Carat Hits the Road to Educate Buyers

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In advance of Carat’s local buying group hunkering down next month for the start of the 2006 local upfront season, the media agency kicked off a road show last week to educate its regional buying offices about the interactive, enhanced and new media ad opportunities with local cable.

To facilitate the road show, Carat enlisted the help of spot cable rep firm National Cable Communications and the country’s biggest cable operators, including Comcast, Time Warner and Adelphia, to present and explain their enhanced offerings to the agency’s 109 local buyers in four offices.

The goal is to create the framework and internal education that will allow Carat to place more of its clients in new ad opportunities such as video-on-demand, addressable advertising and interactive spots during the local upfront, which should last from October through March, said Mary Barnas, executive VP and director of local broadcast for Carat. “I have a vested interest in keeping money in local broadcast. I feel the media landscape is changing so rapidly that we need to find some interesting ideas to keep clients investing in traditional media,” she said. “We want to bring fresh, innovative ideas to our clients, but we need to understand what we are bringing to them.”

Some of these new media ad platforms are so new, with sporadic tests under way around the country, that local buyers don’t know what they are. “We need to get our front-line people educated,” Ms. Barnas said.

The road show is spearheaded by Mitch Oscar, executive VP of Carat Digital. It came about in part because a local Carat buyer was offered a free test of Comcast’s Adtag capability, which allows local spots to be tagged with targeted information for each neighborhood, but never pursued the opportunity because the buyer simply didn’t know what Adtag was. That example illustrates the obstacles that exist between buyers and sellers-obstacles Carat hopes to remove so opportunities aren’t missed, Ms. Barnas said.

The educational trip began Sept. 7 in Los Angeles, visited New York on Sept. 8 and will hit Atlanta on Sept. 15 and Chicago on Sept. 27. Operators with presentations are Adelphia, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, Brighthouse and Charter.

Clients are still finalizing their 2006 budgets, but enhanced opportunities could tip the scales in favor of local cable, Ms. Barnas said. “I am not making a commitment, but we would shift dollars to those types of opportunities if it’s to the benefit of the client,” she said.

Since Carat’s clients are often not the No. 1 or No. 2 players in their respective categories, most are looking for an edge-the proverbial more bang for the buck, Ms. Barnas said. She thinks interactive spots can serve that purpose.

Data from local efforts backing up that premise doesn’t exist yet in many cases, but some early feedback is promising. For instance, Carat tested interactive spots in Albany, N.Y., and Phoenix that let viewers request more information about Hyundai ads. During the first two weeks of the Albany test, the spots generated 223 click-throughs, she said, representing a small but actively engaged set of viewers who are more likely to buy.

“This requires that the viewer is engaged and they don’t walk away from this,” she said. “There was an immediate response from the viewer.”

What’s more, such interactive spots help clients stand out, especially in the cluttered automotive category, she said.

Advertisers use new media in other ways too. Comcast Spotlight has crafted new ad forms on-demand, like its real estate on-demand section in Philadelphia that’s generating more than 1,000 virtual tours of Prudential’s Delaware Valley homes per day, or 30,000 per month. The service offers virtual tours from April 15 through Dec. 31 of homes for sale in the area, with 500 new listings each month. Each home tour ends with the listing agent’s information. Thirty-second spots drive viewers to the VOD ads, thereby linking traditional spots to the VOD platform.

In another example, Comcast added in June in Southeast markets a new offering called “Hurricane on Demand,” with sponsored clips on hurricane preparation. Advertisers, such as auto dealers or insurance providers with knowledge of those public interest areas, create the content. On-air and online spots drive viewers to the VOD information.

Adelphia, also a Carat local cable tour participant, is currently offering a “double mapping” option to prospective VOD advertisers that would allow their content to be placed in several navigation buttons on the VOD menu to create added impression opportunities. For instance, a real estate client could be found in the real estate section of the VOD ad category and also in related content, said Tom Straszewski, director of new product sales at Adelphia Media Services.

While media agencies often enlist operators to present to clients and buyers, the Carat effort is the most formalized one, he said. “This is about as large-scale as you can push it, where you go to every office and get NCC and cable ops,” Mr. Straszewski said. When making pitches on new media, operators often spend most of their time explaining what the products are, he said. Soon, they will be able to spend more time on negotiation and the individual deals, he said.

Comcast Spotlight’s John Tierney, VP of national ad sales, views the Carat meetings as a chance to expose buyers to services such as Adtag, Adcopy and VOD advertising and help them understand how to use them.

The tour is the first concerted effort by an agency to educate its entire local buying force, said Lori Givens, senior director for sales, promotions and corporate communications at NCC. She hopes more agencies will follow suit.

NCC’s presence is important because NCC provides the day-to-day contact with local buyers, Ms. Barnas said. While NCC has made tremendous strides in shepherding the industry toward electronic invoicing and interconnects, educating both buyers and sellers about new technology is a logical next step, she said.

The road tour grew out of a meeting Carat hosted in early August with cable operators to discuss how to improve the buying and selling process.