TV Upfronts

Hallmark Brings Traditional Messaging to Upfront in Untraditional Ways

The company is looking to give clients more flexibility than ever

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When it comes to upfront events, companies traditionally hold their presentations and then have a party afterward. But Hallmark Media is doing things differently this year.

The company entered the 2023 upfront season with a two-pronged approach for its messaging. It began hosting a variety of branded events March 21 and will continue through mid-April, allowing clients to choose their own Hallmark adventure.

“We were going to look to create these experiences,” Ed Georger, evp, ad sales and digital media, Hallmark Media, told Adweek. “And give our clients an opportunity to engage in these personal experiences under the umbrella of bringing that love and that joy that our brand stands for and immerse our audience into the world of Hallmark.”

The events included everything from a two Michelin star farm-to-table retreat and private pizza tours to a wellness-inspired evening and an exclusive, one-of-a-kind baking class at Magnolia Bakery.

“Flexibility is a keyword in our business, so we gave our clients the flexibility to pick the one that fits their schedule and desires,” Georger explained. “And each one of them was a way for us to reconnect face-to-face, talk about our brand, talk about what we’re doing and do it in an environment that brings people together.”

Then, following the reception-like events, the company is getting down to business.

In addition to the experiences, Hallmark is following up with virtual and in-person meetings with clients and partners to talk more traditionally about the company’s message and offerings, and learn how to deliver solutions.

“We gave people a choice to choose the experience they were most interested in, and those are, again, ways to connect, ways to bond, ways to celebrate our partnerships, knowing that we’re going to come back around, door-to-door, with a more formal presentation that speaks to not only what we’re doing, but an opportunity for them to tell us what’s important to their business,” Georger said.

Countdown to the upfronts

Regarding the company’s messaging, Hallmark has a strong story to tell, the evp of ad sales explained.

“A big part of our story continues to be the strength of Countdown to Christmas and our holiday position,” Georger said. “For nine years in a row, [Hallmark Channel is] No. 1 during the fourth quarter, driven by that holiday position.”

Even with new entrants into the holiday space, Georger noted that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

“While there’s a lot of players in that space, Hallmark continues to dominate and be far and away the destination during the holiday time,” Georger said. “We’ll always make that a big part of our conversation.”

The company is continuing to grow its content in 2023, delivering two new series this year, with the recently launched show Ride and the Andie MacDowell-starring series The Way Home, which has already been greenlit for Season 2. When Calls the Heart is also coming back in 2024 for Season 11.

In addition, after the company turned the three-decade-old greeting card line Mahogany into an entertainment brand focused on Black culture and Black women, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries will continue to showcase the brand along with other new original content in 2023.

A market that’s changing FAST

Even in a softer ad market and with linear’s decline in overall viewers, Georger said the company’s share of the available market is growing.

“When you look at your cable budget, and you have options in the marketplace, we encourage you to look at Hallmark’s share of viewing versus our competition because while the entire pie may not be the same size, our slice of it continues to be bigger,” he said. “So that’s sort of the more immediate story when it comes to the upfront for ’23-’24.”

The company is also delivering its classic content in new ways to match consumer viewing habits. For instance, in 2022, NBCUniversal’s Peacock started streaming live and on-demand programming from Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama.

“This is a live, linear feed with the same commercials that are on the linear side,” Georger said. “So whether it’s an MVPD or virtual MVPD, we feed the same live, linear feed with commercials, and that is what’s available to streamers who subscribe to Peacock.”

And though the message this year is about the strength of its linear content, Hallmark is continuing to bring streaming and FAST channels to its strategy, with veteran digital media exec Emily Powers joining the company as evp of streaming and digital platforms in January.

Georger noted that though the company is trying an untraditional upfront approach—and seeing success from it—everything comes back to Hallmark’s core values and mission.

“It’s that brand; it’s that fandom; it’s that scale and that large share of voice that we have in the marketplace,” Georger said. “You layer on that the essence of the brand and how that benefits the consumer, the viewer, the advertiser and the distribution partners to see why, in a challenging marketplace, we continue to meet our expectations and the expectations of our clients.”