MEDIA: Programme publicity comes of age in multichannel future

Last Sunday several broadsheets carried a distinctive lavender-coloured insert from Channel 4, which read: ’Bill and Hillary: What’s love got to do with it?’ The missive was reminding you to switch on The Clintons: A Marriage of Power, starting that night.

Last Sunday several broadsheets carried a distinctive

lavender-coloured insert from Channel 4, which read: ’Bill and Hillary:

What’s love got to do with it?’ The missive was reminding you to switch

on The Clintons: A Marriage of Power, starting that night.



The exercise intrigued me: the series contains little that is genuinely

groundbreaking, or newsworthy. But it is supremely well-timed. This

makes it a worthy object for direct selling, represented by those

lavender messages.



We’re all familiar with the standard kind of pre-transmission programme

publicity, from soap spin-offs to celebratory anniversaries of Blue

Peter, which keeps so many publications and agencies afloat. Interviews

with the stars (the tabloids), profiles of directors/screenwriters (the

broadsheets), advance screenings, carefully planted stories, all prepare

the way.



The BBC is currently restructuring its entire publicity machine and many

independent producers hire expert agencies to help with certain

launches.



But programme marketing, directed by professionally-trained in-house

managers, is now one of the most competitive areas in TV. Practitioners

are more proactive than this time last year, as befits their growing

status.



But the new emphasis in a crowded market is on direct selling, on

prompting people to turn to something that night. It’s a trend also

epitomised by Channel 4’s electronic hoardings at mainline stations, and

Sky’s invasive posters. Surf the host of commercial radio stations at

drive time daily, and you will hear any number of adverts for a

programme later that evening.



At Channel 5, for example, marketing director Jim Hytner, recruited from

Sky, is rapidly putting elbow grease into its original but vapid ’modern

mainstream’ stance. Channel 5 is buying up the tiny advertising slots on

the listings pages of the Mirror and the Sun. Hytner is booking them for

a year with the aim of inserting daily teasing prompts, along the lines

of ’after EastEnders try ... Swindon SuperBabes on Channel 5’. This

results in devising, as standard practice, radio and press ads close to

release, even on the day when the old TV guard would have said nothing

could be done apart from on-air promos on their own channel.



All of this is going hand-in-hand with intense brand-building exercises,

from the BBC’s globe and work on the follow up to Perfect Day to ITV’s

new centralised marketing department.



I’m waiting for the day when we receive personalised letters or messages

from TV stations about a key programme. This has to be the next

step.



The future lies with channels that are proactive, even aggressive. I

watched the Clintons because of the Channel 4 insert, and was glad they

had reminded me. As choice explodes in a multichannel environment, we

need to be guided, reminded and sold to.



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