Stepping up for the win

Alex Alexander, connected entertainment officer (CEO) and founder of FourTwelve (412) in Australia.
Connected entertainment officer (CEO) Alex Alexander shares some tips for crafting a successful pitch with Transmedia NZ's Fiona Milburn.


Pitching plays an important part in getting creative works off the ground.

Alex Alexander, connected entertainment officer (CEO) and founder of FourTwelve (412) in Australia, shares some tips for crafting a successful pitch with Transmedia NZ's Fiona Milburn.

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Alex Alexander was a guest speaker at the Transmedia Toolbox event in Auckland last year where he spoke on transmedia business models. He had also won the 2013 MIP Cube: Content 360 Award for excellence in transmedia storytelling at MIPTV in Cannes earlier that year. Unfortunately, time constraints at the Transmedia Toolbox event meant that Alex wasn’t able to share his pitching expertise with our audience. As pitching plays such an important part in getting creative works off the ground, I thought it would be great to follow up on a missed opportunity and talk with Alex about his Content 360 win, and pitching in general. Our conversation took place via email, Skype and slide deck. His winning project is called Step 1 and here are the edited highlights of our very multi-media discussion …

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into transmedia storytelling?

For as long as I can remember, I have always told stories. Aged 9, I made my first short film with my parent’s Super 8 camera. Three years later, inspired by Michael J Fox in Back to the Future II, I advanced to a JVC video camera. That camera held me in good stead throughout high school where I submitted all of my main work in film form. I communicated in images and story, so naturally, when I finished high school, I pursued a degree in … Commerce and Law. No, the disconnect wasn’t apparent to me until many years later. I ended up spending over a decade in the corporate world as Marketing Director for multinational media and publishing companies. The world evolved and, all of a sudden, I could start telling stories on new platforms. I was introduced to Transmedia in 2007 and did post graduate studies in the field. I’ve been an advocate of this technique ever since. For me it’s the perfect intersection between Storytelling and Marketing. And that’s how Fourtwelve (412) emerged as a Transmedia firm. Just 30 odd years in the making.

So, how would you define transmedia storytelling?

For me, transmedia sits at the intersection between storytelling and marketing. It’s the process of conveying a story to a mass audience through the artful and well planned use of multiple media platforms.

In my presentations, I tend to use Jeff Gomez’s checklist but I call it the Evolution of Marketing into Transmedia Checklist. Jeff has 8 criteria for the creation of transmedia, I split these down the middle and call the top half storytelling and everything below the line I call marketing. So the line between them is where storytelling meets marketing. [See diagram.]

Transmedia is also a technique that uses a dynamic narrative to immerse the audience and enhance user participation. It is not the retelling of the same message across multiple platforms. I think it’s important to state this last point when talking to an audience who aren’t familiar with transmedia.

What made you decide to enter the Content 360 Pitching Competition at last year’s MIPTV in Cannes?

I saw Content 360 as an opportunity to showcase how 412 approached transmedia storytelling. It was an opportunity to profile both myself and the business on an international scale. The brief itself really played to my strengths, and was an exciting challenge.

What was the nature of your pitch and how was it developed?

MTS, Russia’s leading telecommunications company, provided the brief. It was to increase the market share of smart phones for a discerning demographic of 25-50 yr olds in Russia. They were partnering with CTC, Russia’s leading independent television network, so what I needed to do first was research MTS & CTC as brands.

MTS and CTC are publicly listed companies so I had access to their annual reports, etc. This meant it was relatively easy to get an understanding of who they were and what they had done in the past. My research showed that MTS had done 2 massive transmedia executions in the last 2 years, but these were to push their mobile data plan to a youth demographic of 16-25 yr olds. What they wanted to do now was aim for an older audience. This was challenging because the older demographic were not a native digital market. They’re still using feature phones and primarily access the internet via desktop and laptop computers, rather than via smart phones. CTC’s core demographic was females 25+ so we had access to about 150 million people through their viewership.

The next step was to come up with a story concept that fit these 2 brands and met the key objectives of the brief. As I needed to shift consumer behaviour in a relatively short period of time, I decided to play on fears associated with traditional methods of internet access. I essentially proposed a cyber attack on Russia, by an hacktivist group, which would force people to shift onto mobile phones as the only safe form of communication and internet use.

How does this play out?

The story starts with the hacktivist group pushing their message via seeded webisodes on YouTube. There is also an unrelated television programme with its own website and second screen app. We get to know Polina, the television show’s host quite well over 8 weeks, she is then dramatically abducted by the hacktivist group during the live broadcast of a real world event. This is phase 1.

In phase 2, the television show changes form and becomes all about finding the abducted host. This gamified process would enlist a youth audience, but the key rewards are based on participants’ ability to bring in an older audience. (I defined the market in terms of those that do use mobile phones and those that don’t. Effectively enlisting those that do to bring on board those that don’t in a friends-beget-friends rewards program.) The story culminates with an opportunity for players to hack into the hacktivists cell network and expose the person who is behind the hacktivist movement.

How do you structure a transmedia pitch? What are the most important components?

I pitch in very general terms. I ask myself: what is it that the audience wants to hear, how am I going to engage them, and what value can I give back to those listening? It’s less about performance and more about what’s important to the audience. People tend to be drawn in when you make it about them.

I also like to utilize The Power of 3. [See diagram.] When working on a pitch, or presentation, I literally go through The Power of 3 step-by-step. I identify Act 1, my 3 sub-points, and the crux of my message. I then move on to Act 2, and then to Act 3. The Power of 3 really structures the way that I pitch.

My other tips for pitching would be to …

  • Keep it simple: an introduction, 3 main points, and the wrap. It gets confusing if you go too deep.

  • Do something different with the introduction. I try and find a related article from that morning’s paper and use this to hook into what I want to talk about.

  • Include a call to action in the wrap: something you’d like the audience to do, to do differently, or to think, etc.

  • Remember to breathe … and the power of the pause.

You know it’s an effective presentation when the phones come out and they start taking pictures.

How did you apply The Power of 3 to your Content 360 pitch?

My audience was MTS and CTC so I asked myself: what value was I giving to them, how was I meeting their brief? I wanted them to understand that they could integrate brand every step of the way. I only gave them a broad overview of story so that they wouldn’t get bogged down by this element.

For the introduction I said something like: “We need to see a massive paradigm shift from PCs and feature phones to smart phones and mobile data. However, in order to shift consumer behaviour on this scale, in such a short amount of time, you have to think big. In the story world it will be stated that not having mobile internet is not an option. Imagine that there was a real threat, that cable internet could be taken away, this is the premise behind Step 1. The threat is real and it’s happening now.” Then I segued into Act 1.

Here I talked about real life events that were happening in Korea, in Israel, in Sweden, and the USA. Then I posed the question, “What if a group of hackers launched a cyber attack on Russia? Step 1 is a modern day War of the Worlds where the attack is a virtual one, where everyone in Russia has a chance to save the day. But how, you ask?”

And that was my link to Act 2. I started with video footage of Polina reporting on the cyber attack. I included some Russian at the end of the report which everyone really enjoyed. I went on to talk about how the story begins weeks earlier with Polina joining the CTC network as the host of a new technology, games and gadgets show called Good Games. Reality starts to merge with fiction as the hacktivists threaten to shut down all cable and Wifi networks in Russia. The only form of safe internet use will be by mobile phone and thus, the game element of Step 1 begins.

Act 3 then describes the user journey and the Do you or don’t you? market segmentation strategy. [Discussed earlier.] In terms of making it an effective pitch, I made sure that I integrated the MTS brand throughout. Game participants must stay “one step ahead” of the fictitious hacking group because the brand tagline for MTS is “a step ahead”. The hacktivists are also called Step 1 for the same reason.

Did they ask questions at the end?

They did ask questions at the end, but they mostly reserved their questions for the private session. Questions included: how will you integrate this into brand, how do you suggest the cyber attack will work with the brand? The presentation needs to be brief and simple but you also need to have done all the research. You need to know the intricacies of the project so that you can divulge more about story if asked.

Was implementation of the winning pitch part of the prize?

It was at their discretion, they weren’t obliged to take it on in any way, shape or form. We continued the conversation after the presentation and I was really flexible in terms of adapting Step 1 to their needs. The relationship just developed from that point. My recommendation would be to maintain and build on relationships post competition because it’s a really good way forward.

What has happened with Step 1 since winning the Content 360 Award?

While the structure has remained the same, the story has changed significantly. I’m now working within existing CTC programming instead of developing a bespoke television programme. Being able to work within programmes that the audience already know and love brings a realness to the project that has been both challenging and exciting. I’ve worked very closely with MTS and CTC in developing what happens at every step in the story, what the website and second screen app will entail, etc. We are looking to launch Step 1 later this year

Do you recommend pitching competitions in general?

For sure. I entered Content 360 because it was a good opportunity to get the company out there, and I really wanted to showcase how I go about transmedia storytelling. It paid off, so it’s been a good thing.

Thanks Alex.

And in conclusion: MIPTV are continuing their support of transmedia pitching competitions in 2014 with the MIPCube Lab B2B Start-up Competition (restrictions apply). Many transmedia conferences, or content markets with transmedia streams, are also starting to include transmedia pitching competitions in their schedules. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too early in the year to provide a list here but, if you follow Transmedia NZ’s facebook page, we’ll post links as the information becomes available. In the meantime, you might like to read Go get grubby! to find out how pitching competitions helped Cate McQuillen start her very successful dirtgirlworld.

Written by

Transmedia NZ

4 Feb 2014

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