Reclaiming partnership

Around this time of year, as daffodils spring from the ground, sacks full of entries for our TV Planning Awards spring into our hands at Thinkbox.

This year, one of the categories that has inspired the most number of entries is ‘Best use of sponsorship or content’. Always a hotly contested category, this year it is more popular than ever. And this is no surprise. It is now three years since product placement was first allowed in UK TV programmes and in those three years the ways in which brands have collaborated with the TV broadcasters to get closer to content have evolved at a dramatic pace. Last year felt like something of a tipping point with advertisers combining sponsorship, advertiser funded programming, advertorials, interactive content, competitions & promotions, licensing, televised branded events, and product placement to great effects.

So it was with heightened interest that we recently held our annual ‘Closer to Content’ event. It was a timely chance to look at the latest and greatest in content partnerships and see what we could learn.

Although effectiveness and results are what we’re all about at Thinkbox, the focus of this event was more about how the best partnerships are forged and the lessons that are learned along the way. We didn’t just see the high-performance vehicle in motion; we were given a valuable peek under the hood to see how it actually worked and what fuelled it. We heard about how clients and broadcasters journey together, react to circumstances together and build something special together.

We had a very honest and forthright group of speakers and if a single line from the event summed it up, it was this from Channel 4’s Rob Ramsey: ‘We reclaimed the word partnership’. He was talking about the broadcaster’s incredibly successful, award-laden collaboration with Sainsbury’s for the Paralympics and how every party worked closely together to ensure the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. What I particularly liked was how unafraid they were to change direction and react to events – and it was amazing to learn that as recently as 2010, in the run up to the event, only 14% of people could name a Paralympian. Post Paralympics, many are household names. You can watch Rob in an enlightening discussion with Sainsbury’s Jat Sahota and 4Creative’s Kuba Wieczorek here (click on ‘The blind leading the partially sighted’ link to jump to that part of the event).

Gary Knight, ITV’s guru of content partnerships, talked the audience though ‘Fusion’ – an innovative model for making the best partnerships, and a great check-list for anyone about to embark on one. Although a very modern construct, he confessed that Shakespeare had actually sketched it out some 400 years before he did. Gary also delved into the remarkable success of the Comparethemarket.com tie-up with Corrie; how they “got lucky” with Gary Barlow, and how the sponsorship has led to the comparison website becoming the second largest manufacturer of toys in the UK after Walt Disney: amazing stuff. You can find out how they did that here (click on ‘How to take creative effectiveness to the next level. Simples!’ link).

Long-running TV shows, of course, can have a number of partners throughout their lifetimes. They are incredibly versatile. Jason Hughes from Sky Media and Chantal Rickards from MEC took to the stage to reveal how Sky’s A League of Their Own has nurtured and developed multiple, long-running partnerships which have blended product placement, sponsorship and a wide range of successful of-air activities. We learned that Usain Bolt’s in-show appearance in the Visa Sprint Challenge was the first time ever that, in terms of the impact that was created, product placement rated higher than the programme sponsorship. You can watch them explain how these activities have evolved here (click on the link for ‘One programme, multiple opportunities’).

So, as the appetising pile of TV Planning Awards entries at Thinkbox Towers testifies, content partnerships are hot stuff right now. Advertisers and broadcasters are working together closer than ever to create entertaining, engaging, content-led campaigns which put brands at the heart of TV programming. It gives you a lovely feeling of content.

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