Making The Brand: MTV’s VP of Marketing Damon Burrell
By: De’Juan Galloway
When a media company can define a generation, it goes without saying that its content and distinctiveness resonate well with the masses. This is the case for MTV; an iconic network that launched in 1981 and has since become a prominent agency influencing popular culture. We have watched music legends build their career on the channel but a facet less known about the network is the business. Meet Damon Burrell, vice president of marketing at MTV Networks. His road to the executive office began at the University of Iowa. He attributes his on-campus marketing experience as key in developing his interest in the business. His relocation from the Midwest to New York City enabled him play ball in the media capital of the world, consequently arriving at MTV. As the VP of marketing his leadership has proven effective. In 2008, MTV’s presence on the social web–a by product of their marketing department–was ranked number eight on Virtue’s 100 Top Social Brands. This year, Burrell and his team are the recipients of an Adweek Buzz award for “Best Out Of Home Advertisement.” In his office overlooking Manhattan’s West Side, Burrell spoke with TAP about his professional journey and the business behind why people “want their MTV”.
How did your career in marketing begin?
I began my career in marketing as early as my Sophomore year in college. I was lucky enough to have landed a job for the University where I was responsible for promoting events, student programs and store sales on campus. My first campaign was actually “Burgers and Fries on sale in the Student Union. Hurry While Supplies Last!” This is the time where I developed a foundation and understanding of marketing, how to manage clients, and how to formulate insights into a target audience. Given that I was an economics major, minor in marketing, it was easier for me to bring analytical concepts into what I was doing from a marketing perspective. As I gained more experience, I realized that I wanted to work at an ad agency and help build brands.
Once you graduated, what where those developmental experiences that led to MTV?
My first job out of college was working for a small advertising agency in Chicago, where I was responsible for many functions. Given the size of the agency it gave me the opportunity to see and participate first hand in the creation of media planning and buying, marketing strategy, creative development, research analysis and event promotion. I really lucked out because typically that level of exposure takes 3-4 years to accumulate and usually over multiple accounts and/or agencies. After a year or two there it was time to move on. I had an opportunity to work with some of the bigger players in the agency world, Doyle Dane Bernach & Ogilvy & Mather, working on blue chip accounts such as State Farm, US West and Ameritrade.
I am extremely thankful for those experiences because they truly gave me a solid foundation and understanding of traditional advertising, marketing and media. However, even with that I still felt as if I needed to round out my marketing background with more of a Digital area of expertise so I moved to New York to begin working for Agency.com, a website development, online advertising and marketing agency . There I handled the Discovery Network account and I was responsible for all the online advertising and website development projects for the Discovery brands in the U.S. This is where my passion for Television and Entertainment was discovered. Discovery led me to MTV and I am now in my fifth year with the network.
What is a typical day like as VP of marketing?
To be honest with you, there really isn’t a typical day. I think that’s the reason why I like being here.
How did yesterday play out?
Yesterday was a mix of putting out fires all day because our fiscal year is coming to a close and we have budget presentations coming up soon. I spent a lot of time reviewing competitive information and figuring out how much money is necessary to spend next year in order to gain increased market share against certain demographics. Additionally, I reviewed the impact of how spending X amount of dollars would impact our overall business.
How has quick-developing technology altered the marketing landscape?
On the consumer side, social media is playing a huge role in how we approach and handle marketing. Back track five years ago, the amount of data regarding individual audiences was available on a monthly, if not quarterly basis. Nowadays, social data is readily available every second. So, the biggest shift is being able to figure out how to adjust and change the way we communicate with our audience in real-time; listen to what they are saying, engage in a two way dialogue and provide them with relevant experiences that bring value.
The social data that’s available is also creating an opportunity to affect business decisions as well. This has put an emphasis on marketing’s ability to show a return on investment beyond traditional brand norms such as Awareness or Intent. Marketing is no longer a department responsible for putting together pretty ad campaigns or television spots. Now marketing has the ability to help inform business strategy due to social data uncovering where both the audience and competitive opportunities exist.
Has interactivity via social media allowed the audience to influence MTV’s programming or anything in terms of operations?
Well, without giving away any competitive secrets, I will say that we’re constantly monitoring the conversations that our audience is having about our brand and what they are saying in regards to our competition. Based on that information, what is heavily influenced is what we say when we go out into the marketplace and to some extent, where we end up focusing our marketing efforts.
How does the marketing team and production collaborate to create an effective strategy to make a show successful?
They know the content better than anyone else. It’s our [marketing’s] responsibility to help figure out what’s the best way to get people to watch our shows on an ongoing basis. It’s a constant feeding process of them informing and educating us on the actual content, and in their opinion, the best way to articulate those things to the audience. We combine those components with what we know about the audience and the competition to help formulate a strategy.