Jason Haikara is Senior Vice President of MediaLink. I recently had a chance to interview Jason to discuss transmedia, convergence, and the importance of branding.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-My passion for the entertainment industry definitely is in my DNA. My maternal grandmother was a professional musician and my paternal grandmother loved classic movies. My parents did a great job exposing my brother, sister and me to all facets of the arts and, to this day, they are completely up to speed on movies, television, theater and music. Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, I dabbled in acting and directing in high school, made short films (pre-digital), watched a ton of classic movies (pre-TCM) and went to the library to read the trades. Around my junior year, I decided I wanted to become a record producer and spent my freshman year in college studying recording engineering. It was much more "serious" and less "creative" then I thought it would be so I shifted my major to communications and marketing. After a six year stint in the automotive industry, I decided to pursue my dream before it was too late. Not too long after moving to LA, I landed a sales assistant gig at KTTV FOX11 and, a few months later, moved over to Fox Broadcasting Company's marketing department. Over the course of my 18 years at FOX, I saw the network grow from a two night a week "weblet" to the major powerhouse it is today – and experienced the many changes in the television industry that transpired during that time.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-For almost half of my time at FOX, I ran On-Air Promotion Strategy which included the oversight of the network's public service partnerships. One of our most important relationships was the Ad Council. I was proud to be part of the launch team of National Mentoring Month, working with the Ad Council, the Harvard School of Public Health and General Colin L. Powell's America's Promise. When HRTS honored General Powell during one of its newsmaker luncheons, the Ad Council invited me to be one of their guests. Needless to say, I was very honored and, to this day, I remain impressed by the level and quality of the luncheon speakers. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing former FOX President Gail Berman take the stage, which brought back a lot of fond memories. Mentoring is a big priority for HRTS so there's a nice "through line."
Q: What is a favorite memory from your career thus far?
-I have two favorite memories – and I am glad you added "thus far." At FOX, my career highlight would be flying to Detroit with Kiefer Sutherland and a couple of FOX execs/friends for 24's season premiere party. In addition to being a great guy, Kiefer had and probably still has an unbridled passion for his work and he appreciated the roles sales and marketing played in the success of his series. My recollection is that he flew to Detroit directly from an all-night shoot. Another reason was that the premiere was the culmination of many months of hard work and excellent collaboration between various departments within the network, the studio, the show's smart and open-minded producers and our presenting sponsor Ford – hence the trip to Detroit. This was a time of a lot of innovation at the network – FOX.com, in fact, produced an original "after show" for 24 way before The Talking Dead was even an idea. My second favorite memory was during my post-FOX years at Filmaka, a global studio of filmmakers that was an early player in the crowdsourcing space. Filmaka and a group of our young filmmakers from Mexico City won the Best Drama Webby Award for an extremely low-budget series shot over a couple weekends, beating much more expensive content produced by major players. A "miracle" of sorts and very exciting.
Q: What is the importance of branding?
-First, at this point, I should mention that I work at MediaLink, a boutique strategic advisory firm serving companies at the convergence of media, marketing, technology and entertainment. Among our client roster are brands that are extremely well established and known to the masses. We also work with and advise companies that are just starting to build their brand. Branding is a "quick read" on a person, company or product. It defines what you stand for and strive to maintain, what your audience, colleagues and constituents believe you to be and what distinguishes you from your competition. In its formative years, FOX established a strong brand through its groundbreaking, take-no-prisoners content and approach to marketing and distribution. The audience itself contributed significantly to the network's brand.
Q: How do you establish and maintain a transmedia presence for your clients?
-Our clients are pretty wide ranging but all of our engagements begin with a discovery and assessment stage before we move onto strategy, always through an operational lens. Strategies vary but all marketers aim to connect with their audience/consumers wherever they are – which usually means across multiple platforms. From a business standpoint, it's also become increasingly important for companies to diversify and experiment on different platforms without taking one's eye off the ball of the core business. The key, though, is in the execution: utilizing each platform to its full advantage with the right creative/content and monetizing them appropriately.
Q: What are some of the ways in which marketing has adapted to the time-shifted, on-demand era?
-One of the best parts of this on-demand era is that it enables constant discovery. For a good portion of content, it's never too late to start watching, at least from a consumer's point-of-view. For a marketer, this presents many great opportunities to create and maintain an ongoing and, in the case of encouraging live TV viewing, immediate dialogue with consumers/fans. Just look at the many interesting ways HBO promotes Game of Thrones in between seasons, ABC's #TGIT or Netflix's constant flow for social media promotions for Orange is the New Black. The challenge is that marketers also still have to employ all traditional tactics – on air, radio, print, etc – and so resources and budgets are more taxed than ever.
Q: How are ad sales and positioning strategies affected by the entry of players such as Netflix and Amazon?
-Part of this goes back to branding and one's unique selling proposition – what makes you different from your competition. Always start with the things that you can do better or differently than anyone else and that will inform your positioning. That goes for ad sales as well – including traditional and emerging metrics, creative solutions and the people themselves. The digital players have received a lot of attention for how they harness data to inform content and marketing decisions but all the more established players also have tremendous data resources at their disposal. The convergence of data, technology and marketing is a big area of focus for MediaLink.
Q: Where’s the smart money headed over the next few years?
-I am not a psychic but it seems to me that the smart money will continue to flow to the players that create the most compelling content for a specific audience. Distributed and presented in a way that gives whomever is paying for it the desired and very measurable results at the right price. The "must haves" versus the "nice to haves." Vague enough? I imagine the winners will be a combination of current major players that have very diversified businesses and new players ready to shake things up.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-One of the great benefits of being in or working with the entertainment industry is that you constantly are exposed to and inspired by creative thinking – from both content and business standpoints. In addition, consumers have never been more active or open-minded in welcoming new/reinvented formats, content and platforms. The combination of the two is pretty exhilarating.