Uva Uses Agency Smarts to Better Hype Univision

NEW YORK When it comes to marketing, Univision has traditionally stuck to messages that reinforce how dominant it is among Spanish-language competitors such as Telemundo and Azteca America. But Joe Uva, former worldwide CEO of Omnicom’s OMD, who joined Univision as CEO in April, is bringing some of his agency knowledge to bear on the network’s outreach and advertising efforts.

A group of private equity investment firms acquired the network in March and set lofty goals for revenue growth. Uva said achieving that growth requires a far more sophisticated marketing plan, one that includes aggressively pursuing ad dollars allocated to English-language networks; selling more political ads; and, for the first time, charging cable and satellite operators fees to carry its programs.

Uva is applying some of the same techniques he used during his tenure at OMD, which he joined in 2002 after a 17-year stint with Turner Broadcasting, to improve Univision’s marketing acumen, including a far greater emphasis on data that reveals how Univision viewers consume media and what motivates them to buy products advertised on the air.

Investing in research to develop insights about its viewers will help make his case, said Uva: “We can get a much deeper understanding of our community’s behavior patterns and how we can influence those patterns in a positive way for marketers to help them sell more goods and services. That’s something we did at OMD and it’s something we will do at Univision.”

Uva also intends to focus more on what he terms the “misalignment” by clients that don’t spend enough on Spanish-language media. “We want to see a reasonable shift,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight, but that’s the starting point.”

Uva said the network has hired a consulting “resource” to help sell the idea that Hispanics will have a “major impact” on the outcome of next year’s election. Cable and satellite fees are justified because Univision programs have helped those carriers gain Hispanic subscribers. “We haven’t received a dime” in return, he said.

Agency executives said they already see a difference. “Before the sale, Univision’s message was quite simple: ‘We are number one.’ That was it,” said Carl Kravetz, chairman and chief strategic officer at Cruz/Kravetz:Ideas. “The company is definitely taking steps [such as commitments to invest more in research and consumer insights] in the right direction.”

Monica Gadsby, CEO of SMG Multicultural at Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group, said Uva has “expressed his commitment to change” the way Univision markets itself. That commitment was signaled at the network’s upfront presentation in May, she said. “It was very different. They didn’t dwell as much on the program offering per se. They spent a lot of time talking about the unique relationship they have with their consumers,” Gadsby said.

The fact that Uva is granting interviews isevidence that he is working on another key priority: improving communications, not just with the outside world, but also internally among different operating units (network, cable, TV station, radio, online), which he believes is critical if the network is to succeed at “unlocking the full potential” of what it has to offer clients.

Before the arrival of Uva and the private equity bosses, when Univision was publicly traded, the network’s press relations were far more constrained. His predecessor, Jerry Perenchio, rarely gave interviews during his 15-year reign. Network executives risked possible dismissal for talking to the press without permission. The intention going forward, said Uva, is to communicate “much more openly and more frequently with the press.”

But the new openness has limits. Uva will not disclose the network’s second-quarter revenue, for instance. Now that the company is private, any dialogue about finances is held behind closed doors. Thus, 2006 was the last full year that the company’s revenue and profit data will be disclosed (revenue up 11 percent to $2.2 billion, with net profit up 30 percent to $384 million).

Uva also declined to say much about the upfront market because it is ongoing, although he is quick to assure that once the market is completed, network sales execs will be more forthcoming than in the past. The limited guidance on the upfront for now: He expects overall volume and prices will both be up. Buyers said the guidance is reasonable and suggest that upfront spending in the Spanish-language sector will mirror to some extent the English-language market, where spending was up 5 percent and prices increased by mid-single to low-double digits, depending on the network.

Uva said it was critical that the programming and sales units of the company “establish a closer dialogue.” Such conversations will better facilitate new programs, he explained, like the recently unveiled Mi Adorada Malena, a first-of-its-kind novella that airs on both broadband and broadcast. It was created in partnership with Unilever and incorporates into the storyline a new Caress product. There’s also a user-generated aspect: Viewers will vote for one of two alternative endings to the series.

The novella signifies the new approach Univision wants to bring to the market, where the dialogue is as much about strategy and new techniques as it is about selling spots, said Uva. “The fact that we’re willing to have these kinds of discussions as standard operating procedure is new and speaks to what the new Univision is about,” he said. —With Shahnaz Mahmud