Wistia’s Brilliant New Marketing Role & How Making Shows Changes Hiring
Sweeping generalization time! When we discuss big shifts in the marketing industry, we talk about the effects on people way too little, way too late. That’s what I most realized when talking to Kristen Bryant of Wistia, who now occupies a new type of role not previously seen on most marketing teams, all thanks to the rise in brands making shows.
After holding several positions that sound familiar to most CMOs (product manager, brand marketer, product marketer), Kristen recently took over the position of Partnerships and Production, specifically for Wistia Original Series. Yes, the company has a dedicated team working on creating shows, joining the likes of Red Bull, Mailchimp, Shopify, and Profitwell as early leaders in the movement. And yes, “series” here refers to a plurality of shows. Wistia is indeed making more than one show for their marketing. They believe in shows-as-marketing so fully, they even announced the creation of a product earlier this year called Channels which, among other things, promises to serve marketing showrunners.
I recently used The Internet to talk to Kristen with our mouths about what the heck is happening at Wistia in their brains. What I learned could transform marketing … forever. Or it could just be a ridiculously important thing for executives to understand. You decide.
“Our focus has moved beyond the funnel.”
Pop quiz: Where do shows fit inside a marketing funnel?
Answer: Shows don’t sit in any single stage in the funnel. Instead, they straighten the entire damn thing.
Just think about what happens when someone spends 10, 20, 30, 60 minutes of time with your brand every single week for months on end. Those people feel like they know you in real life. They trust you. They’ll take actions that benefit you because they know how it’ll benefit them too. While there are certainly discrete benefits at every stage of the funnel, with teams able to mine a show for endless content and use cases, the truth is, a show is an accelerant for the entire buyer’s journey. Drop an original series into your marketing mix, and suddenly, a group of superfans can be seen sprinting down the funnel, blowing past “purchase” and gleefully landing at “advocacy.”
It’s all about trust velocity — or, in marketing measurement parlance, it’s about increasing the lifetime value of the audience (thanks to total time spent) and decreasing customer acquisition costs (thanks to word-of-mouth).
Wistia has felt that shift rather acutely lately, moving from funnel stage-specific marketing to stage-agnostic original series. That requires that Kristen occupy a brand new position not previously seen at the company.
“My responsibilities range from pre-production activities, like planning a script outline or the concept for the show, to production stuff.” I’d liken Kristen to a producer for a TV show. They’re there to make sure the entire operation runs smoothly. While they may not create content per se, they lay track for the train. They book guests, prepare those guests to appear on camera, prepare the host, participate in planning meetings before and after seasons and episodes, and collaborate with writers, the video team, and on-air talent to improve how the show runs.
Kristen is truly a marketing showrunner.
“Thinking about your shows being outside of that traditional funnel, you need to talk about what you want to speak to in the episodes, as well as the story you want to tell through a show or through a series,” said Kristen. “I think that’s the key strength: being able to tell a story that’s going to resonate and being able to identify the interests of your audience prior to the interest that they might have in your product. It’s all more connected than people think.”
Kristen says that this higher-level view of the buyer’s journey, not merely a laser focus on one stage, requires her to take a more human, more holistic approach to marketing. It’s not that her skill set needs to look radically different than previous roles, per se. It’s just that the way she thinks about marketing overall has changed and evolved. You’re not focused on a buyer at any stage. You’re focused on the whole person.
“At the end of the day, it’s about telling the story,” she said. She told me that there are small steps any marketing team can take to move from shipping pieces of content to shaping an entire show. “You might not have scriptwriters on staff, but if you’re investing in content marketing, chances are you have someone that’s really good at writing blog content. Is there a way to think about creating serial blog content? Can that then start to turn into something that’s even bigger, like a show? I think there are bite-size ways to start chipping away at this idea that you can make serial video content.”
“I’m the lead producer on Brandwagon.”
I want you to stop and stare at that quote for a moment. What industry is that from? What’s the name of the conference panel where somebody says it’s their job to be a “lead producer” on a show? What Hollywood studio or streaming service hires them?
That’s the first thing Kristen said to me when I asked how she spent her last day at work. Brandwagon is Wistia’s new talk show (yep, talk show) about marketing, hosted by the company’s cofounder and CEO, Chris Savage. (Here’s their landing page with a trailer.) And Kristen summarizes her role in a way that feels more like NBC than B2B.
“I’m the lead producer on Brandwagon from a standpoint of making sure that the show will happen, particularly our interviews,” said Kristen. Brandwagon relies on a set structure, much like any great show does. They call that a “rundown” in “the biz.” (They also roll their eyes at people who say “the biz” in the biz.) At Wistia, creative director Dan Mills and host/CEO (there’s a new term for ya) Chris Savage are both the keepers of the rundown, working in close collaboration with head of video production Chris Lavigne and of course, Kristen. Once they all decide what a specific episode will be, given that structure, Kristen knows her specific “block” to project manage in more detail. In her case, that’s the interview segment. Imagine Kristen wearing a headset, carrying a clipboard, prepping the guest and the host and ensuring the behind-the-scenes logistics are never seen by the viewer but still contribute to something that just plain works. (She is much more fashionable than headsets and clipboards, but you get the idea.)
“I’ve been responsible for recruiting guests for the show, which requires different things. If Chris knows the person and reached out, then it’s much easier. You don’t have to pitch them.” But in other cases, Kristen does more traditional pitching, securing guests which Wistia can’t simply ask to appear as a friend. That often includes an introduction call with their communications team or PR agency, or whoever manages the CEO’s or CMO’s time.
“That’s part of the job, recruiting guests for the show,” Kristen said. “Part of it is also making sure that guests and Chris are both prepared. From that intro conversation and from any type of pre-interview calls or emails, we have a sense of the way that we think the interview might go. That means I give Chris information either about the guest, the themes that we think we’ll be able to pull out of the conversation, or what we think they should focus on to make sure that it’s narratively aligned with the point of the show.”
Did you catch that? Read it again. As lead producer, Kristen isn’t entirely focused on tactics, nor is she focused on the overarching strategy. It has to be both. She keeps in mind the purpose of the entire show, which is to explore a new interpretation of brand in marketing today, but she also keeps in mind how one specific guest might speak to that. In between, she works with the creative team to understand that meta-level, underlying rundown of the show, since that dictates how the show theme, episode theme, and one specific interview all manifest to viewers.
“The point of the show is to really highlight the ways in which even small-to-medium-size companies can invest in brand marketing and do so by relying mainly on creativity and these things like word of mouth and not thinking you have to spend a whole lot of money on advertising for people to be aware of your brand,” said Kristen. “I’ve been responsible for facilitating those guest conversations, making sure people get to our studio, feel comfortable when they’re on set, all of that.”
“There are all these hidden parts and pieces that really make a show work.”
When I asked Kristen what feels new, she practically shouted, “Pre-production.” The willingness to invest significant time (and creative power) into the planning and logistical part of the show is what truly makes or breaks everything else. Marketers must ignore the myth that the best talent can merely wing it on camera or on a microphone, and they need to ditch the notion that a show’s content can be fixed in post. The very best focus more of their time on show pre-production, and that’s not always a familiar muscle at a given company.
“Pre-production for a one-off video is just very different from pre-production for a show. It happens at two different levels for a show. We have the conceptualization of the show itself, asking what is the point? What’s the theme? Why are we doing this? That has to happen, but that’s just one part of it. Then, especially having a show that relies on interviews, there’s also a story-specific plan to an episode. It’s about saying, okay, specifically, in this episode of Brandwagon, we have an interview with Mark DiCristina of MailChimp who’s the head of brand there. So specifically for his conversation, how is the content different than with other people on the show? How do we make sure the conversation goes differently with him versus how it would go with another guest?”
There’s a certain laissez faire attitude on most marketing teams when they approach interview shows. Interviews, at least in the minds of those types of marketers, are a shortcut to making a good show. They assume it’s possible to avoid production costs, do some minimal research on a guest at most, and simply switch on a camera or microphone and be done with it. Bonus points for editing out the Ums and Uhs after. The same laziness applies to those who create a video show by concluding they can just film their podcast hosts or interviews.
All of that is a signal from inside the brand: They’re underestimating what it really takes to make a great interview show worth consuming.
“My role, as someone doing guest recruitment and really focusing on the interviews, is getting guests here and making sure that they understand what we’re trying to do with Brandwagon. They need to be appropriately prepped for the interview with Chris. We want everyone to look their best if you come on Brandwagon.” That takes actual planning work. “Production value” is more about having a carefully crafted show than the technology you purchase or the editing flourishes that happen after the guest goes home. It doesn’t mean breathtaking visuals. No, in the end, “production value” is about having a coherent, well-practiced, unique, and delightful show. That all starts with pre-production … yes, even for interviews.
“To prep a guest appropriately, I’m sharing the themes of the show with them,” said Kristen. “We like to share themes and not specific questions because people get very scripted or memorize stuff if they know exact questions, and then you don’t have an authentic conversation. So I like sharing that with them, telling them about Chris, telling them more about Wistia, making sure that they know what to expect from the day. That is really how we prep for that interview, and that’s my responsibility. I also prep Chris for the interviews.” Kristen also informs others working on different parts of the show about the themes of the interview, so the episodes each carry a broader, if subtler, single and coherent message across the blocks. For instance, Chris Lavigne owns a separate part of the show wherein the team at Wistia will be building a literal “brand wagon.” (That’s all Kristen could share when we spoke.)
“Then we have some help from some writers, some people that have been in our network, to help us with just that narrative structure and making sure that these things tie together.”
Kristen recognizes more than ever just how many hidden parts and pieces make a great show possible.
“I think that’s a challenge, and it’s something for brands to consider. If people are like, ‘Oh, I can just put together an interview, and I can lock two people in a room and record it,’ they need to realize that it does take more than that. It takes manpower to get to the point of having a good conversation.”
“That’s actually really good news for marketers.”
Yes, planning a great show takes real time and effort. However, Kristen has also learned just how democratized the practice of showrunning can be. It doesn’t require massive budgets or a premium agency partner (itself a proxy for “massive budget,” I suppose). It doesn’t even require the most expensive technology. It requires mental and creative focus and planning.
“I read this article about Guy Raz, the host of How I Built This [Editor’s note: He also hosts TED Radio Hour, Wisdom from the Top, and Wow in the World]. The article was about why he’s such a good interviewer, and it talks about how many times he often says ‘wow’ to get people going. He constantly tries to provide them with feedback to make sure they understand he’s listening but, also, he’s very impressed. It’s things like that which you don’t even realize he’s doing to elicit a response and to have a better quality interview. We’re not trained on that in our normal lives.” That’s not to say that marketers can’t do an interview show well, Kristen told me. It’s just that we need to focus on things we didn’t previously expect to be part of the jobs. Today, given the rise in marketing showrunning, it’s crucial to master that kind of skill. We can’t merely plop an executive in a chair and dub them the host. There are specific skills that can be learned and honed. This not only helps the host or interviewer appear professional, it ensures the subject is someone audiences can’t wait to watch — and share with others.
“You might find a guest that’s great in conversation or maybe even would be great on the phone, and then you put them in front of the camera, and they freeze up, or it takes a really long time for them to warm up in the conversation, and you might want to do retakes or something like that. We’ve also interviewed people that aren’t that concise, and it’s hard to edit around that.”
Running a show through proactive, intentional, thoughtful planning — instead of throwing budget at something — means making the priority learning, not results. The results are byproducts of continuous improvement. The skills you develop when, say, creating a pilot season, can compound and apply elsewhere, whether future episodes of the same show or across shows, or even in other types of projects entirely.
It’s time that marketers elevate their collective gaze from creating incrementally better content than the competition to creating legitimate shows that are genuinely worthy of an audience’s time and attention. Achieving the latter does not require a ton of budget. It’s all about the intentional planning up front, and the willingness to focus on learning and improvement over time. That’s great news for marketers, given what we must grapple with today more than ever before.
“We’re competing with different things now as marketers, right? People are consuming so much content, even things that relate to their jobs, all the time. We’re competing not just with other companies who are going to buy ad space on LinkedIn, or companies whose content you’re only going to see when you check something at work. At Wistia, we believe your company’s content could be the content that’s in front of people when they are on their commute through a podcast, or they could be watching your show on a streaming service. That’s why we put our own documentary series One, Ten, One Hundred on Amazon Prime. We think it’s about creating content people actually choose to watch on their own time. That’s a totally different level of competition, and I think it requires you to add a level of entertainment value that traditional approaches to making videos for your company do not accomplish.”
For Wistia, that’s a core value. They believe great video is about creativity, not budget. That’s why last year’s One, Ten, One Hundred focused on the relationship between constraints and creativity, showcasing how better ideas and content are often born from constraints.
With their next series, launching in August of 2019, they’re again pushing against the standard understanding of something, this time looking to redefine brand marketing from emphasizing broad awareness to improving brand affinity — something all companies, large and small, must care more about today. Then, of course, there are the hidden lessons buried in the production of the show — dozens of things we can learn about as showrunners ourselves by watching what Wistia is doing.
“I think with Brandwagon, we hope to show people that even when it’s just a conversation with a guest, there are little choices you can make that can make your content more consumable, more bingeable, and more interesting to your audience.”
“Creativity” doesn’t mean “big.” Shows are indeed creative endeavors with more surface area and moving pieces than one-off videos or articles, that’s true. But it’s so far from the truth to conclude that making shows is only for those with big budgets, or that it requires even the biggest of organizations to focus on reaching a mass audience. Likewise, it’s missing the mark to point to the shows themselves as the big shift in marketing. Like anything we do, it’s about the team behind the work and what we as marketers care about. More than ever before, marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays. That means our audience, sure. That also means creating an environment for the right type of people — and the best type — to do their best work at our organizations.
This is now, and will always be, about people. That’s why this site is called Marketing Showrunners, not Marketing Showrunning. As Kristen’s role and the broader Wistia team’s approach each suggest, it’s possible to create unbelievably useful and delightful shows by mastering the art of hiring and retaining great people above anything else.
As marketing leaders, we should be asking ourselves: Who’s on our brandwagon?
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m a believer that exceptional work happens when you find and follow what makes you an exception. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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