By Natalie Finn
Special to TelevisionWeek
It’s not very often that journalists, no matter how distinguished, are called upon to anchor a two-hour nightly newscast-by themselves, no less. CNN was sure that Anderson Cooper would be a perfect fit for such a show, but it was up to the network to ensure that viewers understood how they would benefit by tuning in.
So before the new two-hour 10 p.m. version of “Anderson Cooper 360” launched Nov. 7, 2005, Scot Safon, senior VP of marketing and promotions for CNN Worldwide, and Jennifer Boardman, director of marketing for CNN, helped launch a campaign that would emphasize Mr. Cooper’s brand of reporting: intense, thorough and engaging.
“Our creative choices were about making sure we captured the whole range of stories that Anderson covers, but also the way he covers them,” Mr. Safon said. “In our mind this was the kind of show he’d be doing because he’s a world-class journalist.”
Instead of standard shots of Mr. Cooper suited up behind an anchor desk, CNN dipped into a resource it had been stockpiling for several years.
Starting with the network’s coverage of the Asian tsunami in December 2004, CNN had been commissioning photojournalists from Getty Images to accompany Mr. Cooper to locations around the world and capture him in action.
The results of this venture, which was not undertaken with a commercial campaign in mind, became the linchpin of the marketing strategy for the expanded “Anderson Cooper 360” launch.
In addition, still photographs of Mr. Cooper in Rome during Pope John Paul II’s funeral, in Sri Lanka covering the tsunami and in New Orleans reporting on the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita appeared in outdoor and print ads. Pictures of him on assignment in London, Niger, Beirut, Iraq and Darfur were used, as well, accompanied by slogans such as “Keeping them honest.”
TV spots also featured Mr. Cooper in action, using video of him on location and engaged with his subject matter.
“He had been out there covering these stories,” Ms. Boardman said, “and when the show moved to 10 p.m. [from a one-hour broadcast at 7 p.m.] and we had to do this campaign, it seemed silly to use a shot of him taken in a studio, because it doesn’t represent who he is.”
The premiere of the extended newscast also happened to come on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, from which Mr. Cooper emerged as one of the media’s strongest voices on the scene due to his probative reporting and commentary that was frequently tinged with outrage over the lack of action he was witnessing from federal and city officials.
While the added attention was obviously a marketing plus, the journalistic savvy he showed in New Orleans also posed a slight challenge for CNN.
“The biggest challenge was, how do you take somebody who has just gotten a lot of [attention] for a very specific kind of coverage?” Mr. Safon said. “How do you take that and then position him in the marketplace with a new show that will deal with a whole broad range of issues?”
Apparently the combination of Mr. Cooper’s rising star and the ubiquitous images of him reporting some of the biggest stories of the last two years in a slew of locations did the trick. In May, both total viewership and audience numbers in the target 25 to 54-year-old demographic were up 53 percent from the same time last year, when Mr. Cooper helmed an hour-long broadcast.
“With Anderson it’s just as much about the newsgathering as it is about the news presentation,” Mr. Safon said. “I don’t think of him as an anchor, but as an outstanding reporter who really loves the news.”
Title: Senior VP, marketing and promotions, CNN Worldwide
How long in current position: Three years
Year of birth: 1960
Place of birth: Long Island, N.Y.
Who knew? Mr. Safon, who wears his hair in a ponytail, didn’t grow his hair long until he was 34 and his wife, expecting the couple’s first child, told him that she had always wondered what he would look like with a longer ‘do. “At this point, she’d probably just as soon have me cut it,” he said, “but it’s a signature.”
Title: director of marketing, CNN Domestic Networks
How long in current position: Two years
Year of birth: 1970
Place of birth: La Belle, Fla.
Who knew? Ms. Boardman plays with fire. As captain of the majorette squad in high school, she learned how to twirl double batons with flames on both ends. “There were some singed ponytails involved,” Ms. Boardman said. “Other than that, it was fine.”