Mark Graham on How to Create Original Content for Established Brands

In Chapter 13 of 17 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Mark Graham answers "How Are You Learning to Create Original Content for an Established Media Brand?"  Graham talks about the roles audience research and advertiser relationships play into original content strategy and development at VH1. 

Mark Graham is currently a managing editor at VH1, an MTV Networks company. Previously Graham worked in editing and writing roles at New York Magazine and Gawker Media.  He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.  


Erik Michielsen: How are you learning to create original content for an established media brand?

Mark Graham: Well, when you’re creating content, the first thing you want to really sort of understand is, is who your audience is. Over the course of the last year and some change, VH1 has worked really closely with a market research organization, gone all over the country, found out what people like about VH1, what they don’t like about VH1, what they see VH1 as doing and what they see them as not doing. So sort of armed with that deeper level of information about who our customers are, we’ve been able to come up with content that’s not just for television. We have web-specific content that we’re looking to put together and break. Obviously, we like our convergent opportunities where we can deliver a consistent message through web, through social, through linear. But there’s also we realize that people do consume content, our audience does, through different means and different platforms and something that would work, say on the web, might not necessarily work on TV. 

Over the course of the last year, I worked closely with a couple of comedians here in Brooklyn on a web show that was sort of putting together the best viral video moments of the past week. That was a really interesting project and something that we, you know, experimented and tried out with specifically on the web, it did really well for us, we didn’t end up – we ended up doing 8 episodes of that which was a great learning experience for me. And so really I guess what we’re trying to do with original content for an established brand is really understand and be cognizant that, you know, just because we have a television channel that people have tuned into over the years, that’s not always necessarily gonna be the case, people’s taste are changing, and we really wanna make sure that we create content to reflect those changing tastes. And be able to put together packages that are interesting and fun and great for people to consume.

Erik Michielsen: How much exposure do you have on—to the business side and the whole advertising supported element of—

Mark Graham: Yeah. Obviously, without advertisers’ support, and without people tuning into our projects, we wouldn’t have projects to do. There’s our channel and then there’s our digital, and as we’re continuing to grow our digital, you know, one of the great ways to do that is to partner with advertisers who have goals that they wanna put together, and are also able to support digital programs for us, so I work really closely with our advertising sales team to understand which clients are looking to do specific things, if they have new campaigns coming out, if they have new brand messaging they’re interested in, how they’re looking to attach themselves to cool things like music, and celebrity, and interesting and fun ways that helps elevate their status with their customers, and also helps elevate ours, so, you know, working with advertisers is a great way for us to fund and support original content. And so really sort of helping to understand their goals, and what they’re looking to achieve, is a huge part of it. 

Before I landed at VH1, I was on the other side of this equation, I was—I worked in marketing on the client side, where we were working with agencies and media partners to promote our products, so I sort of have a good 360 understanding of the process now, which I think really helps us put together packages and frameworks for things that are going to be interesting for advertisers, and also interesting to our readers and consumers. Because it doesn’t matter if an advertiser loves something, if the audience is isn’t going to love it, you need to create content and create ideas and packages that are gonna work for both places, and that’s something that’s a huge focus of my job and of our organization, in really making sure that we create things that people read, and that advertisers like that continue to support future programs like that.