ITN Productions' advertising head on capitalising on ITN’s news capabilities to boost its commercial sell
ITN’s chief executive John Hardie this year unveiled plans to boost production revenues and reduce dependence on the broadcast news operation, putting pressure on the branded content side of the business to bring revenues up.
In March, ITN reorganised the business along two lines, Broadcast News and ITN Productions. As part of the rejig, ITN Productions was broken down into four divisions: TV production, led by Chris Shaw, advertising production, led by Laetitia Rennie, sports production, led by Alastair Waddington, and digital content services, led by Andy Williams.
The move aims to help the business swell the production arm to the size of its Broadcast News unit by 2020, when it hopes to generate more than £180m of revenue. The idea is to cement ITN's position as a “client-facing service company”. The Drum spoke with Laetitia Rennie, ITN Productions’ director of TV commercials and branded content, and judge at the upcoming Content Awards, on how she intends to use the news product to propel ITN’s commercial sell.
The former Saatchi & Saatchi managing partner was appointed to the role in February, bringing with her 15 years of advertising expertise. The role was newly created for Rennie, to capitalise on the scale and infrastructure of the ITN brand.
The Drum: Branded material, such as the YouTube show Club 18-30 produced for Thomas Cook, is one of the areas John Hardie thinks has the greatest potential for generating revenue beyond broadcast news. How do you intend to use your role to fulfil this?
Rennie: Our business is expanding, I have a very clear remit to generate more briefs coming out of media agencies - both branded content and TV commercial production. Within the branded content space we can really capitalise on how close we can be to an audience in real-time, and put that as a proposition out to the market with our commercial clients.
There are very few production companies that can allow clients to do a TV commercial, create a sponsorship ident, branded content, real-time advertising, VR 360. We have more than 16 edit suites in house. It is a great pitch-out.
The Drum: Do you see more clients buying TV and digital packages, or does TV remain the dominant form of advertising at ITN?
Rennie: I think it is both. We do a lot of work with ITV through AdVentures, and a significant proportion of that work is TV related. What is encouraging is putting the idea first and the channel second. With the proliferation of channels and formats, people are quick to try new things. But they were putting channel and format over idea. I think we are beginning to come full circle again, where clients are saying the idea has to stand up in its own right, and then lets work out where the right place to put it is. That is good news for us because we can say 'you need a distribution system that uses the different forms of media' and respond to that under one roof, rather than getting two or three production partners involved.
The Drum: Do you see more channels like Club 18-30 popping up?
Rennie: Most definitely. We have done work with Natwest in a similar vein, again through the relationship we had with ITV AdVentures and Zenith Optimedia. We run one for a B2B business called BNY Mellon, which is a real-time system. By being in touch with the news product we can own to clients the idea of being topical.
The Drum: John Hardie expressed particular interest in producing content for Netflix and Amazon, do you see opportunities to work with these two digital players in branded/commercial content?
Rennie: I would love to work for clients of that nature, but it depends on the brief as to what the purpose of the content is. There are lots of conversations around monetising video content, whether it is publishers or broadcasters. I am a passionate advocate for branded content that serves the purpose of the audience. As long as we are clear what the objective is, we are happy to work with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, or with sports brands like Under Armour.
The Drum: How much is Facebook and other social media platforms pushed at ITN Productions?
Rennie: We are not a digital agency; we are not a social agency; we are a new breed production company. But of course we are highly involved in making sure our client’s stuff gets seen. We work hand-in-hand with those agencies in order to be able to do that. Valuation and measurement is always changing in the social space, you have a lot of people talking about views, now we are talking about engagement and cost-per-view. It is about being really clear what is the overall goal and work from there. As you would expect when you are producing content you have to be very cognisant of where it needs to be, and what format is going to work.
The Drum: Are you looking at collaborating more with other news organisations such as the Guardian or Telegraph to produce commercial video content rather than just supply it?
Rennie: I think collaboration is the word of the moment. The only way forward and the way the market is going is through collaboration. Given the proliferation of channels, formats, you have to be able to do that.
The Drum: Is the relationship with brands and you becoming more direct, circumventing the need for media agencies?
Rennie: Not necessarily. I think we are in a very privileged position to have a large client base, the broadcasters, creative media and PR agencies, and thirdly direct with clients. Because I am ex-agency I am always conscious of the need that when we talk about collaboration that we collaborate. We are getting lots more work with agencies and lots direct with clients.
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