By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
“Our electronic media is ushering in a new era more life changing than any before it.” Those words on the Promax&BDA Web site delineate the group’s annual conference in New York, which kicks off Tuesday.
That one sentence underscores the importance of this year’s get-together in terms of the future of broadcast media marketing. The promotion and marketing professionals gathering will, as usual, recognize achievement with awards, including the Campaigns of Distinction honors, and be entertained by guest speakers including poet Maya Angelou and MSNBC news pro Chris Matthews. But the forums and discussion groups are where the keys to the future of the industry may lie.
“We have a hundred different speakers who are going to do 70 different sessions over 2½ days, and who knows what kind of a song that chorus will sing? I don’t know what they’re going to say, and many of them don’t know what insights they’re going to reveal until they’re onstage,” said Jim Chabin, CEO of Promax&BDA.
“It is one part live theater and one part conference, and our numbers have continually paced over last year, and last year was over the year before. We are in the fourth year of growth for attendance. It’s not that people have money to throw around or fat times are here again, but I do think there are so many things to talk about for marketers.”
The conference will specifically address the future of broadcast media marketing on Wednesday with a session called “Outlook 2006,” which will tackle the subject from myriad angles.
For starters, there will be an analysis of the millennial generation-children born in the decades before and after the turn of the century who will become the largest generation since the baby boomers.
“These kids do not think of television as something you sit down and watch for an hour,” Mr. Chabin said. “They’ve got their cellphones going, they’re text-messaging, they’re on the Net, they have iPods, and to them television is just another platform. It’s one of the various things they consume. The multiplatform discussion is a framework for the whole conference.”
Marketing pros in the conference are planning to talk about what that audience will want, what sponsors will expect, management’s desires, and, finally, which tools are going to help pros communicate across these platforms.
The high points of the conference each year are the awards presentations. “The stories that we tell through the Campaigns of Distinction aren’t headline news. But you look at them and say, ‘Ahh, look at what they’re doing. This is important stuff; it’s really cool,'” Mr. Chabin said. “It’s one of our favorite projects every year because we get a chance to acknowledge something that professionals recognize but will probably never be covered in The New York Times. These are very interesting things that these people have done, and they deserve a pat on the back.”
Ten Campaigns of Distinction will be recognized in an invitation-only ceremony Wednesday evening at the Marriott Marquis.
Among the campaigns being cited are four created for broadcast network TV shows.
ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” earned the honor for a Super Bowl initiative marketers created. They used the annual gridiron championship, a guaranteed Nielsen chart-topper, to launch a character-oriented campaign that hooked new viewers and has resulted in “Grey’s Anatomy’s” surge to the top of the ratings.
“The Unit,” CBS’s top new drama, won the award for a marketing plan that overcame a unique challenge: how to convince viewers to watch a show about a special forces unit in the U.S. Army, when polls show a country weary of the war in Iraq and turned off to the nightly news coverage. CBS’s campaign made use of star Dennis Haysbert’s resonant voice more than the combat situation to draw interest in the characters and their lives.
Having “American Idol” as a lead-in gave “House” an instant advantage, but the marketing pros at Fox conceived a summer-long promotion-when “Idol” was on hiatus-called “The World According to House,” which gave viewers a chance to meet the unforgettable title character, the irascible, cantankerous Dr. Gregory House. Their efforts have helped to make “House” a ratings winner.
“My Name Is Earl” was NBC’s breakout comedy hit, and the simple, direct marketing campaign made an immediate impression with viewers. With Jason Lee as good ol’ boy Earl talking to viewers about how he has to redeem himself in order to beat karma, the NBC initiative worked. “Earl” defied the predictions that it would be the first show canceled in 2005; it’s now one of NBC’s “must-see” comedies.
Plans That Worked
Also cited with Campaigns of Distinction honors were several launched for popular cable networks. Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” marketers elevated the perception of the show beyond the science-fiction genre by emphasizing the suspense and thriller elements of the series; CNN successfully launched “Anderson Cooper 360,” a two-hour news broadcast that took Mr. Cooper directly from the field reporting of Hurricane Katrina into the studio and behind an anchor desk; and Oxygen Network’s “Campus Ladies” was the network’s top-rated new series premiere using a campaign that targeted women across the board.
Two networks’ efforts to harness new technologies round out the Campaigns of Distinction winners. BET Mobile marketers employed cellphone ringtones, ringtone downloads, 30-second promos and unique graphics to boost viewer interest in its programming, while Hi-Def Voom, part of Dish Network, appealed especially to consumers who have high-definition sets but were searching for more hi-def programs. Voom addressed that audience with a campaign that served up 24/7 program choices in HD.
Last, Cingular and Fox Mobile Entertainment teamed for an effort that made song snippets from “American Idol” performances available the next morning as cellphone ringtones.
In addition to the Campaigns of Distinctions, which are presented in conjunction with TelevisionWeek, Promax&BDA will give out the third annual TV Century Awards. Mr. Chabin said he has big plans for this year’s honorees. “I just got off the phone with Larry King’s people, and he and Mike Wallace are such good friends that we are actually going to have Mike come out stage left and Larry is going to come out on stage right. The idea of having Mike Wallace and Larry King sitting and talking together-not on TV, just in front of a group of TV kids who worship the ground they walk on. I just think it’s going to be one of those moments.”