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Sweeney Rallies Promo Troops

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In her opening address to the 50th Promax&BDA conference last week in New York, Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, recalled a simpler time. It was in her college days, while working her first job as a page at ABC, wearing what she described as a snappy blue blazer and a gray skirt.

ABC’s slogan in those days was “We’re the one.” She played a tape from that time, when the schedule was filled with shows such as “Happy Days,” “The Love Boat” and “What’s Happening!!”

Those days, when a television network could get by on a simple jingle, appear to be long gone. Today, with hundreds of channels and new technologies offering viewers more control over what they watch and when they watch it, the job of the promotion staff has

assumed critical importance. “There’s never been a more exciting time to be in this industry,” she said.

She told attendees that “What you do is important,” and that “Marketing and promotion are the engines that solidify a brand in an audience’s mind.”

That ringing endorsement of the role of promotion was music to Promax President and CEO Jim Chabin’s ears.

“The top-down management that took part in the show is a big turn for us,” Mr. Chabin said, pointing to Ms. Sweeney, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker and PBS President Pat Mitchell. “We’ve had them before, and they’ve come out and said this was important. But this year they didn’t need a script.”

Promax&BDA, which suffered after 9/11, looked healthier than ever this year, drawing 3,227 attendees, up 5 percent from last year. “The industry decided that a June conference in New York about marketing is pretty damned important,” Mr. Chabin said. “I feel sorry for the people who stayed home. They don’t know where their viewers are going. They don’t know what hit them.”

Technological change, from an explosion in channel choices to the rise of the digital video recorder, is increasing the competition for viewers, but it is also providing new tools that promotion executives can utilize to gather an audience.

“People who think you can pull an old bag of tricks are going to get killed by people meters,” said Mr. Chabin.

NBC held an affiliates meeting at the conference, noted Mr. Chabin, with Mr. Zucker, anchor Brian Williams and Martha Stewart in attendance. With the network in fourth place, and few changes in the schedule, the NBC pitch was “We’re going to have to promote the hell out of this,” he said.

In his appearance at the conference, Mr. Zucker said, “I believe that promotion is what drives everything, whether it’s a great show, a great interview or a great brand.”

“I think you have to get behind your product, and I don’t believe there’s ever anything as too much promotion,” he said. “A great show needs great marketing. I’m a huge proponent of that.”

Mr. Zucker said that the ability of the different parts of NBC Universal to cross-promote one another is “one of the key reasons why the merger has been such a success.”

He said NBC has put together a marketing council that develops and sets the priorities of the entire company and puts the full support of the entire company behind it.

He pointed to an example that will take place today on all of the NBC Universal broadcast and cable networks, including Bravo, the USA Network and NBC. “We’re going to premiere the trailer for ‘King Kong,’ which is the big Universal film this December. The two-and-a-half-minute trailer is going to be roadblocked on all of those networks at 8:58 p.m.”

The technique of “road blocking” involves the simultaneous broadcast of the same message across numerous outlets so that it becomes much more difficult for a viewer to miss it.

Mr. Zucker said new technology is crucial to both the future of programming and promotion.

“We also have to recognize that the world is changing around us, and we have to embrace new technology and use that new technology as a friend and not be afraid of it because it’s the way the world is going,” he said. “Whether that technology is podcasting or cellphones or broadband or however we’re going to deliver it, we have to embrace it and we have to do that now. We can’t wait. I think it’s an incredibly important part of what we do now.”

He added that NBC “needs to develop original programming for each of those platforms.”

Smaller organizations must find ways to make their promotional effort work harder too. That was one of the things discussed at a seminar on marketing TV in the post-TiVo era.

Evan Shapiro, general manager of IFC, talked about how his commercial-free channel is getting requests from viewers who want to know when it’s going to air its promos, which feature the Green Day song “Jesus of Suburbia.” They also receive e-mail requesting the names of the films shown in the spots.

The network also created a short film to promote a marathon of zombie films that started with the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead.” “Marketing and content have met each other,” Mr. Shapiro said.

And in a digital age, small things make a big difference.

Take metadata, the information about a show or movie that feeds interactive electronic program guides. With more viewers using the guides, the description that is provided can be crucial.

Dan Ronayne, general manager of MagRack, the video-on-demand service, added that cable operators use different interfaces for metadata, some with rules that limit the description to 17 characters. He urged attendees to make good use of those characters.

“Look at your metadata,” added Lesli Rotenberg, senior VP of brand management, promotion and media relations for PBS. She noted that many PBS shows did not come up on program guide search engines for documentaries or educational shows because those terms weren’t written into the program descriptions.