NATPE positioning for 2002-03 upturn

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

How bad was this year’s syndication upfront, and when-and why-will the TV advertising-market turnaround finally happen?
Just ask the chairman of the National Association of Television Program Executives: “It’s absolutely the worst [upfront] in the history of syndication,” said Jon Mandel, who is also the co-managing director and chief negotiating officer of MediaCom, which counts among its clients GlaxoSmithKline, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Seagram, the Boston Beer Co., Subway Restaurants and Warner Bros. The syndication upfront was “down probably somewhere between 20 [percent] and 24 percent,” Mr. Mandel said.
Though MediaCom, a part of Grey Global Group, does not customarily issue public forecasts, Mr. Mandel predicted the turnaround in the overall television advertising market would occur in the second or third quarter of next year and that it would be boosted by a spate of new product introductions across several major advertising categories and by the belated realization of “old hand” senior executives at big advertisers that the downturn is an opportunity to gain share.
Mr. Mandel called the just-concluded upfront the “perfect storm,” a cyclical, once-or-twice-in-a-generation confluence of factors that included not only the usually cited causes-the dot-com implosion, the fall in consumer confidence, the negative comparisons to election-year and millennium-year spending-but also one often-overlooked factor. “One of the things that’s hurt this marketplace is that there’s been a lack of new product introductions in the coming year,” he said. “Last broadcast year there were 26 new drugs introduced; this year there are only 20. So that’s a falloff of a third, roughly. And that’s just one category.”
Next year will see new birth control and erectile-dysfunction products from drug manufacturers as well as a “whole bunch of body parts, if you will, that haven’t seen a lot of direct-to-consumer advertising, and that stuff is wending its way through the process now,” Mr. Mandel said.
New automobile introductions will be unusually brisk as well, he said. At the upper strata of retailing, the Wal-Marts, Home Depots and other so-called “big box” stores will be refocusing strategy on local and regional distinctions among stores and products, which will help strengthen the local spot and regional spot business, Mr. Mandel said.
One other factor has chilled the syndication marketplace in particular, Mr. Mandel said. “Syndication salespeople have not done as good a job as they could,” he said. “What they have done is they’ve come and said, `My show is good, his show is dog meat.’ They’ve negative-sold each other. What they haven’t learned how to do is connect [with], `If I buy a spot in your show, will I sell more product?’ It’s not about, `His clearance list isn’t accurate-and mine is.’ It’s not about you, and it’s not about your show. It’s about your show fixing my concern, which is selling my products.”
Clearly, as a result of this marketplace, the annual NATPE convention, to be held Jan. 21 to 24 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, will not be your father’s NATPE. It will, in fact, put advertisers and their agencies front and center.
Among the advertiser-oriented aspects of NATPE 2002 are “dedicated lounge areas” sponsored by top advertising agencies, where local and national ad salespeople can meet buyers; the Chairman’s Roundtable, an invitation-only discussion by advertisers and agencies focusing on opportunities for sales executives and media buyers; a session on family-friendly programming; an advertising-twist on the traditional popular NATPE pitch-me-a-program-idea session, called Best of the Client Pitches, in which sales executives will pitch agency executives on the advertiser benefits of their new shows; and, perhaps most important of all, the Chairman’s Reception for key advertisers and agencies, heads of sales for broadcast and cable networks, cable multiple system operators, and barter sales and station rep firms.
“If I were a station sales manager, I’d go to that party,” Mr. Mandel said. “At that party there are going to be people your livelihood depends on.”
Among those people will be a 20-person delegation from MediaCom as well as representatives from Mindshare, Starcom and OMD/Optimum Media Direction.
Basically, all the top media buyers from the agency side come to NATPE, Mr. Mandel said, as do advertisers from the pharmaceutical, theatrical film, automotive and other top categories. More than 20 of MediaCom’s clients will be represented, he said, as will clients from the other big agencies.
It’s been widely noted that important program syndicators, among them Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, have cut back their presence at the upcoming convention. Mr. Mandel said at least one studio head, whom he declined to identify, wasn’t aware that NATPE will be such a hotbed of agency and client activity, and he pointed to the fact that NATPE 2002’s focus will be on the period presumably beyond the present downturn; namely, the 2002-03 broadcast year.
“The key thing is, if I were paying my mortgage by selling guys like me advertising, I’d be [there] trying to position myself for the upturn,” Mr. Mandel said.