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
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 BBC is currently restructuring its entire publicity machine and many
independent producers hire expert agencies to help with certain
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
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
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.