Q&A with SVP of Brand Partnerships at Awesomeness, Harley Block
Following up our coverage of Versus, the new scripted series from Awesomeness created in partnership with Gatorade, Brand Storytelling wanted to get a little more information on the inner-workings of this forward-thinking content deal. For that (and more), we reached out to Harley Block, Senior Vice President of Brand Partnerships at Awesomeness to get the rundown on the series origins, the importance of brand partnerships, and what the future holds for Awesomeness.
Where did the Awesomeness & Gatorade deal / idea start?
Gatorade approached us earlier this year with the idea of creating an original piece of IP in support of their larger "Sisters in Sweat" initiative. The initial inspiration was along the lines of a Friday Night Lights for teen girls featuring female athletes - and took on an entirely new dimension and framework as we progressed through the partnership.
Regarding the creative, is it all Awesomeness creative and just Gatorade dollars, or do they have creative input? How does that work?
It's incredibly important to us that our partners have actual skin in the game from a creative standpoint. It's a collaboration in every sense of the word in that our team will take the initial creative direction from the brand, establish a set of ideas and treatments in line with that direction and then work from there in partnership to refine and iterate on those ideas to ensure that we're A) able to map the final product back to the initial brief and most importantly B) that we've landed on something that can function as a standalone piece of IP and entertainment.
What are the main points you’d like to share - what do you want our readers to know about this project?
The series highlights the challenges the teen female athletes face on and off the field and highlights the important life lessons girls learn through participation in sports that can help them succeed later in life. "Versus" launched in tandem with Gatorade's new campaign, "Sisters in Sweat." This campaign aims to shed light on the growing problem of girls dropping out of sports (teen girls today drop out of sports at 1.5x the rate of boys by age 14), by showing that staying in sports throughout their teenage years has long-term, personal benefits, no matter what they decide to go “pro” in.
How valuable are brand partnerships to Awesomeness?
We could not be more proud of the work we're doing with our brand partners - it's a critical area of our business that is on an exciting upward trend. Having the ability to help brands reach, connect and establish meaningful relationships with our audience through premium original entertainment is - in our opinion - the most effective method of modern advertising today. We try and stay away from the term 'branded entertainment'. In our view, what we're creating in collaboration with our partners is entertainment - period. That said, we're acutely aware that our clients are in the business of selling products and services, so we do underpin everything we do with custom research that measures exactly that.
Awesomeness is leading the charge in the new media content space - how soon do you think we’ll see more creators working with brands in a similar way to you?
You're starting to see more and more of it now, just to varying degrees of success. What really sets Awesomeness apart is that we were born - and remain today more than ever - a consumer brand first. Because of that, we are not simply producing content and then handing it over to our partners to figure out (and fund) distribution. Given that we have an audience coming to us every day on digital the way that you and I used to go to MTV, we're able to provide our partners with a guaranteed and laser targeted audience that's already leaning in vs. being interrupted.
What does the future hold? Any new projects on the horizon?
Our focus continues to be on creating a broad spectrum of content purpose-built for a Gen Z audience and distributed to them in the places where they are spending their time. That will manifest in a number of exciting ways as we continue to expand our OTT presence, platform partnerships, and international footprint.
Final plug - anything else you want to say about Versus?
Giant thank you to some of the best partners in the business - Gatorade and their agency teams - who have been instrumental in making this important project a reality. Our hope is that the audience continues to be entertained, inspired and motivated.
About Harley Block:
Harley Block is Senior Vice President/Head of Brand Partnerships at Awesomeness. Harley leads a national and rapidly growing team focused on helping some of the world's most important brands connect with their audiences through original entertainment, IP development, and strategic distribution. He oversees all aspects of the business ranging from influencer marketing to broader partnerships with brands such as Gatorade, Invisalign, Hollister, NFL, MLB, Kraft, and more. AwesomenessTV's branded entertainment work has been the recipient of several awards including Best Branded Content at The Shorty Awards for their work with Royal Caribbean on "Royal Crush," a runaway franchise that spanned four seasons.
Prior to Awesomeness, Harley led the award-winning Brand Strategy and Sales team for Tumblr's East Coast region working on building and executing content-led partnerships with clients such as Unliever, Google, Samsung and many others. He has also spent time in various capacities on the digital agency side at places such as R/GA and Edelman as well as some strategic digital consulting with HBO.
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