A+E Networks: Coaching Brands to Stronger Partnerships

By A+E Networks InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: A+E Networks: Coaching Brands to Stronger Partnerships

A+E Networks has been making headlines with innovative content for their brand partners, including A Recipe for Seduction, last year's mini-movie starring Mario Lopez as Colonel Sanders, produced by Lifetime. The network group's own recipe for audience seduction -- on behalf of advertising partners that include KFC, Rocket Mortgage and Ancestry -- involves a very specialized approach, as David DeSocio, A+E Executive Vice President Ad Sales Marketing and Partnerships recently explained.

DeSocio and his team are focused on solving an increasingly difficult problem for brands: standing out amidst a clutter of media choices with volume, clarity and frequency. To do that, they identify A+E media properties that match a brand's personality and then integrate that brand message in meaningful and creative ways.

"Our job is like being a matchmaker," DeSocio explained. "We pair your brand with a relevant and meaningful environment so your message can resonate or take on valuable new context, and then we create custom elements that connect the brand and the environment even more. But it doesn't stop there. The right idea [the "right match") needs to be nourished, actualized and given the chance to thrive. So maybe we're brand coaches?"

When advertisers begin working with A+E Partnerships, the first thing the team members want to understand is what the brand stands for and what it values. They know that it is not their job to reinvent the brand, but to "take what they stand for, amplify it, and get it out into the world in a new and exciting way," said DeSocio.

"We believe that television remains a superior medium for building brands and selling products and services. We also know adding platforms can make an idea even more effective. So now it's about encouraging our clients to be a part of the content everywhere it appears. Supplementing big TV partnerships with digital, social, podcasts and so forth is so important, because it allows brands to meet consumers wherever and whenever they are engaging with content. It also allows us to introduce a brand or or key benefit on one platform, offering trial or 'click to purchase' on another. Each platform or element plays a key role in the brand's health and well-being."

More platforms also translate to more eyeballs -- and opportunities, DeSocio noted. "More and more, we are talking to clients about the importance of a Total Audience. From engaging 55+ consumers -- who, by the way, are 95 million strong and account for 40% of annual consumer spending and are open to new products and brand -- to  supplementing their linear buy with a digital campaign that delivers an independent and additive audience, it's never been easier to pull these levers. And the right creative idea can be the thread that ties it all together."

The ideation involves a deep dive into a client's brief to see if there are hidden gems. "Some new insight about the consumer -- or how and why they use the brand -- might spark a new connection or suggest an unexpected property," he added. "That's where the magic happens."

Customizing the Content: A HISTORY of Success

A few years back, Ford wanted A+E to help launch a new campaign by targeting new truck buyers and intenders. With a love and affinity for trucks, The HISTORY Channel's audience was perfect. Existing programming coupled with new custom content took viewers into the Ford factory to see and experience the product from assembly line to the open road. Not every brand has the time and resources for such elaborate partnerships, according to DeSocio. "In the past two years, we've seen a greater appetite for more turn-key, but still custom ideas and approaches."

In today's changing landscape, working nimbly is also part of the process. Last year, when many were still homebound, Ancestry asked the network to help them create a virtual Memorial Day Parade so that families and friends could still share a meaningful holiday experience together.

The HISTORY Channel was able to use their storytelling skills and resources to assemble Memorial Day Parade footage from over the years to create a shareable consumer experience that was also great for the brand, DeSocio said. Coupled with moving narration, the partnership resulted in a shared consumer experience that paid off for both brands.

Encouraging Brand Stories with Purpose

For inspiration, DeSocio's team looks deeper into the process of creating content. "To us, who gets to tell the story not only makes a difference but creates opportunities with real-life impact." He cites the Lifetime network and their Broader Focus initiative as an example.

The program helps young women from diverse backgrounds get their first job in media. The effort also includes a scholarship program for film school so that more women can enter the industry. "In this way, Lifetime has been supporting women, not just by telling stories that they love, but by encouraging and cultivating female talent in media, scouting content leaders who are creating the best female-focused stories for television and raising awareness about the need for more women of varied backgrounds in influential content-making roles," DeSocio said.

"We always invite clients to share their social values and outreach programs with us. There's been a real shift from brands towards supporting meaningful and socially responsible messages and causes, and we've had great success in telling those stories," said DeSocio.

For more than four years, The HISTORY Channel has partnered with Rocket Mortgage to show how the brand is working to eradicate veteran homelessness. "This is another example of good match making. These uplifting stories resonate even more with the HISTORY audience who support and celebrate the veteran community all year long," DeSocio explained.

Winning Results

Every brand appreciates creative work that stands out, but what they ultimately want are results.  "Did we make an impact? Did we encourage or close a sale? It's not enough to have a great idea," DeSocio said. "You have to have a great idea that works." To understand the power of a partnership's results, DeSocio asks four questions about the intended audience: "Did they hear it? Did they remember it? Were they moved by it? And ultimately, did they take some action?

"If the answer is 'yes' to all the above, then we've done our job in helping our partners become a part of the larger conversation," he said.

Those questions will certainly be asked about the Lifetime mini-movie A Merry and Bright Makeover, which was just released for Procter & Gamble's beauty brand Olay. "When balancing creativity and commerce, we must always keep the consumer in the front of our minds. If we create content with their needs in mind and it represents our audience and the real world, everyone wins. The audience is entertained; the brand makes its point. And if it's organic and feels right, viewers are more than willing to come along for the ride and embrace the brand more fully," DeSocio said.

You can watch A Merry and Bright Makeover at top. 

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