ANALYSIS <b>Corporate Case Study</b>:Showtime touts original programs by boosting PR

As Showtime continues to promote its original shows on a sometimes limited budget, the cable network has hired a new EVP to help make PR a valuable part of production.

As Showtime continues to promote its original shows on a sometimes limited budget, the cable network has hired a new EVP to help make PR a valuable part of production.

It's hard to describe what makes a Showtime Networks program unique. Unlike rival HBO, which has crafted its reputation as the home of edgy entertainment, Showtime has a diverse line-up that can best be dubbed eclectic. From critically-acclaimed Queer As Folk to the recent remake of The Lion In Winter, and even a new series of stand-up specials starring comedians like George Lopez, the cable network has created a portfolio of programming that crosses boundaries, tweaks sensibilities, and often needs a bit of marketing muscle to help it find its way to audiences and critics. But the subscriber-based channel doesn't always have the budget to give each new show an advertising spending spree, which has helped create a culture where PR is an invaluable part of the production. "There are some things we launch that will have virtually no paid advertising, and it will be all PR and publicity," says Showtime president Bob Greenblatt. "I can't ever buy as many national ads or TV spots as I want. We just don't have the resources. So publicity has become key to everything. There are so many agendas here that we can't support them all as much as we'd like to. Certain things don't get the lion's share of the money, like a series premiere or smaller movies, so [the PR team] will go out there and make a lot of noise about it. Even when I do have a fair amount of money, I want a [PR] campaign because it's so important to have the editorial press interest." A new PR structure At the head of Showtime's PR team is Richard Licata, who joined the network at the beginning of the year from Rogers & Cowan. Greenblatt courted Licata for his long history in cable and network television - he helped launch HBO and Fox - as well as for their previous relationship at Fox. Greenblatt created a new position for Licata as head of publicity for programming, based in Los Angeles and reporting directly to him. Corporate communications continue to be handled by Nancy Glauberman in New York, where parent company Viacom is located. For Licata, that new structure points to the value Greenblatt and Showtime place on supporting programming with PR. "I think one of the most significant things about the scenario is that for the first time in this company's history, the head of publicity is based in LA, reporting to the president of entertainment," Licata points out. "This is a very, very big move for this company, and also it really made a statement about where they are going in the future, and that it is about programming. They have made me feel like publicity is key after the program is made. It's probably one of the keys to the success of putting a new face on Showtime." Licata inherited an in-house PR team of 11 people, two of whom focus on special events, while the rest handle the day-to-day PR for the dozens of projects in the pipeline at any given moment. Showtime also works with Dan Klores Communications in New York, and with outside consultant Jonah Borris. Licata describes his style as "very collaborative, very aggressive" and "very goal-oriented," and is quick to add that the existing PR team has more than met his expectations. Still, Licata was brought on board to help Showtime push its business agenda forward, and he is not one to go with the status quo. Since starting, he has been "pushing," the PR in new directions, says Borris, who recently helped with a media tour for Queer As Folk. "It's changed since Richard was brought on," Borris says. "There is a new sense of enthusiasm and energy and motivation. It's like they are on fire. They have been an underdog for a really long time, and with Richard there, I think they will be the little engine that could." That is exactly the kind of energy Licata is known for. "He's great at bringing enthusiasm and passion, and getting everyone reinvigorated about the programming and our goals and our mandate," says Greenblatt. "He's a great ambassador. He's got credibility. He doesn't cry wolf all the time. He's not just out there screaming about everything. He really is judicious and smart about it." Licata began his tenure at Showtime with the promotion of the fourth season launch for Queer As Folk. The PR team staged a six-city media tour - dubbed a "traveling cocktail party" by some press - to help gain attention for the show, which has a strong following in gay and lesbian communities. "That was kind of like my baptism by fire," says Licata of the campaign. "That was a show that Bob felt needed some quality noise out there, especially for a fourth season." Planning ahead Next on the team's agenda is The Lion In Winter, starring Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart. It already has received positive reviews, thanks in part to advance screenings and outreach. Showtime also has a full slate of new movies and series. It recently purchased the rights to Super Size Me, the documentary about the consequences of an all-McDonald's diet, and has a number of other films appearing in festivals and on the network in coming months. On the reality front, it will debut American Candidate, in which 12 applicants will be chosen for a simulated run for the White House, with the winner receiving $200,000, this summer. Showtime also has a new series called Huff starring Hank Azaria that the network has begun promoting. "That has the potential for being a break-out series for our network," says Licata. "We are seven months out [from the show's launch], and what we have started to do is very informally screen it in [Los Angeles and New York] for long lead and daily publications." Licata adds that that campaign will also focus on "slowly and selectively" bringing press on set, and also reaching out to the Foreign Press Association, which is the voting body for the prestigious Golden Globe Awards. The Showtime team is also aggressively pushing nine of its offerings for Emmy consideration this year, including Queer as Folk, The Lion In Winter, and The L Word. Licata is known as a specialist in Emmy campaigning and has helped with some successful ones, including efforts for Monk and FX's The Shield, which won the cable channel its first Emmy. Showtime's Emmy package includes the tagline "The New Face of Showtime," which Licata says is meant to encourage media to rethink what the channel is about. "In addition to going after Emmy nominations, it is also a tremendous and significant branding exercise for Showtime Networks," he says. But that branding exercise isn't meant to make them the number one pay-cable channel, as much as a network with a reputation for quality. "I don't feel like we're number two," says Licata when HBO is mentioned. "I know that they have a bigger subscriber base, but I don't think HBO prospering means that we don't prosper. I think anybody out there making great programming and anybody out there publicizing that programming is com- petition to me. I'm so not focused on HBO. I think sometimes it surprises people around here. I think HBO is terrific. I think they do certain things exceptionally well, but I also think everybody in the TV business is competition. The bottom line is you have to get results, and for us that means buzz for this network. It means getting the word out about our programming." PR contacts EVP of entertainment PR Richard Licata SVP of PR Robin McMillan VP of PR Bryan Byrd VP of PR Jackie Ioachim Executive director of PR Faye Katz Director of special events Nikki Ferraro Director of PR Katrina Sutton Publicist Cherie Shanahan

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