Media planning is particularly challenging in the independent film biz, where an ever-growing field of competition makes locking in playdates difficult to do and standing out from the pack nearly impossible.
“If you’re selling soap, you know it’s going to be on the shelves for the next 52 weeks of the year, but we have to understand our clients’ slate and how comfortable they are with that slate staying where it is,” notes Bruce Dennler, prexy and COO of Santa Monica-based Palisades Media, which handles media planning and buying duties for a range of entertainment clients including IFC, Magnolia, Miramax, New Line and the Weinstein Co. In fact, last year, 60% of the agency’s $650 million in billings came from entertainment clients.
To get a better understanding of how indies approach the challenging task of media buying/planning, Variety recently chatted with Dennler as well as Palisades chairman and CEO Roger Schaffner and senior VP of national broadcast Geoff Robinson.
Despite the fact that a lot of huge non-entertainment brands like Procter & Gamble have been pulling their dollars out of the TV upfront for several years and putting them into the Internet and other emerging platforms, these Palisades officials make clear from the start that they’re still bullish on TV for their entertainment clients.
“There’s still no other way (a film) is going to get the kind of reach it needs outside of broadcast and cable TV,” Schaffner explains. “They don’t have 52 weeks to establish their brand. It’s still the only way you’re going to build awareness to an 85% level.”
So if the Procter & Gambles of the world are pulling out of the upfront, and the entertainment brands are staying in, that must mean the movie guys have a lot more leverage in TV negotiations these days, right?
“It’s true, non-entertainment companies are using a lot of different methods these days to reach their consumers — the Internet, mobile, a lot of viral marketing,” Robinson notes. “Movie studios can’t do that to the same degree, and that’s why their money isn’t being pulled out of the upfront as fast as packaged goods or other brands. But I don’t think the studios have more leverage because of this. The thing that keeps rates up is the erosion of the audience, which has kept (cost per impressions, or CPMs) scarce, and taken away any leverage that might have been had. It’s been kind of an artificial rate enhancer the last few years.”
That’s not to say that in the DVR era, agencies like Palisades aren’t demanding more during broadcast and cable negotiations.
“We’re exerting a lot more pressure on the networks these days for added value,” Schaffner says. “So, every dollar we spend, we get something from the networks. We’re now trying to integrate within their content when we can, for example.
“We’re trying to stretch those dollars, which becomes even more important when you’re talking about an indie movie with a $12 million budget opening against a studio film with a $30 million budget,” Schaffner adds.
But isn’t content integration difficult for films that might not hit the marketplace according to the original plan?
condedes. “We had one film that shifted (release dates) recently. We were able to move all of the media, but what couldn’t be moved was a daytime soap in which the characters talk about the movie. That looked kind of funny.”
So going into the upfront, are there any new programs in development that are creating agency buzz?
“It’s getting harder to predict what’s going to be a hit,” Robinson notes. “I remember hearing the first pitch for ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and rolling my eyes. Now look at it.”
“We’re using a lot of cable these days — that’s where our demos are going, particularly the younger ones,” Schaffner adds. “We’re buying very little broadcast prime. In fact, you take the growth of the Internet and mobile, and there’s so many niche places to reach our audience. That’s what complicates things for us.”