Are We There Yet?

The digital journey for most in-house agencies has been a dizzying one, to say the least. At last year’s IHAF Huddle discussion group series, the topic of digital and social media came up often throughout our five-city tour. On the one hand, the journey can be exhilarating as we embark on new ways to market and communicate our brands and services—one that promises the ability to hyper-target your message to specific audiences, gather meaningful data like never before, and provide new outlets to stretch your creative abilities. On the other hand, the digital road can be riddled with potholes, with few directional signs and no driver’s manual to tell you how to structure or train your team, how to excel operationally, and what creative best practices to follow.

Throughout the month of April, we’ll be exploring the giant topic of Digital & Social Media—and we hope to hear from other IHAF members as well as the internal agency community at large about your digital journeys. I know we can all benefit by learning from one another.

At the Discovery Agency, our turning point with digital began about five years ago and kind of hit us like a tsunami. We were in the process of concepting the campaign for our popular show Deadliest Catch and realized that 90% of our time was spent developing key art for print—whereas the media plan reflected a 40% spend on digital and only 9% on print. Turns out, we were tackling campaigns to lead with key art, while the world was changing around us. Like many advertisers, the digital component of our campaign was almost an afterthought.

In order to be effective, we realized that digital campaigns required time and specialized thinking around strategy, creative execution, and trafficking—none of which we were doing terribly well. As a result, we were not being great partners with our vendors or publishers, often delivering assets late and in some cases incorrectly. Worse, we had a couple instances where ads went live that didn’t work correctly. It was a sobering time, and we worked at record pace to right the digital ship.

We started by turning a mirror on ourselves and quickly looked at every aspect of the creation of a digital advertising campaign, from researching creative best practices, to analyzing measurement, to studying our competition. We developed a “Digital Advertising Roadshow” complete with a functional handbook that we presented to all our internal client groups. The roadshow helped establish our expertise in digital advertising while educating our clients on the power and potential of digital done well—helping them become better partners in the process. We also spent time training ourselves: all of our teams from Account to Creative got smarter about their roles in the digital creative process. Most proudly, our print post-production team worked hard to become phenomenal digital developers.

As a result, over the past four years, we have turned out approximately 10-12 large digital campaigns per quarter, almost 100% error free and on time. We’ve delivered attention-grabbing and compelling rich media ads that have proven to drive awareness and tune-in to a show. We’ve established creative standards and a rigorous QA process, and best of all, we’ve been able to bring nearly all creative and development in-house, saving the company a significant amount of money.

Fast forward to today and digital advertising is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we help manage and create at the Agency. In four short years, consumer behavior has changed significantly as it relates to television. TV viewing by appointment has become the Holy Grail as more people binge view via DVR, and new online networks like Netflix and Hulu are our competition. Getting your audience to pay attention to marketing messages in the TV landscape is now harder than ever.

Digital is no longer an afterthought at the Discovery Agency when we embark on a campaign; we take a much more strategic and well-rounded approach that involves strategic planning early on. Like many corporate in-house agencies, our internal structure can sometimes be tricky to navigate. For some campaigns our client partners are both the network marketing teams as well as our large digital media team, both of whom report to different business unit leaders. We consider ourselves at the Agency as the hub, strategically collaborating across multiple departments, sharing our expertise, and facilitating communication.

Our digital expertise has broadened significantly with our over-arching goals being to deliver communication that helps engage and grow our audience, build brand awareness, and ultimately drive tune-in to our shows. Our digital work and expertise now lines up with many of the bigger goals for our company, including:

  • Creating compelling second-screen experiences to support our large, live-televised events. Last year, Discovery Channel aired Skywire Live, a live television event with famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a high wire. Our team built a website complete with a robust mobile experience that enabled viewers to learn about Wallenda family history, Nik’s preparation, and a way-cool iPad experience that gave viewers a 360° look at the Grand Canyon from Walleda’s point of view on the wire. During the live show, viewers could choose between multiple alternative camera angles giving them a total-immersion experience.
  • Creating rich story-telling websites that engage our fans in completely different ways. Our websites have evolved from tactical microsites that drive tune-in to a show to beautifully designed, multi-media experiences, complete with video clips and other media, allowing our fans to dig in and become completely immersed in our stories and characters. A few examples of these innovative and visually compelling web stories include Animal Planet’s Whale Wars “Blood and Water” and ID’s “A Crime to Remember.
  • Fan engagement through social media. Social TV is a term we hear a lot in our field which illustrates the powerful link between TV viewing and social media. According to arecent article in MediaPost, about half of social media activity comes while users are watching television.

At Discovery, stimulating social engagement is a key component of our strategy which we encourage through tweet-to-win contests, aggregating social media conversations on our sites during shows, posting tweets on our shows, and giving fans the opportunity to chat with our talent. At the Discovery Agency, we have learned so much on our digital journey and still have so much more to learn. For us, it started with getting smart fast and positioning ourselves as the digital leaders within the company. We work hard at being great partners with our internal clients, often taking the lead to help facilitate cross-departmental collaboration—and certainly learning from our mistakes and sharing key learnings as an important part of our journey.

What has the digital journey been like at your company? What do you see as your greatest success and your biggest challenge? We look forward to prompting some great conversation this month as we explore this expansive topic. Join us.

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