In this episode, Stacy sits down with Rachel Wagner, who is the Director of Brand Partnerships at Hollywood Branded. Rachel talks about her experience in branded entertainment and the production side of partnerships. She also provides some examples of memorable moments she’s made possible in her career, including putting J.Lo in a Fiat at the AMA’s. The two also discuss the ways in which brands will make mistakes in trade partnerships.
Hollywood Branded Refresher Episodes
Check out some of the past episodes we’ve covered on this topic:
- EP 262: Building Brand Partnerships With Professional Athletes: The Do’s, Don’ts, Rewards, And Risks With Brittany Gilman
- EP 119: Using Influencer Marketing To Create Brand Partnerships With Keith Stoeckeler | MKTG
- EP 65: The Truth About Independent Films and Brand Partnerships
Hollywood Branded Content Marketing Case Studies
The following content marketing case studies below provide even more insights.
- Top Brand Partnerships With Upcoming 2021 Films
- Top Brand Partnerships With Avengers: Endgame
- A Timeline Of Marvel’s Top Brand Partnerships
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Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones, the founder of influencer marketing and branded content agency, Hollywood Branded. This podcast provides brand marketers, a learning platform for top experts to share their insights and knowledge, on topics which make a direct impact on your business today. While it is impossible to be well-versed on every topic and strategy that can improve bottom line results, my goal is to help you avoid making costly mistakes of time, energy, or money, whether you are doing a DIY approach or hiring an expert to help. Let’s begin today’s discussion.Speaker 2 (00:31):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. I’m Stacy Jones, and I’m so happy to be here with you all today, and want to give a very warm welcome to Rachel Wagner. Rachel is one of our fantastic Hollywood Branded team members. And as Director of Brand Partnerships, she helps to lead our team and build strategy and overall activations for our client partnerships. Rachel has spent 25 years in the entertainment industry, and has tremendous experience in creating entertainment branded partnerships.
And has worked for companies, including Dick Clark, Disney, ABC, and FOX Sports, to build campaigns for brands, including FCA, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Samsung, and the Axiom. Today, Rachel and I will be chatting about, what makes a successful brand partnership. We’ll learn what works from Rachel’s experience, and what should be avoided. And how some businesses just miss the mark. Rachel, welcome. So happy to have you here today.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Well, so it’s not that often, that we bring in a Hollywood Branded team member. Occasionally, here and there, but I’m really excited today, because you have such a different level of experience and way of looking at things. And I do, we have the same number of years of being in this industry. But you more so have been on the production, and the studio, and distributor side, versus working on the agency and brand side. So I’m looking forward to diving in, but can you start off and just share with our listeners, how you got to here today, that you are brand building maker, queen of all things?
Absolutely. I actually really started in traditional media, selling spots and dots on cable networks, local and national. But I did that in sports, and in sports is really where, I feel most of us cut our teeth in product placement, or branded integration, or whatever it was called back at that time when I started in this. I mean, taking a page from NASCAR. That’s what we did with everything from, the Lakers, the Dodgers, to the Canes. So it was really nice to be selling, such marked key properties, and at that time winning teams. So it was fun finding different ways, to integrate brands outside of just slapping on logos, around the court, or getting t-shirts on fans with logos on it.
So I had a lot of fun getting creative, working with the studios actually. And finding ways to drive box office, beyond just running a commercial within the game. Being in LA, it was pretty easy to get talent, go to a Laker game. And we would have our sideline guy interview them. Nobody knew that that was the studio paying for that interview, along with their very robust media buy. So we just found really fun ways, to work with the entertainment industry and find ways to really create it, so that they were a part of the content, and they could just promote their movie in drive box office that way.
So from there, I was still kind of more in that media space, and really just getting tired of living and dying by Nielsen every single day. And it was fortunate enough to really shift into this true branded marketing space, when I went over to Dick Clark. Where I was able to work on such amazing tent-pole award shows, like American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Golden Globes, working in so many different genres was great. And each show had its own personality, obviously, being in different genres.
So we’re finding ways to work with brands where we could, once again, make them more a part of the content. So I had J.Lo dancing in a Fiat, one year at the American Music Awards. For years, it was the Coca-Cola Red Carpet at the AMAs. We also incorporated Coca-Cola into Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. And then found ways to also work with FCA on Golden Globes. And highlight some of their more luxury cars with, showing stars arriving in a Chrysler. And again, that was all paid for, everybody at home I think just thought, “Oh, that was the car the Limo company just happened to send.” But no, Chrysler paid for that too.
So that was really where, I did a lot of my work in branded entertainment, and then was able to parlay that into going out on my own, and consulting and working on a variety of different properties, events, did a little cars marketing. And then was over at ABC, where I jumped back in to the kind of live shows on the Oscars, American Idol, but then really had so much fun working with the team at Jimmy Kimmel Live. And working with Guillermo in creating these branded segments, that would run within Jimmy Kimmel Live.
That’s awesome. That is a really good deep dive, into some of your experience. So, for our listeners, obviously, Rachel has the experience and she knows what she’s talking about.
From your work, mainly on that distributor side of it, how do productions approach brand partnerships, what are they ideally looking for, where is the benefit to them?
Well, money. There’s definitely a monetary benefit to it. I mean, if you have the right type of partnership, it really benefits the production company, because those partnerships will help drive tuning. I mean, having a whole promotional plan, behind all of this integrated product, really helps drive viewership. So those are really kind of the two drivers coming on the distributor side. You do want to make what is considered ancillary revenue, especially at a production company on the brand side, but you also really want to make sure that you get the eyeballs, because without that, without American Music Awards viewership going up year to year, when that licensing deal is up, you might not be able to renew it with the network. And that’s where the bread and butter is. So finding ways to partner with brands, to really piggyback on all of their marketing, and help promote the show.
And you’ve worked on some really large properties, especially the award shows. So typically, in our world at Hollywood Branded, sometimes we work where media is required. My assumption is on most of the partnership deals that you were doing, media is almost always required, to promise to be the leading aspect of the partnership, versus the integration being the leading aspect.
Yes. That’s the way the network would like it to go. That the media drives the integration. But coming from the production side and working so closely with brands, a lot of times the integration actually led, drove the media. So, I would work with… Again, going back to the Fiat Chrysler group, which was a great brand to work with, because they have so many brands within their portfolio. So it was just like, “Okay, we’ve got Academy of Country Music Awards coming up, let’s put Ram Trucks in.”
It was that type of thing. And they were also buying a lot of media too. And they really didn’t want to deal with the networks. They wanted to deal directly with us. They wanted to feel like they were a part of the creative process. And so, we would come up with the integration based on their brand briefs, and a lot of input from them, probably a lot more than my producers and writers really wanted. And then we would wrap up what that integration would look like, and then take it to the network where then they would do the appropriate media buy around it.
But like I said, the network always preferred driving the media, which they did in many instances, or maybe was a good example that actually came from the network side. And that then we grew it to the point, because we were coming up with such poor integrations, that they came to us and said, “Hey, we want to lock in a five year deal, so that we will own the retail category, in American Music Awards.” I said, “Great, but we got to get the network involved in this, because you’ve got to commit to the four year media, before I can commit to giving you that exclusivity.”
So it all came from everywhere. But that being said, I had such great properties to work on, such great IPS. So my team was kind of challenged with, how can we basically, exploit that IP and really make some additional dollars, that is not predicated on a media buy, and that we don’t necessarily have to split with any network partners? So, what did Dick Clark Productions own, that didn’t concern the broadcast? So it was the red carpet, because the networks got away from doing broadcast red carpet shows. They just weren’t getting the numbers.
And so we created a very robust digital plan, around the red carpet, so that there was more of an offering for some brands. But then we have the gift lounge, we had the after party, then I started throwing pre parties. And then I think at one point I had a pre, pre party, because I could attach your brand to that. And then at the same time, all of these little events, also generated a lot of press. So thanks to these sponsor subsidized events, we could generate more press and promotion, driving to the shows. So, that’s how I had to slice it and dice it.
I know the answer but our listeners don’t necessarily know the answer here, but are there certain categories that are more likely, to be able to create these really cool offshoots, versus being dependent on leading with the media?
Yes, there are. And I would say, especially in this instance, when you’re looking at something more event based too, alcohol is a big one. Spirits category is huge, and they love these types of things, because they are so limited what they can do on broadcast TV, or any TV these days. So, that category was all over these opportunities, and then beverage too, even non-alcoholic beverage as well. But then we also could go out to smaller and more niche brands for these things, where we maybe wanted some added value too.
So if we wanted to have a makeup stand with a makeup artist doing touch ups, as people were coming in from the after party, we were able to go out and almost provide that service to everybody going to the after party, make a little money, but more than anything, it was just a cool thing to have at the party. We had different entry points, and for different categories, who didn’t either have the budgets to be a part of a big media buy, or had limitations, like in the spirits category.
And so there’s spirits, there’s automotive, there’s going to be electronics, anyone who’s a mobile, anyone who’s a major television advertiser, you’re going to have to come to the table with media.
Yeah, exactly. Retail was very big, especially given the time of year, that a lot of the shows were on, beauty was always big, actually across all the shows. But of course, all the beauty brands wanted to be in the Golden Globes. But L’Oreal locked that in years ago, they had the exclusive on that too. But yes, electronics were such a natural. And we found fun ways to work with electronics. I mean, one year we got rid of the envelope saying, “And the winner is,” and all of the winners, the envelopes were basically put on a Samsung phone. And then the best part was, when the celebrity would turn the camera around, and actually show it and we could zoom in, that wasn’t scripted, but we got lucky with those sometimes.
Where they just happened to take it upon themselves and say, “Look at this.”
Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, you get lucky as we all know with those moments, but yeah, I would say those are really the key categories, who always come to the table, because they do have the media dollars to spend on that.
So when you’re working on the extensions, when you’re working on the pre parties or in your case, the pre, pre party.
So with that, how should brands really approach those? Like when they’re looking at maybe not being in the show, but they’re looking at the cool event activation that they can do, how are ways that brands can really leverage themselves, and get what they’re looking for? Because just being at the event is not it, it goes a lot deeper than that, yeah.
Right. It goes much deeper than that. We had to look at ways where we could amplify the fact, that they were sponsoring this party. So, doing things like photo booths, that then could be shared socially. So you could automatically start posting from the photo booth. There was always some sort of digital overlay, and we would actually partner with platform. The first time we rolled it out, we partnered with Facebook. And so, all these parties were covered. We were getting all this content that was getting pushed out by Facebook. Then we had all of the talent who was attending the party. We had a whole kind of social media guideline for them.
So it was like, okay, when this content gets posted out, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever we kind of had that partnership with… And having that partnership didn’t mean that we alienated the other social media platforms. It just meant that they were our main outlet, and we knew that content was going to get blasted out. That’s the nice thing about working on these events, you’ve got talent there, who also have a voice. They’re not always going to amplify something on behalf of the brand, but if you can get them to push it out on behalf of the property, they’re more inclined to do that.
And if you make it so easy, I mean, we had a social media guideline Bible that we would send to them. So we would use that as a way to really get the word out that this was happening. I also worked very closely with the head of PR, and we just made sure that we got all the media outlets out there. And we had to make sure it was a really cool party to make them want to come, and to actually cover it too. So we found basically, earned media and placed media to get the word out, on behalf of the sponsor. To show that they were sponsoring this really cool event.
And what can the brands do with, they’re on, they’re doing an event activation, or they are actually in the show, what typically would the allowances be for them to repurpose content, or extend content? How would that all work, or is licensing so strict and tight that once they’re in the show, that was it, or how did that roll out?
In the beginning, it was really rocky, because there was such a social media tie. What was happening is that, these brands were just starting to push that out. So there were a lot of cease and desist letters that happened. So we had to come up with a plan for that. So of how we could allow them to share on this socially, and we learned, if they actually were pushing it out specifically from a property handle, they could get away with that. But if they wanted to actually put it up on their website, they wanted to use it, if it was retailer, use it in store or something like that, then I had to work with business affairs and come up with some sort of licensing agreement, where we would take that piece of content, package it up for them and get a fee for them to use it for a certain amount of time.
The reason we could sometimes get away with them pushing it out from the properties handle, is because there is a promotional timeframe, to promote the show. So if we could get it in that promotional timeframe, we were safe, but of course, the brands wanted to use that content beyond, I think it was a 30 day timeframe. So we would come up with a licensing deal, which was great, because that just meant more revenue for the production company, because that revenue goes directly to the holder of the IP. There’s no network splits or anything like that. Not usually.
Yeah. And so different than the land of feature films. So, you mentioned the co-promotional window. With a feature film, the studios act very different than the television networks. And right now the streaming platforms are much more studio film based, in how they’re approaching brand partnerships than TV network based, because the TV networks are concerned about the almighty ad dollar. And they don’t want to have that be infringed upon in any way.
On the studio side and the streaming platforms side, they’re really into awareness, and making sure that they’re leveraging the brand to be able to get their property, their streaming platform, their studio, in front of as many eyeballs that the brand has as their own fans, because it reduces their own marketing budgets. And TV shows don’t really think of it that way. Networks are just not in that land.
They aren’t. And that’s why, usually production company doesn’t take on, the responsibility of marketing a network show. The network is supposed to do that. But these days, like you said, they really don’t, or they’ll just focus on a couple shows that they’re really going to get behind. And usually those shows aren’t, one-offs, an event show, that’s only on once a year, they’re going to push more of their Grey’s Anatomy’s, This Is Us, something where they need to get that viewership on a weekly basis, so that they can maintain that ad revenue.
Yeah. They need 10 million viewers, or they’re not going to make their ad rates.
Exactly. And then they have to come up with a whole make good schedule, which limits their inventory to sell more advertising. So, that’s where they’re focusing, is more of their series. And at the production company, we realized that we needed more marketing. We needed more than what the networks were providing. And traditionally, production companies don’t have budgets to do that.
And are there brands that were able to get involved with any of these productions, where it was more on a trade basis, or I scratched your back basis, or with all of the partnerships that you were working with at such high scale premium, premium properties, were they all triggered by dollars?
No. We did some trade as well. And that was to help with production cost. I did a trade out with [inaudible 00:23:10] So he would dress all of our red carpet hosts, which helped a lot on the wardrobe budget. Going back to talking about these cosmetic brands, I would actually not just have them have a little glam squad at the party, I would actually have them bring the makeup artist they had on staff to come in, and do makeup, if talent would allow us to. Usually it was guys that they would do the makeup on.
Women are like, “Do not touch my face, it’s perfect.”
Exactly. “I’ve my own person. You can’t touch me.”
“You can’t put someone else’s lip gloss on. It’s perfect. It matches my dress.”
Right? Exactly. But production still had to have makeup artists on hand. So there were those kinds of costs savings services we could find, that the brands could offer. And sometimes we did do trade outs on alcohol for the parties. I mean, using the Academy of Country Music Awards as an example, that after party was raging, and the talent expected a lot of crowd around. So, I just went to Diageo and I just said, “Just ship your entire portfolio. That’s all we need for this party.” Because that party, the main objective was to keep the talent happy, so that we could keep booking them on every show moving forward.
Yeah. That makes sense.
And tipsy talent is happy talent.
Exactly. Even though spirit companies would pay for something like that, sometimes at the 11th hour, you just need their booze.
Well, on that note, we’ll be right back. We’re going to take a moment’s break, to listen to my message, and just give us a moment and we’ll chat again soon. Check out our weekly blogs at blog.hollywoodbranded.com. Stay up to date on all things marketing, business and pop culture. Subscribe and join over 30,000 readers, who are already in the know. Rachel, if we can dive in, you don’t have to tell tales, but where do brands mess up, where do they make mistakes? Where are they approaching these brand partnerships, where they’re really not doing it right?
When they fail to realize that, this is really a branding play. That they cannot shove all of their messaging points into this branding play. That’s where they do mess up. And there have been times that, despite pushback from writers, producers, who they don’t want that in their content. They don’t want to hear every benefit that VSA has to offer their clients. We don’t need to know the APR’s and the great percentages that they’re getting, and all of these things, but they try to get it all in. And it’s that delicate balance of pushing back.
But there have been times where despite the pushback, they push hard enough and we still will get of those messaging points in, and it falls flat. It just does. There’s no way that you can get it in. And a lot of times these types of things work more on the comedy side, and you just lose the cadence of the comedy, of the show. So it’s not just a mistake for the brands, it ends up being mistake for the show too. And then nobody wins.
And that’s interesting, because our agency by representing brands, we’re being paid by our brand partners, to find them these partnerships and build them out. But we counsel our clients that, we’re also there to make sure that at the end of the day, that their partnership is actually going to be warmly received by viewers. And so we will push back on things, because we know what the production is going to say no to. And it’s really easy to see when the messaging starts going over the top, when it starts being, “Let’s look at all the features that this car has.” No one wants to see that. And the last thing you want to do is have your social media blow up, about how bad your exposure was, because all that negativity throws it out the window. Are there other areas that you’ve seen brands mess up in this space?
Yes. When they are doing some talent alignment. Somebody at a corporate level gets this idea, that they have to partner with one piece of talent. And despite the fact that you counsel them, and you say no, it’s who they are as a person, their likeness, the roles that they choose, it doesn’t align with your brand. And it makes both of you look ridiculous. I mean, I think Pepsi got a lot of backlash for what they did with-
With Kylie Jenner. It wasn’t a fit. It wasn’t-
It wasn’t authentic.
It wasn’t authentic.
The boy who they want to be with one of the queen bees of social media, that was what was the driver there.
Right. Exactly. And there was so much backlash. I mean, that just blew up in their face. And I’ve seen it happen with auto brands. Again, I don’t want to tell tales. But even with cosmetic brands too. I think the cosmetic brand thinks, “Oh, she’s pretty and she has great skin.” But it’s really not believable that she would actually be using that product. So that’s where I think that brands fail, when you’re using somebody’s likeness. It’s not just about that one starring role that they had in a movie, or it’s not just about that character that they are in a TV show, even though that TV show has maybe been on, 11 seasons. It’s really about who they are, or what character they have decided to personify as part of their career.
We’ll have a lot of brands come to us for a celebrity endorsement deal. And they’ll say, “I want XYZ.” Just like what you are saying. And we’ll sit there and we’ll think for a moment, and we’ll hear them. And we like hearing who they like, but we don’t necessarily want to hear who they want, because the conversation drivers are so much behind the scenes, where you don’t know what other brand deals they might be already involved in, or you don’t know if they might actually be a horse’s ass to work with, as a brand.
And we tend to drill down with the talent agents, to find out who is actually going to be jumping up and down for joy, about a brand partnership, versus someone who’s going to have to be handcuffed and stuck to a chair, and spoonfed this to make them do this. And there’s such different experiences for a brand to have. And you want to have that authentic partnership, and you want to make sure that it’s organic, and you want to make sure that the celebrity is actually as bought in on to the brand, as the brand is to the celebrity. So we always cancel, instead let’s find out what the brand brief is.
Let’s figure out, the right direction. Let’s knock on the doors of the different agents, have deep conversations about, who they think on their roster is actually a fit, so that we can reverse engineer it. Instead of saying, I want X, Y, or Z, and instead go out and see the landscape. See who’s hungry, see who happens to owe extra taxes. And they’re a little bit more driven for a deal, or someone who has a slow year ahead of them, because they don’t have a major film, or television show coming up, where they can dedicate time to a brand partnership. And that’s something that a lot of brands just don’t tend to think about.
So are there any other mistakes that you see with brands? And there might be none, I’m just asking.
I mean, those are really the main ones that I’ve seen to really call out. It’s just when things are forced, that always comes across. Like you said, if you know that a talent isn’t easy to work with, and is a diva, don’t even bother putting a cup in her hand on the red carpet, because if you get her to sip it, it’s not going to come across as authentic.
And there’s probably going to be like a weird look to her face. Actually, correct.
Right. Exactly. So there’s times to avoid those things. And I’ve had the brand partner right there in my ear sometimes on the red carpet, “We need to get that in their hand.” It’s like, “No. Not this one. Let’s wait until another one comes along, and you’ll really get more bang for your buck on that one.” Yeah.
I agree with that. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for joining us today. Obviously, I get to see you every day, and our entire agency gets to leverage your experience. But if anyone listening is interested in chatting with Rachel in more detail, you can reach out to her @rachelhollywoodbranded.com. I don’t normally fill in the blanks for people on this, but I happen to know this information quite well. Or our agency in general, where you can reach out to either partnerships @hollywoodbranded.com, or the generic info @hb.com. And you’ll be there.
Rachel again, thank you so much today. Really enjoyed having you share your insights, and your thoughts, and looking forward to continuing to have you build partnerships with our team.
That’s great. This has been great. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
To our listeners. Thank you again for tuning in to Marketing Mistakes. I look forward to chatting with you this next week.
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