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What makes for great branded content? Story-building, social conscience and authenticity.

At our first Grace Blue Presents event we look with three 2014 Cannes Lions winners at the changing role of content and the implications for leaders in this space.

‘Content’ is what every brand and creative agency is talking about right now – no news there; we all know brands are looking for new ways to build awareness and engage people beyond the traditional 30 second gogglebox spot, powerful though it is. At Cannes, the Branded Content category offers Lions to the best and most exciting work in this area.

This week, I hosted the first Grace Blue Presents event in London to highlight the rapidly growing role of content, inviting three 2014 Cannes Lions winners to talk about their work. Why? Because, as Will Barnett (Cannes jury member and Creative Director at Adjust Your Set) put it when discussing how brands engage with people, “The old model is creaking, if not broken.”

Mark Woerde, CEO of Lemz, Michael Pring of AMVBBDO and David Alberts, CCO of MoFilm presented totally different campaigns and thoughts. However, each touched – unintentionally – on three key themes that give a window on how content is developing as a discipline.

Perhaps the biggest of these is that content is more than just storytelling – it’s ‘story building’ or even as Heide Cohu, formerly at Red Bull and now Global Brand Director at Bacardi Global put it, ‘story being’. The profusion of broadband and mobile devices means people have the freedom to choose their own media habits, and they demand engaging, shareable and distinctive content, usually video, that offers a brand narrative and more besides. There needs to be a purpose to what they see and hear – and ways to bring the story to life.

The good news is that brands and agencies have responded to this explosion of channels with an explosion of creativity – much of which goes beyond just selling. Mark Woerde was one of the guiding minds behind ‘Sweetie’, the anti-paedophilia campaign that hit the headlines last year. For him, content can be a way for brands and organisations to express a social conscience. They don’t have to shy away from the tough issues.

Michael Pring spoke about the Sapeurs work produced for Guinness. Many of us have seen the high-value ad, but the accompanying documentary, “The Men Inside The Suits”, shot at a fraction of the cost, has proven equally intriguing and valuable. Again, it gave the brand a chance to talk about more than just its product – and highlighted that content can be about both reach and engagement.

David Alberts introduced the Cupidity series of short films for Cornetto which have achieved more than 50m views, 65% of which were from the brand’s target demographic of 13-24-year-olds. Through MoFilm’s crowd-sourcing model brands are commissioning authentic content made by local film-makers across 140 countries. All content has to come from a place of cultural relevance if it wants to engage people. Brands have changed from being publicists to publishers, and like any publisher, they need to have an authentic point of view.

Story building, social conscience and authenticity represent the Holy Grail for growing numbers of ad and creative agencies – businesses for which such talent is a scarce resource. This is why so many are looking to bring in leaders who know and understand content, whether from elsewhere in the advertising sector or from across the broadcast and production industries.

The qualities they need from those leaders are not dissimilar to what consumers want from content themselves: story-building expertise, a social conscience and an authentic voice. With an industry in flux, and a category that is evolving at pace, there lies an amazing opportunity for leaders to seize the world of content and make it their own.

John Keeling, Partner at Grace Blue