A brand new image

A strong PR component is imperative to cable networks' branding campaigns as they seek to form connections with viewers in an increasingly competitive market.

In the crowded cable entertainment arena, established networks sometimes find that their brand identity, or lack thereof, may not reflect the success of their individual programs.

Such was the identity issue facing Court TV, according to Karen Cassell, SVP of PR for Turner Entertainment Networks.

"When you talk to someone and say [you] work at Court TV, it instantly conjures up a Judge Judy or courtroom [association], and Judge Judy isn't even [part of] Court TV," she says.

That lack of brand identity was a key impetus behind the network's recent name change and rebranding to truTV. That effort began in November 2006, when Turner president Steve Koonin, who had also tackled the TBS and TNT rebranding campaigns, initiated talks about changing the name to associate the network with more diverse original programming. Aside from courtroom dramas, it would include successful primetime shows and new original series.

Koonin and his branding team also decided to rename the daytime trial coverage In Session and air trial coverage on the new affiliated site - CNN.com/crime.

Cassell says the PR team was involved in the rebranding effort from the very beginning.

"PR has a direct seat at the table," she says. "This is not the kind of place where a decision is made and PR is told about it just before it's time to put out a release."

The in-house-led PR effort's greatest challenge was creating and promoting a rebranding message from "a point of strength," and communicating that the programming structure would remain the same, Cassell explains.

"It's a very important initiative," she adds. "People watch very closely when you do something this large in the industry. No one changes their name when they're doing well in the ratings."

The network announced its campaign plans in March at the Court TV upfront in New York. In July, the team unveiled the name truTV. In October, it debuted the logo and tagline - "Not Reality. Actuality." - meant to deter an association between the name truTV and reality TV.

On December 17, Cassell sent an e-mail blast to print media and bloggers that included key facts about truTV and a link to the new truTV.com site.

Cable and broadcasting trades covered the campaign heavily when it was first announced. Immediately before the holidays, Cassell's department secured an AP story to drive consumer coverage and awareness the week of the launch. More than 300 outlets picked up the piece and the network enjoyed some of its best ratings ever in truTV's first week post-launch.

As shows premiere over the next couple of months, the PR team will work with marketing to get talent on talk shows and continue with consumer media outreach. Cassell explains that the campaign will be a long-term effort, "an evolution, not a revolution."

Building on success
While some entertainment networks embark on a rebranding initiative with both an outdated network brand and established programming, others build from the latter only.

Fox's FX had never been marketed as a standalone brand, so it initiated a branding campaign to build an association between the shows and a network brand [viewers] can rely on, according to FX president and GM John Landgraf. Like Court TV, the network set a long-term goal to secure and extend its viewership.

Over the years, FX has focused its marketing and publicity efforts on the programs themselves, sending the shows, upon launch, to the critics and sending press kits to major media outlets.

The 2002 launch of The Shield sparked talks about a branding campaign that would communicate FX's "groundbreaking," cliche-defying identity, says John Solberg, SVP of media relations at FX. However, it wasn't until mid-2006, when the network had launched and established more diverse original programming that appealed to quadrants within the 18-49 demographic, that Solberg began the campaign's in-house PR effort.

"[We'd] really gotten to a place where we could sell this brand," says Solberg. He announced the initiative at a press conference in New York, on December 11 of last year, where Landgraf spoke briefly to trade and consumer press about the purpose of the campaign and tagline, "There is no box."

On announcement day, Solberg and his team targeted approximately 1,000 media outlets with a supplemental press kit that included a media information pull-out and DVD with the branding spots.

Later this month, the network will launch a promotional microsite, Fxnetworks.com, that will include contests and talents' autographed merchandise as giveaways. Over time, the network will roll out the new logo and utilize the Internet and interactive media in its PR plans, including MySpace and Fox's IGN properties.

Part of FX's media strategy thus far has been to not give any exclusive interviews on any subject to any journalists. "For a long-term strategy, [an exclusive] wouldn't pay off so well because, in this business, if you give one outlet an exclusive, other outlets tend to ignore it, for the most part," says Solberg.

"FX's stance has always been about... providing [the press] with as even a playing field as possible," adds Landgraf.

While "There is no box" may convey the message that the current programming defies cliches, such programming also represents a niche category and a potential challenge should FX acquire or develop programming that is "in the box."

"Some will say there is a box because you just put yourself in it," says Landgraf. "It's an added dimension that [FX executives] will have to deal with."

Meanwhile, Landgraf, Solberg, and EVP of marketing Stephanie Gibbons will monitor an accumulative change that will take time to measure over the next few years.

"Phase one [was to] to get up there, get seen, and get some of our colleagues in press to write about it," explains Landgraf. "Now, [it's about] how it's going to impact consumers and [whether it will] have the impact we hope over time - to increase people's knowledge of the FX brand and their emotional appeal to the brand."

Tips for a successful network rebranding

Create a message that will identify the programming and stand the test of time

Reach out to advertisers to express that the network supports its programming

Attribute a majority of the network's success to the shows' creatives and talent

Bloggers must be included in all efforts to reach out to industry "tastemakers"

Communicate past successes as part of the overall messaging to the media

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