Q&A: FX’s Marketing Chief on Creating Lasting, Award-Winning Campaigns

And why she’s so fearless

When you're a television marketing executive, is it possible to be too consumed with pop culture, media and entertainment? Don't ask Stephanie Gibbons, who set up TVs in nearly every room of her house, binge-watched Game of Thrones late at night during a work trip to Budapest and rear-ended a fellow motorist while gawking at a competitor's bus ad in Los Angeles recently.

"I love having eyes and ears," said Gibbons, president of marketing, digital media marketing and on-air promotions at FX Networks, "but I'd plug it all directly into my veins if I could."

Her obsessions inform her work, she says, for which she and her team have amassed more than 250 industry accolades over the past few years, including Clio Key Art Awards, for campaigns around critically hailed original programming like Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Fargo and American Horror Story.

Gibbons, a former Showtime marketer, equates the tactics in her tool kit and today's myriad media options to "air, water and food" in that they're all "absolutely essential" to hyping the networks' series. She may be agnostic in her day-to-day, but she'll have to pick favorites when she serves this fall as chair of the Clio Key Art Awards Television/Streaming jury.

Adweek: What kind of Clio submissions will you be looking for?
Stephanie Gibbons: Brilliant, amazing work that's hard to define, but I'll know it when I see it. You know when something's moved you, made you slow the DVR down, made you want to know more. And as a marketer, I always take into account the context of what they're trying to do—what are they trying to sell and how great a challenge is it? Some things are sexier and easier to sell than others.

Can you talk about the inspiration for FX's "Fearless" and how you got there from the previous and first-ever network "There is no box" brand campaign?
It's a very visceral, emotional battle cry. We think of the word "fearless"—that's where the best work comes from. It's our job to sell emotion, to make you feel. This is more literal and physical than "There is no box," which was more cerebral. This is more direct. We'd long struggled with being a network that didn't want a tagline or a catchy phrase, but then we built a portfolio that was rich enough (with The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, Damages, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and we wanted to talk about our ethos. We wanted to communicate that we're a cable channel and a premium brand and to say that there's no reason TV can't be theatrical.

What's it like to market video-on-demand services such as FXNow and Simpsons World as opposed to linear channels?
It's a relief and an opportunity to market both in that it opens me up more to the usage continuum. If I only marketed linear channels, I'd feel at a deficit. When I'm marketing linear, I focus on the urgency, and I'm aiming at those who care enough to be first. I know that linear is for my most hyper-passionate customers. For on-demand, I'm focused on the quality and the timeless nature of the product. There's less urgency for that customer and more desire to see it on their own terms. It's mitigated by convenience.

How has your job as a marketer changed, or how might you have changed your approach to it, in the last few years?
I'm launching a product rather than trying to get you to watch this show on this day at this time. So I don't just have to live with my one chance for a pitch, like the first three seconds to grab you with a digital ad. This product has to live in so many different windows on so many different distribution platforms. My job is to make it strong enough to get out in the world and have a long life.

Talk about the marketing around The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which broke viewer records for FX and became cable's most-watched new series of 2016.
I went into it not knowing if the story would resonate. We're in an environment where fascinating, profound crime stories are ubiquitous. And we'd already been through the O.J. anniversary and lots of network shows about it. Had we passed the saturation point? Would people care? Would they want to relive it? The marketing wasn't about the shock or the more tabloid aspects because we did not want to advertise the murders. We tried to mirror what the series would bring to the viewers by saying, "You think you know everything, but you don't know the half of it."

What was the inspiration for using American Crime Story to tease upcoming comedy Atlanta with a reactive, seemingly real-time spot, and Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue to promote Archer?
They might not seem to be related, but they are. We were connecting our characters to moments in culture, and they belonged there. They had something to say about those cultural moments, and they fit really well into that context.

This story first appeared in the May 2, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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