Sidney Crosby, live soap opera drive success of unique new media campaigns

What does it take to create a vibrant multimedia campaign for a maker of athletic goods?

Sometimes it’s dealing with the six agents of hockey star Sidney Crosby.

These and other observations were made last week by four new media creators who described their online work at an event sponsored by Interactive Ontario, an agency that promotes the digital media industry in the province.

Although the audience was largely composed of digital creators, the lessons could be also be appreciated by mangers looking to use new media to boost their company’s brand and products.

One firm that had to patiently negotiate with Sidney Crosby’s retinue, among others, was Halifax’s Stitch Media, a digital media production company that has created Web sites for everything from television dramas to financial institutions.

Clients for the 2009 campaign involving Crosby were BCE Inc.’s Web portal Bell Sympatico and Reebok International Ltd., whose products Crosby endorses, explained Stitch Media partner Victoria Ha.

The idea was to create a Web campaign subtly taking advantage of the star’s popularity, driving traffic to a Sympatico Web site sponsored by Reebok.

“Sidney’s known to be a hockey player on the ice,” Ha observed, where few fans could join him. So the concept of ‘Working Out With Sidney Crosby’ off the ice was coined to educate people on how to exercise.

The approach sounds simple, but there were certain problems to be solved: For example Stitch Media realized no one carries a laptop to gym it also designed one-sheet workouts that people could print out and take with them.

While Sympatico is a portal many subscribers use as their home page, the clients wanted to do more to draw attention to the site. So a 30-second TV spot with Crosby was also created to alert the audience of the Web site for a month before the campaign launched.

The campaign ran for a year, and although Ha didn’t have numbers, says it “was a huge hit.”

“We had coaches approach us and say ‘We’ve applied this to our minor league training.’ It wasn’t just entertainment, it was information that could be used in real life.”

Ha noted that “unlike traditional media, [interactive media] is not as formulaic. It’s not like ‘This one worked really well, so we’re just going to apply it to the 10 after that.'”

“It’s important to bring in the right partners from the beginning and establish the goals and expectations clearly,” she advised, “because sometimes what a TV show strives for is not always the same goals that the interactive [campaign] will achieve. They may be similar, but they’re not always the same.”

Projects are successful, she believes, when new media companies works with key creative people from the client – producers, writers and managers of sales and marketing – to set goals before the digital strategy is set in concrete. “What producers want is not always what the sales team wants,” Ha explained.

Most important, she said, is that clients should leave the technology recommendations – such as using Twitter – to the production company.

“All of the projects we’ve done wouldn’t have been possible unless there had been a lot of pre-planning,” she said. “Rather than just focus on applications and platforms, we talk more about the narrative, what are the goals of the sponsors and the producers.”

Screenwriter Jill Golick, another panellist, has more than 200 hours of TV work behind her. Now working as a digital strategist for organizations, she explores the edges of new media through her site Story2.OH (story2oh.com).

For this month’s social media week in Toronto, Golick and colleagues created a “live comedy soap opera” as a learning experience called Crushing It, which also illustrates the potential of new media.

The plot line included a mother, her daughter, a pregnant girl wondering who the father is and assorted friends. But the vehicles through which the dramas were played were Twitter messages, blogs and YouTube videos sent between the characters, all of which were open for readers stumble upon and even participate in.

“The really cool thing was that you could talk to the characters, and they would talk back to you,” Golick said. “You could give them advice …  and if they had a good suggestion the characters would put it into action.” In addition, the creators could ask for ideas to encourage readers to join in, such as asking what to name the baby and whether the parent should get married.

“There was a real sense from the audience they could influence the story.”

Aside from the fun of doing a spontaneous project, the group learned valuable lessons which could be put to commercial use: For a multimedia effort, start the Web site first (the opera actually began on Twitter), where feeds can be aggregated. They also learned how to tell a story on Twitter, how long an audience’s attention can be held. “What we saw was a real hunger to interact with characters,” Golick said.

Panellist Gerry Flahive, a senior producer at the National Film Board, outlined the opportunities for new media creators at the NFB, which is no longer only about film or video for documentaries. Not only is the federal agency digitizing is library – an app for iPhones has been downloaded 570,000 times – it will fund up to 40 Web-based productions over the next 12 months.

About half won’t be film-based.

One of the most recent successes, he said, is been an interactive Web site called Water Life that grew out of a documentary on the Great Lakes.

“We’re looking for people to collaborate with who we’ve never collaborated with before to make new media work,” he said.

A new call for proposals says the board is looking for people willing to experiment with creative applications of digital technologies in creating interactive documentaries and animation. The board has an important role to play in taking some creative risks on projects that don’t have an immediate return, Flahive said.

Why? Because instead of a production being seen by 20,000 on TV, Flahive said, it could be seen by several hundred thousand. “This is going to lead to increased revenue,” through DVD sales to individuals and to broadcasters.

“We’re not thinking of the Web as the last-place, we’re premiering on the Web.”

Finally, the audience heard Winvolve Inc. co-founder Mathijs Gajentaan outline the potential of ‘augmented reality,’ which can superimpose an object on top of another. A simple example is the yellow scrimmage line that gets put on TV football fields.

Multimedia can be used in smartphone apps ranging from student city guides to donut shop locators, he said.

There are challenges with geolocation technologies in less advanced countries, but trying is fun, he said.

“It’s a very exciting time,” Victoria Ha concluded, “but at the same time  you have to be realistic in trying to match all these different factors together. It’s nice there’s space for us to play in and there’s more funds available … but “so much of what I do is not just making stories but finding the talents and the funders to come to the same table and see each other eye to eye.”

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