The trade group’s presentations across the country gather all of a market’s TV stations together while pitching TV-reluctant businesses on the value and affordability of the local medium. And it’s working.
So there they were earlier this month in a hotel conference room in Hershey, Pa., sales executives from all five stations in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon market. And there in the same room were prospective advertisers from the same communities.
And not one of the account executives was making a pitch.
The reason for all the nice-nice was that stations had invited clients to hear a presentation from TVB, which for more than a year has been hosting its advertising In-House Road Show in TV markets across the United States. The slide show is a slick overview of advertising trends and options that looks at where local advertisers would be wisest to put their dollars.
Stations invite would-be clients and, together with their sales competition, they all come together in the spirit of sales-focused détente.
“That was unusual,” says Jack Cantwell, who runs SkyLimit Marketing, representing advertisers from Lebanon and other places in Nielsen’s 41st largest DMA. “Usually I’m on the phone with one station and the other one’s calling on the other line. “
But, as Nancy Tulli, general sales manager for Hearst’s WGAL, observes: “We’ve all put our swords down for a day.”
TVB’s presentation, arranged and delivered by Brad Seitter, a local sales veteran who is TVB’s VP for development and marketing, is promoted as an objective appraisal of the pluses and minuses of advertising on various media.
More or less. “It pretty obviously favors TV, but it was useful information,” Cantwell says afterward. He and other advertising-savvy invitees gave TVB points for presenting an understandable snapshot of the changing advertising environment for small merchants and businesses that don’t use TV, or don’t buy much of it.
Seitter’s presentation acknowledges a growing need to advertise on the Internet, for example, but has a far dimmer assessment of newspapers, billboards, radio and the Yellow Pages.
The initiative is headed by TVB’s Scott Roskowski, SVP of marketing, who also coordinates TVB’s more hands-on sales efforts on the national level. There were 27 Road Shows last year, and TVB will probably do 30 this year.
The week before Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon, Roskowski and Setter were in Appleton and Green Bay, Wis. Next month, they travel to Georgia and Arkansas for events in Augusta and Little Rock, then to Indiana for a Road Show in Evansville, and back down South for a presentation in New Orleans.
TVB believes the presentations are working.
“As best we can tell, last year we think the Road Show generated $10 million from local advertisers that wasn’t previously allocated for local spot,” TVB President Steve Lanzano says. “And that’s probably on the low side.”
In Harrisburg, the Road Show made a convert in Rob Saylor, general sales manager of Allbritton-owned WHTM, the ABC affiliate.
The station landed one new account it can attribute directly to the Road Show, and two more that are close to done deals. Those are just advertisers who expressed interest on the day they attended. Salyor’s account executives are just now getting in contact with the 70 or so advertisers who showed up for events in Hershey and York, part of the geographically immense Harrisburg market, which billed $83 million in non-political TV advertising last year.
“One is a charter school that we’d been talking to who was sort of on the wire before they saw the presentation,” Saylor says. “That convinced them to make the commitment.”
The other businesses close to making a deal include an insurance agency and a dentist, whose wife attended the show in Hershey. The tipping point for her seemed to be during a question and answer session when Seitter assured her that TV account executives could find the perfect target audience for her husband’s practice — and a roomful of people who vocally derided the lingering stigma some doctors and lawyers have toward advertising on TV.
“I was personally hesitant about the Road Show,” Saylor says. “But with TVB running the program, they acted kind of like a middle man” so that he wasn’t put in the position of trying to plan a sales event with his counterparts at the other stations.
“You know, we’re competitors. When the meeting was over, hey, we’re back to work.”
Rostowski and Seitter claim other success stories — in Flint, Mich., they say, they wooed a reluctant car dealer, a fixture in the community, to finally advertise on TV. In York, a major car dealer who was not a major TV spender, saw the presentation and then approached them after the show and said, “ I get it! I finally get it.” He’s increasing his TV buy.
Likewise, Saylor says, the TVB presentation apparently had the right tone for some other advertisers who have kept their advertising strategies the same while the world has shifted around them.
“There are older businesses who were always in the newspaper and Yellow Pages because, they’ll tell you, ‘It’s what we’ve always done,’ ” Saylor says. The TVB Road Show graphs and stats dramatically show how it might be wise to “shift some of those dollars to TV.”
TVB’s presentation tries hard to debunk the idea that TV is too expensive. Seitter’s data claims costs can be as low a penny a viewer. Other media have limited pluses, if any. For example:
- The same week the Yellow Pages are delivered, Seitter says, is also the day that local paper recyclers claim their biggest tonnage hauls.
- Lawyers are wasting their time advertising on billboards — outdoor advertising is best used as a pointer directing motorists to the restaurant (or car dealer) coming up at the next exit.
- Radio has been replaced in cars by you — talking on a cell phone.
- And newspapers are just adrift. TVB provides statistics for newspaper penetration in whatever market the Road Show visits. Seitter pointed out to the crowd that the Harrisburg Patriot-News which reached 17.5% of the market in 1996, is down to just 8.9% now. TVB’s slide show is amended for each market; the local paper’s declining penetration usually gets a big “ooh” from the crowd.
Seitter’s presentation zeroes in on the sales “funnel” that acts as a kind of visual representation of the media influences that lead a consumer to a purchase. Invariably, local TV plays a prominent part in that pipeline.
After the show, TVB hands over the slides and data to the stations to use in their markets when TVB leaves.
“I would say that’s the best thing about this event,” WGAL’s Tulli says. “That we saw a professional give that presentation, not once but twice. Now we have that as a sales tool and now we can take that out into the market. Sometimes we will do the whole presentation, sometimes we’ll just do certain slides with the videos. We feel like it was sales training.
“What did they say back in the day? This lets us ‘sharpen our saw.’ We all know those sales points, but to see someone else do it as a pro, well, it’s impressive. And seeing those stats, it’s good for morale,” Tulli adds.
TVB’s Rostowski underscores Tulli’s observations. “By bringing those account executives into one place, they’re getting a good coaching session too, right? They’re all getting copies of this presentation afterward and they’re going to go out and evangelize and that is very, very important.”
The Road Show seems to give Rostowski a charge too. During a surprisingly long ride between Hershey and York, he says, “When I’m on the road driving, I see how powerful these local stations are, and realize they have 100% coverage in all of these cities. I’m thinking, that’s pretty amazing. When you’re really on the ground, you really start to feel them, and then you are really understanding the power of local broadcast.”