Vox Media and the Art of Storyhunting
In April of 2019, Vox Media acquired Epic, which includes Epic Magazine, the nonfiction storytelling powerhouse, and its sister company Epic Digital, the true story consultancy and content studio for leading brands.
Vox Media, the leading modern media company known for building media brands and the technology that enables them, grew this year in a merger with New York Media. It’s editorial networks now include Vox, The Verge, SB Nation, Eater, Polygon, Recode, Curbed, NY Mag, Vulture, The Cut, Intelligencer, Grub Street, and The Strategist. The diverse storytelling and advertising businesses within Vox Media include the Concert publisher-led marketplace, the Vox Creative content studio, the Chorus publishing platform, and the company’s entertainment division Vox Media Studios, which includes the Vox Media Podcast Network and now, Epic.
So how does a thriving media company with a broad audience and a bullpen full of advertising partners implement an elite squad of veteran journalists and non-fiction storytellers? By telling incredible brand-funded stories, of course!
We caught up with Zach Kazin (Director of Creative Strategy, Vox Creative at Vox Media) to learn more about how Epic functions to elevate projects within the Vox family and what it means to invest in bringing real, good stories to life:
Can you tell us a little more about Epic and why Vox Media sought the company out?
Channeling journalistic principles, Epic Magazine & Epic Digital were founded by Josh Davis and Josh Bearman - reporters with roots at Wired, This American Life, GQ, and Rolling Stone - in 2013 to publish extraordinary true stories. In addition to stories published in Epic Magazine (and commissioned for other publications), Epic was notable for Vox Media for two key reasons:
(1) The stories that Epic finds have become a pipeline for Hollywood (TV, Film, OTT) development; more than 40 of Epic’s articles have been optioned by Hollywood, including Argo, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This was a natural way to grow the Vox Media Studios division.
(2) Epic partners with brands to find true stories of real people that express that brand’s values. Notable projects include work with Google, Ford, GE, and IBM (see more here). For brands, Epic offers its unique Storyhunting service: Epic story hunters travel the world in search of true stories; we then present ideas for how each story could come to life; and finally we turn the stories into documentary films, magazines, books, video games, photo essays, live events, and speeches. This was an approach to storytelling for brands unlike any we'd seen on the market, one that we knew would further differentiate Vox Creative, our leading branded content studio.
Epic has lived within Vox Media for the better part of a year now - what have the applications of their expertise been within the Vox Media network?
On the Vox Media Studios side, we are building a pipeline of projects. Most notably, our Apple TV+ project, “Little America,” will debut its first season on Friday, January 17, 2020. Inspired by the stories first reported in the Epic Magazine series of the same name, “Little America” goes beyond the headlines to bring to life the funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring, and surprising stories of immigrants in America. The series has already been renewed for Season 2.
On the Vox Creative side, Epic Stories is now at the core of all non-fiction storytelling created by our content studio.. At a baseline, we’re able to pair the journalistic expertise of Epic with Vox Creative’s industry leading in-house strategy, production and creative direction. Stepping further, we now offer Storyhunting as a standalone service to Vox Media’s many brand partners (which can be executed and commissioned in a variety of ways).
How does a Storyhunt with Vox Creative work? Are there any examples you can share?
Epic’s Storyhunting is based on finding the right stories. Most projects that Epic produced prior the Vox Media acquisition were delivered to brands as assets or stories for clients to use. Vox Creative, by contrast, generally creates content tied to distribution plans, and typically, using the authoritative voices of our 13 editorial networks.
The combination - when employing a full story hunt - is a new way of tying this all together for brands. The process itself is simple: we start with a brief, followed by a few weeks of storyhunting in the field, followed by "storytime" sessions where we review the stories with the client. From there we determine where the story best lives, on its own merit and based on the marketing KPI we're trying to meet, and execute accordingly by creating the desired content deliverables and distribution plan (or, in some use cases, the storyhunt itself is the deliverable).
Currently, Vox Creative, Epic, Digitas and KitchenAid are working together on a project that employed Storyhunting services, which will become a 3 part digital video series and a ~22-30 minute doc, and will release through a digital distribution campaign across the Vox Media ecosystem.
Often times brands can see the intrinsic value of investing in telling a story, but that doesn’t always translate to fiscal value. What do you do to account for that?
As more brands are interested in longer formats and more in depth storytelling - be that docs, series, or otherwise - they still typically are tied to marketing initiatives. Campaign KPIs pegged to a campaign timeline (or fiscal year) don’t exactly follow the same model as Hollywood development and distribution (which can take years). So taking the plunge into these more ambitious projects can be a hard sell up the chain for a brand leader and their media and content agency counterparts.
The benefit of the Vox Creative + Epic model is that we can do both: build a content program complete with campaign deliverables and KPI driven distribution goals within a certain flight AND develop the basis for in depth storytelling projects.
How can brands get involved?
To talk Vox Creative + Epic, Zach Kazin, Vox Creative’s Director of Creative Strategy, will be at Brand Storytelling. You can reach him at email@example.com.
About Zach Kazin
Zach Kazin is the Director of Creative Strategy for Vox Creative, Vox Media's content and creative partnerships division that connects brands to audiences through content and storytelling. The group leverages the editorial voice and insights of Vox Media’s diverse networks: Vox, Eater, SB Nation, The Verge, Polygon, Recode, and Curbed, NY Magazine, Vulture, The Cut, Intelligencer, Grub Street, and The Strategist.Since starting in 2018, Kazin has led the strategy for a number of Vox Creative’s most multifaceted partnerships, including it’s first major documentary project utilizing the 2019 acquired Epic Digital’s Storyhunting services.Zach previously was the Global Director of Digital Platform Partnerships at Red Bull Media House, overseeing the brand's media relationships and content strategy with platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and TikTok, growing the brand and its sponsored athletes and talent impact on communities worldwide. Through growing programs like the once-grassroots (and now MASSIVE) Spanish language freestyle rap competition Batalla de los Gallos, to turning an athlete into an influencer via YouTube strategy (ie. Jason Paul), to disrupting Twitch with athlete-hosted live streams of anything from Mountain Biking to Red Bull Flugtag, Zach continually led innovation designed to super-serve communities and drive audience engagement.Prior to Red Bull, Zach spent two years at Aol leading video distribution partnerships, ran a small production company (Illium Pictures), and started his career at Lionsgate Entertainment, building TV network brands (most notably, an effort to transform streetwear retailer Karmaloop into a multi-platform media company, Karmaloop TV).