Creativity in media: What makes a winning content campaign?

March 2, 2023

Damian Douglas, President of the World Media Group and MD of TIME for EMEA, sat down with this year’s World Media Awards Head Judges, Natasha Byrne Managing Partner at UM media agency, and Jerry Daykin, Head of Global Media at premium spirits company Beam Suntory. The conversation centred around creativity and what makes an award-winning entry. Here’s what our Head Judges had to say on the subject:

Damian: Creativity is the backbone of these awards. What are the most exciting trends you’ve seen adopted within content marketing recently?

Jerry: I absolutely love it when content marketing delivers on both the brand’s mission but also helps the media owner tell stories that they wouldn’t have been able to tell anyway. I’m a Diversity & Inclusion ambassador for the World Federation of Advertisers so I love it when brands create content which talks to new audiences, talk to new communities and funds new voices through sponsorships or partnerships.

Damian: So what makes a great content partnership?

Jerry: Ultimately, you’ve got to look at content partnerships from the creative side and ask is it true to what the brand wants to communicate? It’s relatively easy to make a fantastic piece of content. It’s trickier to make a fantastic piece of content that authentically brings the brand into it.

We’ve had a lot of maturity now in this space. There was a time when brands would just stick a logo on a piece of content. There are times when that can work, but there are better examples when there’s a real joining of what the publication stands for, what its editorial themes are, and what the brand wants to talk about. Not one big advert, but truly communicating and getting much more depth on the brand. I think that’s a great content partnership.

Damian Natasha, how do you approach it from an agency perspective?

Natasha: I say to my clients, “You might be talking the talk, but are you walking the walk?” A big trend is content partnerships delivering on the brand’s ethos, as well as around social issues. But also, if you’re talking about diversity and inclusion, look at the creatives within the brand partnership. Are they inclusive? Do they give options for people who are non-seeing or non-hearing? Are they inclusive creatives? Really thinking about the whole picture – that’s the trend I’m seeing in recent times.

Damian: What’s the media owner’s role in this? Do they have the right to push back on the client and say, if you want to show up in our spaces you have to respect our brand values?

Natasha: The ones that I love to work with are those that really push me and say this might not be the right thing to do, connecting our editorial with what you’re trying to say. Is your message linked up to what your brand is saying? Those are the ones that are going to continuously improve what we do as an agency, but also with our clients.

Damian: Jerry, do you feel the same?

Jerry: As a client, as with an agency, you’re effectively sending the same brief to a bunch of different media owners and if they all just repeat it back to you, there comes a slightly boring conversation of who’s the highest paid reached or cheapest CPM.

What’s really exciting is when someone comes back with a curveball idea or a different interpretation – this is our audience, we know them really well, we get that you want to communicate this, but actually we think this is a better way in.

Those things tend to win briefs and lead to good work. As a client, it’s good to be challenged, being told our audience won’t like that or don’t do that!

Damian: The media owner is bringing in their context and audience together, which is a powerful combination, but it means as a media owner, you need to have some strength in your own purpose and in your own values. And you’re not right for everything.

Jerry: There’s probably a million different ways of buying reach if all you want to do is get content in front of people. You can do that through almost any publication, any network, any social network. It’s definitely about having that voice, having that opinion, and being able to bring that unique lens.

Damian: Are there any clients that stand out for you, Natasha, in terms of doing incredible things with regards to creativity in this space?

Natasha: A lot of clients are doing really creative things. Every year we have Spotify Wrapped, What I love about that is it’s personalised. It is something that is very easily shareable. And it’s something that people look forward to every year and it tells something about that person. Spotify have really capitalised on that.

Another brand that’s worked well in terms of content marketing is Johnson & Johnson. They’ve just done a campaign where Nicorette have capitalised on the insight that people don’t quit smoking on their own. They’ve done a nice content partnership with Gay Times where they had different partners working together to spur each other on to help quit smoking.

It’s a really nice way to capitalise on understanding what the key insight is and bringing that to life and really making change, because a huge amount of people quit smoking as a result.

Damian: And Jerry, any brands that you think are doing amazing things with regards to creativity?

Jerry: One of the things I really like is a brand that sticks with a partner and builds over several years. Skittle have done a really nice job – I’ve seen iterations some of it funding editorial. They did a great Gay Times piece where they were recolouring old images from Pride events, Pride marches and things, but they brought that through to experiential events; they hosted a Eurovision watch-along last year.

That’s come out of a multiyear partnership where you can imagine behind closed doors they’re asking the editorial team, what do you guys wish you could be doing? What stories do you want to be telling that we could help fund with colour the rainbow within them?

From a media owner perspective there are some new contenders – video platforms like Amazon Prime coming into this space, so plenty of competition but hopefully lots of creativity coming out.

Damian: What about from a B2B lens? Do you see B2B brands pushing themselves in these areas?

Natasha: People always ask me why I love working on B2B brands. It’s because B2B brands have to work so much harder in order to be noticed, in order for people to build that brand love.

I think Accenture does very well. We were lucky enough to have highly commended last year in the World Media Awards. That was with a partner – The Financial Times – over a long period of time so that we’re able to survey where we were before the campaign against our audience, and then be able to see tangible results after.

With Accenture it’s about creating new creative formats, so we’re using their Metaverse technology in one of the FT events, continuously evolving in terms of how we work with our partners.

Damian: Now talent is something we’re going to have to think hard about as an industry moving forward, both from an inclusivity perspective and a visibility perspective, which is why we introduced our Rising Star category.

When you’re hiring and you’re looking for young creative talent, what do you look for and where do they come from?

Jerry: We face a double-ended talent challenge across the industry – we don’t seem to have enough people and we also don’t seem to have enough diversity inclusive people. We need to bring those two things together to make sure that we’re having people from different backgrounds join our industry.

There’s work being done by the WFA in the UK to survey where we’re at, and identify some of those boundaries. We work with external organisations like the Brixton Finishing School who are experts in finding people from different backgrounds and giving them that initial media training. Some of the real stars of the industry come through pathways like that.

We also rely on our agencies and our media owners to have different perspectives, different opportunities, some of those young, fresh minds. It’s obviously tricky when you’re junior, but ultimately, you want people who come with a strong personality, a strong opinion and are willing to bring those perspectives to work. But it’s a challenge. We need to get better at marketing ourselves as industry wanting more people to come and work with us.

Damian: I’ve spoken to agency leaders for the last six to 12 months. Every one of them says they’ve had open jobs but can’t find the right people. Is that still the case agency side? And how do you view talent?

Natasha: If I was to apply for a role in an agency today, I don’t know if I’d get it, because the people that I see coming through the door are absolutely incredible! What I look for is curiosity, being brave, and also a little bit of a difference in terms of your thought process behind things, because what I love about people who are new to the industry is that you see things with a fresh set of eyes. You don’t think we’ve always done something this way; you have a fresh perspective on things.

But there are things that we struggle with in terms of getting new people into the industry. And as Jerry said, we have to address the diversity and also the social economic backgrounds of people that are applying to agencies in Central London because working in Central London comes at a cost, so we need to think about that.

At UM we’ve been going back further in terms of the age of the people that we’re talking to about media. We’ve got our Future-Proof Academy where we’re going to different schools and we’re training and talking to young students about careers in media. We’re working with our clients to give them a brief so that we can get fresh perspective, but also, to excite and interest people in joining and thinking about media as a future career. We need to work further back, not just for people who are already in university, to attract new talent within the industry.

Damian: So, moving on to the Awards, what makes an award-winning content marketing campaign?

Natasha: The first thing for me is could this be any brand? When you look at the actual campaign, could you swap the logo for something else, and it would still work? Or is it completely tailored to this brand, and does it make sense in terms of this brand’s values?

Secondly is really strong insight – what is the insight that this campaign hangs off? And what is the strategy that then leads to the activation of that insight? How does it fit into your overall campaign? Does it just standalone? Does it fit into an overall brand campaign? And finally, what are the results beyond media?

Jerry: I think the only thing I’d add is that when you’re a judge, you’re reading 90 similar papers where they’ve all done good things. So, if you’ve done something brilliant, don’t hide it! Make sure you’re flagging what is amazing upfront in the summary, what is great about this work. Why does this deserve an award? Just put it there upfront for us judges to understand. Don’t leave those gems of why it’s a great idea hidden for people to find. Spell out why the campaign worked so well.

Natasha: We also need to remember these are the World Media Awards, not the World Creative Awards and therefore you need to make sure that you’re highlighting the smart media things that you’ve done in this campaign. If it was a brilliant video, but there’s nothing else behind that, then that’s not a World Media Award.

Jerry: You want the great headline to show why this was exciting, but you also want to dig in, why was it great – what did you do? How did you activate? What was unique? What data did you use, what was the insight? We want everything!

Damian: It’s a big commitment from both of you to be judges. What’s in it for you?

Jerry: I find it super inspiring. Awards are one of those rare moments where you spend a bit of time seeing what everybody else is doing. It’s exciting and inspirational. And you take notes and think, oh, maybe we should be leaning into this.

Damian: That’s what the industry’s about – everybody bringing each other up a level and learning from each other.

Natasha: The inspiration, learning from the other awards and seeing something that we can consider, discovering what different partners offer, but also a big part of it is the community. Getting to know the other judges, getting to know the publishers more. I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the judges I met last year, so it’s been a great community and support.

Damian: We remain a people industry and our ability to convene and share ideas is what the industry does and it’s why it’s so important to get together.

Thanks Natasha and Jerry for a great conversation. We hope that’s inspired anyone reading to consider entering your own amazing creative work into this year’s World Media Awards. Natasha and Jerry, you’re going to have a tough job on your hands, so good luck!

The World Media Awards celebrate creativity and effectiveness in cross-platform, cross border, content-driven advertising. Many of the world’s leading brands are amongst the World Media Awards winners and the programme is recognised by WARC. You can find out more about how to enter the World Media Awards here, along with the case studies of previous winners to inspire you.