iMedia Connection

4 masters of the owned media universe

What if there was a TV channel that was only about your brand? Something pretty amazing has happened in the last few years, thanks to the internet. Now, companies can produce their own content and become their own media outlets. The internet has democratized news and mass communication so much that people and brands are able to reach the same audiences as the news media, be read by the blog readers, and even host their own web TV shows and podcasts.

This trend actually started several years ago. While companies were still focused on traditional media, it was people -- citizen journalists, diarists, and entrepreneurs -- who started using the internet as a way to communicate with other people. And as it got more and more popular, brands started embracing the internet while still thinking in old media terms. Brands tried to earn media (public relations) and they tried to buy media (advertising), but they soon figured out they could own media.

4 masters of the owned media universe

What if your budgets were divided into earned, paid, and owned? Where would the majority of the money be spent? Would the money be spent on renting eyeballs, sending press releases, or on developing your own audience and your own relationships with your potential customers? Would this be done in lieu of financing media companies to compete with you for the attention of your customers?

Owned media is by no means free, but you can pursue this for a fraction of the cost of your other marketing channels. Audiences cost money to create and develop, but few brands spend enough in this area. The ones who do are the ones destroying their competitors. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Red Bull

Red Bull invests the majority of its spend on its internal audience development team. Take a second to visit its site (after you've finished reading this article, of course) for an example of a brand doing owned media right. You probably heard about a little stunt Red Bull put together last October in which Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere. The stunt -- dubbed "Red Bull Stratos" -- was one of the most watched events in 2012.

Nike

Nike invested more than $200 million and hired over 200 employees dedicated to creating content and growing audience on its owned media channels last year alone. Meanwhile, Nike's spending on TV and print advertising in the U.S. dropped by 40 percent in just three years. The result? The company's stock has returned 120 percent over the past five years as the S&P 500 index (SPX) has returned just 2.5 percent.

Starbucks

In 2010, Starbucks launched a major content marketing effort called the "Starbucks Digital Network." News, entertainment, business, careers, and "my neighborhood" are just a few of the categories of content Starbucks produces daily, on a localized level. Also, Starbucks spends almost no paid or earned media dollars, nor has it ever. The result? Starbucks stock hit an all-time high about two years after implementing Starbucks Digital Network.

Apple

Apple not only markets itself with amazing, helpful, well-designed content -- it controls most of yours. Your music? In iTunes. Your movies? Apple TV. Your documents? iCloud. Everything else? On your iPhone.

Apple is a content play, not a technology play. The company makes devices that help you create and access content, period. Apple also recently became the most valuable company in history.

While it would be easy to link the success of these brands to the size of their marketing budget, the fact is that any size business can build and monetize an audience. It just takes the right structure.

Creating an engaged audience is not a one person job, even for a smaller brand. For very small businesses, it can sometimes work -- but to take advantage of owned media for most brands, it means rethinking how you're staffed internally, and what your external partner mix looks like.

I know what you're thinking now. "So, if my current staff can't help with this, and my agency partners can't do it, who can? Who is really good at this stuff?"

Glad you asked. Let's step outside of the marketing department and the PR department. Let's move beyond the typical staff you would put in place for paid and earned media. Move beyond the partners you use today. Now ask, which organizations are in the business of audience building that are really good at it and make their living by it? Which organizations operate in real time? Which ones really have to be always-on?

The answer is pretty obvious: CNN, ESPN, NPR, NYTimes.com, and Turner Sports. Broadcast news operations have been doing this for years, and they have been leaders in leveraging audience feedback to create content centrally and deploy it across multiple platforms in real time. Their operating structure is purpose-built to generate large, engaged audiences. They rent their audience's eyeballs out to marketers like you. Their editors are constantly being pitched story ideas from your PR department. They are in the business of building and monetizing audience. This is the way to structure your team.

There are four key functions to the newsroom model

The producer function
In a news operation, this is the person ultimately responsible for leading all the content development efforts and getting high quality content produced and distributed on time and on budge. This is the person who is ultimately responsible for the audience numbers. If the ratings are down, the anchors don't get fired -- the producer does. This is the key leadership role in your owned media efforts. This person needs to understand what stories work, how to get them produced and distributed, and how to measure their success to inform the next stories.

This is the day-to-day leadership function in an owned media program. This person leads strategy development  and manages the resources of the team to deliver the metrics goals you outlined in your strategy. This is the central point of contact and the ultimate decision maker on all things related to content for all your owned media properties.

The writer or reporter function
This person is the actual content creator. The writers produce stories assigned by the producer or assignment editor, going out and gather information and actually create content. Writers and reporters are usually teamed up with a video production specialist in TV news, but many today write, shoot, and edit video or take photos. Writers produce "omnichannel packages," or stories that can easily be used and distributed not just on TV but on websites, blogs, in email, in mobile apps, in social media, and other digital channels. Other specialists you might see in this category are  involved with graphics production. These people make visual content to support the story such as a chart, graph, animation, or other visual content. But the core story-gathering and writing component will always be the most important piece of the puzzle. The actual production of the story is the easy part.

This function is responsible for actually producing content for your owned media properties. It is important that the person in this function is "wired" like a reporter. The key issue here is expertise. While a traditional PR person has deep subject matter expertise, they don't really "scale" very broadly. Your brand will need to create content about all kinds of different subjects that are relevant to your brand, but not necessarily "about" your brand. It is important to have someone in this role who can create a story quickly, and at a high level of quality with nothing but a subject and source, just like a real reporter. Depending on the size and scope of your operation and your budget, you could augment your content creator with specialists in video, graphics, and other specialty production functions.

The assignment editor function
This is the "eyes and ears" of a news operation. The assignment editor performs the "listening" function by monitoring trends, watching competitors, getting story leads, monitoring police band radio, and helping to inform the producer about developing situations and story opportunities.

This is the typical "social media manager" function at most companies. This function should be focused on monitoring in the context of finding opportunistic situations for your brand that your audience would find entertaining and engaging. They should be in close contact with your writer and your producer function to keep them informed about what is happening with your audience and in the world at large. This function should also be a good content creator who is focused on proactive, short-form content (like sharing and distributing what your content team is creating) and reactive, short-form content (like responding to content others are making about your brand). Depending on the needs of the brand, you may want to augment this role with the customer service component of your marketing efforts. These are two distinct and separate roles -- one is about building audience, and one is about customer service. Keep this in mind as you determine how to staff your team. You could also add specialists in data analysis, analytics reporting, and other similar roles to augment your assignment editor function.

The engineering function
In a news room, the engineering team is responsible for making sure all the technical facets of the operation are working the way they are supposed to. They buy the right technology and tools, they implement the technology and train the news team to use it and -- when necessary -- they build custom technology when an off-the-shelf solution isn't readily available.

This is your traditional in-house digital or web dev team or,  in some cases, IT, depending on how your brand is structured. This is where you want someone with relatively deep expertise in a development role, typically a "front end" developer, to lead this function. Again, depending on the scope of your brand and your specific needs, you could augment this role with programmers, UI designers, and other technical or code oriented functions. This team's role is to support the rest of the team from a functional perspective.

It is important to note that, in my experience, it is incredibly difficult if not impossible to find any one person who can do all of this, and all of these roles are critical to making your owned media program work. That doesn't mean you have to hire more full time employees for this -- these functions could be covered by reorganizing existing resources. Also, you can always augment and scale these functions with outside partners. But, without having someone in your company responsible for and accountable to each of these four distinct areas, your owned media efforts will fail. Each role is critical. Someone has to own and implement strategy and understand the story that the audience metrics are telling about your success (or failure) to produce great content. Someone has to be responsible for actually producing content -- lots of different kinds at high quality levels. Someone has to be responsible for the listening and response function in your organization. And all of those people -- none of whom are going to be necessarily technical in nature -- are going to need technical support.

Taulbee Jackson is president of Raidious.

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