A candid conversation with 3 top studio execs

Posted by Kyle Montero on September 17th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

At the stylish Loews Hollywood Hotel and Spa in Hollywood, Calif., the iMedia Entertainment Summit brings together the brightest minds to explore the latest marketing opportunities in film, television, and gaming, as well as to tackle major problems facing entertainment marketers.

As a case in point, this morning's panel discussion, "Harnessing the media mix and integration," brought together three top studio executives: Laurel Bernard, EVP of marketing at Fox Broadcasting; Doug Neil, EVP of digital marketing at Universal Pictures Broadcasting; and Megan Wahtera, SVP of interactive marketing at Paramount Pictures. With help from moderator Gordon Paddison, CEO of Stradella Road, the all-star lineup addressed important questions and talked openly about the day-to-day marketing operations at their studios.

Paddison lead the panel with a series of questions. Below are just a few of the most interesting ones.

What is the sweet spot for digital? Awareness, exploration, or conversion?

According to Wahtera, digital plays a significant role in all three. The majority of Paramount's trailer views occur online, thus successful trailer targeting drives awareness for each film. In addition, Wahtera explained that "Exploration is the definition of interaction. This is where we can really thrive." The key to Paramount's online marketing is interaction -- viewers become a part of the campaign rather than simply receivers of messaging. And lastly, she explained that, given the clutter online, the company has to be everywhere on digital and across screens to convert.

According to Neil, a movie trailer on TV can drive a huge amount of awareness, but the company places heavy focus on generating awareness with influencers and advocates online. As he explained, Universal looks to create awareness with "core basic fans that become a critical part of the campaign's life."

Lastly, Bernard addressed the question, stating "We used to just build awareness on Fox…Now we are in a world where we have to build awareness off of Fox, and the digital space has become very integral to that."

This lead Paddison to his next question:

In the awareness window, do you find digital effective for discovery?

According to Bernard, you cannot just build discovery on TV. What Fox has been doing more recently is creating content for digital right from the get-go, in parallel with messaging made for TV. In the past, Fox would make digital content "right before the launch."

Furthermore, as Neil explained, in order for digital to generate discovery, you have to beat the competition to the punch. For instance, Universal ran an ad unit for the movie "The Purge" in the Facebook news feed, which saw "amazing engagement."  However, users may get numb to ad units in the news feed, specifically considering how competitive the environment has become. Thus, it's crucial to get out in front of the competition in order to drive true discovery. In his words, "If you are the first one, you will get noticed."

Wahtera elaborated on this point by explaining that discovery is only successful if you are able to maintain the initial excitement of discovery. For instance, Paramount lunched an app during the Super Bowl for the movie "Star Trek," well before the release of the film. The app offered the chance to win tickets to see the movie early. As such, Paramount was able to generate discovery and maintain the buzz until the premier. According to Wahtera, "We try to take advantage of long lead drivers and sustain them with digital."

And a third question Paddison asked:

What are two of your key pain points?

As Bernard explained, one is the "intent model," which works better for film. There are multiple options for viewers and just because an individual intends to watch one thing, does not mean they don't intent to watch others. According to Bernard, "What is important is figuring out how to move the needle from intent to action." As such, she needs marketers help to make "smarter choices about what pushes people to make the decision." She "can't live 100 percent on intent anymore." Another one of her pain points is "the barrage." For her, like most marketers, "It's incredibly difficult to keep up with the amount of emails coming in at a rapid pace detailing all the different opportunities out there."

For Neil, he believes measurement tools need to improve and pitches from marketers need to be film specific. In order to stand out to Universal, you have to show him that you are "thinking about each film," rather than films as a whole, and show him how "your tools apply to a specific title."

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