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ESPN Hopes to Spike Digital Rivals With New Ad Effort

ESPN’s newest game is convincing advertisers to spend more of their dollars on its programs.

The Walt Disney sports-media juggernaut on Monday launches a very targeted ad campaign aimed at getting the word out about its advertising offering. Many ads will position ESPN as a safer environment than that provided by newer digital outlets. “When it comes time to measure up / We rely on third-party validation,” reads one. “Transparency and accountability / Demand it / We do,” reads another.

“We want to be clear about what we can do to drive performance for our clients,” said Cindy Freed, vice president of sales communications at ESPN, in an interview.

ESPN makes its pitch as the digital-media sector starts a series of “NewFront” pitches to Madison Avenue and as the TV industry’s annual “upfront” marketplace looms, when TV networks bid to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. Many of the networks will make the pitch that they are safer and more reliable than major digital outlets, which have suffered setbacks in recent months, including unsavory content on YouTube and measurement hiccups on Facebook

In some cases, ESPN will run outdoor signs on kiosks outside the New York headquarters of large media buyers such as Interpublic Group’s Magna; WPP’s GroupM; and Publicis Groupe’s Mediavest. The network will also run commercials on screens in the elevators of office building that house the ad-buying shops.

ESPN heads into the annual haggle under more scrutiny than is the norm. The company recently disclosed it will party ways with approximately 100 content staffers, citing a desire to focus more expressly on a reworked “SportsCenter lineup” and digital video associated with its personalities.

The ads, which will run through mid-June, will also appear in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, LinkedIn, Sports Business Journal, Advertising Age and Variety.

Some of the commercials will seek to prod viewers to a microsite, where they can get more information about what ESPN might do for clients.

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