV's digital strategy and why it's succeeding

MTV's digital strategy and why it's succeeding Madhuri Shekar

For Carolyn Everson, EVP of strategy and operations for MTV Networks, change is part of the job -- change every day, sometimes even every hour. She knows, however, that the industry has never been a more exciting place, partly because it has never been so challenging for marketers to sell their products and entertain their consumers at the same time.

Going forward, it will be almost impossible to separate the sell from the storytelling. Marketers are aware that the traditional 30-second advertisement does not have the same impact it used to, and product integration is therefore gaining ground as a key marketing strategy. These changes are clearly seen when CMOs collaborate with Everson's team to lead their creative campaign and solicit creative input to the tune of even re-packaging their products.

Save the date! Carolyn Everson will be presenting on the state of the digital advertising industry at ad:tech New York, Nov. 4. Learn more about ad:tech New York.

The one thing that remains constant, however, is that the audience is king. As Ross Martin, SVP of programming for MTV 360 puts it, "I report to the audience."

iMedia spoke with Carolyn Everson on the changes and developing trends in digital marketing, the impact of product integration with online entertainment content, and those elusive metrics that uniquely define each marketer's campaign.

iMedia: How has your job evolved over the past two years in keeping with the changes in digital advertising and online video distribution?
Carolyn Everson: If there is one thing I can say for sure, it's that my job changes every day, sometimes by the hour. There are new players, new business models, threats to existing business models, and the pace of consumer change that basically demand a constant need to evaluate strategy. However, there has never been a more exciting time to be in this business. Marketers will always have a need to sell their products, and I think their job is harder than it has ever been. Consumers will always want to be entertained. If your business solves those two basic truths, you are in the sweet spot.
iMedia: What developing trend in digital media and marketing do you see as the "next big thing"?
Everson: Everyday, I see examples of digital learnings and processes making their way into the linear business -- whether it be from the consumer angle of social media and the consumer wanting to participate and often lead discussions, to the advertisers looking for more quantitative proof that there is an ROI, or the way content is being made, interacted with, and consumed. Digital advertising is more advanced from a yield perspective, and the key is finding the target audience and of course allowing the consumer to interact with advertising in a way that adds value to their experience. All of this is being translated to the linear experience, and it is just a matter of time before those distinctions (between linear and digital) become obsolete.
iMedia: MTV's new production "Valemont" has heavily integrated the Verizon phone, and features interaction with the content online. Do you feel that this is the direction all broadcast entertainment is headed: creating branded entertainment through a variety of platforms?
Everson: I think it might be an overstatement to say all broadcast entertainment is headed in that direction. However, there is no question that the most interesting conversations being held in conference rooms and over sushi and beer are between the "creatives" and marketers. Marketers are eager to find an authentic way to connect and engage with their consumers, and creatives are just the right answer if storytelling is the way to do that, especially given the concerns brought on by DVRs.

I love what I am seeing developing on this front and believe the silos of programming, sales, and marketing are breaking down, and what we are turning out in terms of product keeps getting better and better. MTV Networks has been ahead of this curve for years, challenging the model, and it has produced award-winning creative (in programming and in-pod) in partnership with advertisers. The reason I don't think it will scale to all content anytime soon is that these deals take time, the right talent, and they need to provide the consumer with an enhanced experience. As an industry, we need to get it right for our audience and our advertisers.

We formed a group called Digital Fusion, led by Jason Witt, SVP. Digital Fusion is working with clients on their overall digital strategy, designing creative, developing content, and consulting our most important accounts. We cannot keep up with the demand for their services. The model exists in digital, linear, and cross-platform. We see it as a key part of our future.

iMedia: How have advertisers responded to these changes?
Everson: I think there are different levels of response. Some CMOs are risk-averse (and some might say justifiably so when the average tenure is 18 months) and look for more traditional solutions (certain level of reach, product placement, etc). Others are on the cutting edge and abandoning everything they thought was standard course of practice. We have CMOs who have asked us to lead their creative campaign, asked for advice on product launches because of our cultural relevance, asked us to redesign product packaging. Simply put, as a media company, we are being asked to partner and flex our creative muscle in ways we have not seen before, so the roles of client, agency, and media company are blurring.
iMedia: What has the response from the consumer been? How do you maintain the integrity of the entertainment content while still making sure that the marketers and advertisers get their due?
Everson: One of my key partners on the creative side, Ross Martin, SVP of Programming for MTV 360, said to me, "I report to the audience." That sums it up. We all know we cannot let our audience down -- ever. Let's not forget, consumers are savvy and they get it, they expect it, and when we do it right, they appreciate it, as our research has shown over and over.
iMedia: What do you see as the most important metric for the success of an online campaign? Do you see that changing in the near future?
Everson: I wish there was one metric that was most important but there can't be because that would presume that all marketers have the same goal. I have clients who measure success based on how many products they sold in the last minute, and I have other clients who have expectations on brand love. There is no single measurement that can answer both.

Madhuri Shekar is a new media research intern at Sony Pictures Television, and a freelance social media marketing consultant.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Madhuri Shekar is a freelance writer and social media marketing consultant. She has previously worked at Rogers and Cowan in the eMedia department, and at Sony Pictures Television in New Media Research.Madhuri holds a Masters in Global Communication...

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Commenter: Vickie Smith-Siculiano, PMP

2009, October 13

Great post and interview - I agree with the points made that marketers have to be savvier than ever and ever-evolving. They need to stay on top of trends and need to know how to engage the customer - or someone else is going to snatch up the opportunity! Thanks for your post.