9 Simple Rules for Creating a Competitive Emmy Campaign (Guest Column)

Emmys Emmy Awards Placeholder
Courtesy of ABC/Image Group LA

Emmy campaign season is here — and with the TV landscape more crowded than ever, the odds of getting your deserving project noticed among the proliferation of innovative programs that are telecast, narrowcast, streamed, clicked on or downloaded may seem about as likely as Kanye discovering humility or the Lakers making the playoffs — especially if you are a new network or streaming service and are just getting into the game.

The reality is that it’s already April — the clock is ticking, and we are in the fourth quarter. But don’t despair: You can still mount a successful Emmy campaign if you are willing to spend some money and some creative energy — and if you are committed to being strategic.

I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years now, since I worked with my colleagues at HBO in 1990 on what has come to be recognized as the very first Emmy campaign — and along the way, I’ve come up with a few simple rules for creating an effective Emmy awards strategy. For what it’s worth (which actually could be a gold winged statuette), here’s what I’ve learned: 

  • First of all, take a look at your budget. I’d be dealing in “alternative facts” if I didn’t say that Emmy campaigns are expensive. But it is money well-spent. There’s rarely a better time or way to generate attention for your programming and brand your network. This not only has the potential to lead to awards, but it will make your programmers and executives happy as they look to attract talent to the network/company for future projects. Remember that back in the day, FX took their inaugural aim at Emmy with ‘The Shield,” USA with “Monk,” Netflix with “House of Cards” — all making it into the winners circle, solidifying their brands — and rendering the broadcast networks and Emmy champ HBO nervous wrecks.
  • Strategize the categories where you choose to submit your shows and talent. Keep in mind not just where they are eligible, but in which categories they have the best chance of being nominated and winning. This year the Television Academy has created 10 new categories including the burgeoning Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within a Scripted/Unscripted Program, so there are more options to choose from.
  • Identify the programming you’re planning to campaign for. Be selective and judicious (keep in mind bullet point #1). Not only does it cost money and energy to promote each show, this is a situation where you actually benefit from having fewer eggs in your basket. You can’t afford to treat all your children equally; you need to take your best shots. By focusing on your premier programming, you elevate the status of the shows and communicate to Academy members that you believe you have some serious contenders.
  • Target ad space online and in print publications and put a hold on it now! This is extremely important. Even if you don’t have the campaign design approved, you need to lock up the space. The premium positions may already be gone, but digital advertising offers a multitude of opportunities. It is important to act fast — and to prioritize working with a designer to get your creative approved and ready as soon as possible.
  • Design your mailer now: something simple that makes an impact, but can be produced inexpensively and fast. Remember, it’s April. The goal is to get the 20,000 Television Academy members to watch your shows before they have 50 mailers staring at them at the end of May. That’s the first step if they’re ever going to consider them for the gold.
  • Schedule screenings — but be strategic. My thinking has changed about screenings over the years, especially since there are so many digital opportunities for Academy members to view your programming. Again, I refer you to the first bullet point: budget, budget, budget. Think about the ROI involved with screenings, and if you decide to go ahead, you will want to create an event — with talent in attendance or a panel following — that will garner publicity so you get enough bang for your buck. 
  • Create an Emmy Award microsite with password protection exclusively for voters or post your shows on the Academy’s official website. The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for Academy members to view your programming. The simpler, the better. If they can watch in their pajamas — or at 2 a.m. when they have insomnia — you’re probably going to get a better response than if they have to get dressed up and go to a screening. The goal: Get voters to watch the unfamiliar. 
  • Update social media in support of the campaign. Be sure your shows’ Facebook pages are current and use Instagram to post compelling images from the shows or screening events. Have your talent tweet about the show, any screenings and the Emmys in general.
  • Media outreach: Identify the reporters/editors who are responsible for assigning awards-related stories (print and online) and research the kind of feature ideas which appeal to them. DOA ALERT: Do not send the press a list of your clients or shows in the hope that they will cherry pick for you. You need to do the work here – this is PR 101. Take the time to craft a compelling pitch. And here is a little secret:  be magnanimous.  Awards editors have a limited window and space, so they are looking for smart stories that might feature your client or show — but in most cases, that include your potential competition as well. So you will have more success if your pitch is inclusive or identifies a trend; for example, screenwriters who adapted their own novels for television is likely to meet with a better response than a pitch on any one individual writer.  

None of this is rocket science, but you might be surprised how a well-designed, comprehensive Emmy strategy can become a Fast Pass to the Emmy podium. Having a good plan today is preferable to having a perfect plan tomorrow. So stop reading and dive in. Did I mention it’s April? Ballots go online June 12-26. It’s now or never.

Richard Licata is an awards consultant and CEO of Licata & Company, a strategic marketing-communications agency.