As I reported from the MDA’s Media Industry Conversation in Singapore recently, more and more filmmakers and other content creators are turning to brands to help them fund their work, particularly in the online space.  Audiences have grown used to free online content and are reluctant to pay, as demonstrated by the fact that only a quarter of Spotify’s 75 million users are premium (i.e. paying) subscribers.  But creators still have to earn a living and some ideas need more than just inspiration and elbow grease to get off the ground, so how does a content creator go about working with a brand?  Here are three typical models for you to consider:

1. Fee-For-Service

The most common way content creators work with brands is simply as a service provider or “vendor”; taking briefs and creating deliverables for a fixed fee by a fixed date.  This seems simple enough but many young content creators labour under the misapprehension that the brand is there to pay the them to execute on their personal artistic vision.  This is not the case.  In a fee-for-service model the brand is their to pay you to execute its artistic vision, which is to sell more product.  I have met many a frustrated young designer, photographer, filmmaker or writer, usually fresh out of college, that has failed to grasp this.  The brand is paying you for your talent and skill certainly, but only in so far as it serves the brand’s vision, which is likely to be backed by millions of dollars worth of strategy and planning that makes your “gut instinct” moot.

The great thing about fee-for-service is that you get paid for everything you do plus expenses.  Assuming you have a portfolio you need never undertake any work for free.  You sell your service based on the work you have done to date and the brand a.k.a. the client can take it or leave it based on your style, experience or price.  This is exactly the way most creative agencies and all freelancers work and is a great way to make a living if you don’t fancy being a starving artist.

There are a vast number of buyers of content creation services throughout any organisation but typically they reside within the marketing, communications and HR departments and have some degree of independent decision-making power.  That means anyone with a job title of manager or above could be your customer.  However, if you have a burning desire to create something of your own but need money to do it, fee-for-service isn’t going to work for you so you may want try…

2. Sponsorship

In this scenario the brand acts more like a patron, spending its money to assist you in achieving your vision in return for recognition but not necessarily the actual content.  Why would a brand do this?  For starters, the person that makes sponsorship decisions is likely to be higher up the food chain than the person hiring freelancers, meaning they’re working to a different agenda.  Have you ever asked yourself why a mega petrochemicals brand would sponsor an art exhibition or a accountancy firm would sponsor a season of opera?  Typically there are four main motivators:

  1. Their key clients are art/opera buffs and a sponsorship gets them special privileges such as box seats or an audience with the artist.
  2. Their prospective clients are art/opera buffs and they are using the exhibition or performance to get their brand in front of those prospects.
  3. The artist or opera company shares the sponsor’s brand values of “innovation” or “integrity” or whatever and thus the sponsorship becomes a way for the brand to articulate those values through a credible third party.
  4. Or, that brand needs to demonstrate to a country and its people that it is a good corporate citizen that adds value to the cultural life of that country, say, in the wake of an oil disaster on accounting scandal!

To get a sponsorship you either need to be able to offer exclusive privileges to the brand, connect it with a relevant and sizeable audience (you don’t need to own that audience, but you need to prove it exists), articulate its values in a compelling way with your content or help it demonstrate to the public that it’s a good guy really.

Before approaching a brand for sponsorship you need to have developed your concept fully, confirmed your privileges, proven there is an audience for it and who that audience is.  You also need to be able to say why your are creating this content and, finally, what you think it’s worth.  Rarely will you get your asking price but by naming a figure you establish the ballpark within which the negotiations will happen (more on that soon).  The buyer of your sponsorship will likely be working in marketing, communications or corporate affairs at Director level and above.  Finally, you might consider…

3. Investment/Co-Production

As brands become content creators they are setting up studios and production companies to invest in original content that creates a new revenue stream as well as marketing their brand and products in a more engaging way.  This is a whole new business model arguably pioneered by Red Bull but now adopted by the likes of Buzzfeed, Chipotle, Ford, Lego, Starbucks, most recently games company Activision Blizzard and even hotel chain Marriott International, which has a 65-person content studio run by Emmy award-winning former Disney Exec David Beebe who has produced the  Two Bellmen movie amongst other innovations.

Where once these brands may have merely licensed their products to movie studios, now they want a piece of the action and who could blame them?  The Lego Movie cost US$60million to make and has thus far grossed US$468,760,692 in worldwide box office, not to mention DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD sales.  That’s a 781% return on investment!  If Lego had only licensed their trademark or sponsored the premier they would have missed out on a hugely profitable opportunity that also contributed to an overall increase in company profits of 15% in 2014.  However, investment rarely means just money and often comes with an expectation that the investor will have some sort of creative control over the project so make sure your expectations and those of your investors are aligned before taking their cash.

Investment is a strategic decision and not one that is taken lightly.  A brand is unlikely to bet on a one-man-band and will be looking for someone with a track record to work with.  But, if you have creds and a great idea why restrict yourself to traditional publishers, broadcasters and movie studios?  Brands are increasingly hiring experienced people from the media industry and giving them job titles such as Content Director or Chief Content Officer.  Marriott International just announced the appointment of Singapore’s own media guru Tony Chow in the role of Director of Creative and Content Marketing for Asia Pacific – I wonder what he’s going to spend his money on?

Picture credit: Jeffrey Zeldman

Written by Neal Moore

Founder Moore’s Lore Media & the Filmmaker Fridays podcast I make content, sometimes for money, sometimes for love, always for fun!

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