Journalist Valentí Sanjuan visited our classroom this week to discuss building digital media and his own brand based on his interests and unusual adventures. According to his website, by combining his various projects, Sanjuan has over 7 million YouTube views each month and nearly 3 million followers on social networks. His YouTube account, for example, has 96,160 subscribers, 5,465,957 views, and four other channels – vistolovistoTV with 135,956 subscribers and 25,495,651 views, ETIQUETAGS with 10,660 subscribers and 2,587,532 views, ValentiEstaLoco with 60,590 subscribers and 12,238,608 views, and Mercè Sanjuan with 7,816 subscribers and 428,683 views. Despite these numbers, the 33 year old’s success was only achieved after several years of trial and error and through his incredible perseverance.
Sanjuan began his career as a conventional broadcast journalist. After working for Catalunya Ràdio for 7 years, his contract was not renewed during the financial crisis. Sanjuan reflected on this experience in class: “The radio show was my life, and I felt like I lost everything.” He thus entered a phase in his life when he lived by the motto “Fake it till you make it” – an optimistic catchphrase that eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He kept his passion alive by continuing his radio show “Vist i no vist.” Starting out on his own, Sanjuan thought he had to model the show after what he had previously done at Catalunya Ràdio. He maintained a Catalan radio show in front of a small live audience. However, Sanjuan decided to start presenting his show in an interesting way, contrary to all the advice he was given (such as from his old colleague and my professor, Pipo Serrano). Rather than broadcasting his show on the radio, he streamed it through the Internet. This was Sanjuan’s first step towards blurring the line between a radio and television show. He invited the celebrities he had befriended during his last job as guest stars, letting them think it was a popular radio show. He also enticed a small audience to attend by providing free beer. In spite of his best efforts, initially “the show was a failure,” Sanjuan admitted. As a Catalan program that attracted only a limited audience and few online viewers, Spanish brands did not want to invest in it. Sanjuan realized he had to change the product and ultimately change the show.
Using the new name “Visto lo Visto” (VLV), Sanjuan started producing the same show but with a freer product (with more slang language and comedic elements), in Spanish, in a larger theatre, and designed in a television program-type format. Although these changes seemed promising for VLV, the YouTuber guest stars appealed to a younger online audience than Sanjuan had hoped. The majority of VLV’s viewers were around 13 – 15 years old – an age range too young to even attend live theatre. This setback led Sanjuan to another realization: he had to define his target market more specifically and aim his marketing efforts towards that audience.
Once Sanjuan removed YouTubers from the program and reached an older target market, VLV became a hugely successful late night show. It attracts a live audience of 700 to Teatre Condal in Barcelona and 2 million online viewers every month. Each show includes a variety of guest stars performing monologues, interviews, stand-up comedy acts, and musical performances.
In addition to VLV, Sanjuan also directed and presented the innovative television show called “Etiquetats” on Televisió de Catalunya – TV3. Etiquetats was the first show created for mainstream TV that was promoted on the main channel but only accessible on the website.
The multi-faceted journalist currently focuses on 3 projects: Valentí está loco, Gordon Seen, and VLV. On his YouTube channel, Valentí está loco, Sanjuan posts video diaries of himself and the crazy adventures he braves. One of his videos, for example, shows him running the Barcelona marathon while pushing a girl in a wheelchair. Another is of him running over 1,000 km in 10 days, from Barcelona to Santiago, on the other side of Spain, to commemorate his mother who had died from cancer.
When Sanjuan was out of shape, one of his guests urged him to do the Ironman triathlon and agreed to train him for it. Only a few years later, Sanjuan now does the Ultraman World Championships (which involves a 6.2 mile open ocean swim, a 261.4 mile cross-country bike ride, and a 52.4 mile double-marathon run) in his spare time and posts videos of him preparing for and competing in these events. The video of Sanjuan completing the 2014 Ultraman in Hawaii shows him convulsing and throwing up, with still over 8 hours to go. But what it really shows is something much more: each video provides life lessons and values that his followers aspire to – such as motivation, perseverance, and courage.
With just a cellphone, camera, and computer, Sanjuan has been able to build his own brand out of his experiences and show that one does not need to work for a big corporation to reach millions of people. After gaining popularity on YouTube and other social networks through the emotional bond his content creates with viewers, Sanjuan now gets requests from companies to incorporate them into his videos. His brand’s attributes and wide reach make him a good outlet for marketing. Instead of making large investments in commercials, companies can use Sanjuan as a platform to promote their products, just as they would use TV. The information technology company HP, for instance, hired him to pretend to sneak into their private Ellie Goulding concert in Barcelona during the Mobile World Congress and post a video of it.
Sanjuan also does more artistic videos for brands like Turkish Airlines. They paid him to travel to New York City and promote the city on his YouTube account. These projects, in which he incorporates brands inside the content, show that everything and anything can be communication and journalism. A blog post by Isra Garcia summarizes, ‘Valentí has created a line of branded content that is tightly linked to a community of followers that continues to grow with every video he publishes. It’s easy to see how he cleverly “calls to action” in every video, pointing towards other videos that may be of interest to his audience. This maximises the experience, contact and bond with the content, making a huge impact. In the case of Valentí this is further strengthened by the great personal brand that he’s building around himself and his work.”
The brands Sanjuan has worked with have been impressed by his knowledge and ability to connect with people in this dynamic world of Web 2.0. Their admiration has helped prompt Sanjuan to create his own production company and media agency, Gordon Seen. As the founder and creative director of Gordon Seen, Sanjuan helps companies decide what types of content to produce, where to produce it, and who to produce it with – dealing with people like himself such as YouTubers, Instgramers, and celebrities. Bryan Elliott, the CEO of another production company called The GoodBrain Digital Studios, explains in The Huffington Post that “brand integration is one of the most untapped opportunities for both content creators and brands today. Brands are always looking to reach audiences in unique ways outside of the traditional.” While channels like Sanjuan’s are huge, Elliot further expounds that “you don’t necessarily need to work with the biggest and best these days to accomplish your brand initiatives. Niche channels that are narrow but deep with engaged communities that take action could just as well do the trick. In the end, it’s a symbiotic relationship between brand, content creator and audience. When executed properly, the potential for upside for everyone involved is limitless.”