24 Seven Presents: Otto Bell of Courageous Studio at CNN – Making Headlines for Brands

The opportunity to be newsworthy for brands and make headlines for them…

Otto Bell, Chief Creative Officer of Courageous Studio at CNN (Turner’s first brand studio – (profile)), joins Lisa Berger, Dalia Strum and Edward Hertzman at the MouthMedia Network Studios powered by Sennheiser. Presented by 24 Seven Talent.

The genesis of Courageous, stories with editorial merit, and the eclipse event

Otto Bell, Chief Creative Officer of Courageous Studio at CNN, discusses the genesis of Courageous, Turner’s first brand studio, and what it’s been like to make branded content for CNN, HLN and Great Big Story. Bell says that while embarking on creating branded content for Courageous, it’s been important to him to maintain brand credibility and he’s taken particular care to avoid eroding the audience’s trust in the brand. Bell says what sets CNN apart is the brand’s authority its history in video. CNN and Courageous offer more than 50 points of video-driven distribution, from Snapchat to airport channels and robust social channels – Courageous is a one-stop shop for a true global rollout of content campaigns. Bell also notes that Courageous has a full-time, in-house team of cinematographers, editors, photographers, graphic designers etc. and this enables the team to create the best content possible. They can recruit top talent because of the brand’s reach (they offer artists a chance to have their work seen by a tremendous audience) and because Courageous offers the opportunity to learn marketing from the ground up, to become fluent in getting ideas commissioned. He touches on how Courageous is not in the business of making “fluffy advertising”, and how they are looking for stories that have editorial merit. Bell goes into the excitement of working on the eclipse concept this past summer. His team worked with Grey and BY MindShare to bring the world access to the moment of totality. They used new technology and high dynamic range cameras with 44 incoming feeds (around 6 times more than a usual CNN day).

Passing the acid test branded content, the value of a WPP Fellowship, and the contraction of the agency world

Bell goes into exploring live advertising and how working with new technology like Alexa programming and audio augmented reality is what keeps things exciting. He dives into a recent piece on the world’s only milk sommelier where he traveled to Holland to meet with a dairy farmer. He says this piece passed an “acid test” when it was picked up by Food and Wine Grub Street, DairyBusiness.com and The Washington Post, proving branded content stands on its own two feet. According to Bell the opportunity to create newsworthy moments for brands is thrilling but there are pitfalls of this type of work, such as the challenges of setting up proper production facilities to keep the pipeline filled. Bell recalls his WPP Fellowship and how he saw the TV advertising model was breaking, and that the entertainment model was growing. He describes coming to New York with a desire to go into branded entertainment, and how he landed a role as Creative Director at Ogilvy. Bell shares how he helped come up with an idea for a content studio at CNN and how it was the right jump at the right time. Snack time brings a British candy offering orange to caramel to raisin flavors.

Communication, being proud of the work, and a new magazine

Bell describes the different experience of working on CNN TV vs. the digital side. When he thinks about future-proofing the business, he says it’s the way you look at the world -a good story is a good story, whether it’s a documentary or a piece of targeted intelligent brand content. What’s key to his process is over-communicating so clients feel deeply involved. Bell reflects on the value of being proud of the work in the end, and the goals of making sure any piece hits objectives, works for the audience, is good looking, and thoughtful work. He distinguishes between breaking news and branded content, how they produce a lot of 2-3 minute short films, and the way real events lead to branded content (such a wedding proposal story). Bell reveals what keeps him up at night, and the glut of content in the marketplace. His final thoughts, “There has to be some kind of exchange if you want your content to succeed in this busy, busy marketplace.”

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