In Depth

ABC Team Stresses Shows’ Unique Aspects

Campaigns Set On-Air Tone and Brand for Network

When fans of ABC’s hit drama “Lost” were searching for clues to the show’s secrets, they could go to a Web site called Find815.com. That site and other similar marketing efforts were the result of work done by Michael Benson and Marla Provencio, executive VPs of marketing for ABC Entertainment. On Tuesday the team will be honored at the Promax/BDA 2008 conference in New York with one of four inaugural Marketing Maverick Awards. Jointly presented by TelevisionWeek and Promax/BDA, the awards recognize the top marketing minds in television during the past year.

Just the idea of earning an award called Maverick makes Mr. Benson grin. “‘Maverick’ is such a fun term. To us it says that you’re innovative, progressive, and you’re willing to take risks and push forward. And that’s something Marla and I really believe in, so being recognized for that is really an honor,” he said.

“It’s almost like a feeling of taking charge and moving things forward in a way that’s unique and different. That’s very exciting to us,” said Ms. Provencio.

The team of Benson and Provencio has been together since February 2007. Together they have headed up marketing, advertising and promotion for ABC’s prime-time and late-night lineup, while also establishing the on-air tone and brand of the network.

Shows including “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Ugly Betty” and “Pushing Daisies” have had unique campaigns created by the marketing team. They include Hispanic-targeted promotions for “Housewives” and “Betty,” as well as Betty look-alikes at New York’s Fashion Week, and branded dry-cleaning bags for “Housewives.”

“I’m so proud of the work we’ve done for ‘Lost’ and also ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” said Mr. Benson. “Every single one is kind of like your baby, and yet they’re all different.”

Ms. Provencio concurred. “We want to shine a light on all of the unique elements of it and showcase it for what it is,” she said. “We want to show the type of diversity we have on the network, that we are a destination place for everyone. But it is the uniqueness of each show that we really try to focus in on and get the viewers engaged—what would it mean to them to watch the show and the kind of experience they would have watching that show.”

The campaign they created for “Pushing Daisies” typifies their work. Months before the premiere of the show, there were “Pushing Daisies” screenings at Comic-Con, as well as a screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the NYTV Festival. Greeters were literally pushing daisies by handing out flowers with tune-in information. In addition, individual fruit pies—tying in to the show’s protagonist running a cafe called the Pie Hole—were distributed to audiences at the Hollywood events.

For this ABC pair, there’s a rhyme and a reason for every element of a campaign. “We’re essentially trying to do three things,” said Mr. Benson. “One, we want to find original ideas. Two, we want those ideas to be organic to the show and really tap into the core essence of the show. And three, we want our ideas to be unexpected. We want to surprise the audience and have them stumble upon things that we’re doing that isn’t traditional promotion.”

“We never want the campaign to feel forced,” added Ms. Provencio. “We want it always to feel that it matches up to the core essence of the show, so that when they come to the show, they basically get what we represented it to be.”

Of all the ABC shows they market, “Lost” remains the most demanding. “It challenges us every season in an absolutely good way because the fans are such rabid fans, they’re people who just love the show,” said Ms. Provencio. “We want our campaign to stand out and be something that meets their expectations.”

“We don’t like sweepstakes and contests,” said Mr. Benson. “Generally, we like to create entertaining content that helps the audience really appreciate what it is that we’re doing and helps them connect with the show on an emotional level. If we can create marketing that’s original, organic and unexpected, it’s a home run for us.”

Mr. Benson and Ms. Provencio work as a team, but they are quick to underscore that their team includes the shows, the network and the agencies. “It’s engagement on all levels. The shows, the audiences, we want everyone to feel really engaged when they’re watching the show,” said Ms. Provencio.

“What’s happened since we first launched ‘Lost’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ is that the world has changed,” Mr. Benson said. “It continues to change; that’s why getting an award like this is important, because we try to be mavericks. We set out to do that. When we launch new programs we’ve got to challenge ourselves, how do we connect with them? It’s important to us that everything is really done to the best quality and that everybody participates.”