Stations turn to branding to boost ratings

Aug 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

San Francisco’s KPIX-TV has historically found its 11 p.m. newscast in third place, and the station wanted to climb the ratings ladder. So the CBS affiliate decided it needed a branding campaign that emphasized the importance of its breaking news in the geographically diverse and vast San Francisco marketplace.
The station hired Boston agency Smash Advertising, which specializes in creating branding and promotional campaigns for local news stations. Smash helped fashion a campaign that began in February and is still on the air. It highlights the station’s resources-four newsrooms/bureaus in San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Contra Costa County-to cover breaking news where and when it happens.
This type of broad-based branding, so commonplace in traditional advertising, is also essential in the news business and needs to go hand in hand with the daily drumbeat of topical promotions. For such image campaigns, broadcasters are turning more frequently to specialized agencies.
A station will often rely on an outside agency rather than its internal resources because it needs a fresh perspective, its hands are full with daily news promotions, and outside agencies shoot on film, which is often a preferable look for a branding campaign, said Rob Battles, creative director for Crossroads Television in New York, a creative services agency that also works regularly with local stations to devise larger image campaigns.
For KPIX, it would have been silly not to access every resource it could to devise the right promotion, said Brian Blum, director of marketing and creative services with KPIX and KBHK-TV, the UPN affiliate in San Francisco.
“With tough competition, one of our advantages is we have newsrooms in different areas,” he said. “We want to [emphasize] breaking news.”
Changes in the TV landscape in San Francisco-former independent KNTV is now an NBC affiliate while former NBC affiliate KRON-TV is now independent-provided an opportunity to capture some momentum in the marketplace, he said. “My instincts are that over a period of time this will help us and change the image of the TV station and newscast.”
The image spots present four different views simultaneously to convey the sense that the station can cover all of the fast-paced market, said Marilyn Kass, senior VP and managing director of Smash Advertising.
It’s important to remember with such image campaigns that a broadcaster may not see a big shift over one ratings period. “You need to build on the image campaign and tie your topicals into it,” she said. “You don’t want an image campaign that portrays one thing and topicals that say another.”
A promise and a proof
KPIX saw a slight uptick in ratings in May, Mr. Blum said, and he thinks the increase is only the beginning of the campaign’s impact. Smash has also done work for WCBS-TV in New York with the aim of improving its lackluster ratings. “WCBS has a challenge in New York because of their position,” Ms. Kass said. “They are not necessarily the most loved station in the market.”
The WCBS spots, which began earlier this year, offer a “promise and a proof”-a promise of a certain type of coverage and the proof of putting more reporters on a story, Ms. Kass said. “They needed to rebuild trust and get people to buy into them again,” she said.
Crossroads has worked with another New York station, WABC-TV, to promote its weather team during the past year. “They have an incredibly committed and young group of weather guys and they are totally into it. Very often advertising treats weather as a joke, as light and airy and not a serious story,” Mr. Battles said. That’s not the message WABC wanted to communicate to viewers. “We had a serious story to tell, that these guys take it seriously,” he said.
The agency created unscripted documentary-style commercials featuring the three weathermen performing their jobs and talking about weather as a story. Weather has been a strength for WABC, and the campaign is designed to reinforce the station’s image in that regard, Mr. Battles said.
Even though WABC is operating from a position of ratings strength, such an image campaign is essential to maintain its place. “Everything needs a promotion and needs a commercial to tell people it’s there,” said David Vianello, WABC creative services director.