Mina Seetharaman is SVP, Global Managing Director Marketing Solutions at The Economist Group and she's also a judge for the World Media Awards - which now has an extended deadline for entry until Febraruary 1st 2018.
Mina's job requires her to create content projects intended to enable her clients to meet particular marketing objectives, whilst also leveraging The Economist Group's portfolio capability.
She's previously worked for Barclays, Microsoft, Citigroup, HSBC, GE, American Express and many, many more.
Read the short interview we did with her below about the World Media Awards to discover her thoughts on creating content-led advertising, her favourite apps and guilty pleasures and how to make content that can translate over borders.
LBB> Why should agencies/advertisers enter the World Media Awards?
Generally, awards are the industry’s version of an art school crit; they encourage us to put a bit of pressure on ourselves to do better quality work and not settle somewhere along the way when things get hard. The WMA’s, in particular, help surface examples of truly global campaigns that use content and media in thoughtful ways. We tend to think that translating an ad into multiple languages or running a campaign with multinational targeting makes something global. In fact, a concept, or an emotion – a human connection – is what transcends borders or languages and gives a campaign global resonance. That’s much harder to make happen.
LBB> What are you hoping for most when you judge the awards?
At a time like this, when the world is fraught with such big problems, working in marketing can sometimes feel a little unimportant. But when I see engaging, thought-provoking work that represents the best of what we can do as marketers and, in some cases, even inspires us to be better people, then I feel reinvigorated and re-energized about what I do. I hope to see campaigns that don’t just try to do “whiz-bang” things for their own sake or as a gimmick, but instead use innovation in a way that drives a story or an idea forward thoughtfully and purposefully.
LBB> What is the best content-driven advertising campaign you have seen in the past 12 months (which you weren’t involved in)?
I suppose I’m not allowed to choose The Economist’s Circulation team’s award-winning marketing campaign that uses our magazine content as a jumping off point for successful digital, direct and experiential marketing (yes, that was a shameless plug, but technically, I was not involved.)? I have really been loving clothing brand MM.LaFleur’s blog “The – M – Dash” (as a copy nerd, I even love the name). Their feature “The Most Remarkable Women in the World” strikes the perfect blend of aspiration and inspiration for their target in today’s zeitgeist. As a marketer who grew up at Ogilvy, I look at MM.LaFleur and their blog and think, “this is a brand that understands their big ideal.” They get that the world would be a better place if women didn’t always feel like every aspect of their lives, all they way down to how they dressed themselves for work, were a labored compromise. Their blog content illustrates this in a way that feels true to their brand without overreaching in some grandiose way.
LBB> What are the most important factors to consider when creating content-led advertising? (e.g. story, relevance, length of content, type of content, media partner)?
Marketers behave as though format makes up for poor quality ideas. A non-newsworthy message about an undifferentiated feature of a commonly available product is not made better because it is a 280-character tweet instead of a 1000-word article – less arduous perhaps, but that should never be our goal. Form does not make bad ideas better.
As marketers we need to remind ourselves that people don’t wake up thinking about our products; they wake up thinking about their problems. So the most important thing in content-led, or any, advertising is, “How am I relevant or valuable to my audience in solving their problem?” The answer to this tells us why an audience should care about our brand in a landscape of competitors. If you don’t get that right, no format or media partner or budget level will make a campaign successful.
LBB> Content-driven marketing is often associated with higher volumes of content but often lower production budgets than traditional advertising - how do you achieve great content without compromising craft?
The practical and popular answer here is to produce only the amount of content that you need. While a regular cadence builds a readership habit, each time someone hears from your brand they should feel like they are learning something new, not like you are pitching more of the same. There can also be budget efficiencies in consolidating with fewer partners. This can allow a partner to be more efficient with their content production teams, rather than having to price more expensive one-offs or unpredictably scheduled items, for example.
Here is the less-popular answer: really good content is neither cheap, nor easy to produce. Great writing, great video, great thinking – these all come at a price and take some time. When you give someone 24 hours to respond to a brief and demand “their best thinking” you’re fooling yourself. You’ll get their 12-hour thinking at best. If you want to shoot a mini-doc in three cities, there are hard costs associated with that. You can try to squeeze your partners on price and time, but in the end, you cannot complain about not getting the best work. A senior leader at a former job once asked me, “The client is willing to pay $8K/minute for really, really great video. Like feature-film quality. Can you go away and make that happen?” I thought, “Yeah, and I’m willing to stop eating exactly 2 candy bars a month to look like Heidi Klum.” For the record, that client never showed any real interest in video and my non-Heidi-Klum-looking self is, at this very moment, eating a chocolate chip cookie for lunch.
LBB>How do you balance planning and implementation of cross-border branded content campaigns between ‘local’ offices and ‘head office’?
There are many models for this and they all can be successful depending on the desired outcome. Some agencies use an HQ-origination/regional adaptation model. This can work but only if there is some flexibility for the regional markets to do more than just translate copy and truly adapt copy, imagery, etc. for the local market. We have found that sometimes this model will work for us, but in some cases, a transcreation model, where we recreate the content in another language, may be necessary. This is best for written content when a destination language is structurally or idiomatically very different from the original, to ensure the best chance of conveying the true meaning and intent, not just words. Video can be more challenging and sometimes requires handling spoken lines as voiceovers so that they are easily recorded in different languages and layered in during post. Whatever the approach, the mistake is not weighing from the start the importance of centralized control vs. the level to which the content must feel relevant to local audiences. These two things are sometimes at odds with each other, but that balance should dictate the approach you take; thinking about it up front avoids a lot of scrambling, stakeholder disagreement and wasted budget later on.
LBB>What is the key to finding a content marketing idea that can translate across borders?
Diversity of input. We have seen epic fails over the years, and not just in marketing, where ideas have been mocked or outright rejected. Everyone knows the story of the Chevy Nova and the Jenner-Pepsi fiascos. And every time a French-speaking country hosts an Olympic games, the acronym for their Comité d’Organisation des Jeux Olympiques” apparently makes those from Latin-American countries emit a lewd snicker. By having more culturally diverse creatives, strategists and account people at agencies and brands, and by focus grouping and testing with more diverse panels, we run a better chance of ensuring our ideas are globally resonant and do not, in the worst case, inadvertently offend or exclude.
LBB>Your favourite app for work? And for leisure/personal use?
This is going to be incredibly dull. For work: Google hangouts. We are a distributed global organization and use a lot of the Google suite to facilitate our work. Hangouts app lets me be flexible about meeting times with teams around the world. For personal use, I have three: Spotify, Kindle and The Economist app. I know the last one sounds like a shill, but the audio capability lets me listen to the entire weekly publication as a podcast, which is handy in a crowded subway car. Together the three make my hour-long commute both pleasant and productive.
LBB>Who are your creative heroes and why?
Da Vinci is one. Cliché, I know, but I marvel at minds that marry seemingly whimsical imagination with the precision of mathematical and engineering enablement. The Leicester Codex is engrossing and it’s magical to think that came from the same mind as Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, or Head of a Woman. The DaVinci museum in Amboise, where they have built models of Da Vinci’s inventions from his blueprints is the kind of place that fills me with wonder. For the time, the machines seem incredulous and yet many of the models work. It’s a reminder that function and creativity are not, by rule dichotomous.
LBB>Your guilty pleasure?
Do people seriously have only one? Anything fried. Young adult fiction. “The Voice”. Make up application videos on YouTube. The list goes on; don’t judge me. Yes, I see the irony in that statement.