How Gilt Content Innovator H.L. Ray Works with Celebrities to Create Extraordinary Content
Storytelling Innovator Series

[Interview] How Gilt’s H.L. Ray Works with Celebrities to Create Extraordinary Content

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In this week’s Content Innovator interview, I speak with Gilt’s Senior Director of Business Development and Entertainment H.L. Ray about mixing influencer relations with a broader content marketing strategy.

Ray joined Gilt back in 2012 to help define the company’s emerging role in the entertainment space. His team began by focusing on live events with Gilt City though a partnership with Ticketmaster. The goal of the program was to build partnerships with artists to drive awareness for specific initiatives, like new tours and album launches, and then provide engaging content around those exclusive events to existing Gilt members.

As that side of the business grew, Ray found himself in the new hybrid role of building partnerships with top entertainment talent while also crafting truly innovative marketing programs. Learn more about Ray’s career trajectory and strategies below, and be sure to follow him on Twitter at @HLray3.

Question: Your role sounds like an interesting combination of sales and marketing. What’s your team’s ultimate goal?

We’ve formed a media group at Gilt where we work with nontraditional partners, such as talent and non-endemic brands, on programming that speaks to our 9 million engaged members and brings them exciting sales and access to events they can’t get anywhere else. We work hand in hand with our internal creative, PR, and events teams to create exciting experiences for members online and offline. Organic activation is all about creating amazing content and experiences for our members, and its yet another way for us to open the window to exceptional work every day.

I’m so proud to be part of such a dynamic and creative team. Nothing happens alone at Gilt. The team is everything.

Q: As a content innovator, what’s the biggest challenge in balancing influencer relations and your sales goals?

jennifer-hudson-s-chicago-_-gilt-city-chicago-2014-09-24-15-01-25.pngWhen we combined the teams, we thought a lot about this. How do we incentivize the team to focus on influencers and brand partnerships? We know both are important. You have to measure them differently and measure all benchmarks with equal weight. Everyone is contributing equally on projects, so this allows us to point to success across the board.

We have created (and are still modifying) the benchmarks. Broadly, they are excitement (measured by traffic), member acquisition/activation, and marketing dollars. Different programs are weighted to some sort of combination, but the three benchmarks allow us to even the playing field project by project. They also set us up for continued success, because we are able to focus on what is best and most exciting for our members in a way that benefits the business.

Q: How do you approach influencer strategy and what makes your approach different?

Our position as a diverse lifestyle platform opens the door for native influencer integration. This automatically sets us apart in the space. If you look at how we partner with influencers, you will see that it is much less of an endorsement and more of a partnership: Dominique Ansel’s new cookbook represents a partnership between Gilt Home to launch a new recipe and Gilt City to create a launch tasting event for members and press; Jennifer Hudson’s new album is a Gilt City–curated collection in her home city of Chicago and will have an album launch event in NYC; Carrie Underwood as Maria in The Sound of Music LIVE picked her “Favorite Things” on Gilt Women for holiday.

We also partnered with HP to develop a fashionable smartwatch. We were able to leverage our relationship with men’s designer Michael Bastian and did an exclusive launch on Gilt Man along with press events in New York City and Los Angeles.

We’re able to act as an agency and a marketing platform for influencers. First, we focus on creating content around the relevant Gilt platforms to keep it organic. We then put extra muscle behind their marketing message via digital distribution, offline events, and press.

I will say that I’m super excited about what we accomplished in 2014 by marrying brands with influencers, namely Blue Print Cleanse with Lily Aldridge and HP with Michael Bastian. These partnerships took content and influencer marketing to the next level, and I think they put Gilt at the forefront of the movement. We have a lot coming up in 2015 on that front, and I’m excited to build on our successes.

Q: How does Gilt use content to build and nurture an audience?

Everyone is talking about content as part of the native play. No doubt brands have a huge opportunity to engage consumers with content. It can be done in so many different ways, but content for the sake of creating content is not the right direction; consumers are smarter than that. Content for the sake of telling a story is what works.

I believe that great content inspires. I am crazy about inspiration. I want to be inspired in all parts of my life and look for it everywhere. When I came to Gilt on the first day, I received a Gilt-branded notebook that read “Inspire Everyday” on the cover. I thought, “Wow, I am in the right place.” Gilt’s business was built on curating great products from coveted brands and delivering them via beautiful and inspiring content.

We remain committed to quality content for our consumers, whether it is around a brand or an influencer. We’re always asking, “How is this project relevant to our consumers? Where/how does it fit into the platform?” Our success lies in strong partnerships between marketing, merch, BD, and editorial. We’re always brainstorming, debating, and challenging one another until we are aligned on what is the best message for the consumer.

gaga-bennet.png

Q: You’re probably a seasoned veteran by now, but describe your feelings when you first worked with someone in the public eye? What was running through your head?

Oh, man. I am a huge music fan and have drawn inspiration from artists since childhood. So when it came to working with legends, from Gloria Estefan and Tony Bennett to pop and country megastars like Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias, and Carrie Underwood, I definitely had to pinch myself at times.

At the beginning, what really made it easy was how open these stars and their teams really are. At the end of the day, they are people just like us, and they want to be treated like people and collaborate on innovative ways to launch their new projects and brainstorm ideas for events for their fans. They are looking to me and the team here to serve as experts in marketing and online retail, in the same way they are experts in their own trades. When I think about it as both sides playing to their strengths, it really evens the playing field and allows for some amazing collaboration.

jennifer-hudson1-credit-cindy-ord_getty-images-for-gilt-city.jpg

That being said, I still have my moments! We worked with Jennifer Hudson back in October on her new album. I have followed her for years and listen to her version of “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls almost daily. When I met her, I almost lost my ability to speak. She was super kind though, and just gave me a hug and said, “Great job.”

If I meet Mariah Carey or Reba McEntire, I predict the same thing will happen.

Q: What inspires H.L. outside of work?

I draw inspiration from people and diversity.

Prior to moving to NYC, I had the opportunity to live all over the world. As a guy who grew up in small-town Alabama, this really opened up my eyes to the world. I continue to draw inspiration from diversity through travel and at home in NYC. It keeps my perspective fresh and exciting.

On the people front, I am all about inspiration and empowerment. Whether I am working out, at work, or seeing the world, the people I meet define my experiences. One of my mentors and best friends in life once told me, “You are who you are surrounded by.” That really made an impact on me—for the good. My goals are to surround myself with people who give that diverse perspective, challenge me, and push me toward getting 1 percent better, every day—a motto of my beloved fitness community, Mark Fisher Fitness.

And in the background of all of this interaction is music—always. I am crazy about Estelle’s new single, Conqueror, at the moment. If you want to be inspired daily, add it to your playlist.

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