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I am a strategy director with experience in all stages of brand strategy and execution. I work with CEO's on the future of their business, and I bring brands to life through tailored content. Whatever you need. I am based in London, but can work wherever you and your clients are.

 

 

The Blog of Camilla Grey Petty

 

Filtering by Tag: content

Branded content review: Nike’s web series ‘Margot vs Lily’

Camilla Grey

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the old content giants were dying and new unicorns were spinning yarns both incredible and strange…

Whether brands are lurking quietly in the background or right out in front, they are finding new ways to communicate and sell that truly challenge more traditional media platforms and publishers.

Writing in The Guardian, Andrew Marr described this all as a “wave of creative destruction overturning all traditional media”. And its true, today’s leading brands not only come armed with money and power, but also with creativity. Whether in-house or agency, brands have access to some of the most creative people in the world, enabling them to disrupt traditional media as much as traditional industries.

So, in the same month that both The Independent and BBC3 packed up their analogue and broadcast bags to go online-only, Nike launched an eight-part original web series called Margot vs Lily. It’s no low-key thing — the creative team behind it have legit TV credentials (Glee and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and it has all the gloss and style of New Girl or Rookie MagIt’s not perfect — in fact it’s a little uncanny valley — but it represents such a holisticfusion of creative ideas and approaches that it’s worth noticing.

But let’s go back to the uncanny bit. Margot vs Lily has everything going for it and yet… it’s like watching a PowerPoint for a branded content idea in film form. I get the feeling that they brought in this epic creative team of storytelling experts, and then feedback-ed their way to something very odd. I asked a screenwriter (my Mum) for her view on the first episode. Here’s what she said:

Script gurus talk a lot about jeopardy and conflict and what’s at stake, but, if nothing meaningful to the audience is at stake, there’s no story. It can be tiny, but it has to feel authentic. And it has to be felt: show, don’t tell.
Why should the audience care enough about Margot and Lily to invest in their story? (And by ‘invest’ I don’t mean purchasing opportunities.) If an audience is to feel enough for Margot and Lily to care what happens to them, their ‘struggle’ has to feel authentic. Authentic, ‘deep character’ struggles around women and exercise lie in the fear of exposure, embarrassment, failure and uncertainty — painful subjects for a brand identified with being the best.
And so, Nike Women’s messages are ticked off at such an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ rate that it’s clear that, whatever larks are to be had along the way, both young women are going to win — and not merely the bet but also a ‘sweatspiration’ lesson about life.
Good drama taps into our worst fears. The nightmare of someone who wants to win is not to lose but to come second forever. A brand narrative committed to a simple linear outcome cannot hope to embrace the messy but essential ‘what-happens-next?’ uncertainty that drives a good story. Margot v. Lily is noChariots of Fire. Either Nike Women should instead have gone to the team behind Friday Night Lights, or not confused brand story with drama.

Mum’s are so wise aren’t they? Seriously, though, she’s right. Margot vs Lily is failing to pass as content by committing to the brand story, not the human story. As consumer, we’re able to see past all the Nike gear and oh-so-subtle calls-to-action, but are going to want to watch past episode 1 when Just Do It just isn’t doing it for us as a narrative?

A newsletter of a generation

Camilla Grey

Yesterday, Lena Dunham announced the forthcoming launch her of newsletter, Lenny. Describing it as being like “your over sharing Internet friend”, the newsletter is aimed at young women and will cover fashion, politics and relationships. Dunham and her co-creators have outlined big ambitions for the newsletter and hope to surface many different voices through their content. But perhaps most interesting is how The Cut (the women’s section of the New York Times) heralded Lenny’s launch. In an otherwise warm and positive piece, their opening line made no bones about the underlying intention of Lenny.

“The Lena Dunham experience is getting another brand extension.”

Brands — and Lena Dunham has become a brand — must constantly find new ways to cut through an otherwise crowded space and (it just never gets old) engage deeply with their target audience. In 2011, I wrote about Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter client (now publishing platform) A Plus. If you’ll excuse me the self-indulgence of quoting myself,

A.plus has gone beyond hoping that people will actively seek out or notice tweets from brands — or in his case “celebrities” — and positioned it right there next to your Twitter stream. As Twitter, and indeed other social networks, age and grow, the idea that your brand’s voice will be heard through the noise just because you’re good at tweeting is not a risk worth taking. What A.plus proves, is that if you have the insight on your audience to give them something they’ll truly use — like a great Twitter client — then you have also created the opportunity and right to give your voice, your message priority

Lena Dunham has earned that right, and she’s been smart about where she’s used her voice and how. And yet, while the underlying need to stand out has not changed, audience savvy has. And none more so than among the young, enlightened, feminists that Dunham is going after. In fact, she’s helped educate them. Through GIRLS, her book and her social channels, she’s instigated a discourse around our online and offline selves, around what’s meaningful and what’s bullshit, and around what’s art and what’s artifice.

The focus when it comes to Lenny seems to be about modern feminism, but I think it’s really about something deeper — the existential dilemma of self as brand. In the Buzzfeed coverage, Dunham is quoted as saying, “We’ll be allowed to show the ugly and complicated thought processes that go into forming your own brand of feminism”. But take out the last two words and it takes you closer to the nub of the challenge facing everyone today, not just women. Feminism is a part of it, but what’s made Dunham “a voice of a generation” is her creative response to the bigger picture, to responding to mass marketing with self marketing.

I read recently that Millennials aren’t a demographic, but a genre — a cultural style that’s informed by a diverse set of interests that spans fashion and politics, food and finance. What defines a Millennial isn’t their age, gender or location, but their ability and appetite to live full lives amidst a barrage of conflicting messages and pressures. In this light, Lenny is potentially quite meta — a ‘brand extension’ about navigating life in a world of branded extensions. My inbox awaits.

 

How to hire an embedded storyteller

Camilla Grey

Last week Andy Whitlock from Made By Many posted this post and associated job description. He described how the company is currently looking for “someone to ‘live with us’, be a part of the team, and help to extract the insights and opinions that are trapped inside us and our projects and get them out there”. Moving someone like this into your business is a special process, and one I know a thing or two about.

The idea of an “embedded storyteller” is representative of a shift many businesses are undertaking to make marketing more in-grained. Doing so builds vital bridges that enables a brand to react in real-time to the world around it. For consultancies too, this kind of role can add a lot of value — it demonstrates their approach above and beyond client work (most of which is NDA-d), it surfaces creativity that would otherwise be on the cutting room floor, and it allows them to “join the conversation” in an honourable way with clients and talent.

A “live-in journalist” is pretty close to the position I currently hold at Wolff Olins (Head of Content), and similar to the one I previously held at Moving Brands. I’ve also spoken informally to other company founders and owners, about how to recruit for this kind of role. While I’m happy where I am, I do figure I’m well placed to offer some friendly tips and truth bombs on this relatively obscure subject. So here goes, unsolicited advice coming up…

Firstly, I’m with Andy on the job title. No matter how you spin it, it either sounds limiting, pointless, or horribly cringe-y. To be honest, the title doesn’t really matter, because hiring for this role is more about finding that special snowflake who meshes perfectly with your own distinct company culture. And, like snowflakes, no two are likely to be the same with the same skills or experience.

Fangirl/boy is probably the most accurate description — this person needs to be obsessed with the company they’re embedded into and willing to do whatever it takes to spread the word. Like a OneDirection fan, but with less crying over Zayn and more articulate blogging.

That said, a strategic mind is crucial. This role relies on being able to channel the strategic direction of the company and whip it into stories. It’s no coincidence that ‘strategy’ is in my job title, and I fought to keep it there when I moved from being a client-side strategist. My first move in the job was to develop a content strategy that is built out of the business objectives. It provides a clear overview of the goals content needs to achieve, the principles for content creation, and guidelines for how each separate channel (website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) works in the service of that. I’ve seeded this through shares in every office (London, San Francisco, New York and Dubai), and with every community (Strategy, Design, Tech, and Programme Management). Beyond that, I try to demonstrate the usefulness of content wherever possible — from helping individuals become known for something, to weaving relevant home-baked content into business development outreach.

The most impactful way to embed a storyteller is to get them nice and cosy at the heart of the organisation. This means regular contact and access to the business leaders. I meet weekly with our CEO, Ije Nwokorie, and my permanent desk is on the new business “pod”. Hearing everything first-hand, being party to slight shifts in direction, and understanding how the offer is being sold in day-to-day, means all communication is (hopefully) on point and the money.

Structure and process aside, this role is also highly visible and answerable to a lot. Andy’s notion of the “unburdened mouth piece” is spot on, but his belief that this person will be “less busy” is not. While I no longer stay late on pitches, or re-write PowerPoints on the flight back from a meeting, I’m still busy, and the person you hire can’t be no slouch. The role demands that you are permanently plugged into the mainframe — connected deeply to project work, the internal culture and relevant goings on in the outside world. As Andy describes, “a real part of our team, in our meetings, at our lunch table and on our blog” — sounds like a busy day to me!

“Everyone as a potential contributor to the network”, is a good mantra.
Andy — I’ve relied on people taking a punt on me and what I think is possible for content/storytelling/marketing/whatever, and it sounds like you’re up for taking a punt on it too. That special someone you’ll want to move in with is out there. And when you do, here’s 5 things that will make them love you forever

  • Give them a budget and the resource to bring stories to life. A bit of design time can go a long way.
  • Train them up. Invest in their education (SEO, video production, InDesign), knowing they’ll bring that know-how back into the business.
  • Put them on a project. It builds vital relationships and boosts credibility.
  • Offer regular feedback. It’s unchartered territory, navigate it with them.
  • Champion them as much as they champion you.

Ultimately, I applaud any business up for investing in this kind of role and we’re seeing it more and more. Whether you’re a brand or a creative consultancy, having a distinct point of view on the world is important. It’s how you attract customers or clients, retain talent, and — above all — share what you give a damn about with others who might give a damn about it too.

This post originally appeared on Medium. To read it there with commentary from Andy click this.