Converging Data and Creative at PSFK

By Media Insights Archives
Cover image for  article: Converging Data and Creative at PSFK

I have been attending the PSFK conference for at least seven years. If you have never heard of it, it is akin to a TED for advertising and branding. PSFK is a daily news site but also serves as a think tank.  Piers Fawkes, founder and editor-in-chief of PSFK, describes his endeavor as a platform for ideas and innovation. He is an advocate of embracing change and believes, “Uncertainty or the fear of uncertainty is pointless and even poisonous. Progress gives us direction and gives us a path forward to build on tomorrow. Over the past ten years we have seen great change happen. My goal is to present to you the ideas of today so you can build on tomorrow.”

This year's New York City conference had a broad range of speakers including Katie Manderfield and Denise Burrell-Stinson of the New York Times who are building a branded content platform linking advertiser content with editorial; Microsoft's chief storyteller Steve Clayton, who helps craft Microsoft's story both internally and externally; Blade Kotelly of JIBO who creates robots; Nick Horbaczewski, who is creating a drone racing league, and Giorgia Lupi of Accurat, a data visualization artist who turns numbers into stories.

While I am ambivalent about more native content infiltrating more media platforms, I am entranced by the use of technology to improve our lives and the use of data to provide us with more insights. Media uses larger and larger swaths of data to make business decisions. Some companies such as Viacom, are using data to also help in the creative ideation process. 

Kodi Foster, Vice President Data Strategy at Viacom gave a presentation on using data for storytelling. His work involves designing a creative map using data as the guide. "We create content," he explained. "The destination is always audiences, so we use data to design a profile of the audience we are looking to reach."  Viacom still targets broad demos, such as Millennials, but the data Foster uses enables more nuanced targeting with the goal of leveraging smart scale. He gave as an example a profile of New Yorkers who, after looking at the data, tend to coalesce into behaviors such as having brunch, being stylish, hustling and being rude.

"We have to kill the idea of convergence of art and science because it has always been converged," Foster stated. "Architecture and music historically combined both disciplines. The challenge is how can we take something and interpret it through artistic expression and context." The age old division of left brain and right brain is a myth, he insisted. "There is no such thing," he said. "Just because you do art doesn't mean you can't do differential equations."  It is this thinking that has moved Viacom into a better collaborative integration of creative departments with data departments. "My team lives with the creative team at Viacom," Foster noted. "We break apart the taxonomy of the campaign creative and marketing then puts the pieces back together."

His advice to companies looking to use of data-driven insights in content marketing is simple. "Start with the outcome," he advised. "Function like Google Maps where you change directions based on guideposts around the piece of creative. Have relevancy to the moment. Cross reference against the audience. Be more of a detective. Let data drive decision making, a methodology we like to call being Fans First."

Foster concluded with the most important piece of advice from Viacom: "Listen to the kids."

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