Delivery Sessions Interview with Damon Harman, Founder / Chief Content Officer / Brand Partnerships Strategy at Integrated Content

From producing live-action superhero and blind dating shows to Twitch live streaming and branded programming, Damon Harman’s creative skillset has evolved completely in sync with the world of production itself over the last 3 decades. As a natural born entrepreneur, he’s always a step ahead of the next big thing and constantly seeking new ways to take content creation to the next level. 

And that’s exactly why he founded Integrated Marketing. 

So we sat down with him to learn more about his background in tv and film, how to be successful on a live stream platform like Twitch, and what the future of production really looks like. 

Tell us about your professional background prior to founding Integrated Content? /What got you into the digital marketing space to start?

“I moved to LA back when I was 19 years old, pursuing a career in TV production. After graduating film school in Orlando, I got my first gig in Hollywood working on the show, Power Rangers. Since then and over the last 25 years, I’ve witnessed the evolution from film to video to cable television to digital, and it required me to continually reinvent myself to stay ahead of the curve. I started out doing a lot of commercial work, before eventually producing a reality dating show called Blind Date, as a result of a big union strike in the early 2000’s. Then I created my own show called TailDaters, sold it to MTV, and did 130 episodes over 4 seasons.” This basically changed the trajectory of Damon’s whole career — going on to create several reality shows in the years that followed. 

And as an entrepreneur who just happened to go to film school, whenever the opportunity was, that’s where Damon was — from producing tv commercials for brands to creating the next big reality show to getting brands to sponsor content that he produced. So it was only natural for him to then start his own ad agency; one that specialized in branded content, incorporating advertising into these storylines. It was the start of a new life in digital marketing, and eventually morphed into a career in consulting, helping others develop their marketing and sales strategies. 

Then in comes a global pandemic, and no one needed production consulting because no one was filming. But people were live streaming. “A buddy of mine called me and said his company, Twitch, was looking for someone with my expertise for their new Original Content department, and I originally took them on as a client. But I soon realized the bigger opportunity here — there weren’t a lot of brands in this space that could use the strategy, media buying, talent packaging, and production execution that I could provide. I knew I had a number of colleagues who were over the traditional advertising model and traditional TV model,  and figured I could bring all this expertise together for the digital age.” And thus, Integrated Content was born. 

What specifically motivated you to start your own company in the live streaming space? What opportunity did you see here? 

While Damon will say the short answer would be the pandemic, the long answer is a lot more interesting — powered by a keen eye for the next big thing. “When all productions basically came to a halt, my good friend told me his company, Twitch, was still doing productions day-in and day-out, it’s all remote and live streaming. He said he took the job because he thought the future of live content in the next 10 years was Twitch, but thanks to the pandemic, that future is right now. He just needed someone to help him execute it. 

While primarily a gaming platform at the time, the company did have other categories, from workouts to cooking shows to IRL where people just chat, but they wanted to uncover how to leverage this live and interactive platform with an audience that actually wants to be a part of it versus being a passive viewer. How could we create new formats and change TV content the way reality shows did in the past. How do we get the audience engaged in the content and actually play a role in the outcome of the show?”

So what started as a consulting project turned into a total career change. “I called some old production partners from Hollywood and a few of my guys on the agency-side in New York, and presented the opportunity to go all in and really make this a thing. We knew brands wanted to get their message in front of this audience and we wanted to become the agency with the authentic way of doing that while producing at a high level. And now here we are.”

What are some of the skills you’ve developed / think are necessary to succeed in the world of digital storytelling today? 

“The answer is in the question basically. All content has to tell a story — whether it’s a photo or a video, long form or short form. And in today’s live world, you really have to bring the audience into that story and let them play a part in the outcome of the show or engage with the characters versus just watching. This really is the future of live content.

“TV is pretty much dead except for live events/sports. People are streaming! Twitch’s average live stream is 4 hours. And you wonder who would watch something — anything — for that long? It’s the same way ‘binge watching’ is now a form of consumption. The way media is being digested is so different from in the past — and on these live streaming platforms, commercials are considered disruptions and agitators. So when you integrate a brand into the content they come across as a supporter of that content versus an interruption of it, that’s how you gain loyal fans. And that’s exactly what Integrated Content does.”

What do you do to stay on top of the latest trends in live and  interactive content?

 “I’m talking to brands all day, every day. Twitch is our niche — we work directly with their talent packaging department, original content department, technology departments, etc., so it’s a true collaboration. And since Twitch is a tech company, we have a lot of interactive experiences where viewers can click and vote and make decisions. So I spend a lot of time watching Twitch streamers/influencers and learning how their viewers interact with them. 

“There is a lot of programming that incorporates traditional celebrities like athletes or actors, who will make appearances for charity in exchange for the ability to promote their brands or products, but really, their following only gets you so far now. In many cases, Twitch streamers and content creators are much more valuable (and expensive) because they give you a direct connection to a highly engaged audience that trusts them; if they say ‘watch this show’ or ‘do xyz,’ the audience will do it! The new celebrity is someone that has an audience that they can bring with them anywhere they go, and that’s where brands can benefit. 

What are your top 5 tips for brands and agencies marketing on Twitch?
Well, other than hiring Integrated Content, of course, Damon recommends the following:

  1. Focus on the content creators & streamers. You have to match the vibe of your brand with an audience that fits your target demographic. 
  2. Don’t come to them with a project. Instead, come to them as a collaboration. As soon as you become solely a check writer, they’ll do the bare bone minimums — because it’s your thing, not theirs. And their audience knows this. You have to create a format or experience that the audience will love, because if their audience is into it, they’ll remember what brand supported the content that they love — and the streamer will bend over backwards to make it even better. 
  3. Offer streamers value.  Level up their production value. Bring in a professional team that can handle the execution and level up their production value. These influencers don’t need you, they produce content every day. So you have to come to them with a new opportunity to entertain the audience that stretches them out of their comfort zone, but you have to provide them a team to support them through it. 
  4. Build a media plan. Boost that live stream with a media plan that drives viewership. This doesn’t mean ads — these are interrupters. But there are some great products we use at Twitch that drive more eyeballs to the event to provide those vanity metrics but also offer value to the streamer and their audience. By providing this value add, you’ll get a lot more in return. 
  5. Turn it on YOU. #1-4 was all about the creator. Now, it’s your turn. You need to create integrations that weave your brand messaging into the format of the show in an authentic way, so you can get the audience to engage with your brand as part of that format. That means figuring out how to leverage what’s trending to create a natural integration.  Ideally, you want the viewers unsure of what’s actually marketing and what’s just part of the show.

Can you tell us a success story we can share from a brand or client on Twitch?

First things first, Damon notes that you have to define what that success is. “Every brand has a different goal and every project is unique. But most recently, we had awesome results for our client, Allied eSports, who we’re helping develop their new story-driven content arm, called AE Studios. We created a 4 episode live stream test run of a show called Elevated, which tied in great sponsors like Tyson Foods, Progressive, and HyperX. It featured up and coming streamers who were grinding it out every day and had all the fundamentals, but still fairly small audiences. We brought in more established streamers to offer mentorship throughout the series, and in the last segment, we had what’s called a ‘Streamer Takeover’ where they had their 10 minutes of Fame to do their thing and earn votes in the form of follows. So even if they didn’t win, they made out with new followers and major exposure.

“We had over 22 million minutes watched and 1.3 billion impressions, which equated to a 3.5x on their spend for our brand partners. So we averaged about 3 million viewers per show — my reality shows back in the day 1.5 million. It’s better than a cable show and we produced it for a lot less.  And in the end, the show delivered over $7million worth of media value to our brands.”

What do you think the future of digital content will look like?

“The future will be all about gamifying experiences. Remember Pokemon GO? I’m excited for this augmented reality to become more accessible and friendly. Right now our shows engage an audience from their computer or phone, but imagine when AR allows us to create a branded content experience out in the world. So you can have your entire virtual audience in the real world, doing something that’s winning them points, in a show that’s being live streamed — there’s just so many ways to insert a brand into that experience. It’s true engagement. 

“I’m pretty good at spotting a wave, so whatever it is, I’ll be on it. Right now, everyone needs a Twitch strategy, but what that looks like is still constantly evolving. Similar to the start of reality television, no one really knew what it was supposed to look like, so with each season, the format was defined and molded. Even now with with our finger constantly on the pulse, we still learn something new from every project we do. I think Twitch Live stream content is now where reality tv shows were like 3-4 years before they truly blew up. I love being involved in the beginning of it all and helping brands in this infancy stage where we are figuring it all out.”