George Schweitzer has enjoyed a broad career out of a very narrow practice. He finds new ways to get people to watch more TV.
Those methods can range wide. He once tucked a paper-thin interactive video player into the pages of Entertainment Weekly so readers could sample new CBS shows. He got supermarkets to use a technology known as “Visual Ice” that would fog up freezer doors in supermarkets with tune-in information about a new CBS drama, “Moonlight.”He had logos from CBS shows laser-encoded on more than 35 million eggs to promote the network’s 2006-07 season. He did something similar the following year with wrappers tucked around turkey and ham at supermarket-deli counters. He had a hand in getting David Letterman and Jay Leno to sit down for a promo during CBS’ 2010 broadcast of the Super Bowl that made jaws drop.
Now Schweitzer is testing one more trick: orchestrating a departure. Mike Benson will succeed Schweitzer as the head of marketing at CBS, a transition that will see Schweitzer, who has been with CBS since 1972, take on the role of chairman of marketing at CBS and transition in the Spring into an adviser to the company.
Benson, also a veteran of the TV-marketing game, will take on more direct oversight of the business of promoting the network’s programming and defining its brand to millions of viewers in an increasingly complex era for the TV sector. Getting consumers to sample new series has always been tricky. TV executives will tell you that more than three-quarters of new programs fail. Add to that a new array of streaming-video services – and the already present panoply of cable programming – that have lured viewers away from broadcast-network fare, which has been most dependent on day-and-date viewing. The task of driving tune-in has become much more difficult.
For decades, TV executives largely relied on their own “promos” to drive viewers to all kinds of new programming. These little promotional snippets, tucked handily into commercial breaks, would alert viewers to the plot of a drama on Monday night; the debut of a new comedy; or even highlight a “very special episode.” As more people skip past ads with DVR playback or ignore them altogether via subscription services or binge-viewing, however, the people who work to get tune in have had to entertain other methods, like guerrilla marketing and pitches that take place on city sidewalks or favorite stores.
Benson, no stranger to the dynamic, will join CBS in October after working as head of marketing for Amazon Studios since 2015. A veteran of ABC, Benson has been among the pioneers using the Super Bowl to launch new streaming-video premieres, including the debuts of Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” and “Hanna.” He has also served as chief creative officer of the Time Warner Global Media Group and executive vice president of marketing for the ABC Entertainment Group, where he helped draw attention to series ranging from “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” to “Modern Family” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“I’m extremely grateful that when George decided it was time to set a transition, he committed himself to ensuring a bright future for CBS Marketing, and we think we’ve found the next perfect leader with Mike, whose breadth of experience matches all parts of our content business,” said David Nevins, chief creative officer of CBS Corp., to whom both executives will report, in a prepared statement. Benson will oversee advertising, promotion, creative, experiential marketing and events across CBS Entertainment, CBS News and CBS Sports, and work closely with CBS Television Studios, CBS All Access, CBS Interactive, CBS Television Stations and the CBS Global Distribution Group to coordinate branding and marketing efforts.
Like Schweitzer, Benson has an arsenal full of marketing maneuvers. At ABC, his team placed tune-in notices on dry-cleaning bags for “Housewives,” had people dress up as stars in public venues for “Dancing with the Stars,” and designed an online experience for “Lost” that used alliances with advertisers like Verizon Wireless and Coca-Cola’s Sprite.
Benson started his career at CBS working in various positions at WCCO in Minneapolis, and later served as director of communications for KCBS in Los Angeles. Later, he worked as a senior vice president of promotion and program planning at VH1 and MTV Networks.
Schweitzer has supervised marketing for CBS since 1994. He first joined CBS in 1972 and held several positions in radio and television production, including a stint as a producer of the venerable kids’ show “Captain Kangaroo.” In 1979, he was promoted to director, communications, CBS/Broadcast Group, and then vice president, of communications and operations, CBS Sports, in 1980. In 1982, he was named vice president, communications and information, CBS/Broadcast Group, overseeing publicity and media relations. He joined the advertising agency Young & Rubicam in 1987, as a vice president and director of corporate relations. He returned to CBS in August 1988 as senior vice president of communications, and was then promoted to senior vice president of marketing and communications in October 1991. He was named president of the CBS Marketing Group in December 2004.