Viacom Synergy -- Rallying Around "Fans First"

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The fragmentation and increasing complexity of today's media landscape has resulted in more opportunities but also greater challenges for traditional media corporations. How can you move a company forward in an ecosystem of expanding consumption platforms, fickle consumer tastes, greater viewer control over time allocation and expanding technological and data driven applications? 

For a company like Viacom, it is both internal and external curation; carefully choosing the right team of employees, fostering a culture of collaboration, and forming a rallying point like Fans First, a concept that permeates the company and keeps the importance of the emotional connection between Viacom's brands and consumers at the forefront. 

I sat down with five executives from different departments at Viacom -- Valerie Bischak, Executive Vice President, Marketing and Partner Solutions; Deb Brett, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Partner Solutions; Sarah Iooss, Senior Vice President, Business Development; Gabe Bevilacqua, Senior Vice President, Data Strategy, and Kiel Berry, Senior Vice President, Co-Head, Viacom Labs -- to discuss how to authentically engage audiences as well as synergize this effort both internally and externally. These are the takeaways:

Fandom as a Connector

Fandom as a connector between departments and a unifying concept externally for marketers permeates the organization. For Bischak, her role is to insure that the marketers see how differentiated Viacom is from competitors. "Each of our brands has unique fans," she stated. "The brands we are talking to can come along for the ride. We have custom content capabilities to create programs around fandom for a brand.  We work with Gabe and his group to add an additional layer and use data to show we are reaching these fans in a meaningful, targeted way."

The idea of Fans First ties together all aspects of sales. Brett, Bischak and Iooss all worked together years ago at Viacom running digital, mobile and linear sales.  "We saw a phenomenon back then in sales and we thought, we can buy spots and dots, we can run pre-roll online but what we wanted out of Viacom is the ephemeral, the fan engagement," Brett explained.  "How can we harness that and make it a part of what we are contracting?"  Over time, the three executives evolved their roles and disciplines, but they still connect via fandom. "We use Fans First as a guiding principal," said Iooss.  "It is a core piece of the mission statement for my team. It is something my team and our partners can get behind."

Her team is not composed of the usual suspects. "Our business development team is made up of some pretty untraditional picks for business development," she explained.  "It's not all consultants and MBAs. It's people who come from social media agencies or brands and digital accounts at agencies and some from other cable companies."

Data and Analytics are Critical Components

In the areas of data and analytics, the Fans First concept encourages a new way of looking at the audience. "Fandom is an easy way for me and my team to relate as a mission," stated Bevilacqua.  "Let's not just think of the people who watch TV as adults 18-49.  Let's think of them reflective of behaviors and attitudes and passions."

With Viacom Labs, an incubator for the future of fan experience and engagement, Fans First is both a mission and an opportunity.  "We have a responsibility to our fans," said Berry.  "Fans give a large percentage of their time -- time being the most valuable resource -- to brands that they really identify with.  And they see themselves in those brands.  As fans move at the speed of pop culture, the speed of new technology, it is our responsibility to meet them at these new evolving platforms and give those fans the opportunity to interact with those brands where they are."

The way Data and Analytics, Viacom Labs, Business Development and Sales work in tandem is an essential advantage for the company. As Brett concluded, "We work closely with Gabe's team with social analytics so we know that when we put something out there, we know what we are getting back. We also look at things that Kiel's team has discovered. We bring incubation from the Lab into the infrastructure so we can ignite it quickly. Everything is happening quickly."

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