How to Stand Out and Succeed in Today's Media Landscape

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Conn Fishburn in conversation with The Banff Centre's Dominic Girard

CEO of Zealot Networks Conn Fishburn in conversation with The Banff Centre's Dominic Girard at Story Summit 2016. 

Today’s media landscape is looking a little, well, cluttered. The industry is grappling with the concept of “peak content” and what creators have to do to really shine in a world full of talented people with the ability to constantly create and share. At Story Summit 2016, presented by Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) and The Banff Centre, these issues were front and centre. The March 4-5 symposium brought together professionals from media, entertainment and content to talk about surviving and thriving in today’s landscape. 

Here are some of the lessons we learned from them about standing out in a very — very — crowded room. 

1. Tell a good story

From talks about finding YouTube success, to demonstrations of new virtual reality tech, all of the presentations came back to one key point: Stories continue to be the best way to draw in an audience, no matter what platform they’re made for. 

Keynote speaker Conn Fishburn, Chief Strategy Officer of Zealot Networks, said if you can tell a really good story, it will go beyond your target audience. Authenticity is key here. Since people have grown up being marketed to heavily, says Fishburn, they are suspicious of content that’s over-produced. Work that’s the most successful tells a story that the audience remembers, even if it doesn’t directly reference a product. Without a great story, you’re already behind. 

2. Find your audience

The internet is flooded with more content than ever before. With this access comes choice, Fishburn said during his keynote speech. Brands no longer determine what audiences have access to, which lets the audience choose what they search and like for themselves. 

Which lends itself to the question: is niche the new broad?

Instead of mass-appeal, we see more and more people who have no backing from big brands introducing trends. These influencers bring new ideas to the mainstream, something brands are constantly trying to dictate. “Relevancy,” said Fishburn, “is the antidote to mass content,” and cuts through the noise of everything else vying to be clicked online. Content made by people who are passionate about something will find people who are similarly passionate. Passion, like good storytelling, draws people in and popularity will pique the interest of people outside your target audience. 

3. Build a community

These days you don’t have to look hard to see who’s viewing your content. But that’s just the first step in maintaining an audience. With comment sections on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, the amount of informal, direct audience feedback is unprecedented. Realtime online reactions show what the audience is latching onto, but also provide the opportunity to engage, and content producers can use this to their advantage, says Fishburn. People are already talking about what they like and don’t like anyway, it’s just that now companies are privy to those conversations. 

There are several ways to own the brand of your content. The first is to make it easy for the audience to share the word. The design of your platform can make this seamless. Podcasts, for example, work themselves into subscriber’s routines. If a subscriber knows they can rely on the next episode’s release, they can schedule it into a weekly walk or listen while they cook dinner. They know how to access it without having to search for it. 

Secondly, Marcia Douglas, the Director of Business Affairs and Digital Initiatives at the Canadian Media Producers Association, said content producers should also look for opportunities to engage, such as shooting behind-the-scenes interviews. An interested audience will tune in for new information. This can also be used to garner attention from people who are not already part of the audience. 

4. Monetize 

So you’ve got your content, your audience and you’ve built a network — next step: monetize. Once you’ve proven that your work is something people want, be that through high engagement, or industry buzz, you can start leveraging attention into cash to finish the job or to fund your next great idea. Of the many ways to make money right now, none is more accessible than crowdfunding. According to Don Pare, Chairman of RvC Inc., Real Value Capital, the top crowdfunded ventures are all within the arts community: Music, film, art and publishing. 

Choosing the right funding model for your project will be important to your success. Kickstarter is the most popular, but takes a higher percentage of your final cut. GoFundMe has no deadlines and lets you keep all your donations, but has less eyeballs overall. Then there’s Patreon, a fund that allows for monthly contributions. Think about the needs of your project, the support network you’ve developed, and choose the avenue that’s right for you. Then rake it in!

5. Keep communicating

If only it were as easy as having a great idea and getting people to buy in. The story doesn’t stop once you get your funding and put your project out to the world, says Don Pare, who's funded many successful campaigns. Continual communication with your network, innovation in your medium and collaboration in your field are even more important once you’ve made a name for yourself, because now people are watching. Don’t stop updating followers on your work, keeping up on the industry’s latest or maintaining the relationships you put in so much effort to establish.