By: Frank Besteiro, head of business development and partnerships, AOL.
The key to fostering profitable media partnerships that are mutually beneficial for both yourself and your clients is to make quality a greater priority than quantity.
If I drew you a diagram of all the partnerships in the media ecosystem right now, it would resemble a plate of spaghetti. Everybody has at least some sort of deal with someone else – whether it is content production, distribution, or advertising – and every day, the details of new deals come across my desk.
It’s definitely an exciting time for media, both digital and traditional, and opportunity everywhere. But does that mean you need to partner with everyone to grab your slice of the pie? A strategic partnership can be the catalyst that propels your business to next level, but a bad partnership can be expensive and time consuming at best – and disastrous at worst. Also, if you’re making partnerships with everyone, can we really call them strategic?
So why all the partnerships? Digital has grown leaps and bounds in the last five to 10 years, yet what we often overlook is that leading digital executives come from traditional backgrounds, and in some cases, they have brought outdated modes of thinking with them. This is namely the idea that quantity is quality.
If we’re painting the side of a barn, it may make sense to throw the whole bucket. Similarly, the biggest networks are capable of coverage when it comes to ad views, but they don’t quite realize that most digital players are working at a pixel-by-pixel level and are looking to paint complex masterpieces with the perfect colors optimally placed. Clearly, this is different than painting a barn red.
In my experience, here are some of the most important considerations to keep in mind while navigating the tangled world of partnerships.
1. Do your demographics homework
Does your new partner have access to the right audiences?
There was a point where I was getting a phone call every week from someone that wanted to get a deal done. Problem was – and I told them this from the beginning – that I simply didn’t have the audience for them.
Lots of brands have similar misconceptions, which all stems from the mistaken assumption that quantity equals quality in this new world of media. Sure, big numbers are important, but if 90 percent of those views are wildly mistargeted what have you accomplished, other than throwing away ad spend and decreasing consumer sentiment towards your brand? Demographics and audience quality matter more than ever in this time of super-savvy consumers that hate being mistargeted.
2. Think of the content
What formats can your partner help you with and vice versa? Snapchat, Periscope, Etch-a-Sketch – even I lose track of all these formats, however this discussion should be among the first brought up when exploring potential partnerships. The best partnerships should enable both sides to compensate in weak areas for each other. They should also allow partners to work together to master the formats they already hit well. Most importantly, quality partnerships should open up more possibilities for success on even more formats.
When I’m approached with a possible duet, I always identify the exact formats we would be going after. If I know I have tons of experience in monetizing streaming services or producing original sports content, then I am going to look for a partner that is aiming to break into AVOD who also happens to have a wide audience of avid sports fans.
3. Be strategic about shared resources for content production
There is no getting around it: producing content is expensive. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be strategic about sharing resources as partners. While traditional partnerships often placed the burden of production costs on one side, the pace of business is simply too fast for us to be stuck in outdated ideas of what a partnership “should be.”
Splitting production can be a boon for agility, and neither side should be apprehensive about such arrangements – or worse – miffed at these suggestions. Realize that it is, in fact, a sterling opportunity to further integrate work processes and become highly aligned on all levels, from overall strategy and advertising, to the ins and outs of everyday content production. It’s a chance to come together more fully and will save both sides trouble, as each can pitch in with their strengths. Really, this lesson goes for more than just content production, but it is a good starting point.
4. Know when to walk away
Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Be realistic about your goals for partnerships, and realize that sometimes saying no might be the best course of action.
To reiterate my original point, remember that we are looking for quality over quantity. It takes some willpower to resist saying yes to what may seem like a huge deal. But until you are entirely sure you’ve answered all the lines of questioning above, be patient and deliberate. Often saying no is even better than trying to cobble together something that only meets minimal requirements and kind of works for your companies. In the end, both sides will thank you for avoiding what could have a costly and less than effective waste of time.
The bottom line
It is very simple: do a deal because it makes sense, not because everyone else is doing it. Where quantity might have been the goal in years past, the business has moved on. Quality of partnerships should be paramount, and those partnerships should be thoughtful, complementary, and mutually beneficial. The lines have blurred for content creators, advertising agencies, and platforms, which means the old rulebook is out-of-date. It will take some business introspection and some tough conversations, but ultimately a quality-first approach to deal making will benefit all involved.
As the head of business development and partnerships, Frank Besteiro leads all business development efforts for video at AOL, including securing content partnerships. He works with the industry’s leading publishers to grow the premium content available across AOL’s owned and operated properties.
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