Can content creators and brands be long-time partners?

Long-term partnerships between advertising agencies and brands are a norm of sorts. But it is not the same when it comes to brands partnering with content platforms, content creators and content specialist agencies. BuzzInContent explores the reasons behind such short-term associations and the future potential

Akansha Srivastava
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Fevicol is being handled by Ogilvy India for as long as you can think. Amul is with daCunha Communications since 1966.

Advertising agencies being retained by brands for a very long time is a sort of given in advertising. But when it comes to content company and brand partnerships, the situation is very different as the relationships are mostly on a project basis.

Long-term partnerships help in bringing out the best in brands any day. If leveraged properly, long-term brand and content company partnerships can help fetch higher engagements, enhanced conversions and improved brand values.

Mike Melli

Mike Melli, Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer, MissMalini Entertainment, believes a long-term partnership enables a publisher/creator to spend more time and energy into content and creative output. Short-term partnerships limit this potential because publishers/creators have to immediately move on from one campaign to the next. “Having a long-term relationship with a brand also means the creators will have a stronger affinity for the brand, and their followers will start to see consistent messaging, which creates stronger brand recall.”

Talking about the benefits a brand would get in long-term content partnerships, Melli said, “The brands can negotiate better pricing from publishers/creators if they are giving that commitment. On top of that, brands get much better data and analysis from digital/influencer campaigns which are long term because they can benchmark and monitor specific types of content, audiences, engagement levels, etc. which you cannot do as effectively from a short-term partnership.”

Then why is the situation different when it comes to brands associating with content companies such as content specialist agencies, platforms and creators?

Is it that brands are not able to find the right content partners that they have to keep on changing content companies? Are the content companies to be blamed for not being able to come up with apt long-term solutions for brands? Or is the content space itself so dynamic that one really can’t stick to one partner at both the agency and brand’s end that they end up changing partnerships?

Branded content and content marketing is still at a nascent stage and while the Indian marketing fraternity is still trying to get a hold of it, one will get to see more and more long-term partnerships happening between content companies and brands in the future. In fact, the situation has started changing already.

Maithreyi Jagannathan

A strong believer in long-term brand and agency partnership, Maithreyi Jagannathan, Regional Associate Brand Director, P&G Healthcare, Asia, said, “Given the explosion of digital content in the last decade and a half, we should start seeing long-term partnerships with content companies in the future. As P&G’s Vicks, we understand the value of content platforms and content creators. There is a huge scope for content platforms and creators to bloom as Indians are increasingly consuming content online. However, it will be interesting to see how the marketing fraternity rides on the incoming wave of regional language content consumed online.”

An interesting fact is that P&G was one of the first companies to experiment with content partnerships and started sponsoring shows on radios and the phrase “soap operas” was coined due to this.

Viraj Jit Singh

One very important reason for content partnership deals not happening for longer tenures is due to the less importance given to content in any marketing plan. Content is still treated as the secondary objective. Content companies should be involved at the beginning of strategizing a marketing plan. Viraj Jit Singh, Head of Revenue, MX Player, said, “It’s important that brands start involving platforms like ours at an early stage of discussion. Platforms and creators are the specialists in the field and long-term partnerships will help them better understand and engage with loyal audiences, leading to successful audience engagement.”

Darshan Bhatt

Darshan Bhatt, Director, GoQuest Digital Studios thinks that making content an integral part of the brand’s marketing strategy depends a lot on the creative agencies as they get to know about the brand’s future plans first. They try to pitch content ideas but are limited by their execution abilities, which end up making content a secondary objective of the brand. He said the role of agencies is really important and if the agencies don’t understand content then how would they even do it.

Khundmir Syed

Khundmir Syed, Senior Director, Content, Mindshare, believes one step at a time can help content platforms, creators and agencies gain marketers' trust over a period of time. He said, “It starts with a pilot. If any content fetches good ROI, the make-belief starts in the system that the particular partnership has worked for the brand. It becomes easier for the brand to invest again in the platform. It becomes easier for the content creator along with an agency like us to pitch.”

Bhatt said, “As of now, content is considered as a campaign. The campaign itself is done on a project basis. Until unless the content becomes an integral part, which is being pushed by the creative agency, who are the brand custodians, it wouldn’t happen. The brands are still trying to figure out the role of content in their lives. Brands understand that premium and long-form content is important but don’t know how to do it. Even if they decide to do long-form content, how they make it a part of their marketing calendar is a pain point.”

Madhavi Irani

According to Madhavi Irani, Chief Officer, Content at Nykaa, the short-sightedness of both brand and influencers lead to quick breakups. “In a scramble to get eyeballs and share of voice, many brands fall prey to signing on content creators/influencers who happen to be trending at any given point in time. For influencers too, often the decision to sign up with a brand is often influenced by the popularity of the brand — rather than a personal affinity to the brand, its offering or what it stands for — due to the pressure to earn a living or expand their audience. An obvious outcome of such a partnership, when there is a disconnect and misalignment between brand messaging and influencer, is a breakdown in the partnership and both parties end up looking for new partners to tie up with.”

Partnership tenures also depend on the marketers’ understanding of the importance of content platforms and their audience. Jagannathan said, “It’s quintessential for marketers to understand consumers. On the basis of this understanding, marketers need to decide the appropriate channel of communication.”

Stating an example, she said that to market a high penetration product or a big brand such as Vicks VapoRub, it makes better business sense to opt for traditional channels such as TV and print as it justifies the cost. Viz-a-vi, traditional means proves to be redundant to market a product like Vicks Cough Drops, which targets the 'fun, always-on-the-go' youth since quick byte-sized relatable content on social media works better. Hence, Vicks leverages the contextual creative content on social media platforms.

She said, “Content alliance proves to be an effective proposition for brands when content companies deliver the promise of precise targeting of consumers with uncompromised creative content.”

Content partnership deals also depend on the marketing objectives of the brands. If the content piece is tactical in nature and requires a short turnaround time, then the focus of the partnerships will be similar in nature. Singh added, “If the objectives are deeper — engagement, loyalty, advocacy then the partnership can be longer. If it's about partnering the platform's long-form content, then the partnerships are mostly longer as the gestation period involved in ideating, creation, placement and promotion in-itself can take up to a year. This can further lead to long-term multi-season partnership if the goals are met successfully.”

Melli adheres to the fact that publishers and creators need to do their part to help tell a more complete ROI story, which will, in turn, lure marketers to do long-term partnerships. “The truth is that digital formats are generally more measurable and more targeted than many traditional marketing formats, but marketers remain sceptical. As reporting and analysis of digital campaigns continue to improve, there will be more opportunity for digital publishers and creators to build the ROI story for brands.”

He added, “On the brand side there should be more willing to explore new digital publishers and formats. New platforms can take months or quarters to learn from and optimise, so brands will benefit from more patience and flexibility.”

Irani believes brands need to stop looking at short-term gains and look at the potential to really build trust and loyalty that comes from using content creators that truly fit the bill.  “Audiences today can smell a push from a mile. Only when they see a content creator’s (they look up to) devotion to a brand over an extended period, are they convinced that it is a genuine belief in the product and not fake enthusiasm. Once brands realise that, aligning creators, who have continued relevancy and strong growth and momentum, can save them money and increase return on partnerships,” she said. 

Syed emphasises the fact that content creators and platforms need to up their game in producing content in multiple genres. Niche content creators and platforms can work with niche and specific brands only. If they want to increase the horizon of brands associating with them, then they need to expand the scope of content in various genres.

Giving Pocket Aces channel Gobble’s example, Syed said, “Gobble is moving away from food space and expanding into lifestyle now. If a company associates with them and has a food brand along with another beauty brand, one can still come to Gobble. It’s very difficult for niche platforms and creators to market themselves unlike a platform like Pocket Aces. They can only get one of the projects and can’t get a long term one — unless there is an IP that you only create for a brand.”

Anupam Bokey

According to Anupam Bokey, CMO, RPSG - FMCG, Too Yumm!, the snacks brand from RPS Goenka Group, the future will see multiple partnerships flourishing at one point in time and the idea of working with a single content partner is not viable.

He said, “Today, the job of a marketing head is to become a mega aggregator. When I say aggregator, it is not just working with a handful of partners. The partners are unlimited today and you have to keep exploring. The way the content creation space is exploding, the onus is on the marketers to align with the best opportunity. There are going to be multiple suppliers of content creation to partner with a single brand. There would be a single brand and multiple partners’ kind of a model. Just sticking to a few content suppliers is not going to work.”

To sum up, Singh said, “We already see a change where a lot of brands are including content strategy as an integral part of AOPs. Where some have started creating independent content with in-house specialised teams, others have been working with platforms and studios to be able to produce and host content. What we will see in the coming future is brands forging strategic partnerships with OTTs with high-quality original programming to reach out to scalable audiences.” 

content creators long-time partners