Con Con

Original post from 11/7/2016. Updated 11/30/2016.

Update: Here’s a link to The Hustle’s YouTube channel where they’ve just uploaded all presentations from Con Con. Be sure to check out the presentations by Derek, Dave, and Adam, as those are the speakers I’ve recapped in the post below. Enjoy!

Here’s one of their new videos, perfect for an intro:


Last week I volunteered at yet another conference, Con Con, this time a bit closer to home at the Brava for Women in the Arts Theater Center here in the Mission.

Background — Con Con is created by The Hustle, an “online publication for forward thinkers interested in business, tech, culture, and design.” This one day conference focused on teaching startups how to create and use content in new customer acquisition and monetization. I left feeling impressed by the venue, speakers, attendees, and overall event flow and organization. A great first-time experience with The Hustle, and I recommend you check them out — they run an awesome newsletter!

As a volunteer I had limited access to the programming, but my recap includes bullets from the following sessions:

  1. Derek Flanzraich, Founder & CEO of Greatist
    How to Make Content That’s 10X Better Than the Competition
  2. Dave Finocchio, Founder & CEO of Bleacher Report
    Building a Social Empire
  3. Adam Lisagor, Founder of Sandwich Video
    Creating a World Class Launch Video

For more, you can follow The Hustle on Facebook, Twitter, and the #ConCon Twitter stream.


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Making Better Content Than the Competition

  • The Greatist is all about millennials who give a shit about health and wellness. They are serious about being a gender neutral brand, but usually about 70% female consuming content. Women inherently tend to be more interested in topics.
  • Could go 100% in on women, but not a good long term plan. Gender neutrality is the way of the future. Not judging who is reading content.
  • Prediction: Websites will soon be archaic. As marketers we must go to where our audiences play, however at the mercy of platform algorithms at times. It’s important to work hard to not be reliant on any single medium.


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Building a Social Empire at Bleacher Report

Background:

  • Bleacher Report is now roughly ~ 11 years old, with a demographic of under 30’s use it (over 30 typically stick to ESPN). They are a ~ 500-person operation with tons of talent in design, animations, and graphics, able to optimize content for each channel. (Their outstanding talent being a differentiator in the space, noted Dave.)
    • 60 person product/engineering team here in SF runs and maintains publishing, CMS, app updates, and content push. Morphing into content creation tool organization, which is going to take many years to build out.
  • Taking on ESPN? In college Dave realized the trend towards wordy sports coverage, stating that it’s simply not entertaining enough.
  • Sold to Turner Broadcasting in 2012, part of TimeWarner, perhaps AT&T acquisition coming up…
  • 2010 started paying writers. 2012 based off tiers. Now migrated to professional editorial and video staff. Meritocracy – some people made it to big bucks from the beginning.
  • A lot of ways for advertisers to reach audiences at this stage of online marketing. Building an ad-driven (content) company is really hard to do these days.
  • You can no longer grow with solely a website and app anymore. This becomes a maintenance business where you’re lucky if you grow 5-10%/year.
  • At B/R, they saw no other choice than to embrace social media as where audience is moving.

The Early Days / Audience Insights

  • Heavily relied on Google Insights (gone now, privacy issues), where you could browse any term (example “NFL Draft”) and see how many people were searching. In the early days, publications were over covering the MLB All Star Game. In the early days of BR, they noticed people searching at end of NFL season the draft order for next year. Fans hypothesizing who was next, looking for hope. B/R draft coverage would start on that day (last of NFL), vs. major media not starting until ~ March.
  • Mapped out whole sports calendar by sport, team, player; knowing when and why people were searching for what. Identify patterns, keep doing it better the next time around. Scaled huge audience this way.
  • Selling “spots and dots” to brands wanting pre roll or banner ads, resulting in a 9-digit revenue business.
  • Influencer Marketing Insight: 25 year olds who used to watch sporting events via TV are no longer there. They are on social media and sharing a ton of content and super engaged. Sharing highlights, and not tuning into whole game. Ideally, you can reach and audience through influencer brands on social media when the audience is most engaged and most impressionable. This is the best new way to get attention. For example, the NFL ratings have gone down significantly this year. It seems to have lost the cool factor. Young people can’t sit through a 3-4 hour experience with commercials and downtime. The world is changing. B/R creates content for what world looks like on the other end — optimized for sharing, advertisers (non interruptive offering)… with a general sports culture focus.
  • Sports culture is almost bigger than scores these days, and can be more compelling for the general public to follow. B/R are experimenting with formats, more video, and episodic shows. In the end, B/R sets out to gain your trust and wants to be viewed as a channel on social as opposed to just another publisher (affinity MTV had years ago as trusted leader in music/music videos/pop culture).

Growth

  • Goal: Become the voice of sports and sports culture. Betting on monetizing audiences on their social platforms.
  • Growth through investments in high quality content: Facebook grew 120% in a year (2015-16), Instagram grew 725% to nearly 27M. Twitter recorded 217% growth.
  • Ad supported com score brands are being squeezed. Really tough to grow a subscription based brand.
  • B/R then pivoted to become an influencer brand. If you can influence an audience, the ad $ will flock.
  • Advertisers problems – can’t get people to authentically talk about the brand/product. Make a solution in the market place to solve this problem! B/R is seeing their content immediately influence audience and athletes alike. 250M reached/mo.
  • Competitive set will watch us and copy us. Creating barriers via talent and tools, making harder to replicate.
  • Example of engaging content: NBAxNFL jersey mashup collection
Example of fan-engaging content.

Example of fan-engaging content.

South Park 6 Days to Air Case Study

  • The documentary details Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s efforts in keeping South Park real-time.
  • The show is known for its hectic, six-day production schedule, after which a 20-30 minute episode is completed just in time for the original air date.
  • Documentary of making an episode: Stop motion cardboard. Faster if done digitally, but is still stop motion. New episode a week = current events = barrier to entry over all competitors.
  • What tools can we create in-house to expedite these processes, and continue to establish a competitive advantage over our competition?
  • You can watch the documentary here.

Vine

  • The B/R Vine account grew a ton because I think we were the only ones left on the platform. Had a premonition this would happen, too bad it wasn’t sold elsewhere instead of shut down. But oh well.
  • It’s worth noting that the killing of Vine impacted Bleacher Report. But not to worry, now they’re killing it on the @houseofhighlights Instagram account.

Q&A

  • Balancing contributor based model vs. well known sports journalists?
    • Started media company with no money, hard to do, writing talent is expensive. Went with contributor model. Meritocracy of writers with a chance to get their beat. Connect writers with data. Started out muscling big players in the space because they were writing about what audiences actually care about.

A final piece of advice for anyone looking to build something similar to Bleacher Report — enter the user generated content (UGC) game in video, NOT text. You’ll thank yourself later.


Creating a World Class Launch Video

Background

  • In hopes of bypassing those brutal written reports in grade school, Adam opted to complete his reports and projects in the form of video explanations.
  • Graduated from NYU and moved to L.A. for post production film effects. Got tired of working on shitty movies.
  • Early adopter of iPhone. Loved to show it to people!
  • Apple’s first iPhone did not have a copy/paste feature. So Adam created a video with voice over, showing how he would solve this UI problem that so many people were talking about.
    • 50,000 views in first day. Even Kottke.org posted it, and that’s when you know you’ve made it.
  • Joined Twitter in 2007 with friends, as a place for wittiness and jokes, general creative writing.
  • Opening of Apple’s App Store—created Birdhouse app to solve copy/paste and note pad issue. Made a video to explain it better. The basic concept being that you can save tweets for later and publish when ready.
    • App did ok, but people really liked the video. Intentional voice in the description of tech product.
  • Got an email from ‪Genentech — huge iPhone usage internally, and internal apps for scheduling things etc.—wanted him. This proved his video explanation concept, and oops! Adam had just started a company by accident!
  • The next two clients were Square (with Jack Dorsey) and Jawbone. Adam wanted people to feel the product experience he felt when first turning the device on. Small, but powerful and surprising sound of “hmmmph” at start up. It’s Adam’s job to translate these feelings into clear messages for his videos.
  • Now ~175 clients. ~260 videos.

Media

  • Adam recommends reading Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan, as this was a piece of college literature valuable to Adam in defining the media/human interaction, and media as an extension of man.
  • America’s Funniest Home Videos is being loves seeing this authenticity and interest sparked in the low-production value. He loves that the essence of these shows/videos are being seen in the media landscape again today.

Sandwich Video & the Future

  • Never done sales or marketing. 100% word of mouth.
  • CMRA launch (two days ago) – Apple Watch camera. Not just another Apple video, but pivoted to show how this piece of tech is simply revolutionary. Good extension exercise for their brand, as Sandwich aren’t used to doing these types of launch videos.
  • Tesla Autopilot future case study. Feels like a teenage with a Learner’s Permit taking you around. Most people forget to realize that their car is the most expensive computer you’ll own, and you operate it with your feet… not everyone knows how it feels to have autopilot now, but we all know we will soon. Capturing in video—not product use, but rather get inside the driver’s brain. Unspoken relationship between car and driver, and bring this to life.
  • The creative process: Figure out what you feel. Study it. Ask questions and dig for insights. Reflect to your audience the authentic feel.


This wraps up my takeaways from Con Con 2016. Glad to meet everyone and look forward to volunteering again in the future!

Images and logos credited to The Hustle, Greatist, Bleacher Report, and Sandwich Video. Thank you to the Greenbelt Alliance, Zesty, and Green Sheep for sponsoring.

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