How Publicis Sapient scaled video marketing into a storytelling studio

Storytelling is human nature. For marketers, it should be your lifeblood. Whether you are creating content for customers or communicating strategy, storytelling is the most powerful tool marketers can wield.

As a digital consulting company, Publicis Sapient prides itself on reimagining the customer experience for its clients. Turning the lens to its creative efforts, it too recognizes the power of storytelling. In October 2022, Publicis Sapient launched Impact Films, a new documentary film initiative that brings these stories to life and humanizes digital transformation. The first documentary, Never Done, tells the story of how digital technology helped a single mother at risk of eviction. Impact Films places storytelling firmly at the heart of its content-creation process.

Never Done documentary hero Kersten (CREDIT/Publicis Sapient)

Teresa Barreira, Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, tells the story behind Publicis Sapient’s brand-new storytelling studio in a Q&A with ClickZ.

Q1: What is Impact Films and how will Publicis Sapient measure its success?

Teresa Barreira: Through Impact Films, we’re demonstrating that technology can be a force for good – if created with people in mind.  Our goal is also to show that technology is not the enemy, but an enabler. We should implement technology in service of people. Finally, we want to challenge and inspire all to embrace technology and use these tools to improve our lives and create a better world.

To be sure, we’re interested in views and engagement with the films themselves. But the amplifier effect of these films is even more exciting. It’s opened doors for us to talk about ourselves at places like The New Yorker Festival, The Nantucket Project, and other film festivals and in press outlets like Variety. We have given our client partners a conversation starter when talking to prospective clients.  It has provided us with a new frame of reference to think about ourselves and our work. It is also rallying our entire organization and has become a point of pride for employees.

Q2: Why did Publicis Sapient want to create a longer documentary series?

Teresa Barreira: Our marketing team is constantly ideating to challenge the status quo and break out of the norm. We decided to launch Impact Films, a series of documentary films, as a disruptive way to create content, reinforcing the value of our work via a powerful, entertaining, and artistic medium – films. Our goal was to disrupt the old, traditional way of creating case studies and client stories by focusing on the positive impact that technology can have on one individual. By developing stories through the lens of one person, we were able to bring emotion and humanity to the work we do to help businesses transform digitally. Impact Films marks a crucial step in evolving our video-first content strategy.

Q3: Why did Publicis Sapient give an external director full editorial control?

Teresa Barreira: Digital business transformation is not just about big business helping big business. Transformation is for people, about people, with people. When we decided to show how digital business transformation benefits real people as opposed to enterprises, we reached out to film director Ben Proudfoot. What we admired about Ben’s short films is that they are beautiful and powerful stories told through the eyes of one person. When we asked Ben to find a story from a list of our client stories it was important for us to relinquish editorial control and trust in Ben’s creative interpretation and execution of our impact stories.

Q4: Why did you decide to build a video campaign using storytelling principles?

Teresa Barreira: We have reframed the way Publicis Sapient tells stories and the way we talk about what we do. It’s a differentiated approach to marketing because what we’ve created with Impact Films is non-branded content.  Nowhere in our documentary films is Publicis Sapient referenced. Instead of branding our content, we’re surrounding the content with context and our marketing, making the story of the individual the hero and, ultimately, driving greater brand awareness for Publicis Sapient.

Still from 'Never Done' a documentary produced by Public Sapient's storytelling studio
Never Done documentary hero Kersten (CREDIT/Publicis Sapient)

Q5: How did Impact Films build on your existing storytelling strategy?

Teresa Barreira: At Publicis Sapient, we help large organizations like Lloyds Bank, Marriott and Walmart transform digitally. During Covid, and with social distancing measures in place, we realized we had to transform ourselves to reach and connect with our audiences. In the summer of 2020, we launched The HOW Channel to bring immediate value to our audiences through content. We saw everyone quickly embrace digital, but our goal wasn’t to create more webinars.  Our ambition was to develop a video platform that highlighted short videos of business leaders to inform, educate and entertain. Our ambition was to tell stories that mattered to our customers.

Q6: What was the goal of The HOW Channel?

Teresa Barreira: We wanted to find that intersection of engaging our audiences while connecting with them to humanize our content, make it easily digestible and show what “digital business transformation” means and looks like in practice. Our data told us video was outperforming our written thought leadership content, so we quickly pivoted to launching a video-first platform.

Developing business content that is engaging, educational, and intrigues viewers, all while creating a wonderful experience, is challenging. However, we saw that snackable video business content, less than 10 minutes in length, gained the most traction and what we delivered through The HOW Channel was a wide range of guests and topics from different industries and diverse backgrounds.

Q7: What success has Publicis Sapient seen with its storytelling so far?

Teresa Barreira: In the attention economy we live in today, the most powerful connection we can make is for our audience to opt in to spend time with us. That means thinking more like a streaming platform, measuring views, watch time, and engagement. Much like Netflix, we leverage data to learn what our audience wants, deliver on that, and use the right mix of media channels to engage our audience. Engagement requires not just information, but entertainment.

We have a robust in-house data team that can attribute video engagement to driving the sales pipeline. Using our first-party data, we’ve been able to prove which viewers of The HOW Channel videos result in sales opportunities. We’ve seen that number climb 920% since the channel’s launch in the summer of 2020. It’s an incredible testament to the fact that these videos are changing people’s minds about our brand and inspiring them to want to start a business relationship with us.

Q8: What feedback are you hearing from clients about the docuseries?

Teresa Barreira: What we’re hearing from our clients is that our approach to putting people at the center of everything we do is resonating with them. How we’ve reframed the way Publicis Sapient tells stories and the way we talk about what we do is gaining traction with our clients.  And in terms of overall impact so far, we showed our first Impact Film Never Done at the Nantucket Project to a great reception. The film also recently had its world premiere at The New Yorker Festival to a sold-out crowd. And it was admitted to the Raleigh Film & Art Festival. We’re just getting started.

Still from 'Never Done' a documentary produced by Public Sapient's storytelling studio
Never Done, title still, (CREDIT/Publicis Sapient)

Q9: Where will Impact Films go next?

Teresa Barreira: The power of Impact Films is that it opens doors to conversations and places that Publicis Sapient otherwise would have a tough time accessing. That’s why we’re interested in the films being seen far and wide beyond just our owned & operated channels. We’re excited about exploring distribution with streamers to achieve the widest possible reach for these films and to help start a global conversation about the topics and themes that the films address, including the positive impact that technology can have on people.

Q10: How may Publicis Sapient’s approach to video evolve in the future?

Teresa Barreira: Our brand purpose is to “help people thrive in the brave pursuit of next.”  Impact Films shows, rather than tells, what we mean by those words. Every decision we make, big or small, will be guided by asking “how will this help people, in whatever shape the future takes?” Whenever there is an opportunity to provide audiences with information, inspiration, entertainment, and community, in new and unusual ways, those are the principles that will help pave our way.

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