ABC marketing co-chief Mike Benson is out after 12 years at the network.
Benson’s exit comes as new ABC Entertainment prexy Paul Lee looks to make his first mark at the network.
“At this point in our progress, my priority is our marketing effort, specifically taking it in a new direction,” Lee wrote in a memo to staffers. “Effective immediately, and for the foreseeable future, I will take a more active role in overseeing the strategic direction of the group.”
Timing of the news — just a week before the fall launch — took the industry by surprise, but observers speculated that Lee — who helped rebrand ABC Family, and before that, launched BBC America in the U.S. — saw the area as the most in need of a boost.
“It’s shocking that this moment in time they would jettison someone so senior,” one rival said.
Marketing shakeup comes as rivals confirmed that awareness and intent-to-view tracking on ABC’s new shows is lower than the other nets. Some of that can be blamed on the sheer number of new series that the Alphabet is launching this fall.
“They’re having some tough sledding, but they’ve got quite a bit of product,” one exec said.
But ABC has also taken knocks for the campaigns behind its two series priorities, “No Ordinary Family” and “My Generation.”
The concept behind “My Generation,” which fast forwards between 2010 and 2000, has been a challenge to pull off in ads, while the “No Ordinary Family” campaign, which has emphasized comic book themes and downplayed star Michael Chiklis, has been criticized.
With Benson departing, Lee will also rely on Marla Provencio, who shared the title of exec VP of marketing with Benson, to keep the department running.
Don’t expect to see an immediate shift in ABC’s marketing; most of its fall campaign was locked in months ago, even under the oversight of ex-ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson. But Lee’s first imprint on ABC will be seen in marketing before he gets a chance to make a mark in programming.
“You can move a lot quicker in marketing,” one exec said.
As for Benson, the exec is well-respected in the marketing world and has earned high marks over the years for ABC’s campaigns behind shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Lost” and last season’s “Modern Family.”
“He’s done some great stuff,” one rival said. “It’s very easy for the industry to point out a campaign or two as a reason to jettison someone like Mike. But he had a good run. He’s a survivor, when you think about the number of regime changes he survived through.”
Benson had headed marketing for the net with Provencio for the past three and a half years. His exit follows the shuffle at the top last month when McPherson was replaced by Lee. Earlier this week, longtime ABC News head David Westin announced his resignation.
An ABC rep said that Benson would stick around for a transition period through the immediate fall launch period.
Benson has been with ABC for a dozen years , signing on in June 1998 as senior veep of advertising and promotion.
Before joining ABC, Benson worked in promotion and program planning for MTV and VH1. He also held various exec posts at CBS O&Os in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.