Dec. '11 Entertainment & Sports PR Magazine

By Jon Gingerich

Social media has irrevocably changed the marketing industry. It’s more than a global communications resource, it’s an informational village that has developed not only the ways we communicate but the content of those conversations. Entertainment on the “small screen” — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — has been so influential it’s now changed how content is developed on the “big screen”; it’s proven many of today’s best marketing opportunities can be found not in the venues of traditional media but on an ever-developing social frontier where critical mass is shaping without corporate ad support or expensive production budgets.

A 2011 Social Commerce Study found the appetite for buying directly through social networks is stronger than ever: 35% of consumers polled said they’d be likely to make a purchase directly from Facebook, and 32% said they’d do the same through Twitter. A November Benchmark Campaign report by IBM discovered that 9% of consumers who visited retail sites from a link on social media sites made a purchase. Hits on retail sites from social networks accounted for 77% of total traffic.

As a result, more companies are reporting an interest in social media marketing than ever before. An October report from STRATA revealed U.S. companies held a 34% focus in Internet advertising in 2011’s third quarter, up from 24% in the second-quarter and up from 23% in the year’s first-quarter. Clients are growing increasingly focused on social media marketing as TV advertising wanes.

Social media is also no longer as demographically divided as it once was. A September Pew report found nearly two-thirds of all American adults now use social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Social media’s steep curves in user growth are no longer about numbers as much as it’s about ubiquity. While it’s no longer a bold prediction to claim marketing is making huge growths in the social sector, what’s news is how traditional marketing is now co-opting that growth to keep up. The medium has changed, the audiences have changed, but now the messages are changing too.

“Hollywood has always had a great history of storytellers, and brands need to find new ways to entertain consumers versus simply communicating,” said Tom Tardio, CEO of Rogers & Cowan. “When you look at the traditional way of PR, it’s the release of information. But good conversations are always engaging; you have to reach people through storytelling. Social media has moved to embrace more of a pop-culture sensibility of engagement.”

“It’s changed the way we do business in every way,” said Jamie Lynn Sigler, Founding Partner of J Public Relations in San Diego. Sigler said her firm has experienced growth of more than 100% over the last four years. It’s a surge she attributes to having a firm that’s big enough to be considered a “major player,” yet small and nimble enough to change with the times.

“We’re a younger firm, and something we’ve found is that we’re winning business because we’ve changed with the ways media has changed. We focus on the top bloggers and social media, and when we work with influential mommy bloggers or people on Twitter we find ourselves winning business.”

Endorsements find new audiences

A staple in the entertainment marketing business has been celebrity brand endorsements. Several years ago, many in the industry began questioning whether the practice would fizzle out. The FTC published updated guidelines requiring new disclosure standards for brand ambassadors and their paid sources. Add a glut of tabloid-spurred celebrity meltdowns that could tarnish the associated brand and many in the industry wondered if it’s a practice that’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Despite this, more brands — from fragrances to food and fashion — are getting their foot in the branding door by involving a celebrity face. Experts said the tradition continues because it works. Given new possibilities in social media, it’s an industry poised for further growth.

“The celebrity business is bigger and better than ever, and honestly it’s because we live in a celebrity-driven world,” Sigler said. “Just in terms of the number of hits on sites like Perez Hilton and the circulation of weeklies are now trumping many traditional publication, this isn’t something that’s going by the wayside.”

The demographics supporting celebrity brands are also changing. Tardio mentioned Jennifer Lopez’s successful new clothing collection for Kohl’s and lifestyle brand sponsorships by reality TV star Bethenny Frankel as proof that both celebrities and the brands that hire them are changing. Teens are no longer the lone target market.

Experts said there’s also a big push to embed celebrities not only in the brand promotion process, but in the event pre-promotion process as well. Sigler’s firm, which has worked with Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, Beyonce and Lil Wayne, not only publicizes their celebrity-hosted events appearances in the media, but actually enlists the celebrity to aid in the process. Sigler said there’s now a social media component in her firm’s contract that binds celebrities to promote the event they’re attending via their personal social media pages.

“When we partner with a celebrity, we now include social media in our contracts that says a celeb needs to tweet about the event. We’ll actually negotiate and say ‘you need to come do x, y and z, and we need three or four tweets before the event and at least one after the event has been attended.’” 

“The idea of using a celebrity name and image isn’t going away,” Tardio said. “These brands are smart, they sell products and they know that when they put a celebrity name behind the product it will sell. There’s always been a risk factor involved, but the CMO knows the risks and they’re careful about who they work with and how they offset it. I don’t see anything that says it’s diminishing. In fact, I think more brands are buying into talent-based relationships than ever before.”

“I believe that storytelling is what’s most influencing new trends,” Tardio continued. “Brands utilizing social media understand that existing within that pop culture space is where they need to be. While the storytellers used to be the producers and the people who wrote scripts, now the storytellers have become you and me, it’s based on the communities we interact with. We have all these new storytellers and there’s a great randomness to it that has offered very unique ways to build brands.”