Cross-Platform Deals Give Early Start To The Upfront

While there are still three months to go before the annual television upfront buying period kicks off, the upfront market for cross-platform selling is going on right now, as agencies and their clients are meeting with special network sales teams to come up with creative ways to spend advertising dollars beyond traditional 30-second TV spots.

“We’re busy right now because of the lead time it takes to come up with comprehensive and creative ways for advertisers to meet their goals,” said Bill Bund, evp of sales at ABC, who also heads Disney/ABC Unlimited, the company’s cross-platform sales unit. “You can’t wait until May 1 to start working on a plan that can be tied into a pure television buy.”

Shari Linker, ABC vp of sales at Disney/ABC Unlimited, added, “From January to May is our upfront.”

While all the Big Four broadcast networks have salespeople selling across their parent companies’ diversified platforms, ABC is the only network that still operates a separate, stand-alone unit that is not under the direct supervision of the network sales president.

Fox parent News Corp.’s cross-platform unit, News Corp. One, was disbanded in 2003, and those sales functions put under the supervision of Fox sales president Jon Nesvig. Today, Jean Rossi, evp, sales, Fox, oversees its cross-platform sales, in an additional role as president, Fox Entertainment Group Integrated Sales. Rossi’s team at Fox put together an extensive partnership involving the network’s hit drama Prison Break with Toyota, through the advertiser’s media agency, Zenith.

At NBC, NBC Connect was phased out in 2003, and cross-platform selling put under the guidance of then sales president Keith Turner. While NBC has no plans to resurrect a separate unit, media agency sources said NBC’s new sales president Michael Pilot has discussed instituting a more direct working relationship between the sales and marketing departments to come up with ideas that span parent NBC Universal TV. NBC has done some cross-platform deals with its hit Heroes.

Viacom Plus, the cross-platform unit that sold CBS alongside the rest of the Viacom media units in packages, ceased to exist in early 2006 when Viacom split in two. Since then, CBS sales president JoAnn Ross has overseen selling across CBS Corp., while Lisa McCarthy, who ran Viacom Plus, is now in charge of cross-selling at Viacom.

Facilitating the buying of packages across several media units within the company is only a small function of what Disney/ABC Unlimited does, Bund said. “We do act as an internal filter to get all the media divisions to work together. But we also come up with creative ways for clients to reach their target audiences.”

Take its deal with Marshalls. Three years ago, the retailer and its media agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos approached Disney/ABC Unlimited seeking a way to reach women. Unlimited suggested that Marshalls sponsor U.S. Figure Skating, which had events airing on ABC. Bund’s group put together a package that included the sponsorship of all USFS events on ABC and ESPN, fashion feature segments within those telecasts, arena signage, a fashion spread in Us magazine featuring Olympic skaters Tenith Belbin and Ben Agosto, live skatefest events, tie-ins on the ABC/Disney Web sites and more. The partnership ran during 2005 and 2006, and discussions are under way for a new deal for 2007.

Bund said Disney/ABC Unlimited’s current deals range from $2 million to $40 million per client, but most are in the $10 million to $12 million range. The unit currently has deals working with 33 clients, up from 27 a year ago.

Among current clients are Sears, Wal-Mart, Kellogg’s, Remington, Intel and John Frieda. He said over the past year, 21 percent of the dollars brought in by the unit have been from new clients or were incremental dollars that current clients were not spending.

Media buyers who have been involved in big cross-platform deals in the past said they are now looking for marketing traction for their clients. Pam Zucker, svp, marketplace ignition for MediaVest, who put together a $300 million deal with Viacom Plus in 2002 on behalf of Procter & Gamble, said clients today want to reach specific targeted audiences.

“Most of the mega-million- dollar deals [of the past] were transactional, not marketing deals,” she said. “Most clients today don’t want just spots and product placement; they want creative marketing opportunities across all platforms that make sense.”

Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for GroupM, agreed. “We don’t need them to facilitate pure buys across platforms. We can do that ourselves,” said Scanzoni. “We look to come up with an idea on how our client can achieve its objectives and how to implement it across various media properties. ABC has been particularly successful in that regard and so was Viacom Plus. But we have also done some successful things with NBC, even though they no longer have a dedicated unit.”

Bund said Disney/ABC Unlimited has survived as a stand-alone unit for seven years because it has taken a low-key approach and did not try to “force any aspect of these deals down the clients’ throat.” All parties, he said, “have to agree that it makes sense and everyone has to be on the same page.”

But Scanzoni said that having the internal heft to implement a plan across all divisions of a media company is equally important: “To be effective, they have to have the leverage to get everyone huddled together to play in the same sandbox.”