MIPTV: Group Nine's Suzanne Kolb Talks Savvy Social Media Strategy for 'The Swim'

MIPTV Interview The Swim Ben LeCompte - Group Nine - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Group Nine

The publishing group partnered with Discovery to follow the expedition depicted in the upcoming documentary.

Group Nine Media chief brand officer Suzanne Kolb, home to millenial-targeted content brands Seeker, Thrillist, Now This and The Dodo, discussed how it tackled a diverse social media strategy when unveiling the world premiere trailer of The Swim during MIPTV's closing keynote in support of the UN's sustainable development goals.

The group's science-focused Seeker partnered with Discovery and Nomadica Films on The Swim, a documentary following the latest adventure of long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte. The Frenchman was the first person to swim across the Atlantic in 1998; the new film follows him from Tokyo to San Francisco as he attempted to do the same across the Pacific 20 years later.

Group Nine helped back the film for its first cross-brand social activism campaign and used daily satellite footage to follow the expedition as they crossed the ocean. Lecomte was not only swimming, but the team was also collecting scientific data for partners including NASA and the Scripps Institution at UCSD on plastic pollution.

"We were getting content back virtually every day and then able to take that content and edit it into updated stories," said Kolb. The footage was turned into mid-form website video, shortform social videos and Instagram stories, so viewers could follow the journey in near-real time with a sense of urgency and intimacy during the crew's six months at sea.

The group distributed the footage across its editorial teams. "Each of the brands had the opportunity to think about, 'OK, how would we tell this?' and edit it into what would be their story. There was a lot of content sharing going on [which] really allowed us to tell the story in different ways," letting each channel come at it from their own perspective, she said.

Different content bites were also tailored for various platforms and distributed across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Discovery Go, resulting in 1 billion impressions during the expedition.

"When you are talking about issue-based films, it's really about trying to get as many eyeballs on it as possible, to try to get people to have a reaction," said Nomadica Films head and exec producer Jared McGilliard. Sending the daily feeds via satellite in all sorts of weather proved to be one of the team's biggest challenges, he said. "There was an urgency to get the content back so the growing audience that was following along could continually stay engaged."

The film not only shows Lecomte's physical challenges, but the plastic pollution he encountered across the ocean.

"It's about understanding the severity of the problem too," McGilliard said. "We see all these stories about a whale washing up full of plastic, or about a study with 100 turtles and all of them having plastic in them, but when you have someone swimming across the ocean slowly, it is such an intimate way to get to know the ocean. It was really trying to see how do we get people to have an emotional connection."

Normally "there's nothing sexy about scientists talking about data," Lecomte joked. "With the swim there was another dimension to make that information accessible to a new audience."

The film also shows Lecomte being followed by a shark for five days, which he jumped in the water with a GoPro to film and other underwater scenes. "The sea life is very curious, I had sharks, swordfish, turtles circling around me, but at the same time it was masses of plastic debris every day, every hour."

Plastic pollution is still at the heart of the project, which is endemic across the Pacific and not just in the garbage patch as widely believed. Said Lecompte: "Standing on the shore or from in the air, you only see the surface. When you're under water you can visualize what is happening. It is a way to bring people into the environment."

The film is set to make a festival debut later this year.