NBCU Upfront to Focus on Reach, Flexibility

NBC’s upfront pitch this year will hinge on convincing advertisers that buying the network in conjunction with other elements in the NBCU media portfolio can help them reach nine out of 10 U.S. residents in a given month or to target consumers more specifically based on lifestyles and interests.

To highlight that message, Michael Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBCU and Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, who also leads NBCU’s Women@NBCU, Healthy@NBCU and the Green is Universal initiative, hosted a pre-upfront marketing lunch and panel discussion today to tout their Integrated Sales Marketing program.

“NBCU’s media profile is greater in sum than it is in individual parts,” Pilot told media buyers in attendance. “We have a portfolio that is unique in composition, in size, scope and diversity.” Added Zalaznick: “The more we can sell NBC Universal, the more its individual media brands will benefit.”

In addition to this pre-upfront presentation to media buyers, NBC is returning to the traditional upfront week May 17-20 this year. For the past two years, NBC held an “infront” presentation with buyers to show them their new fall programming a full month before its other broadcast network rivals.

While NBC will pursue traditional one network advertising deals with media agencies, Pilot said the ISM program “will be marketed by us in this upfront like never before.” In essence, the initiative offers advertisers “targeted reach,” as well as brand/product tie-ins with NBCU assets, including specific networks, shows and talent.

Pilot said advertisers can choose to be in one of three environments — Women@NBCU, Green is Universal and Healthy at NBCU “or can create their own custom marketing solution using the various pieces of the entire NBCU portfolio that best targets their audience.”

Along with the ISM push, NBCU also announced a new slate of Green @ NBCU and Healthy @ NBCU projects. Among the eco-themed programs in the work is Harmony, a documentary about the global environmental crisis developed in conjunction with Charles, Prince of Wales. The special will air on NBC this November.

On the first day of summer (June 21), NBCU will launch Healthy Week across the breadth of its TV properties, including the broadcast net and cable channels like USA, Bravo, Oxygen, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC. The themed programming will be sold as part of the 2010 upfront, and already General Mills has signed on as lead sponsor of the week.

The ISM program “requires a relationship both in and out of the traditional buying cycle,” Pilot said. “Some of these deals can be initiated during the upfront, some of them can be initiated during the course of the year and finalized during the upfront. We’ve already done six such deals this year so far.”

The panel was hosted by Donny Deutsch, former host of CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and chairman of the media agency bearing his name. Panelists included Peggy Green, vice chairman of media agency Zenith; Seth Greenberg, director of national media and digital marketing for TurboTax; and Nancy Smith, vp, global media, custom & community, American Express.

Both TurboTax and American Express have written ISM deals with NBCU.

Rounding out the panel was Christopher Vollmer, partner at Booz & Company, who oversees the firm’s global media and entertainment team.

The integrated sales marketing approach began to take shape about two years ago, but has  steadily evolved and picked up steam over the past year.

In January, TurboTax began a two-month campaign spanning six NBCU nets and various online properties. The creative linked popular NBCU programs and talent to Turbo Tax in a series of integrated custom spots that highlighted the company’s tax preparation software.

The spots aired in commercial pods during the shows in which the talent appear and each pod contained multiple TurboTax spots airing back-to-back with a promo driving  viewers to a corresponding show Web site for more video and information.

In one spot, Ken Jeong of the NBC sitcom Community appears doing his taxes in the middle of a deductible business lunch with show cast mate Jim Rash.

In another, the cast of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters search for tax advice while on a ghost hunt. This marked the second straight year TurboTax has partnered with NBCU on an expansive run-up to Tax Day.

American Express partnered with NBCU to create the “Shine a Light” program, which invited the public to help celebrate local business. As part of the program, viewers were asked to nominate small businesses and relate why they were worthy of recognition. Three people whose nominees made it as finalists received $3,000 Amex gift cards and the winning business won a $100,000 marketing grant from the credit card company.

The nominations were vetted by NBCU and Amex and judged by talk show host
Ellen DeGeneres, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, and J.J. Ramberg, host of Your Business on MSNBC. Voters made their selections via a special miscrosite developed and hosted by NBCU’s iVillage, and the winning business was featured in a segment of Ramberg’s show.

To promote the Shine a Light program, NBCU created a series of custom videos that aired on multiple NBCU networks and online properties. The spots featured familiar faces like Bravo’s Tom Collichio and S. Epatha Merkerson from NBC’s Law & Order.

“We wanted to come up with a different model that would bring more aspects to the table than just traditional 30-second spots,” Amex’s Smith said. “We developed a TV message, but we also wanted to do a consumer engagement program, and NBCU…made their on-air talent available and built a special site on iVillage. It was a true partnership.”

Pilot said the integrated marketing program has also been successful for advertisers who want to reach specific types of consumers with their messages, specifically women, consumers who are environmentally conscious, and those who are concerned about health and wellness.

The ISM unit, a team of marketers within the sales organization, headed by svp Maryam Banikarim, helps create and facilitate these custom executions by talking with the clients’ own marketers. Also part of the NBCU sales organization is the custom content unit headed by Barbara Blangiardi , which helps write, produce and executive these custom deals.

“As marketers ourselves, we are able to put ourselves in the clients shoes,” said  Banikarim, who joined NBCU from Univision, where she was CMO, and now oversees a staff of about 10 who are dedicated to putting the integrated  programs together.

In addition to integrated deals with TurboTax and Amex, other ISM deals have been done with General Mills, Kodak and WalMart, to name a few.

In support of these pacts, Zalaznick said research reports are also run toprovide clients with richer information about consumers and help them besttarget their integrations. She cited a study done last winter in partnership with Simmons that examined the spending patterns of consumers during the recession. She said it enabled NBCU to help advertisers better focus in on the consumers who were stillspending in the down economy and might buy their specific products, and then showed them how those consumers could be reached using the NBCU ISM program.

Zalaznick said all the individual network and brand silohs within  NBCU have been dismantled and sales and marketing and all the networks are workingtogether on this. “It is a  platform agnostic, network agnostic program,” Zalaznick said. “The more you can sell NBCU as a  whole, the more the individual networks will benefit.”

Pilot said under the  ISM initiative, and in the upcoming upfront, NBC will position itself as more of  a marketing services partner to the media agencies than simply a seller of media  time.

“Of course that’s not what every advertiser is looking for, but for those that are, we will be able to meet their  needs.” Pilot said NBC is getting cooperation from many of its show producers  and show talent to make integrations work.”

In terms of NBC’s ratings woes and scheduling missteps, Pilot said being fourth in prime-time for the past several years is not the reason why the ISM program was created, but that struggle to find its footing has pushed the program along quicker.

“We’ve  had to work harder and accelerate the process,” he said, adding that “NBC prime time is just a small chunk of the overall NBCU business.”

So far, media buyers are giving NBC and NBCU solid marks for their  efforts.

“They are innovative and they are working hard to bring solutions to their clients in new and different ways, and the advertising community notices it,” said Jackie Kulesza, senior vp and
broadcast  activation director at Starcom.

Louis Roloff, vp and group director of video investment and activation at MediaVest said advertisers need as many options as possible and are looking for new ways to activate their messaging beyond prime time and on wide variety of platforms not only in prime time but in other dayparts and platforms.

“An advertiser who might be inclined to pass on NBC” because of its softer prime-time rating “might be willing to say yes to NBC” if innovative ways to  advertise on the network or related platforms are part of the negotiation, said Roloff.