Long before we were talking about the “pivot to video,” Alabama Media Group was bringing sleek, stylized videos to their local audience.
“Probably about four years ago, we really started experimenting heavily with two different things: building a video team and thinking about video in a different way,” said Elizabeth Whitmire, senior director for audience for Red Clay Media, the arm of Alabama Media Group responsible for creating the company’s revenue-earning video products. “We started thinking about video more as distributed content as opposed to something we made for people who were already on our website.
“At the same time, we were really ramping up our social media strategy and looking for opportunities to build out from our main brand,” she continued.
In the years since that experiment began, Alabama Media Group has developed four distinct video-based brands: This Is Alabama, It’s a Southern Thing, SEC Shorts and People of Alabama. These are in addition to the videos they produce as part of their editorial mission and their recently launched Facebook Watch show, Chasing Corruption.
“It started with wanting to keep up with where audiences were going, reaching audiences where they are and keeping up with digital trends,” Whitmire said. “A lot of it came from thinking in an audience-first way.”
That meant not only finding and following audiences, but producing content that fit the platforms audiences were visiting. The same content that worked on the AL.com website wasn’t necessarily going to appeal to users who were discovering the outlet on Twitter or YouTube.
“Like most websites, [AL.com] is a place for all things for everybody in Alabama, which is great, but we were starting to see these smaller audiences who were really interested in one particular thing,” Whitmire explained. “That one thing might be Alabama football, and so those people weren’t necessarily interested in reading a political column or a crime story. They just wanted their football. Or someone else might be very interested in our politics coverage and not so interested in seeing a life and culture story. So, we looked for opportunities to break out of those audiences, starting with our sport audiences, which is a really big part of what we do here in Alabama.”
After creating these new brands, it was time to tie in monetization. While the Red Clay brands share commonalities with AL.com’s editorial products, there is a clear divide between the revenue side of the venture and the editorial side. With their sports videos, the tie-ins were simple. “Everyone wants to be connected to Alabama football,” Whitmire said. But even their non-football video offerings quickly became sources of revenue.
The video style that led to the creation of It’s a Southern Thing turned out to have huge appeal across the South, not just in Alabama — their largest audience, in fact, was in Texas. It’s a Southern Thing has even launched a line of branded merchandise for fans.
“We call it identity content, and all that means is that it’s something that you relate to, that you can see yourself in and that you say, ‘Oh, I’ve done that before,’” Whitmire said. “We have been producing written content like that for years and it has always been some of our top-performing content on the website, so we knew that there was an audience, and it was pretty obvious that we could translate that into video and get a similar reaction. And I think the key difference there is that not a lot of people were doing this in video form.”
Alabama Media Group’s audience-first approach trickles from editorial to revenue operations as well.
Red Clay creates videos that don’t feel like sponsored content. “We are not a content marketing division,” Whitmire explained. “We are a division that builds communities and build these social brands, and then we look for ways to pair them with advertisers to tell these stories to our fans.”
They understand that the best advertising content feels natural and does not push as product so much that it makes it impossible for the viewer to do anything but respond favorably to the sponsor.
“First and foremost, we’re thinking about our audience and what will appeal to them, because they’re not going to sit through something – and the advertisers message isn’t going to reach them – if it’s not the highly-engaging content that they’ve come to us for,” Whitmire explained.
“We certainly have our account executives out there who are talking to new advertisers and reaching out to advertisers every day, and as we’ve become better known and as we’ve grown a lot, we also have advertisers who reach out to us and want to partner with us,” Whitmire continued.
“It really depends on the type of advertising. We do straight sponsorships where they’re attaching their name to a show that we’re producing, and that process is pretty simple. And then we also do some custom work where we’re meeting with the advertisers to talk about their vision and the stories that they want to tell and then helping them to come up with a way to creatively tell that story in a way that fits our brand and will be interesting to our audience.”
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.