Interview with Shachar Orren, Chief Storyteller, Playbuzz

Shachar Orren
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Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to be part of Playbuzz?

I began my career as a journalist and editor in Tel Aviv, and though I was incredibly passionate about writing, after 9 years I felt that the industry was not evolving as fast as its readers, which left me feeling stuck and ready for a change. I was looking to feel inspired but not lose the creativity that a role of a writer allows for.

Luckily, I stumbled upon Playbuzz which at the time, was looking for a content expert for their storytelling platform so publishers and brands could see the benefit of interactive stories and the audience engagement they bring. As the 6th employee, I’ve been able to grow with the company, relocate to New York and today, I oversee the content, marketing and communication efforts globally.

Being on the other side – working for a disruptive platform that helps media tell stories in a way that’s accessible to readers and that aligns with their consumption habits – perfectly connects my previous career to my current one. As a former journalist, I know that publishers and brands can lack the resources that Playbuzz provides, and I’m proud to work with the likes of HuffPost, MTV, BBC, Sky News, CBS and more to bring interactive storytelling to audiences worldwide.

As a leading storytelling platform,  how do you keep a tab over brand safety and transparency issues? What controlling factors would you recommend content marketers and brand safety managers?

Over the past year, we have watched the industry scramble to react to this uniquely digital issue of brand safety. This runaway train has caused a temporary ‘back to analog’ approach, best evidenced by Google’s recent commitment to hire 10,000 people to monitor content on YouTube.

Advertisers and consumers have started to fight back. Direct traffic, no fraud, brand-safe placements, real eye-balls – it’s all part of the trend to clean up the internet. While many would argue that this step took too long, it provides a big opportunity for those platforms and publishers who can deliver real engagement. This year, I predict that companies offering better AI-verification services will have a significant impact on brand safety.

At Playbuzz, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of engagement and brand safety, with 99% human, non-fraudulent traffic to Playbuzz-powered content across our network, as confirmed by WhiteOps. To get there, we put parameters and algorithms in place to ensure our traffic is real. My best advice is to invest resources in working with companies that can provide the validation that will soon become the standard we’re all obligated to.

In 2018, how would CMOs benefit from leveraging smarter personalized content in B2B & B2C campaigns?

As targeting and personalization become more sophisticated, readers expect their content and ads to be more relevant to them than ever. Using engagement data to learn more about your audience, to then create content they will care about, is a great way marketers can leverage interactive content. But not only that – interactivity can also make the consumption experience feel more personal. When readers are asked a question or voice their opinion in a poll, they are way more involved in the content consumption journey itself, and thus more likely to share the content they consumed with their friends, family, and social circles. In fact, interactive storytelling tools specifically enable marketers to offer custom, personalized content to readers. And with interactive content being 81% more effective at grabbing customers’ attention than static content, it’s no wonder Playbuzz’s portfolio of partners has increased by 100% compared to two years ago.

A great example of this is Netflix’s Playbuzz-powered branded content campaign produced to promote their latest season of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ in order to create awareness, boost social shares and test upcoming storylines. They created an immersive, interactive story that gave users the opportunity to participate in a scenario-led game, challenging them to break out of the prison depicted in the show.

The campaign was well-received across a variety of publisher partners, achieving a dwell time 7X over the industry average.

What are the key business metrics that modern content marketers should have at their fingertips?

Though it’s easy to rely on old-school (read: archaic) metrics like clicks and views as measurements of success, they, unfortunately, do not showcase whether readers had a meaningful experience with your content.

Content consumption habits have dramatically changed and with content fatigue, the move to mobile and FOMO (fear of missing out), it’s important to incorporate new KPIs into the mix that are engagement-based. These include dwell time, completion rates, engagements within stories, comments and more. Metrics like these can help guide marketers on how to optimize their content for the future.

Thus, marketers should rely on platforms that enable them to measure such data as insights gathered can be used to optimize content in real-time and based on consumer behavior, can act as guidance for future content creation.

Which startups in the martech and media sectors are you watching/keen on right now?

I’m a fan of the Skimm for obvious reasons – it presents news content in a way that enables readers to easily consume it on the go. I even have the app on my phone and find it ideal when I want to quickly catch up on news. The company’s goals very much align with ours – mainly being, how do we get readers to consume important information in a digestible, engaging way.

Another startup I’m into at the moment is Flipboard, mainly because the news aggregator is attempting to prioritize high-quality content to beat fake news and the spread of misinformation in 2018. It’s a big task and one that is not only fixed with human and automated monitoring but also one that can help be resolved by focusing on creating content that has engagement at its core.

For example, our data shows that if you blend a news story with an interactive element, the time that people spend on that story jumps by 20%. If readers spend more time on a story and actively engage with it, they are more likely to be able to evaluate the information presented to them. More engagement could, therefore, lead to a safer news environment and reduce the spread of misinformation.

What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2018?

A few of my favorites include:

  • Marketo – The main tool we use for our email marketing efforts with partners – whether it be product updates or ways in which to get inspired.
  • Muck Rack – A great tool to assist with PR outreach, tracking mentions and analyzing your communication outreach. Not to mention, great customer service.
  • Playbuzz Analytics – Our marketing efforts include practicing what we preach, which means creating Playbuzz-powered content for co-marketing partnerships, internal company newsletters, speaking opportunities and events. Our analytics tool enables us to track these items’ performance to see if those who read these stories truly engaged with them, and optimize.
  • Splash – This event marketing platform is ideal for us as we host several local events throughout the year. It’s super intuitive and gives us the freedom to create visual-first landing pages as well as invites.

Would you tell us about your standout digital campaign at Playbuzz? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success?)

As part of the ACT ‘Make Nothing Happen’ campaign to combat terrorism, the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Police (NCTP) (through Mediacom) partnered with us to craft an interactive, Playbuzz-powered branded content campaign that would harness readers’ fleeting attention spans.

With the UK specifically on a high terror alert throughout the past year, and with the news cycle constantly inundated with acts of terrorism worldwide, it’s more crucial than ever to educate civilians on how to identify and report suspicious activity.

To do just that, we glean the real-life stories of individuals who had reported suspicious behavior related to potential threats of terrorism, utilizing them to craft fictional dilemmas that could very well become a reality. These stories were packaged into interactive articles – clearly labeled as sponsored – using our storytelling tools in order to compel engagement throughout the reading process. Such interactive elements included polls, flip cards, and trivia quizzes.

There were three main challenges when building this branded content campaign:

  1. Addressing such a serious and sensitive topic without intimidating readers or being alarmist, ensuring they consumed the content items from beginning to end.
  2. Ensuring content was sincere, relatable and engaging whilst still maintaining an appropriate tone.
  3. Overcoming readers’ overall content fatigue to get them interested in the topic.

And with 75% of marketers claiming that education is the primary reason for using interactive content, it’s no wonder the campaign achieved a dwell time 4X more than the industry average.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader? How do you leverage AI capabilities at Playbuzz?

We’ve worked with top publishers over the past 5 years, putting us in a unique position to familiarize ourselves with their pain points and thus, create technology to solve them. Having the time and resources to create a healthy amount of visual-first, great content – while on a deadline – has been one of these pain points.

Over the past year, we added several features to our platform to ease the content creation process for publishers – this includes a Getty Image integration, Giphy integration, seamless video creation, and the addition of new interactive storytelling elements to further increase engagement within articles.

It’s only natural that the next step will be to expand our machine learning and AI capabilities beyond the existing optimization of engagement, into AI-driven authoring assistive technologies. This integration into the platform is meant to help journalists source visuals, social mentions from key influencers, video clips and more based on the story’s title and content that they input while creating content. The goal is to also provide interactive element suggestions for them based on their search terms – like suggested polls and quotes.

Such addition to our platform will help promote what we call the multimedia journalist – reporters who no longer have to rely simply on text and images, but who are now able to widen their toolbox to include interactive storytelling tools.

One word that best describes how you work.

Most people around me will likely say 24/7. They’re not wrong. However, I think the best word to describe how I work is passion. I believe having great passion for what you do is as important as having great skills or experience. This is one of the traits that characterize Playbuzz employees in general, and something I always look for in any person I interview for any position. If you’re not passionate, creativity and innovation will be hard to achieve.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Storytelling is what excites me the most, and keeping up with new forms of storytelling is a big part of my routine. The forms of storytelling I rely on most in my day to day are ones that help digest the overload of information I am interested in consuming. My mornings start with theSkimm app, going over the major news stories of the day; Podcasts and audio books take me through my commute to work and back (WSJ Tech News; then NPR’s Up First, followed by whatever else I’m currently into) and in the evening – I spend at least an hour with Instagram stories, which are a great way to make every ordinary day into a thrilling narrative.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

In a global company like Playbuzz, with 8 offices worldwide, using Slack has been the best way to improve communication and increase productivity. Especially for creative teams like ours, we need a space to brainstorm and share ideas even though we’re almost never all in the same room or even the same country. We’ve tried many ways to make this process more streamlined, and they all felt forced and were quickly let go of until we started using Slack. It has become an integral part of our day-to-day.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)

I find that the best way to read is actually not by just reading. It’s through interacting with written or visual content – the kind publishers use Playbuzz’s platform to create – that is so much more than just scrolling through paragraphs. It’s a much more efficient way to acquire information that actually sticks. I also like to switch up the platforms to keep myself engaged, so I end up reading three books at a time, one physical, one e-book, and one audiobook. I just finished Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (physical), started listening to Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss (audio); and I’m half-way through the Neapolitan Novels series by Elena Ferrante (ebook).

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never go into an empty subway car.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

I’m curious to hear from Emily Weiss, Founder, and CEO of beauty brand Glossier. Their marketing to young women is some of the smartest and coolest I’ve seen, and I love that she started with a beauty blog and turned it into a company with more than $34 million in funding – shows that success starts with great content.

Thank you Shachar! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Shachar Orren is the Chief Storyteller at Playbuzz. Working from the company’s NYC headquarters, Shachar is serving as Playbuzz’s evangelist, in charge of empowering the company’s partners to achieve storytelling greatness, and heading up both the content and brand marketing departments, globally. Before becoming Playbuzz’s sixth employee, Shachar worked for over nine years as a journalist and senior editor in Israel’s leading publications, and holds a BA from Tel Aviv University.

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Playbuzz is an authoring and distribution platform for interactive storytelling. Publishers, brands, agencies and content creators worldwide utilize the suite of Playbuzz-powered storytelling tools for editorial and commercial purposes to engages users, increase time spent on-site and boost social interactions and shares. Over 13,000+ publishers and brands in over 55 countries rely on the Playbuzz platform to transform how they tell stories online.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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