Getting the Word Out

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Curious passersby stopped briefly to investigate the crowd of paparazzi and assorted media types gathered outside downtown Manhattan’s new night spot Plaid last Wednesday night. Hoping they had happened on the premiere party for the new season of “Sex and the City,” the jaded New Yorkers strolled away disappointed when they learned it was instead a launch party for “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack.”
“Ali and Jack who?” they asked.
But if everything goes according to King World’s master plan, all of America-or at least the enormous TV-watching segment-will know who Ali and Jack are by fall.
Beginning early next month an aggressive on-air promotional campaign will educate viewers about Alexandra Wentworth and Jack Ford, the co-hosts of the new live syndicated chat show slated to premiere Sept. 15.
“There’s a little bit of a learning curve with viewers to get to know who Ali and Jack are,” said Delilah Loud, King World’s senior VP, advertising and promotions, who added that the primary message of the campaign is: Tune in. You’ll have some fun. “These are two new personalities that hopefully you’ll like and you’ll want to spend an hour with,” she said.
The Phases
The multitiered campaign will kick off with a high-concept tease spot entitled “The Next Big Thing,” which will go into rotation in early July on stations carrying the show. A week or so later, “Phase 1,” a series of promos in which Ali gushes about Jack (“He has great teeth”) and Jack heaps praise on Ali (“Having Ali at my side makes me just a little cooler to my kids”), will begin airing. The next set of spots, “Phase 2,” which will run through July and into early August, attempts to capture the chemistry between the co-hosts (in one, Ali does a trust fall into Jack’s arms, but-oops!-he drops her). Finally, “Phase 3,” which goes behind the scenes of the show with Jack and Ali, will start running in August, leading up to a 10-day countdown campaign in early September.
King World will take advantage of a promotional partnership with Hearst Magazines by making a sizable national print buy in Hearst publications, including Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Town & Country and Good Housekeeping. Editorial content from Hearst Magazines will be highlighted on-air, along with appearances by editors and writers from the various magazines. Hearst Corp. has a limited investment stake in “Living It Up!”
“Normally, we couldn’t afford some of these page rates. For instance, a page rate in Good Housekeeping can run upward of $250,000,” said Ms. Loud, who has worked for King World since 1990. “But because we’re partners, they gave us a good rate. And since we are targeting women 25 to 54, that’s our key audience.”
“We’ll have access to almost all of the articles in their magazines two and three months in advance, so we’ll do makeovers, how-to segments and other things based on articles in the magazines,” said “Living It Up!” executive producer Bruce McKay. “It’s a huge, wonderful source of material for us.”
The Hearst connection is a good bet, but King World isn’t taking any chances. The company is also buying ads in TV-friendly publications such as TV Guide, People magazine and The National Enquirer and in key newspapers around the country. Factor in outdoor advertising (everything from billboards, bus shelters, grocery store aisle carts and mall kiosks), banner advertising on the Internet and some select cable and radio buys, and King World has pretty much guaranteed that anyone who watches TV, reads newspapers or magazines, listens to the radio, drives or goes food shopping will know about “Living It Up!”
But in the days of the 500-channel universe, even a razzle-dazzle promotion and advertising campaign doesn’t ensure that viewers will tune in. Mr. McKay is nostalgic for the old days of syndication “when you could almost always assume that through promotion, you’d get a pretty big audience the first couple of days out,” he said. “Now you can’t even assume you’re going to get a big audience early on. All you could do in this environment is produce the best show possible and hope that through a variety of circumstances that the audience finds it.”
Mr. and Ms. Personality
In the meantime, Ali and Jack are doing their best to set themselves apart from the competition. “We are taking personality classes. We have a trainer that helps us say funny things,” Ms. Wentworth joked to a room packed with network news executives, publicists, magazine editors, King World and CBS executives and advertisers at the well-attended launch party, which, unfortunately, was held on the same night as not only the “Sex and the City” premiere but a Fox News event and a People magazine party as well.
Thanks to their network news credentials or affiliations-Mr. Ford was an anchor at NBC News and ABC News and Ms. Wentworth is married to George Stephanopolous, who works for ABC News-the party attendees were on the whole tonier than the typical daytime TV crowd. In addition to Mr. Stephanopolous, the guests included “60 Minutes”’ Mike Wallace and ABC News senior executive producer Victor Neufeld and Kathy O’Hearn, who executive produces Tina Brown’s CNBC show as well as assorted B-list celebrities.
The question on everyone’s mind was: how will “Ali & Jack” be different from every other daytime talk show? Seemingly unconcerned about the slew of new syndicated talk shows set to launch this fall, Mr. Ford deadpanned, “What other daytime talk shows?”