For this month’s Judge Spotlight we sat down with Chris Allen, Senior Director of Multimedia at Morning Brew! Chris is an award-winning visual storyteller and digital media strategist with over a decade of experience. He started his career producing major international award-winning TV shows such as “Britain’s Got Talent,” “The X Factor,” and “Dancing with the Stars” before entering into digital publishing as Supervising Producer at Hearst Digital Media. While there, he produced viral content for various global brands that reach over 90 million visitors monthly. Chris then moved on to be Director of Editorial Video for Fast Company and Inc., where he was responsible for providing editorial guidance, developing original content, managing programming, and generating audience growth for both brands across various platforms. He recently accepted the role of Senior Director of Multimedia at Morning Brew, where his role is to execute on creative direction for all content, lead a team of creatives, oversee the development of original video and audio content, and manage the multimedia content strategy across all platforms.
Read our Q&A below to learn more about Chris and his insights on making great online video content.
How do you define creative success?
I think creative success can be very hard to measure. Sometimes something you put your heart and soul into doesn’t necessarily perform very well, but that doesn’t make it a failure as you may have pushed yourself to try something new or stretched some creative muscles that haven’t been used for a while. And sometimes there are projects we work on that are easier and less thoughtful to execute on yet perform extremely well. Both are valid and both have merit.
I think true creative success comes from experimentation and not being afraid to push yourself to try something original or unique to you. Everybody is hired because they have talent or a specific skill and I think being open to collaboration and trying things in a way that isn’t inherently you can lead to incredible creativity. Be open to ideas, from yourself and other people, and don’t be afraid of things failing. Failure is often just a stepping stone to success.
What does a typical work day look like for you at Morning Brew?
Definitely very busy. I would define my role as half operational and half creative.
A large part of what I do is just making sure the plane is flying properly. And since the multimedia dept is still fairly in its infancy, we’re building the plane while flying it. I have an incredible team and we work really hard to ensure we’re in constant communication and tackling any problems or issues quickly as we scale and grow exponentially.
The other side of the coin is thinking about the content we’re putting out into the world. What do we want to say as a brand? How do we want to say it? What’s resonating with our audience? What’s not? We’re trying to build a pretty robust portfolio of content, from YouTube series and social content to podcasts and fully fledged franchises. A large part of my day is just making sure that our content is the very best it can be and that we’re being original and unique with our storytelling.
Then I also work with sales, branded, editorial etc across the company to make sure we’re all aligned and that we’re all working towards the greater goals of the company.
Much of Morning Brew’s video content uses humor and memes to relay important information. How do you balance creating content that is both funny and informative?
Sometimes, when I tell people I work in business media, I can see their eyes glaze over. And I think that’s because, traditionally, business media has been pretty dry and pretty much generic for a very long time. But younger generations are more interested in the way the world works, and business is anything from the phone in your hand, to the brands you consume, to planning for your future. It’s across all parts of life. So why not make it easier to understand and more fun?
We always want to ensure that our content is making you smarter or, at the very least, making you think about something. When you start from that place, with that intent and with an open mind, sometimes the wackiest, craziest ideas come to mind. And we’re willing to try them. For us, it’s about making business news and stories more accessible, and humor is one of the great equalizers. Also, if you can learn something AND have a laugh, that’s the sort of content that will make you want to come back.
What piece of work from the past year are you most proud of working on? What’s the story behind it?
Wow it’s very hard to pick just one so I’m going to cheat and pick two.
Firstly, we knew we wanted to do a video on women’s issues in the workplace, but many of us felt like oftentimes those kinds of socially-conscious videos never appeal to the target audience or feel too sanctimonious for people to really connect. We decided to do something new, break the fourth-wall, and let the audience into the creative process through a video about making Women’s History Month content. We had 3 of our female creators work on it and I think it was the perfect mix of informative, conversation starting and utterly ridiculous and hilarious.
Secondly, one of our creators Dan Toomey has had a few viral videos on our TikTok channel which mainly features sketches. We wanted to expand upon this social success and create a sketch comedy series about the modern American workplace called Good Work. Pure, slightly insane, satire. Getting to develop the series and work with Dan to create a show that is distinctly his has been incredibly rewarding and I’m excited to see where this series can go.
What is a creative challenge you faced recently and how did you overcome it?
I think I face at least 3-5 creative challenges on any given day. But I think a big creative challenge is building a successful team. Making sure that you’re hiring the right skill sets for what you need while balancing personality and prior experience. I try to make my teams as diverse as possible so that everyone is bringing something slightly unique to the table.
I have been in this industry for over 15 years but I do not pretend to know everything or have all the answers. I don’t expect everyone else to either. But by hiring great people with different talents and backgrounds means that, usually, someone on the team will have the answer (or at least help us to find one). So, as time consuming and as arduous as the process can be, putting together the jigsaw puzzle of building a talented, multifaceted team is one of my favorite creative challenges in my line of work. And then watching them flourish and evolve on the job, all while creating incredible content, makes it all worth it.
What content inspires you the most? Shout out some work that you think deserves more attention!
I watch a lot of YouTube and I love a channel that has a strong brand identity yet also tries new things.
Vox is one of my favorite large media brands. They really have created the benchmark when it comes to explainers, as far as I’m concerned.
The Cut always has interesting formats and topics that really make you think or want to debate with somebody.
I think, in general, Conde has done a really great job of creating successful formats for each of their main brands, from Wired’s autocomplete interview, to Vogue’s 73 questions, to GQ’s can’t live without. They’ve managed to create a flagship series for every brand that people recognize and expect. And behind the scenes, they manage to really squeeze a lot of juice out of any guest that visits Conde as they have these repeatable formats that can be easily captured.
As a Telly Judge, what do you look for in a piece of work that makes it stand out as a winner?
It’s funny because, in my line of work we look at a lot of data to see what’s performing well or badly and that is incredibly useful when testing or launching new things. But data can’t tell you what makes a really special piece of content. You can only tell that from the way a piece of content makes you feel. Video and podcast are such a collaborative medium, but when everything from the storytelling, to the cinematography, to the editing style and music all just align in a way that just feels complete, it can be a pretty emotive experience.
Plus, having a unique angle or strong point of view on a topic or story and telling it in an original or surprising way can really elevate a piece.
And that usually all of that comes from the people who worked on it, whether it’s two or 15, all having a clear idea of what the piece is or the story they’re all trying to tell. No ego, just great creative collaboration. That’s usually what makes a piece standout.