Media Plan of the Year: Best Use of Newspapers – Horizon Media

Last year, the A&E Network found itself with a familiar problem: How to get maximum exposure for a one-time TV event—in this case, the season-ending telecast of the network’s popular Biography series. A&E turned to Horizon Media of New York, which came up with the answer: Go print—specifically, go newspaper. The result: a six-week parade of ads in USA Today designed to entice A&E’s sophisticated audience, in part by inviting it to cast votes for which noteworthy figure A&E should profile in its season-ending “Biography of the Year.” The strategy worked. The show achieved its best audience share ever, and Horizon takes the Best Use of Newspapers honor in the annual Media Plan of the Year competition.

“It was incredibly successful,” says Lori Peterzell, A&E Network’s director of consumer advertising. “It really exceeded expectations.”

The campaign, created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, prompted USA Today readers and users of the paper’s Web site to cast a whopping 80,000 electronic ballots—at least twice what planners had expected. The results were especially impressive considering that those who logged on to vote got absolutely nothing in return. “No incentive!” Peterzell says. “It’s not like you could win a fabulous trip to London.”

The Dec. 9, season-ending episode of the net’s best-known series Biography, which explored the life of President George W. Bush, garnered a healthy 1.3 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

At Horizon, a five-member team worked on the campaign: Ruby Gottlieb, senior vp and director of media and affiliated services; Eric Blankfein, vp and director media planning; James Schore, media supervisor; and Katie Counts and Maxine Harris, media planners.

Schore says A&E made it clear it wanted the campaign to stand out, as the Biography finale approached. “It’s their flagship, their pinnacle,” Schore explains. “We decided we wanted to create some type of viewer involvement. We also wanted to bring in new viewers.”

It takes a wide net to pull in both existing and prospective viewers, so planners sought a broad medium to get out the Biography message. “Newspapers lent themselves really well because they have such diverse content, as opposed to a magazine,” Blankfein says.

According to the Horizon team and A&E’s Peterzell, USA Today was a natural for the campaign. The Gannett flagship is among the few nationally distributed daily newspapers in the U.S. In addition, the paper’s readership tracks closely with Biography’s desirable viewership, says Peterzell—each attracts a well-educated, upscale, intellectually curious audience. “It made sense coming out of the gate,” says Peterzell. “Our target demos were completely in sync.”

Another important strength was USA Today’s specialized sections, according to Horizon’s Gottlieb. The sections displayed nominees for biographical subject of the year in the appropriate print environment. Thus, ads touting the poll for Athlete of the Year ran within the sports section, while Life sported ads seeking votes for Musical Performer of the Year, TV Entertainer of the Year and Movie Entertainer of the Year. The news section pictured candidates for World Leader of the Year.

The USA Today ads invited readers to visit the paper’s Web site, where visitors could link to a microsite, a set of dedicated links explaining balloting for “Biography of the Year.” Visitors could cast their ballots through the site and learn more about candidates.

It didn’t hurt that is among the most- visited newspaper-operated Web sites. That heavy traffic proved to be an integral part of the plan, as visitors were given the opportunity to cast votes for the season-ender—not that the Web space was free. But, says Gottlieb: the newspaper was “very, very accommodating” about expanding the Horizon buy to the Web site.

The Horizon team used a variety of ad formats to call attention to the forthcoming show, and to send readers to the microsite. Formats included strips, one-third page ads and junior pages. Some of the ads were designed to look like editorial content.

A&E’s campaign for “Biography of the Year” was not exclusively a print affair. The network also bought time on national radio and cable TV in a dozen top markets that are home to many Biography viewers, says Artie Scheff, A&E Network’s senior vp/marketing.

But Scheff singles out the print campaign. “We got great results,” he says. “We hit a demographic we usually have problems with—the younger part of the 25-to-54.”

A final component of the plan: large-space ads that ran in USA Today after the votes were tallied, encouraging readers to tune in for the results.

The campaign ended with Horizon and A&E in something of a mutual admiration society.

“It’s nice to work with a client that gives us the opportunity to come up with new ideas and go out and push the envelope,” says Schore.

“This is so strategically on the money that it really doesn’t surprise me that it wins Plan of the Year,” adds Peterzell.

Todd Shields is Mediaweek’s Washington editor.