Marketing mavens hit Promax

More than 6,800 expected for confab

Blurb-meisters are gathering in Toronto this week for Promax, the TV industry’s annual marketing confab.

The June 17-20 tradeshow is expected to draw more than 6,800 local and national TV and radio promotion execs for a series of individual program workshops, seminars and speeches, schmooze parties and a private concert by soul diva Aretha Franklin. The keynote speaker for the 43rd annual confab is MTV Networks topper Tom Freston, the brain behind the resonant “I want my MTV!” ad campaign of the early 1980s.

Most of the activity at Promax is generated by the workshops conducted for new and returning syndie skeins. Among the high-profile firstrun syndie rookies set to unveil marketing plans at the show are King World’s “Hollywood Squares” and “The Roseanne Show”; Paramount’s “The Howie Mandel Show”; Columbia TriStar’s “Donny & Marie”; and the Pamela Anderson starrer “V.I.P.”

Twentieth TV is looking to pump up “The Magic Hour” and “Forgive or Forget.” Studios USA will give the first glimpse of “The New Maury Povich Show” as the veteran talker segues from longtime distrib Paramount to Studios USA this fall.

The goal of the syndie distribs attending Promax is to get the local affiliate promo directors excited about the new fall offerings — many of which will be gone by Christmas.

Even off-network syndie bows get the royal treatment at Promax. For Warner Bros., this fall marks the preem of its biggest network comedy hit in more than a decade: “Friends.” In return for the big bucks TV stations around the country are laying out as of September to air daily doses of the NBC sitcom, Warner Bros. TV promo czar Jim Moloshok is determined to give them one humdinger of a promotional campaign.

He’s been working on the $75 million ad blitz for more than a year. Moloshok has mapped out a pre-pre-launch tease campaign that some stations will start this month, and there’ll be a different tack for the late summer, pre-launch “awareness” campaign.

The 100-plus stations in the “Friends” syndie network received their first piece of sales ammo from Warner Bros. TV last September.

“There isn’t any advertising venue where this show won’t have exposure,” said Moloshok, senior VP of corporate marketing and advertising for Warner Bros.

“Throughout this whole process, (WB Domestic TV Distribution prexy) Dick Robertson has kept saying to me, ‘Whatever we need to spend to do this right and make it work, we’ll spend.’ We owe it to our station partners.”

A perennial theme of the Promax confab is how to do more with less, as promo directors say they’re always fighting the sales department for every available second of non-program airtime. Complicating the picture this year is the decision by a number of high-profile syndie startups to opt for off-season starts in the summer months to avoid the cascade of series premiering in the fall.

Two years ago, Warner Bros.’ “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” hit the ground running by premiering in early June, while most of its daytime competitors were in reruns.

For promo directors, however, the upshot of summer launches for 1998 freshman strips like “The Magic Hour” and “The Howie Mandel Show” is a shorter window of opportunity for building awareness and word-of-mouth on a new show.

Because those premiere dates come on the heels of the all-important May sweeps, local promo directors say they have a tough fight for every second of available blurb time for post-sweep programming.

“Normally with a new syndicated show we’d propose a six- to eight-week (promo) rollout campaign,” said Phil Large, prexy of marketing firm Another Large Prods., whose current client list includes Fox’s Twentieth TV, CBS’ Eyemark Entertainment and Pearson All American among other major distribs.

“Now, with premieres coming so close to the end of the May book, we’re lucky if we get two to three weeks for a rollout,” said Large. “With that kind of time, we go for the quality and not the quantity of spots. What we’re seeing now is that the summer, for syndication, is becoming like a mini-fall.”

Branding is another buzzword that Promax attendees treat as gospel. But the importance of developing a cohesive image for a network or TV station can’t be overstated in today’s fragmented TV landscape.

“Branding is a synonym for the relationship a station or network has with its audience,” said Billy Pittard, CEO and founder of Pittard Sullivan, one of Hollywood’s leading TV marketers.

“We always hear promotion directors lament the diminishing avails (for promotional spots) at Promax,” Pittard said. “But the really smart broadcasters know that branding is a long-term investment that truly does have a payoff.”

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