What is a Promo in Today’s World?

I was lucky to attend the Masters of Marketing panel at the SCAD aTVFest on Friday. DEFINITION 6’s Expert in Residence Frank Radice moderated the panel, and our CEO Jeff Katz joined Rick Lewchuck of CNN, Ron Hayes of NBC Universal and Jill Hotchkiss from Disney Worldwide as speakers. Just looking at these names and companies, you can immediately see that everyone came with their own unique perspective: an agency working with some marquis entertainment brands, the originator of cable news channels, one of the original broadcast networks and the best-known mass media and entertainment conglomerate targeting children.

So, what is a promo? Radice described it as art that tells a story and changes behavior (that behavior most notably being to “watch this TV show”). Promos have been around for decades. But how have they changed? Do they serve the same purpose in today’s fragmented media landscape? Are all promos created equal? The panel dove into this and more at Friday’s session.

CNN’s Lewchuck’s team has created promos in this past year knowing that they would not acquire a single new viewer as a result. So why do it? For branding. For taking a stand for what their organization represents, despite what you may hear in the politic rhetoric of today (hint: it’s all about the news and broadcasting the truth).

DEFINITION 6’s Katz says our agency’s job with promos is to solve a client’s problems. And “it’s about telling the story across all the different channels.” Our teams create content once and adapt it to the various platforms. He recognizes that the way people consume media today can be so personal, caught up in their own world with ear buds. We spend a ton of time on the audio mix as a result – we want to deliver a stellar experience, and the audio, voices and music need to hit a consumer in such a way as to elicit a visceral, emotional response. Katz shared a few recent promos we’ve done for clients, all of which literally give me chills when I watch them. I’ve seen them multiple times, and I get chills every single time.

NBC Universal’s Hays represents NBC and their shows, so now we’re talking promos for TV shows, like promos originated. He lives in a world where when 97% of a target audience is not watching a show, that’s a hit (because 3% of the target IS watching). You’ve probably heard of This is Us – arguably one of the most popular shows on TV today. He asked the SCAD audience who watches it, and only two people in the entire auditorium raised their hands. That proved his point. So NBC has to think of their tactics today; they will capitalize on this year’s Super Bowl audience and play a critical episode directly after the game. And they’ve been teasing it with promos. I don’t watch that show, and I got chills watching the promo. He says that show crosses all the demographics, and they want to bring more people into the fold. Airing right after the Super Bowl is one way to do that. Hayes’ remarks show how even with the most traditional situation of the panelists, NBC has made changes. They have Producers and Editors (internally called “preditors”) whereas these roles used to always be separate. But editors watch the shows and pitch ideas and create something great, then they use it as is. The world has changed, and it’s all about getting the best content out there to tease or promote a show.

Disney’s Hotchkiss brought up a different angle, and that is marketing and promotion to kids and with kids’ point of view. Their staff is young and they’re reaching young audiences, so they take risks and try new things, like the “Star and Marco Live Chat” which was no small feat since it was a live chat with animated characters aired on YouTube live to promote the show. They had to promote it and draw people in to this YouTube Live experience, which they were able to do and exceed expectations, bringing more audiences to Star vs. the Forces of Evil and drawing 60K people to the live chat alone, 600K views to date, and making the show one of the top trending comedy TV shows of 2017. Not your traditional promo!

In summary, the theme netted out as that in marketing and promotion, the story is still king. But it’s also not just about what’s on-air anymore – we must consider the other platforms. Radice asked each panelist “What is a promo today?” to wrap up the session, and I’ll paraphrase their responses here.

CNN’s Lewchuck: It’s about entertaining the viewer…

Disney’s Hotchkiss: Don’t limit your thinking and keep innovating.

NBC’s Hayes: Trying to tap into passion and share an emotion.

DEFINITION 6’s Katz: For the students, trade what you do/ what’s on your iphone/ what things you interact with and that you love with people like us on this panel who can help you tell great stories and entertain all audiences by working together.