Deanna Brown: Beyond the Banner

Author: Todd Defren

As part of SHIFT’s work with Pivot Conference, I get to talk to cool folks like Deanna Brown, CEO of Federated Media.

For those who might be unfamiliar with Federated Media, it is time to GET familiar with it, as it just may be the next great independent news media company.  (One point in its favor, beyond Deanna’s stewardship, is the fact that Federated was founded by John Battelle, a founder of the Web 2.0 Summit, the still-lamented Industry Standard, and Wired.)

Federated has a modern approach to conversational media, which is defined as content in context, creating conversations on the web.  Federated helps brands become publishers and publishers become brands.  And from a scale perspective, they put up big numbers – working with hundreds of thousands of publishers and thousands of name-brand advertisers.

So who’s threatened by that approach?  That was my first question to Deanna Brown…

DB: “Threatened” is an interesting word; I don’t think anyone’s threatened by us so much as they might be threatened by evolution in the industry.  What is changing is how people think about advertising on the web.  If anyone’s at risk it will be people who are reliant on traditional premium display advertising; such companies are at risk whether they face off against Federated Media or even Yahoo. The world’s shifting away from high CPM, agency-bought, standard media. The value of standard media has come down across the business because we’ve come into an era where, through exchanges, that same ad model is potentially 1/10th of the value it was a year ago. So the idea of conversational marketing being the next premium advertising opportunity is only threatening to those people still living in the past.

TD: Looking at the ways you approach the market, are there certain approaches that tend to be more effective than others, or is it something you determine on a case by case basis, depending on the client?

DB: The best way to engage consumers if you’re a brand is through what we’ll call conversational marketing media , which is content in context that creates conversation, which creates a following. That means that the marketing or the content lives in a native conversational unit, which is a propriety unit, and it’s filled with engaging content written by the largest creative department on the planet, which is our partner network.  In essence the brand’s content can be socially optimized for both sharing and timeliness; it’s “of the moment” …

Ultimately it’s through trial and error that most brands succeed. If they just want to announce a project, to capture the attention of the consumers, they can do that through standard media but they probably won’t talk to Federated.

When clients are looking to go “beyond the banner,” we have lots of options.  We’ve been doing it for five years now so that notion of engaging consumers directly in a native environment is supported by a full product suite. We have contextual targeting tools; conversational targeting; etc.  If clients then want to work with us to take the conversational elements that you’ve created with us to Twitter or Pinterest (or insert Social platform here), we encourage that because the broader distribution of the content you’ve created really takes advantage of the huge talent base we sit on.

The essence of this is “find the conversations and then engage and do it real time and be social and smart about it.” We like to believe given the size of our network we can cover off a big chunk of the Social web. We’ve very much consultative around this notion of conversational marketing.

TD: I was looking at the case studies on your site and some of them look like success stories that an agency like SHIFT might create for work we’ve done with clients. Is that an example of how Social has exploded our preconceptions about branded, paid and earned media – and who gets to do what?

DB: I think the case studies reflect the fact that many people have similar points of view and I welcome the Coke/Pepsi challenge.  I just love the fact that everybody’s moving in this direction. It’s a wake-up call in the industry to say there’s not one way to approach the subject; it’s not always the same players that you would have engaged five years ago. Innovation and change at this rapid pace requires brands and clients to be very nimble, very agile and grab the right partners and run. We’ve very collaborative and everybody who has an opinion or point of view, whom the client trusts, is welcome to work together to create the best experience on behalf of the brand.

TD: A lot’s been written about Content Marketing do’s and don’t’s, yet, brands acting as publishers still tend to come across as self-serving and kind of tone deaf. Can a brand on its own become a good publisher without resorting to that sense of blatant advertising? Do you think brand marketers are better off working with companies like Federated to sponsor conversations rather than pretend that they’re truly engaged?

DB: I think there’s a continuum of the good, the bad, and the ugly around Content Marketing. I go back to the notion of trial and error. Some people are in the mix working every day, really hard, integrating and doing great work … and some people are just dabbling … and some are just getting started and trying to get wet.  I only get frustrated with the people who are not willing to have a conversation in the first place.

I want to thank Deanna for giving me the time to have this chat … you should absolutely be signing up to see folks like Deanna, Martin Niesenholtz and Linda Boff live on-stage at Pivot Conference.  Use code SHIFT 20 for 20 percent off your ticket.

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