MARKET SHARE BY ARTHUR GREENWALD

DRIVING SALES SAFELY IN WEST PALM BEACH

Hearst-Argyle's WPBF gets a lot of promotion mileage out of its "Safe Drive With 25" campaign aimed at young drivers and their parents.

Did you ever notice how the departments of a TV station often reflect the personalities of the occupants? Newsrooms are a blur of clutter and activity. Engineering is usually stacked floor to ceiling with catalogs, manuals and half-opened gadgetry. Creative Services cubicles double as tchotchke museums. But for me the classic station sales office belonged to one cocky local sales manager, his fastidious desk decorated only with a framed photo of his girlfriend and a hand-lettered sign taped to the telephone which read “Ken’s Order Line.” And that’s where you’d find him, glued to his headset hour after hour, entering client orders directly into his computer.

That was 10 years ago and it’s ancient history. Today, local salespeople at desks are about as common as Sasquatch sightings. Just maintaining market share requires constant client interaction.

That’s just fine with Victoria Regan, Vice President and General Manager of Hearst-Argyle’s WPBF in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Growth is the name of the game,” Regan says. “Over 15 percent of our gross local revenues come from non-traditional revenue.” Although Regan reports that the 38th market has been growing steadily, “new business doesn’t come easy. If you want to see new revenue you’ve got to find it, sell it and nurture the relationship.”

WBPF has systemized that search with the help of Image Plus, a service of New Revenue Solutions that helps stations to identify the most promising local businesses then helps to educate these potential accounts about the benefits of advertising on TV. (Learn more about Image Plus in next week’s Market Share column.) According to Regan, the exercise benefits the sales team beyond their commissions: “I consider it a great boot camp for the AEs. It reminds them of the importance of customer service. Whenever possible, we go after accounts with built-in growth potential.” Often that potential is generated by WPBF, which includes their creative services team in the Image Plus meetings to help brainstorm and pitch custom-made campaigns.

One notable success originated with Moroso Motorsports Park, a local raceway looking to improve its ties to the community. Mark Prutisto, then WPBF’s local sales manager, proposed a sponsored public service campaign to encourage driving safety, especially among young drivers—a demographic of special interest to the client, which quickly agreed to the project.

Thus was born Safe Drive With 25 whose “growth potential” was evident from the outset. In addition to sponsored PSAs, Prutisto and his colleagues designed an ongoing news series, Teens Behind the Wheel that inspired a prime time special, follow-up PSAs and a community safe driving expo. But while each was a worthy goals, the total package was beyond the budget of a single fledgling sponsor. “I’m a big believer in public service,” says Regan, “but we’re also accountable for every minute of air time.” The happy solution? General Sales Manager Caroline Scollard and her staff corralled some equally-appropriate co-sponsors, including a car dealership and an auto parts and service company.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

And the growth didn’t stop there. Safe Drive With 25 proved so popular that other advertisers signed on, including a local insurance company, the St. Lucie and Martin County Sheriff Departments and the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. What’s more, each new advertiser invented additional campaign elements. For example, the sheriffs performed a (highly-controlled) “Race Against the Cops” driving demo at the raceway. It’s since become an annual event.

Of course, like most affiliates, WPBF doesn’t reach a huge audience of teenage drivers, admits Regan, “but we’re sure reaching their parents and they’re hungry for this information.” As the mother of two teenaged sons, Regan knows those worries first-hand. “Like all parents, I wondered if I was being too restrictive or giving too much freedom? For instance, should I let my kids take passengers and if so, how many? I think I learned something from every one of our news segments.”

Now in its third year, the campaign has grown into a source of local pride. Just in time for prom season, Palm Beach County has again declared June as “Safe Drive With 25 Month.” And just last year, the campaign earned national honors from the NAB Education Foundation, which gave it its 2006 Service To America Television Award.

What’s new for 2007? Well, now that Mark Prutisto has become the station’s director of integrated media, area teens can expect to see lots more Web-based content for Safe Drive—plus some new on-air elements, made possible by new sponsorships. “You might say that sales has become the new programming department,” observes Regan.

Market Share by Arthur Greenwald is a series on successful station promotions that appears every Monday. We’re on the lookout for other good ideas for increasing local audience and revenue. If you have one (or more) to share, please contact Arthur Greenwald at [email protected].


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