Questions for IPG’s New CGM Czar

The explosion of amateur media is too impressive for agencies to ignore, yet too squirrelly to do much about. So they’re… studying it.

No, really. Interpublic Group is among the first companies to set up a formal unit to examine the trend in user-generated content (UGC) and consumer-generated media (CGM), as it’s alternately being called.

At the helm of the new group, which will reside within IPG’s Emerging Media Lab, is Brian Monahan, a Universal McCann group communications director who also sits on the board of the Bay Area Interactive Group (BIG).

Monahan has a good deal of personal and extra-curricular history with CGM. Earlier this year he helped assemble a contest inviting design students and Web users to submit ads of their own invention for a group of 15 pre-selected brands.

Such contests loom large in the short history of brand involvement with personal digital media creation. ClickZ kicked off a recent chat with Monahan by asking him to comment on the ubiquitous contests, which suddenly seem to be everywhere.

Q.Is it just me or are all the branded CGM contests a little played out? Is this really the end game for brand involvement with amateur media creators?

A.I don’t think the contest thing is played out. I think it’s an easy-to-execute way for brands to commission videos that feature their products. I think there’s an appetite within the generating community to continue to participate in these things so their work will be recognized and celebrated.

Q.Now you hosted your own CGM contest, courtesy of the Bay Area Interactive Group (BIG) and the Academy of Art University. How did it go?

A.That was a big-time learning experience. Our experience was consistent with other efforts to get UGC generated on behalf of brands. At the end of the day, the amount of quality work that comes out of it is limited. As an industry, we are just so drawn to these diamonds in the rough. The Mentos/Diet Coke thing is just amazing, [but such examples] are very much the exception and not the rule.

Our experience was that we had a lot of people express interest in participating, and relatively few actually come through. The incentive was $500, industry recognition and maybe an agency would give you a job. I think we learned a lot about how you need to nurture a community of content generators in order to have them want to work with you.

Q.Do the stakes go up as more brands do this? Do you have to pay more for the pool of talent out there in the world?

A.I don’t think so. You can look at the work Converse Gallery [ed. note: click on “contents,” see under “made by you.”] has on it. That work by and large seems to be made by pros, people who are already in the business, talented people, versus some of the contest things that are more amateur.

There are enough people out there willing to express themselves that I don’t think there’s a supply and demand issue that forces the incentives higher.

Q.Have you observed that the CGM trend is predominantly about engagement, generating creative ideas, PR or what?

A.That’s an important distinction. Marketers have to ask themselves, what do we care about? Do we care about the output, or do we care about the journey?

One of the reasons we reasoned UGC warranted its own practice is that it does sit between PR and advertising and relationship marketing.

Vince Brody, formerly of GameSpot, now at Yahoo, has talked a lot about getting users involved, not necessarily with the brand, but with the media brand. His phrase is architected participation. We’re going to see the media brand facilitating the creation of UGC more aggressively than marketers do it.

Q.What will the user-generated content practice do? What will be your main work, and what’s going to take up the bulk of your time?

A.It’s within the IPG Emerging Media Lab, which is an entity that’s designed to assist our clients and our agency staff to execute informed trials in these emerging communications channels. Our role is to empower, help and inform our teams and clients.

The UGC practice is going to do a few things. One is we’re going to generate insights that will help our clients utilize UGC. The second thing is we are going to work with the media community to help craft and experiment with ad models that are appropriate for user generated environments. Third, we’re going to help our clients set up programs where they tap into UGC.

I was talking to BzzAgent this morning. Their whole model is, pay us, so we can tap into our whole network of people who will then talk to your brand through UGC. One of the things I want to do as we build partnerships with… service providers, is to scout the talent and get visibility into what’s hot. When you think about how a TV show builds, in three or four episodes you might be able to see how hot it’s going to be.

These things [CGM] build and are done in 48 hours. How can we tap in and accumulate some decent reach [in that amount of time]?

Q.What about IPG’s recent deal to consult and integrate with Facebook? How might your group be involved?

A.We have a long-term partnership with them in terms of exploring different models. I expect to participate in that long-term partnership. But are Facebook and MySpace and social networking user-generated content? It’s certainly aggregating user generated content, [but] my focus is going to be on the production of assets.

Last year there were 26 million new blogs, versus 350 new magazines. It’s apples to oranges, of course, but it’s an incredible magnitude of scale. My group is going to figure out how we harness the assets themselves, and the creation of them as a marketing vehicle.

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