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A Look Inside the Courageous Mindset of Turner’s Branded Content Studio

June 16, 2015 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy
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In an age where everybody’s a content creator, being the most trusted news brand is no small accomplishment. So when Turner Broadcasting announced the launch of Courageous, its branded content studio, it didn’t simply hype the reach of its news brands CNN and HLN. The company placed almost equal emphasis on maintaining the trustworthiness on which that reach is built. “Year after year, Pew says we’re the most trusted name in news, which gives us incredible reach” says Vice President and Group Creative Director Otto Bell. And Bell makes it clear that this trust must extend into the work coming out of the branded content studio because “We cannot afford to undermine the very reason people come to us in the first place.”

That reason, according to Bell, is because Turner brands deliver quality information that is both timely and meaningful. So while real-time marketing might seem the obvious intersection between branded content and CNN, Bell says the real differentiator will be the application of journalistic acumen to the development and execution of branded content strategies.

“The opportunities for a news organization are clear: It gives us a chance to draft off of our journalistic pedigree and to understand what our audiences want.” These audiences, according to Bell, crave news and want to be among the best informed. For brands, though, the best content opportunities may not be associated with the latest thing, but rather in identifying great stories lying dormant, which a brand may not even realize they are sitting on. “We bring a fresh perspective and clean pair of eyes along with the journalistic training and ability to identify narrative hooks…instincts trained over the years to identify something of interest to an audience.”

Another key differentiator in Turner’s content studio, says Bell, will be its structured process. Based upon the nine years he spent as creative director of Ogilvy Entertainment at Ogilvy & Mather, Bell says that Courageous’ branded content programs will be developed using a “robust process with multiple steps that brings a real professional client services process to custom content.” The process starts with brand objectives, fact-finding to gain deep knowledge of the brand and layering in an editorial process—while maintaining consistent communication throughout. His team is comprised of storytellers, editors, producers, videographers and data scientists who will apply Turner’s “RED” methodology to brand partnerships: Relevancy, Execution and Distribution. Courageous content can then be distributed across CNN’s global portfolio of linear and digital properties as well as optimized for social platforms.

While Bell admits that “the ways to measure success are as varied as the objectives clients walk in with,” he is very enthusiastic about his team’s ability to measure and iterate based upon CNNMoney’s “war room.” With these real-time analytic tools (which are used my multiple divisions of the company), Bell says they’ll not only be able to monitor emerging trends to create timely content, but also reach and engagement so that content can be optimized for longevity and impact.

As Bell points out, “there are a lot of publishers and even brands opening content studios so we spent a long time working on our approach and thinking about our point of view.” The RED methodology is a result of that process and the name of the studio—Courageous—is indicative of how his team will distinguish their brand of branded content. “We wanted something that spoke to a brave mindset, one where brands would set out with us on a bit of a journey.” And given that that CNN is credited with having invented the 24/7 news cycle and the company’s ongoing commitment to trust, transparency and innovation, Bell believes that his Courageous team is building the future of branded content on a solid foundation.

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