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How Variety is Winning with Custom Content

Like many publishers looking for ways to grow revenue and combat profit erosion from programmatic pricing, Variety is now producing premium branded content. An iconic brand founded in 1905, Variety is the authoritative source for entertainment business news. Since its acquisition by Jay Penske’s PMC Media in 2012, Variety’s digital and event businesses have grown dramatically. And unlike many struggling publications, the print business has also seen steady and double-digit growth.

Variety launched our custom content initiative at the start of 2017. Variety Content Studio (VCS) was created as the brand marketing division responsible for creating storytelling and bespoke initiatives for clients and since the inception of VCS, we’ve attracted advertisers such as Intel, Amazon Studios, Adobe, Entertainment Studios, Focus Features, DIRECTV, Audi, Vizio/DTS, Tribeca Shortlist and more.

Anyone who has ventured into the world of building a custom content studio is aware of the pitfalls. It can be an expensive endeavor to put the right infrastructure in place and maintain a profitable margin. Changing the mindset of a media seller from offering a more simple transactional sale to one that is complex and creative can be challenging. Additionally once the content has been sold and produced, getting eyeballs on it may be both problematic and costly.

When deciding to move forward with a content studio at Variety we analyzed some of these inherent challenges and crafted a strategy for success.

I’d like to share with you a few takeaways from our experience entering into the endeavor of launching a studio:

Start Small then Scale

Rather than creating a large in-house division straight out of the gate, we chose to start small, building and hiring as we scale. Our unique position and relationships within the entertainment community allow us to tap into writing, producing and cinematography talent efficiently. (Hey, we’re in Hollywood and the city is filled with talented storytellers and artists looking for a break.)

Additionally for more than 20 years Variety has had a thriving editorial features division that has proven exemplary in its ability to monetize editorial content in the entertainment news, features and information space. We have been able to expand the print features division to include digital features and branded content. We began by assigning existing talent from the features editorial team to the branded team and eased in their workload as the deals closed.

Our first critical hire was an executive producer. Once we started creating more product we then brought on a second producer. If we needed any additional resources we leveraged our freelancer network. By using this strategy we avoided large overhead while waiting for deals to close.

Be Creative

The very nature of custom content is that it is creative. When responding to RFPs we pull in the team of writers and producers to ideate unique ideas that are never repurposed. Because we have hired writers and producers with backgrounds in entertainment they know how to thoroughly craft and pitch a story that is fresh, compelling and engaging to audiences of both insiders and the aspirational marketplace.

We are fortunate that Variety Live Media, our events and summits division, produces approximately 70 events throughout the year which also require creative selling and customization. The sales team is already accustomed to coming up with creative ideas. Tying them to a team of experienced producers and writers allows them to put the best proposal forward. Everyone works collectively as a group to really understand the needs of the brand and how we can bring our audience and our perspective to the project. And of course the concepts are tied to a compelling, comprehensive media plan.

Be Nimble

“What is it going to take to win?” is always a question we ask ourselves. Eliminating the unnecessary, moving quickly, being flexible in our approach and doing what it takes get to the win is the core of our mandate. Speed is an important factor in execution and while we set timelines we have been able to quickly pivot to get the job done. Because we are not burdened by layers of bureaucracy we can navigate through projects fast while still striving for excellence.

Maintain Margin/Pricing

The team mentality and structure at Variety also ensures that everyone involved on a branded content project, producers, writers, marketers and sales understand the costs. We always want to make certain that we can execute and deliver on what was sold while maintaining margin. And we want to price effectively which includes establishing floor pricing levels. We maintain a firm hand on pricing and it has been successful for us in staying profitable.

Stay Broad in Focus

While establishing this new business model, we have not allowed ourselves to get swallowed up by the demands of branded content. It is one area of an overall very successful business. We cannot ignore the other divisions.

By expanding slowly, hiring the right creative talent, working closely with sales, maintaining profitable, Variety is winning the branded content game.


About the Author:

Dea Lawrence is the CMO of Variety responsible for driving Variety’s global branding and communications strategy. She oversees strategy, creative, public relations, ad sales program development, social media development and the marketing and production of their 70 annual events and summits. Additionally Dea created the Variety Content Studio which creates storytelling for brands.

Dea is a highly experienced, solution based, sales and marketing leader who knows how to monetize companies, from startups to traditional corporations. Her advertising expertise is vast including creating and leading publisher direct and programmatic strategies, positioning media and creative ad tech platforms to Fortune 500 brands and their agencies, ad serving, rich media, video, dynamic creative optimization and data targeting sales across video, mobile, tablet and desktop. She has built sales and marketing teams over the past 20 years at companies such as PointRoll, AT&T, TubeMogul, and other start-ups.

Dea contributes regularly to advertising industry publications and speaks on panels.


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