Why Sesame Workshop chose Known as its media agency

Shop will help optimize nonprofit's web properties and broaden strategy and targets for its fundraising operation.

Why Sesame Workshop chose Known as its media agency

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the iconic children’s show "Sesame Street," has named Known as its media agency of record following an internal pitch process. 

Known's proprietary operating system called Skeptic, used for media and creative work, “drove the decision,” said Samantha Maltin, executive VP and chief marketing officer at Sesame Workshop. Known won the account following a request for proposals issued by the non-profit. Maltin declined to discuss the organization's media budget.

“We have not had an agency of record on media optimization,” said Maltin. “In fact, it's been handled in different business units. When I joined [in 2019] I set up an audience development team, which Aaron Bisman [Sesame Workshop's VP of audience development] is overseeing, and we centralized paid media and optimization across the organization. It was being handled by various different groups and when we started to dig in there was some waste.”

Using data for fundraising

Known will be tasked with establishing benchmarks for upcoming campaigns for all aspects of the organization and optimize SEM and SEO strategy across Sesame’s web properties. The agency will also help the organization target the right audiences for Sesame’s “individual giving business,” which is part of its fundraising strategy.

“Our money [through fundraising] would largely come in through large grants and large donors,” Maltin said. “We have only in the last couple of years set up an individual giving business that really targets people who give under $10,000. Five to ten thousand dollars is one kind of lane, and then the people who just give $25 a month, or $100 a month is another lane. How to reach them and bring them in is where Known has been helping us. That is a new revenue line and area that is very important for us to cultivate.”

The appointment marks an expansion of Known’s work with the non-profit; the agency began working with Sesame in 2020 to help with audience and research data strategy and build out Sesame’s data infrastructure and intelligence platform to help the company derive insights across the organization.

“The beginning of our relationship with Known began with a data audit and just understanding a bit more about what infrastructure we had in place,” Maltin said. “They helped us build out our data strategy and the data infrastructure. They helped us do a deep quantitative segmentation so that we could really start to look at who's our total adjustable market for 'Sesame Street,' who do we have? Not just parents with preschoolers, but who are those people who are more likely to donate, who are more likely to watch? Who's more likely to buy our products? Who's more likely to go to our theme parks?”

“They helped us do an analysis of the various spends that we had and the types of brand activity that we were going out with and actually it's helping us save money because we were overspending in certain cases,” Maltin added.

Expanding fan reach

One ongoing challenge for the organization is appealing to Sesame Street's three generations of fans. 

The brand will look to Known to help understand various segments of its audience. So far Known has helped overlay behavioral data with existing data that Sesame already had to pinpoint information including what brands the target audience likes and which websites they visit. These insights led to "Sesame Street" partnering with brands like DoorDash, with which the brand collaborated for a Super Bowl spot last year. The same data was used to pick a partnership with NBA star Steph Curry as part of an Under Armour shoe collaboration, which Maltin said has been successful so far.

“Having that segmentation knowledge, having the deeper brand filters has been very helpful for us,” according to Maltin, who said there was one key insight the organization derived from focus groups conducted with Known’s help. "We just started to understand that people want to give back to Sesame Workshop, not only necessarily through a donation, but they want to be involved in the brand, which has really sparked conversations internally for us about what a membership program looks like. Should we have one? That’s very early thoughts, but it sparked new insights and thoughts for us about how we might reach new people.”

Another way that Sesame has been looking to expand its reach and create longer-lasting relationships with viewers is spinning out new content from the traditional "Sesame Street" show. Earlier this month a robot-themed animated series called "Sesame Street Mecha Builders" aired on Cartoon Network. In 2020, a talk show series starring Elmo called "The Not-Too-Late-Show with Elmo" launched on HBO Max. The main show has also started introducing more diverse Muppets such as Ji-Young, a Korean American Muppet that debuted on the show last year.

A global mindset and daily doses

As Known continues its partnership with Sesame, Maltin will look to increase the brand’s awareness globally. Currently "Sesame Street" is in 150 countries but the awareness varies when compared to the U.S., where "Sesame Street" has 99% awareness, according to Maltin.

“We're working with Known on our global impact and just trying to a set up a brand measurement roadmap so that we can start to increase brand love, trust, and awareness globally,” Maltin said. “We have different awareness levels, different levels of trust. There are very mature markets like Germany in the U.K. We're celebrating our 50th anniversary with Germany and Australia, and then we have other markets where we're just launching for the first time." 

Sesame Street is relaunching in Japan for the first time in 15 years.

The brand will also look to tap into an insight the organization discovered after conducting research, which found that looking at "Sesame Street" images makes people “want to reminisce,” according to Maltin.

“I want to make sure that we are in [people’s] daily habits, that anything that they're doing on a daily basis, we are there front and center,” Maltin said, sharing a hypothetical example. "Let’s say we were on Venmo and while you're paying your babysitter, in addition to seeing the fun Grover emoji pop up, you are able to donate to Sesame Workshop to help fund our work in communities with children and families.”

This is a notable win for Known, which launched in 2020 after marketing and data strategy firm Schireson Associates acquired independent creative agency Stun Creative and brand strategy firm Blackbird. The agency, which has 500 full-time employees including a team of data scientists, currently has 12 AOR clients including brands such as Just Egg, MSK, Alibaba U.S., and Talkspace. 

“There's not many folks in the non-profit space that have put this kind of diligence in and created this kind of sophistication around the way they deploy their investments,” Kern Schireson, CEO of Known said. “We are super proud to be helping a leading a non-profit brand like this really blaze a trail. You've got Sesame Workshop working at the same level as a Procter & Gamble by being really sophisticated about the discrete brands in their portfolio and how those things aggregate to the house of brands that's represented by the whole company.”