A Lifetime of Advocacy

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Lifetime has become much more than its slogan, “Television for Women.”
In an effort to educate and inspire as well as entertain, the programmer has stepped into a leadership role on a host of social issues important to its core audience. Lifetime today works with more than 200 nonprofit advocacy organizations and federal government agencies, including the American Foundation for AIDS Research and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Lifetime Television began its first advocacy campaign in 1989. It was tied to a documentary about women with AIDS, said Meredith Wagner, executive VP of public affairs and corporate communications. “We did screenings, outreach and education efforts,” she said.
In the 15 years since, those public-service efforts linked to issues and concerns important to women evolved under former Lifetime Television President Doug McCormick and grew exponentially after his successor, Carole Black, took over the network’s reins in early 1999, Ms. Wagner said.
Lifetime executives decided long ago to put such issue-oriented campaigns, each under the umbrella banner, “Our Lifetime Commitment,” in the forefront of what it does. “We felt that we’re in a unique position,” Ms. Wagner said. “These initiatives are organic to what Lifetime is and what it stands for.”
When it comes to deciding on issues to highlight, consumer research plays a key role, Ms. Wagner said. In the case of advocacy issues, Lifetime follows up initial polling with focus groups that help determine how best to approach each cause-related initiative, she said.
Research remains important after public-service announcements and other campaign materials are developed, she said. Those findings enable Lifetime to decide which materials truly resonate with viewers.
Three Major Drives
Last year Lifetime pushed three major advocacy drives-on violence against women and breast cancer and a “Be Your Own Hero” campaign designed to bolster girls’ and young women’s self-esteem. This year it shelved the 4-year-old “Hero” in favor of the quadrennial “Every Woman Counts” initiative, timed for this year’s election campaigns.
“Hero” may return next year “but it could be in a different form,” Ms. Wagner said.
When it comes to measuring the success of these campaigns, the means vary and they’re not always quantitative. First, there’s the impact on the viewers.
“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence from women,” in the form of letters, e-mails and signatures supporting petitions Lifetime will bring to Congress, Ms. Wagner said.
Many letters are from women who were inspired by Lifetime to get breast exams and discovered they had cancer in time to be successfully treated, she said. Other correspondence comes from women who were able to leave abusive relationships because of a documentary or some other component of the campaign, she said.
In the legislative arena, Ms. Wagner said, politicians have admitted to her and other executives that they’re paying attention to these concerns because of the high-profile Lifetime gives them.
A certain amount of ad sales, both national and local, can be attributed to campaigns too. For example, VP of Affiliate Ad Sales and Distribution Marketing Tracy Barrett reported that in 2002 alone, “Be Your Own Hero” had put nearly $6 million into affiliates’ coffers across 50 markets.
Still, Ms. Wagner said, “The purpose of the ad sales efforts is to get further exposure of the message.”
Ms. Wagner has five employees on her core staff, but the amount of time and work involved in mounting these campaigns is somewhat hazy. “It’s really hard to quantify, really impossible to put a dollar sign on them,” she said. “The whole company participates.”
She pointed out that each campaign spawns network specials and PSAs, Web content and now, articles in the company’s newest spinoff, Lifetime magazine. In addition, Lifetime tackles its big issues within story lines of its original drama series and movies. Then there are the educational materials that she said are circulated to more than 50,000 high schools nationwide.
Ms. Wagner declined to get specific about whether new issues would take the spotlight in the network’s 2005 drive other than to say it is pushing for the so-called Debbie Smith Act, concerning the backlog of rape cases, and a bill tackling so-called “drive-through mastectomies” to become law. “And I see us undertaking more bills important to our viewers,” she said.