POV: Interview With Stuart McLean, CEO of Content & Co

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Stuart McLean Headshot sm copy Tell us more about Content & Co. What differentiates it from other agencies?

We’re a brand studio, and we’re in the business of helping brands create and distribute their own original programming versus having to fit their brands into existing programs.

We're different from other agencies in that we are a studio, which allows us to tap the best creative talent (such as James Widdoes, director of “Two and a Half Men”) who are on the front lines every day and produce for the networks, portals and film studios.

The result is brand programming that has the entertainment value that the portals and networks want for their channels and is grounded in the brand's consumer insights. This way, the talent, networks and brands can all work in unison to create the most engaging content for their shared audience.

Tell us about some of your favorite programs that you’ve worked on. What was the strategy behind these?

We're most proud of the fact that all of our programs have gone into multiple seasons. Earlier this year we worked with Subway to launch “The 4 to 9ers” Reloaded, the next iteration of the original scripted comedy series that launched last year. The program was our solution to Subway's desire to engage with the teen market, so we built the series around a universal insight — the experiences of first jobs. It is a breakout success, reaching broadcast–level audiences and become the No. 1 short–form comedy series on Hulu. This latest iteration even drew leading Hollywood talent Amy Yasbeck and Ted McGinley to become parents in the show.


Most recently, we launched the third season of “Clean Break” presented by Schick Hydro. This series came from a global research study on millennials and their state of mind in the first few years out of college. To help them find their paths, we took three everyday guys and gave them a clean break by teaming them up with the world's best watermen and adventurers in Hawaii and New Zealand. "Clean Break" started out as a 12-episode web series and is now a 13-episode broadcast series on FUEL and FSN and a 75-episode web series on Yahoo!

What is branded entertainment? Why should brands be focused on creating “entertainment” rather than more marketing messages?

Branded entertainment is any content with a direct brand investment. We happen to focus on originals, but the category covers a wide range of brand involvement, all of which is good. For our programs, we build them from the ground up, leverage consumer insights and brand briefs and plug into our stable talent that networks know and trust to create great programming that can also work for their brand.

The focus on entertainment is key because it provides an opportunity for a brand to engage with its audience through storytelling in a way that goes beyond what the traditional 30-second TV spot can accomplish on its own. To give a sense of the engagement levels — two of our programs just surpassed 200,000 hours watched. It would take a lot of commercials to reach that same level.

What is the one characteristic of a compelling and successful branded entertainment campaign?

It needs to be rooted in a compelling consumer insight. This is where branded entertainment and traditional commercials line up directly. Brands have far more intel on their consumers than any network or portal. And writers love it because it gives them an incredible resource for character development.

What can the advertising industry learn from Hollywood and how it reaches viewers or creates “content”?

Madison Avenue and Hollywood have two distinct skills sets and both can learn from each other. Hollywood understands long story arcs and character development designed for multi-year, 13-episode shows. On the other hand, Madison Avenue understands shorter, 30-second story arcs. Of course there is some overlap, but in the end, it's really about who the networks and portals trust with their brands, given it's their airwaves.

We've always wanted to airlift in our agency partners' creatives and get them into a writer’s room. Both can learn a ton from each other. The Hollywood creatives are used to solving network briefs, which are broader than the Madison Avenue brand briefs. Our studio brings both of these worlds together.

How have non-traditional modes of watching TV or movies (such as Hulu and or online sites) created more opportunities for brands? How do you think this will continue to evolve?

Media is fragmented, with audiences catching programming through traditional avenues, online and across social. It’s opening the door for highly targeted programming, which used to be called niche and which is a perfect place for brands to play. At Content & Co, we’re leveraging this shift and have been able to successfully incubate a program online, build its audience in that space and bring that series to market and continue to develop the series for broadcast.

Why are traditional sponsorship models outdated? How do you work to pair brands for mutually beneficial relationships?

We’d never tell a brand not to use every advertising tool available. But the brands we work with are the ones who are looking to push the envelope further and make their dollars work harder for them. Every show or film we produce must stand on its own two legs as an entertainment property — a fully realized creative product.

What’s great about content is the flexibility it brings across channels. When done correctly, content allows the brand to draft behind it in every nook and cranny of the media landscape and to a lot of places where brands are still not welcome. From an ROI perspective, it also offers the ability to create unlimited assets for the brand channels, including traditional commercials. While our series hinge on the emotional benefit of the brand, we are also able to create brand equity by building spots based on our characters and storylines for 30-second commercials. Hopefully you’ve seen a few for Subway’s “The 4 to 9ers.” This model has allowed us to extend our programs into multiple seasons because the content is working that much harder for both the brand and the distributor.

Must-read book: "Blink" - still love it even though everybody's read it.

Favorite ad of all time: "Never Give In" - Winston Churchill

Connect with Content & Co on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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