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Broadcast On–Air Promotion; Who should lead? Marketing or Programming

Whether we are working with broadcasters that are international or domestic, commercial or public service, big or small we tend to find that there is inevitably a common obstacle that constrains the effectiveness and efficiency of a broadcaster’s own on-air marketing; that of, who leads and controls which programmes and services are promoted on their own airwaves and how it is done?

In many cases we find that there is little understanding of the true value of on-air broadcast promotion. With most TV (and radio) networks allowing for promotional breaks in the centres or at the end of their programming, this together with the general understanding of the huge volume of revenue that the advertising market generates, it is plain to see that the value of promotion runs to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds, euros or dollars, depending upon the size of the broadcaster and the market it broadcasts to. Whilst working as Head of Media Planning at the BBC in London prior to JWM, one media agency head estimated that the BBC’s own promotional airtime across its various UK outlets, if valued at commercial advertising rates was worth over £1billion per annum. This highlighted one often overlooked fact, that broadcasters usually have the resource to be significant marketers in each nation. Where this falls down though, is that unlike in the advertising world where each client’s cent is (hopefully) painstakingly planned and meticulously bought, promotion time is often used without the rigour of sound media planning basics and process. This is probably due to the fact that there is no actual cash transaction involved.

This lack of corporate recognition with regard to the value of its own promotional resource often leads to ill-discipline in its use, a lack of decision making and too often compromise. This situation leads to not just inconsistencies in marketing strategy but also to great wastage. JWM have experienced this with many broadcasters in many different markets. The main reason for such activity is usually one of the following:

  • There has been none or little presence of marketing roles within a broadcaster when it comes to on-air promotion. If marketing does exist it tends to concentrate on brand identity and paid for advertising.

  • Broadcasters have grown organically over time without a centralised strategy. This has resulted in ‘silo-ed’ concerns within the company where protectionism or compromise is evident and where portfolio utilisation is never employed. This is a picture that we find is too frequently displayed amongst many public service broadcasters.

  • Where the ‘content’ units have a considerable balance of power in their favour compared to any marketing areas that may exist within the company. This influence can be asserted from not just the channel management but can also extend to individual programme producers and even programme talent!

Whilst the first two points are significant issues, focus is more structural and could probably be left for another JWM opinion piece. They will be touched on however when I concentrate on the third point – Which part of the business should actually dictate what gets promoted on screen?

There are obviously strong arguments that could be put forward to support either side in this area. Content producers, Commissioners and Channel Controllers can all claim that it is their vision being translated to the screen for the viewing public. It is perhaps, they who have taken the risk as to what to spend the company’s money on and as we have seen in many cases it is they who often suffer the consequences of channel under performance. Whilst one can obviously respect this view and be sympathetic towards their situation, in our experience such people’s knowledge of the complexities of marketing and the principles of media planning are and nor should be expected to be proficient in order to dictate the marketing budget (which on-air promotion is) of their network or the wider portfolio. Their talents are best served in the creative roles that they occupy.

One common myth that we often try to correct is that broadcasting is different from other sectors of the business world and therefore processes and responsibilities should not toe the same line. Broadcasting and particularly television, certainly has its differences from other sectors; none with the exception of the movie or sport worlds have such celebrity talent readily available to the masses. The product of no other sector is discussed so much either in person or via social media. However, ultimately there is a product to be sold, a market in which to compete, a demanding consumer to be satisfied and brand values which need to be maintained, protected and strengthened. Surely this is a role for professional marketers rather than the product developers and designers, which in affect are the channel commissioners and controllers. Afterall do product designers at Apple, Audi or Coca-Cola dictate the media messaging that their companies put out to their consumers? They may highlight certain features and strengths of the product but it is the marketers who decide what, how and when. I shall return to this relationship a little later.

The case for the marketer to lead the process as to what gets promoted and how within a broadcaster is on paper quite a simple one. They are the specialists, they should be the protectors of the brand and with the help of their research units should be the experts in understanding their existing audiences, and perhaps just as importantly the audiences that they currently don’t attract. This certainly sounds a strong argument for Marketing to dictate the on-air process, however the very function of marketing within a broadcaster can only be effective (and efficient) if structurally the broadcaster allows for associated on-air functions to fall within the marketing department, or at the very least have arrangements that Marketing has great influence over the outputs of these areas. Research, Creative Services, Social Media and particularly Media Planning are such areas that must be ‘aligned’ to produce the best outcomes. Too often JWM see some of these areas as being distant to and sometimes at odds to the marketing department, despite the fact that their output is what is actually seen by the viewer. Without the input of and the complementary processes and expertise that each of these units provides, the final product will almost always be compromised.

So having set up the case for both the ‘marketing’ and the ‘content’ areas to dictate the on-air agenda, you will probably have noticed that I may have veered slightly towards making the case for the former. This is probably true, however it does not represent the full story, which is one where it probably doesn’t actually matter who has the control as long as robust policies and processes are established and put in place.

The way that we work with broadcasters, whether they are marketing led or content led is to ensure that that a model is in place as to what and more importantly why content gets prioritised and receives support over others. We help to build such models not just based upon the short term requirements for viewing or perhaps the desire to be creatively innovative, but to help satisfy the short, medium and longer terms business needs of the business as a whole. As I alluded to at the start of this article, in almost all cases promotional resource represents a broadcaster’s largest marketing ‘budget’, so why wouldn’t you use it as all other sectors use their marketing budgets in helping to address their business objectives, whether that is market share, awareness or brand health.

When we work with broadcasters we try to create a model that ensures viewing to a channel or portfolio is fully analysed to ensure optimal levels of campaign weight, cover, frequency, and levels of cross promotion. We also ensure that the prioritisation process that broadcasters implement address wider business needs. In defining our definition for priority categories, we start with the question ‘’what is the role for each category’’. Once this is done each broadcaster can create its own ‘footprint’ with a defined category to do a defined job, each with their correct media support. The fundamental input into this which shapes the ‘footprint’ are strict and robust criteria that each service or programme campaign may be put through to ensure that it is supported correctly, and if indeed it is worthy of support. This approach has brought instant clarity to the on-air process and removed on-going angst between business units. There is one understanding throughout the entire business as to what is needed and why certain campaigns are supported. Such a policy not only creates more effective campaigns and increased efficiency of airtime but also brings clarity and efficiency in the use of creative resource, whether it is man-hours or production budgets. Prioritisation is often a matter of what not to do rather than trying to do something for all.

I hope what I have highlighted above demonstrates that the major question should not be "who leads and controls which programmes and services get promoted?" but "do we have robust processes and policies in place and that serve the objectives of the business and ensures best use of our resource".

Please feel free to give feedback on the above opinion piece. Should you be interested in exploring how JWM could possibly help your broadcast organisation then please contact us

Alan James, November 2013



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