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NewFronts 2014: Digitas ‘Fearless’ Confab Convenes Digital Stakeholders

In a welcome break from the relentless pitching of the NewFronts, DigitasLBi held its annual NewFronts mini-conference Thursday, bringing together an array of digital media companies and brands to explore the title theme, “Fearless.”

“You can relax and exhale—no one is going to be selling you anything,” said Tony Weisman, North America CEO for Digitas. The event didn’t lack for news amid the insights, though. Weisman announced two new deals for the agency: an “in-residence” arrangement with BuzzFeed that will see the two staffs physically commingle, and an exclusive first-look deal for long-form content with Epic Magazine. Cofounders of Epic Joshuah Bearman and Joshua Davis have written pieces for Wired magazine optioned for films (including the Oscar-winning Argo) and with Epic they aim to commission pieces posted on partner site Medium that will be adapted for the screen.

Speakers ranged from TV hosts-cum-digital-creators Meredith Vieira (pictured left) and Aisha Tyler (pictured right) to execs from top digital brands such as LinkedIn, Upworthy, Mashable and Jash. Mixed in were high-level reps of blue-chip advertisers such as Old Navy, CVS and Puma as well as senior Digitas execs.

Before querying CVS exec Helena Foulkes, Vieira touted her “Lives” channel on YouTube, though the former Today and View host confessed to still being on the online learning curve. “People, when I first got on Twitter, thought I was tweeting while drunk because I just kept hitting the button before I’d actually written anything,” she said.

Foulkes, president of the CVS pharmacy unit, told Vieira about the process that led to the chain’s decision in February to stop selling tobacco products by this fall, a move estimated to cost some $2 billion in near-term revenue. She said the move reflected four business tenets: 1) “go big or go home,” 2) “plan for great,” 3) “be a marathoner” and 4) “be purpose-driven.” Shares in CVS, she added, have gained about 10% since the announcement.

Tyler, a comedian known for her work on CBS and E!, among others, also writes, directs and appears in online videos. She joined a host of fellow comedians and digital specialists via video from Washington, D.C., where they are gathered for Saturday’s White House Correspondents' Dinner. The topic of their session was “Brand Bravery on Pennsylvania Avenue,” with the main focus on viral videos that blended activism with comedy in support of the Affordable Care Act.

“I spent a good portion of my youth without coverage, so I thought it was important to show the risk of that,” Tyler said of her short piece, “Aisha Tyler Doesn’t Need It,” spoofing those who think they don’t need health insurance.

Mike Farah, president of production for Funny or Die and Scott Aukerman, creator of the site’s Zach Galifianakis-hosted Between Two Ferns, discussed the evolution of the highly trafficked (and debated) Ferns episode with President Obama. Seeds were planted for the video in the spring of 2013 and the creators took their time as it coalesced. “We wanted it to be funny first and have a message second,” Farah said. “The president is a funny guy. He has great timing.”