Digital Strategy: Stand Your Ground

Digital Strategy: Stand Your Ground


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By Catherine Warren, President FanTrust Entertainment Strategies

Years ago as a graduate student at the Columbia Journalism school, I wanted to report on the intersecting worlds of art and science, the earliest days of digital media when creators in both fields were experimenting with novelties like computer music and holograms. And even though MIT was establishing its Digital Media Lab (where I finally did end up doing my original writing) and New York artists were making their own laser labs, my professors told me “there is no story here,” essentially that Digital Media wasn’t a thing.

Ultimately, I won my fight-to-write campaign. And when Digital Media turned out to be among the biggest stories of the century, I felt victorious and vindicated.  Who knew that this powerful cocktail would continue to fuel me decades later in coaching hundreds of media and entertainment executives in their own battles for digital strategies, sightlines and turf?

Over the years, my business FanTrust has guided the digital and fan strategies for major TV franchises such as CSI, for Sony AAA video game companies, for large distributors such as eOne, as well as for YouTube multichannel networks, mobile and streaming ventures. The one thing that every client has in common is the critical need for digital strategy: to define it, design it and deploy it.

You could say that my first digital strategy as a student was a campaign of attrition. (I wanna write this thing about something called Digital Media. It’s important. And not just to me. So I will stand at the faculty door until I get my digital way.) Kind of a “wear them down and make them listen” with a bit-of-diplomacy-thrown-into-the-mix type of strategy. Plus ça change, right?

You’re facing what?

Those of you responsible for digital strategy in your own entertainment organizations know that as much as your company faces fierce competition in the marketplace, you might still face a battle on the home-front, getting buy-in and budgets for digital transformation, or even blank looks and questions like, “Why do we need a digital strategy?”

But you also know that you are playing the long game here, and can use the force of your conviction coupled with some powerful data to win people over. And win them over you must, because digital media is a relationship-based business and there is no strategy without harmony.

Break it Down. Build it Up.

Beyond internal diplomacy, media companies in particular face all kinds of challenges when it comes to digital strategy:

  • Borderless audiences and global platforms
  • New revenue models and dying old ones
  • Relentless data and confounding business intelligence
  • Insatiable fans who demand engagement and authenticity
  • Talent with massive traffic and incredible production savvy
  • Disruptive start-ups, including media content and media technology
  • Investors who demand digital results
  • And everything else that keeps you up at night because we live in a digital world

Of course, many of these are good problems to have. They put fire in the belly. They open the door for new deal-making, strategic bedfellows and novel business ventures. But they can also be daunting. Taken collectively, they can turn people off. Dive into any one of them headfirst and you run the risk of going down a rabbit hole of no return. It is critical to establish your own “challenge list”, and a concrete framework for tackling your specific digital priorities, in order for your strategy to be both practical and inspirational.

A great digital strategy has to be a brave undertaking. It takes time to build but it does have a finish line. It involves opening the doors to everyone, from the CEO to the interns and from fans to suppliers, to get it right. Above all, it takes leadership.

Pick a Winner

Deciding who has the best chance to build your Digital Strategy – to set the course, tease out the vision, corral the migrating herds…who knows when to step up and when to shut up…who commands respect but brings the donuts – is the most important first decision you’ll make in 2016 if this is your year for Digital Strategy.

Now’s the time. Make it so.

Next time, we’ll look at the Digital Strategies of top entertainment companies. In the meantime, please join me on Twitter @FanTrust with your own digital challenges and successes. You can also check out our case studies at, reach me at and on my mobile +1-604-724-4609 (where it’s always Pacific in Vancouver).

This article first ran in the Global Television Market MIP publication here.