Turner Trying New Upfront Approach

Jan 22, 2007  •  Post A Comment

No more Sting. The Eagles have flown the coop.

Rather than have ad buyers and clients listen to live music acts, Turner Broadcasting wants to talk to its clients and hear what they have to say about integrated marketing, product placement and all that jazz.

To do that, Turner is replacing its elaborate annual upfront presentation and party with a series of what it calls “Programming Development Summits” in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta. And it’s scheduling them earlier than its usual presentation, with the first one in New York scheduled for March 13 at the Museum of Modern Art.

Turner is changing its approach because the advertising market is evolving. More business is being done outside of the short upfront sales window in May and June. And buying decisions have become more complicated than picking shows and buying 30-second spots.

“There’s going to be more interaction and dialog with the clients regarding all of our content [and] our platforms, including TBS, TNT and now Court TV and all the digital extensions,” said David Levy, president of Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing and president of Turner Sports.

The upfront presentation season for cable starts with Oxygen this week in New York. Turner’s traditional event in April had been one of the latest cable network upfronts, just before the broadcast networks put on their presentations in May.

Mr. Levy wants advertisers engaged at the meetings, where he expects the Tuner networks to announce which new shows will be in the lineup, which shows in development have been greenlighted and which programs have been acquired. “There’s so much to tell and we don’t want to wait till April to do that,” he said.

“Clients have been vocal that it’s about so much more than just a party in May,” said Linda Yaccarino, executive VP of Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing.

While the upfront has increasingly become a price negotiation, Turner executives said they’re spending more time in complex conversations about deals that involve product placement, digital extensions and other non-traditional approaches marketers want to make their ad dollars work harder.

With projects such as “Lovebites,” a sitcom with 21/2-minute episodes sponsored by Unilever, or Match.com’s integrated sponsorship of TBS’s new sitcom “My Boys,” “Those conversations happened very much independently of the upfront and we thought that it was much better, more intelligent time spent to talk about what we have in development and what’s important to them,” Ms. Yaccarino said. “It’s about their feedback, what’s important to them, and as our marketing partners, how can the Turner networks help move product off the shelves or out of the showroom.”

Some senior ad buyers say not much gets accomplished at the glitzy upfront bashes.

The changes Turner is making are “probably a smart thing to do from a logistical standpoint,” said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for ad buyer GroupM. “When a lot of these presentations are clustered, like they generally are, it’s very, very hard for not only the advertising community but the advertising client community to basically make the time commitments.”

Mr. Scanzoni agreed that the market has become one of year-round discussions and negotiations. “It’s not a business where the bell goes off in April and the gun for the finish line goes off in June,” he said. “Those days are clearly behind us.”

Turner has also changed the way its entertainment sales team is structured. It is assigning specific members of its research, marketing, promotion and strategic planning staffs to the account executives working with clients from a particular agency.

The new approach should allow the agency to become familiar with more members of the Turner team, enabling the agency to discuss more of the client’s marketing issues.

“We have flattened our organization to have a SWAT team of experts from different disciplines calling on our clients,” Ms. Yaccarino said

While renting out the Theater at Madison Square Garden and hiring the rock band the Eagles, as Turner has done in the past, is expensive, Mr. Levy said cost-cutting was not the motivation for the move. Holding meetings in all of the top markets will still be costly. On-screen and behind-the-scenes talent will be at those meetings, which will be relatively small, with 300 buyers, planners and clients per meeting. Morning and afternoon meetings will be held in New York to keep them small enough to encourage conversation.

And they won’t be Spartan. Some breakfast will be served at the early meetings and cocktails after the afternoon meetings.

Mr. Levy expects that other networks will emulate what Turner is doing.

“We always try to be leaders and innovators in this business,” he said. “There are so many messages we need to discuss and go through that to do it in a one-way communication with just talking heads isn’t probably the appropriate way anymore.”