For Your Consideration
Not that long ago, I wrote about how I’m not really competitive. That is actually still very much true. However, every now and then there is an exception.
Within Entertainment, there are a few times of year when many of us become the #1 crush of studios, networks, etc. We get “personalized” notes, gifts ranging from screeners to branded items that clutter up your home or office, and access to special “events” or exclusive panels and content. Even free services like the past partnership between Netflix (pushing Santa Clarita Diet) and Drybar offering free blowouts. Targeted messages for shows that we possibly have never seen (sorry friends at Starz, I adore those of you that I know, but I haven’t watched a single episode of Outlander).
For Television Networks and Streaming Platforms, we happen to be at the time of year when a couple of those campaigns collide. The annual “For Your Consideration” or “FYC” Emmy’s campaigns as well as the forthcoming Upfronts that will reveal the new “Fall Line-Ups” and what makes it onto your televisions and mobile devices from the rumored show pilots that make up half the word count of industry watchdogs like Deadline.com this time of year.
The often joked about Los Angeles seasons are about to transition once more as we go from “Awards Season” to “Pilot Season” to “Festival Season”, “Concert Season”, “Premiere Season”, and back to “Awards Season” once more. All of it with the 2020-2021 pandemic lens, where things that felt important in the past no longer have the same urgency except for the die-hard fans and those involved in these industries.
As I also became the target of many of the FYC campaigns this year, my only thought was one of relief that I hadn’t agreed to take on any of these type of campaigns in such a strange time such as this. Marketers have their work cut out for them to try to cut through all of the digital noise--for months now, unless I’m a member of your organization or community or if I care about a cause enough, chances are I will not be joining your panels or any other digital experiences as there is a bit too much competing for my attention in this virtual world.
In the past, however, I’ve touched just about every FYC campaign during my time at CBS--working on making a creative splash into the world of potential voters taking the campaigns well beyond our standard levers of traditional out-of-home (OOH) advertising that include well-placed billboards, bus shelters, as well as digital advertising for both the eye and Showtime. Creating immersive experiences for shows that had larger budgets and network/studio support as I did during my AT&T days for our Audience Networks “Mr. Mercedes” Stephen King penned-show at Comic-Con. Many of them successful and all of them with it’s own unique spin on the standard FYC campaign.
This is a time when you get to see some of the creativity that is possible within the world of entertainment, as with the original Netflix FYSEE campaigns (now completely virtual and just like everything else, uneventfully focused on panels) or Amazon’s ” …Miss Maisel” Los Angeles activation that took you back to 1959—a clever non-FYC campaign to kick-off Season 2. At this moment however, with no in-person activations are possible, there is an over-dependence on digital platforms and targeting. Sure, it gets in front of the right audiences, but what is the actual engagement and conversion rate? As I mentioned, there is a lot of noise to compete with at this time as the digital space is really the only way to reach audiences at this moment and there are some serious blockers to getting the desired result.
If you’ve worked with me on these type of campaigns or any new launches, you know that I’m always wary of what I refer to as cannibalizing or bifurcating audiences. Mostly the cannibalization of your audience base as you typically target the same people (especially your super-users) with multiple offerings or content that stem from the same place. An example of this was when we were trying to decide if we wanted to market Carpool Karaoke w/James Corden separately from The Late Late Show w/James Corden after Apple came in as a sponsor and ultimate platform/home for that runaway hit that started off as our segment during the late night show. The over-saturation and cannibalization of audiences is a major issue for everyone, not just entertainment at this moment. I’d be curious to see what page views and engagement looked like year-over-year for many of the special FYC digital hubs (many of which I’ve conceptualized and brought to fruition, some of which have won their own awards) that are set live each year.
Back to the perhaps one time of year when I have become a bit more competitive in the past, Upfronts. If you’re familiar with Upfronts season (now also including Newfronts)--the time of year when networks announced their fall slate of shows, each network getting their own day to make their announcements in a roughly two-week period--then, you know that it is an exercise of hurry up and wait followed by going full throttle. As “potential” pilot pick-ups are announced, a network teases out anywhere from 10-20 potential shows that could make the cut, which right before the official announcements in May get finalized into anywhere from four to eight or more shows that will premiere in the fall and/or become mid-season replacements in Q1 of the following year.
The week before the announcement and the week after are the most crucial points in a marketing campaign for any network or studio and the team working on these is typically small and sworn to secrecy--on my end, for years I was part of a team of about five folks or so that would handle the full campaign, including the graphic designers executing both mine and the network’s vision, as I led the multi-platform/omnichannel (digital/social/search/ad) campaigns.
These campaigns are not for the faint of heart, but most especially not for those who can’t think quickly and make agile decisions--a couple of the reasons that I ended up taking over managing these type of campaigns in the past, my ability to juggle a lot and multi-task didn’t hurt either (as the rest of the usual workload doesn’t disappear just because it’s Upfronts time). The night before the announcement is the longest as that morning is typically when the final list of the greenlit shows is revealed and all of the assets are finalized, pulling all-nighters with your team is not the exception. If you happen to notice that a fair portion of my friends on social media actually happen to be former colleagues including: network publicists, producers, show writers/runners, designers, and others these campaigns greatly contributed to us forming such strong bonds with each other as they require a shorthand and level of trust that other campaigns do not always.
One of the biggest opportunities for a network at this time of announcing the new line-up is that of “audience acquisition”, adding entirely new audiences that they can possibly convert into fans of multiple shows not just the new show(s) or talent of those shows. There is also all of the people “traffic” that you can drive to your platforms--websites, video content, subscription platforms if you have them. This time is in actuality one of the biggest audience growth opportunities of the year--quite likely the largest.
This is where the competition comes in. Anyone involved in Audience Acquisition relies heavily on their “Search” campaigns, bidding on keywords across search engines (predominantly Google, but also Yahoo, Bing, etc.) year-round to keep content consumption at a high and search strategy is also key in this type of campaign. Over the years, I identified a member of our Audience Acquisition team, Chris, to work on this campaign with as he also possessed that agility and quick-thinking that I needed. He remains my collaborative partner during times when I need advice on a search campaign even though we’ve both since moved on from our roles at CBS. The first couple of years that I led this campaign it was business as usual, we’d allocate a budget (not as significant as you’d think) and develop our search and display campaign strategy. I’d get my recommendations approved and we’d turn on these levers. Mostly uneventful, but fairly successful and then things changed. A new wave of digital marketers came about, who didn’t always play fair.
By that second year and every year thereafter, we started noticing that when we googled our network’s standard terms as we worked on our strategy that other networks started surfacing, i.e. if you “googled” CBS Fall Shows, you were likely to find results that included paid search ads for “NBC Fall Upfronts” or “New Fox Shows”, meaning that these other networks were buying up our keywords to try to capture our audience. Becoming even more aggressive every year thereafter, with networks buying CBS’ show terms as well. This is now the norm, but it wasn’t then. So, I had to shift more budget to this lever and work with my audience acquisition team expert to focus on what would bring us the most return, this is where we really got to exercise some of that competitiveness, determined to have our network surface as the top result. My initial reaction was indignance, “how dare they?”, followed by annoyance, which later turned into amusement, and ultimately competitiveness as I was not ready to renounce the #1 Network title, I’d worked to get NBC to #1 status when I was there and had been able to do the same for CBS, even at a time when Netflix and Hulu were majorly coming into their own.
So, long story short, Chris and I went to “war” with these other networks coming out the victors each year completely eliminating them from search results while still maintaining a conservative budget spend, something we were proud of as we knew these other networks were spending large amounts of money on our search terms. It became a fun game for us to play in the middle of a stressful period. This was in the big picture such a small part of everything that I managed, but one of the biggest sources of audience builders for our new shows. I laugh now as I think about all of the elements and the highly different types of meetings that would make up my days during that time of year, which would go from meeting with the design leads to my newsletter designer to legal and network publicists to get clearance and/or content request approvals, to sometimes having to fly to NY to join in our event venue (typically Lincoln Center) walk-thru for post-announcement activations, meeting with talent to brief them on what my needs were from them, harassing our printers to make sure they’d have the collateral I’d need in time, to then driving our social and editorial strategy with those teams only offering information on the final shows on a need-to-know basis. Again, a lot to manage and oversee, but also something that becomes routine after you’ve done one or two.
These are all of the things, with the exception of the in-person, that are happening now for some and soon for others behind-the-scenes at your favorite networks as the changing of seasons takes place. It should give you a new appreciation for all of those targeted ads and inbox messages that you so easily dismiss—don’t worry, I do it too (if I’m honest, I actually don’t watch much television and these days very little network television).
It’ll be interesting to see how marketers, digital strategists, and content producers evolve these type of campaigns as audiences continue to explore their options, requiring a longer or more invested courtship period before being asked to go steady or commit. Especially when millennials and Gen Zers become the target audience, in the not-so-distant future. At this very moment in time, those of us behind-the-scenes are in charge of defining what’s next at a very volatile time for both the industry and audiences and I look forward to seeing what sticks as I continue to look very little towards the past, but pay attention to the present to define the future.