Lifetime's "Open Road" Drives Real Insights on Women

Goldman has been in place since January when parent company A+E Networks set a goal to have their networks "become more like voices in the broader conversation than standard TV properties." That goal was illustrated in the A+E Upfront in the form of executives sharing personal stories instead of bar charts, and will be embodied in Lifetime's Open Road, which aims to capture the stories of women everywhere. Goldman believes the increase in conversations specifically around women are sparking nothing short of "a revolution, and there's no going back." She sees Lifetime as leading the charge.

"There is no one else in media that's a definitive source -- the way ESPN is a definitive source for sports -- that authentically and credibly and with legitimacy talks to women all over the country, regardless of the demographic they come from or where they live," Goldman claims. "Lifetime has a long history and a credibility that's unrivaled, to say nothing of our footprint and scale. So, it's an interesting challenge I have now -- to be a voice, to be a thought leader -- with regard to those conversations."

She and I discussed the first of two major initiatives in place to leverage that challenge and motivate and educate marketers. One is the forthcoming "SheReports" -- a newsletter that will compile and deliver research to the inbox of advertisers.  The other, and first up, is Open Road, a year-long, U.S.-wide road trip already off gathering truths to share across a plethora of media platforms.  While the objective is not, as Goldman discusses below, a sponsor-driven opportunity, it will have clear value.  A+E Networks Executive Vice President of Ad Sales Peter Olsen, explains that there will be two key benefits for marketers: "The insights we gather and share will help to inform marketers of the real issues on the minds of women in America. We also invite marketers to come along for the journey with us via branded content that stresses the authenticity of these stories."

E.B. Moss: So, being that voice across the country, as you said, is a good segue to your current initiative, Open Road, which will literally cover all 50 states. Tell me more.

Lea Goldman (pictured at right): The genesis of the project was around the election. There was some substantial research we happened to have been doing around that time, and what emerged corresponded to what we were seeing coming out of the election: that many of us were surprised by the outcome and so, especially for those of us in media, perhaps we didn't know our audience as well as we thought we did.

One of those data points from the research was around 'strength': that regardless of where you were on the political spectrum women felt that there were not enough depictions, not enough diversity in the presentation of female strength. It was either Wonder Woman or Ronda Rousey and little in between. As women, we know strength could also mean the single mother putting food on the table, etc. So, we decided to embark on this Open Road project where we go across the country and give women a microphone to discuss what's on their minds. They are ordinary women telling extraordinary stories about strength and identity, beauty, friendship ... all the conversations women are having right now. The revelation has been that a lot of the issues that we thought were highly charged, highly politicized, for many women were not! They are just how they live. That will make for very compelling content when it's broadcast and published online.

E.B.: What will those content publishing touchpoints be?

Lea: We are collecting stories in a variety of different ways to consume the content: short and longform video, a podcast component, photo essays ... but this is a digital first project so they are all going to be available online, like the richness and diversity of a Humans of New York. So far, it's been surprising in that these women are upending stereotypes you thought you'd have vs the labels often assigned: single by choice, housewife ... they're not what we thought. The stories are moving, and sometimes funny ... very watchable and sharable. There will be a documentary that will come out of this, too.

E.B.: Will that be the culminating event?

Lea: There will be activations around the country in partnership with a nationally renowned podcasting partner.  We're working with Hearst on some of the storytelling and some photo exhibits around the country. So there will be points outside of Lifetime that take the story nationally -- it's not just a New York/LA project.

E.B.: What about the business ROI of value to the bottom line?

Goldman: This is not [intended to be a] Game of Thrones. I'm not assigning KPIs. This is really anthropological, because at the end what people glean from this will be crucial insights into our audience that they didn't have before. I keep referencing Studs Terkel: What we glean from this will far outweigh that, with something organic that lives beyond this project. It's not political. It's totally agnostic. It will be a place where women can connect with other women. That said, since we're gathering so many insights as content experts on all things women, this will be valuable information to share with our advertisers.

E.B.: Will there be a hub that connects this all?

Lea: Yes. The goal is that on some sort of social platform we'll put this out there; we will hopefully have created something so magnetic that it inspires women to connect with each other. That's frankly what we consider ourselves at Lifetime. We don't consider ourselves a passive brand; we view ourselves as a nexus for storytelling and a nexus for connection. 

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E.B. Moss

E.B. Moss built ad sales marketing departments for Lifetime Television, National Cable Communications and Food Network as well as audio companies Cumulus/Westwood One and AdLarge Media. Now, as Managing Editor/Vice President, Content Strategy for... read more