Television station groups can no longer afford to pour millions of dollars into news promotional and advertising efforts that don’t deliver tangible returns in the form of increased viewership — a real return on their investment. So, general managers need to sit down with their creative services departments and explore new ideas for image campaigns and topicals.
If anyone needs a wake-up call that the model for marketing local TV news might need repair, the recent news that the NBC O&O’s are centralizing their creative services departments could be it.
I’m shocked by the news. After all, the NBC O&O’s are in the big markets where the best and brightest TV marketers are drawn. But I’m not really surprised. I just thought it would be a group with stations in small- and medium-sized markets that would do it first.
Broadcast companies have a huge investment in marketing and advertising their local news — salaries, equipment and, most of all, the ad time given to the marketers every day.
Safe to say, it’s millions of dollars every year for most groups, certainly for the likes of NBC. So, at some point, station groups have the right to ask themselves if they’re getting a return on their investment just as Procter & Gamble does when its ad agencies come up for review.
It’s appropriate that broadcasters review their in-house ad agencies — their creative services departments — and expect to see some increase in news ratings beyond what the stations get through lead-in programming.
And if they don’t, they can be forgiven if they ask, what if?
So let’s play ‘what if’ to see how creative services departments could evolve to show a better return on investment and contribute more to the bottom line.
Today, many general managers regularly hand over tons of on-air time for local news image campaigns that haven’t moved the ratings dial in years.
But what if the GMs and their creative services managers resolve to produce smarter image campaigns that get results.
How? Here are some ideas:
Identify the most talented, experienced and effective marketing people within your company. Spread their expertise beyond one station.
Look to the historically dominant stations to find what branding techniques have worked for them over the years.
Share news image promotions among the stations in your group and analyze why certain promos, campaigns and techniques work.
Air campaigns during times when you would expect to yield measurable results, say, the six weeks prior to sweeps. I have a saying: “You don’t win news ratings during sweeps; they’re only measured then.” And give the spots plenty of GRPs to insure effective reach and frequency outside sweeps.
Keep track of what new local TV news marketing techniques, concepts, ideas and campaigns have yielded results for others. Then, beg, buy, borrow or steal them.
Test campaigns before focus groups even if they comprise only the employees within your station. If it doesn’t stand up to their scrutiny, you can’t expect it to work with your audience.
Make your spots convincing and quantitative as if you were a lawyer trying to persuade a jury that your news operation is guilty of something-great weather coverage, experienced anchors, dogged reporters, best news coverage. I’m a big believer in viewer testimonials. Not many stations use this technique anymore, but what your viewers say about you can be powerful.
Consider 60-second versions of your news image spots. You can really tell a story and make a powerful connection in 60 seconds. And sixties stand out from the crowd as there are very few on TV.
Keep an open mind on the nature of spots. I’ve seen news image spots that work with just words on the screen or images put to a song without any news talent at all.
While important, news image campaigns are not the only advertising tool to recruit viewers. They must be complemented by spots that promote the day’s news.
Today, many stations take a shotgun approach to news topicals, airing them throughout the day, hoping they somehow stick in the minds of viewers. You see them in the morning teasing what’s coming up at 5 o’clock, 6 or even at 10 or 11.
Can you influence viewers to watch your newscasts 10, 12, even 18 hours before they air? And what kind of news content can be in spots aired so far in advance? They could be sending the message that your newscasts aren’t very newsy.
But what if stations began airing topicals when they would do the most good, right before the start of the evening or late news.
One 60-second spot at 4:55 p.m. or 10:55 p.m. filled with compelling and timely news content — reporters in the field, weather and anchor teases, sound bites — will do more good than a slew of spots scattered across all dayparts.
The impression such spots would create is that there is a lot going on and that you ought to stick around.
Today, many GMs and news directors at network affiliates define eternity as the time between the last scene in the 10 p.m. show and the beginning of the news at 11.
They know what the viewers are thinking: Do I click the remote to my pre-determined, favorite late newscast? Do I go to bed? Do I click around to see what else is on? Or do I stay here for the late news which comes on next?
Network affiliates have promotional co-op agreements with affiliates that give them a 30-second spot at 10:30 to promote the news.
But what if stations renegotiated their deals to eliminate the “eternal” gap so that the news would begin immediately after the last prime time show ended. Or, what if the affiliates swapped the 30 seconds at 10:30 for 30 seconds or a minute at 10:55.
Today, most stations ignore cable in their news promotion planning.
But what if they roadblocked a hot topical at 10:58 across all the popular cable networks — ESPN, Discovery, CNN and the like. Stations could use some of their retrans cash to buy the time. Cable is obviously better than radio for this purpose. You’re reaching people who are already watching TV.
Today, during sweeps, TV stations fill radio stations with spots urging listeners to watch their newscasts. This practice hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years, except that many stations today are nixing outside media buys altogether.
But what if TV stations partnered with radio stations that matched their demographics. TV stations have creative resources, production capability and air-time that radio stations covet. Exchange services and air-time so that you’re on the radio year-round. Dominate afternoon drive. Ask for bonus time for image spots on nights and weekends.
Today, most TV stations have amassed thousands of e-mail addresses, but aren’t doing much, if anything, with them.
But what if they began using those addresses to send out a promotional e-mail to viewers at work before the afternoon or early evening news. It could include a direct link to a video roundup on the Web site. These messages are not constrained by time, and could be made more compelling by using reporters talking about their stories as they’re on the go, in their car or walking out the door of the newsroom.
The newsletter could also include a short promo for the network lead-in programming as well as coupons for local restaurants and other goods and services.
Millions of dollars are at stake in marketing newscasts. Timely and well-produced topical promos layered on top of well-conceived image campaigns can bring in new viewers, raise the numbers and shuffle the news pecking order in town.
But as owners and managers signed off on such efforts, they should make sure they have at least a shot at getting a solid return on their investments by always asking “what if.”
Paul Greeley has over 20 years experience in local TV marketing and was recently the VP of marketing for a top-20 broadcast group and has worked at an ad agency and for local TV stations in Philly, Orlando, New Orleans and Ft Myers. Paul can be reached at [email protected] or on his cell at 817-578-6324.