Exclusive! New MediaCom content boss James Morris on media’s business beyond advertising

James Morris is the new head of WPP-owned MediaCom Beyond Advertising (MBA), the giant media agency’s content division now being rolled out from Europe around the world.

Morris is the former director of digital strategy and content at award-winning production company TwoFour where he worked on projects for Audi, Home Box Office, drug giant GSK and VW.

In between planning global expansion and finding the key to the executive loo he found time to answer some questions.

1/ MediaCom Beyond Advertising is going to cover search, sponsorship, merchandising and other things besides content. How do these fit in? Does this mean that providing branded content alone is not enough for the business?

MediaCom Beyond Advertising is a truly integrated team focussed on the creation, distribution and evaluation of multi platform content, maximising the vast potential of both the present and the future digital landscape.

We provide strategy, creative development and implementation of:

partnership and sponsorship – selection and assessment, negotiation and amplification.

branded content – long and short form content on TV, digital, outdoor, press and radio

social media – activation and monitoring for the worlds leading brands

emerging platforms (i.e. mobile), technology and innovation

Our clients are not just coming to us with branded content briefs. They want us to address their communication challenges and we believe that the services illustrated above are the core tools that enable us to provide the appropriate solution that answers their brief.

2/ Does the fact that you represent some of the biggest advertisers give you better access to broadcasters than other companies or individuals? If so, is this a blurring of the line between advertising and editorial?

As a media agency we are media neutral. Our role is to ensure that we recommend the best strategy and the best route and content to connect and engage with consumers. More and more of our campaigns are integrated and cross media, but we could just be recommending and implementing a social media campaign rather than an advertiser funded programme series with a broadcaster.

3/ What is the global breakdown of your activities? Are some markets more open to offers from advertisers than others?

We are putting in place an international team that will support the implementation of MBA in the local offices. So we have global and regional suppport in EMEA, Australia Pacific, North America and Latin America. Our biggest team is in the UK and we have teams in Denmark, Spain, Sweden, USA, Australia, Mexico etc that reflect the size of their market. Some markets are inevitably more advanced than others, but we are investing in setting up the MBA capability in all of our offices.

4/ Would you consider buying a broadcast production company or becoming a media owner?

Who knows what the future holds, however this is certainly not in our current thinking or plans. It is important for our strategic relationship with brands that we are media neutral and so becoming a media owner is unlikely.

5/ if there was one existing TV drama series you could have helped to originate what would it be? And why?

Difficult one…hmmm….Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Mad Men (but now I work in advertising that would be cheesy), Common as Muck (Edward Woodward was fantastic in this), loved David Morrisey in Blackpool, The Singing Detective…just brilliant but I am going to have to go for Life on Mars for its originality, humour, cast. I was hooked!

6/ If you had been involved with the birth of The Sopranos which brand would have gained most from the connection? Does the series’ popularity and global reach counter the danger of being associated with entertainment about gangsters?

This was clearly compelling TV and the complex relationships really made the drama of the show…….however, I firmly believe that branded content is all about reflecting the values of the brand. Clearly this format would not work for a significant proportion of our clients but there are brands where an innovative format like the Sopranos and its phenomenal reach would work extremely well. Clearly we work with existing formats that work for our clients but my personal preference is to create formats in partnership with our clients and production companies.

7/ How big a contribution does ‘beyond advertising’ make to Mediacom’s revenues now? What’s this likely to be in five, ten, 15 years’ time?

We are investing in added value services like MBA as we have seen a demand for this from our clients and the revenues are growing year on year. We think that this is a significant growth area for MediaCom, hence our ongoing investment.

8/ Do you see ‘online meets TV’ (as in YouView or Apple TV) as a transforming factor in your business?

I thinked the future of connected TVs provides siginificant opporturnities for brands to connect with consumers. At TwoFour, developing future TV and digital platformms for clients like HBO, BBC iPlayer, Volkswagen etc gave me a real insight into the power of the technology but more importantly in designing user experiences that allow viewers to access content they want to watch in a logical and simple way.

Using technology to recommend content that reflects their previous behaviour or pre-selected preferences is becoming something that users now expect from media owners. Branded channels and the recent relaxation of product placement are much more exciting propositions for brands on ‘connected TVs’ as the experience can be interactive and ultimately lead to product purchase.Clearly there will need to be safeguards in this to protect both consumers and brands.

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