Special Report: National TV/Cable

With apologies to the Zagat survey and its signature brand of foodie-generated pastiche, here are but a few of the responses from Kris Magel’s peer group upon his being named Media All-Star in the national TV/cable category: Magel, the senior vp, national broadcast account director at Zenith Media, “just gets it,” as “he provides great insight and value” to his clients who “rightfully respect and revere him,” says one admirer. A cable ad sales executive calls Magel “the total package,” while another marvels that he’s “just unbelievably bright.” That sentiment is echoed by a client who notes that while Magel is “really, really smart,” he’s also “genuinely passionate about our business.”

Talk with Magel for a while about his livelihood and the industry as a whole and you’ll likely add to the hagiography. On the one hand, he’s a true believer in the power of television and its singular capacity to reach an enormous audience; on the other, he’s something of a futurist who understands that as the medium evolves, so does the nature of the viewer’s relationship with that which entertains her.

“It’s never been a matter of simply checking off all the possible ways to reach the consumer,” Magel says. “The goal is to use the media to make the greatest possible impact…and to make a connection with the viewer. If you can get them to pay attention, if the creative is good and you’ve done it in an environment where the target demo is likely to be watching, you have a good shot at making them feel better about the brand.”

Balancing the two directives—courting a still-significant audience while grooming the client’s message into a personal invitation to action—is perhaps what Magel does best. Take, for example, Born to Achieve, a recent campaign he developed for his primary account, Maybelline NY/Garnier.

Developed atop a philanthropic platform, the Born to Achieve initiative kicked off last January as a simple, 30-second spot featuring spokesmodel Erin Wasson, who invited young women to enter an essay contest for a chance at winning a $25,000 college sponsorship from Maybelline. From there, Magel crafted a campaign reminiscent of a stack of Russian nesting dolls, with Maybelline and MTV huddled together inside an extensive chain of executions. A dedicated Maybelline microsite hosted by MTV.com linked to exclusive online content as well as the MTV Films/Paramount Pictures theatrical Freedom Writers, which, a month prior to the Born to Achieve campaign, shared a promotional link with the cosmetics line.

The campaign culminated April 18, as Seattle area student Erin Wise accepted her $25,000 prize on MTV’s TRL. Soup to nuts, it remains one of Maybelline’s most intricately planned media buys and is a testament to Magel’s expansive vision, says Barb Kittredge, the company’s vp, integrated communications. “Kris was an absolute master in bringing MTV on board and using the resources of their production team and their Web site,” Kittredge says. “He’s been our orchestra leader, our maestro, and he’s always on the lookout for a new opportunity to allow us to express our brand DNA.”

Maybelline president Karen Fondu says the Born to Achieve campaign serves as a microcosm of Magel’s work on the account since he first took it over in 2005. “We were so totally integrated that you experienced the brand in a much more authentic way than you would have with just a traditional 30-second TV spot or print campaign,” Fondu says. “In that sense, there’s so much more of an emotional connection with the consumer, that the additional value is nearly inestimable.”

In addition to the satisfaction that comes with delivering for his clients, Magel is particularly pleased with the philanthropic element of the campaign. “Erin is a fabulous example of what this country is all about, an intelligent, inquisitive young woman who was eager to take the next step in her education,” he says. “So opposed to just saying, ‘Let’s get the makeup on The Real World,’ this was a way for us to take some time to show the good in people, and to really build something for the client.”

Another Magel campaign that won marks from Maybelline was a comprehensive integration on NBC’s Web site for its online—and, via DirecTV, on-demand—soap opera Passions. Over the course of two seasons, Zenith has worked with NBC to develop exclusive video content for the Passions site and created “Tabloid Truth,” an online newspaper and regularly updated video segment covering the show’s storylines.

Maybelline-Garnier was featured in 15-second pre-roll spots running ahead of each of the approximately 2.5 million branded videos that were streamed on the site since Magel first developed the campaign two years ago, resulting in what Kittredge characterizes as “higher lifts in brand awareness.”

As Peggy Green puts it, Magel is both a champion for his client and a mentor to his staff. “There could be no better advocate for Maybelline and Garnier in the national marketplace,” says Zenith’s president, broadcast and entertainment. “He sets the bar high for himself and his team, and is always looking for ways to find a competitive advantage for his clients.”

As Magel looks to 2008, he signals that he will continue to steep himself in research as a hedge against whatever curveballs come. “Whatever opportunities make themselves available, it is my goal for us to know about them inside and out so we’re all better armed to deal with them,” he says.

One wrinkle Magel aims to iron out: the promise of opt-in ads, which, he believes, haven’t developed quickly enough. “That’s where the future lies, in self-selected advertising,” he says. “Consider an on-demand world where you only watch the ads you want to watch…one day, national TV will be supported by that kind of model. And with the adoption of that, we’ll eliminate all that mass waste we still have to deal with today.”

As distribution mechanisms evolve, advertising will no longer be in thrall to mere ratings points. And in a perfect world, consumers will be greeted with an even wider array of programming choices. “I don’t see the new platforms degrading the viewer experience,” he says. “I just see people who have the means and the opportunity to heighten their relationship with the shows they already enjoy.”