Food Show ChefsWhet Brand Appetite

Talent is key ingredient for lifestyle programming

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The thing about lifestyle programming is that viewers get very attached. They get attached to the shows. They get attached to the network. And they get attached to the personalities.

Advertisers are the same way. Take Food Network, part of Scripps Networks, which has built its business on Food, HGTV and its other lifestyle brands.

“Advertisers come to us. They know we know how to speak to our audience best,” says Karen Grinthal, senior VP, national ad sales, food category, for Scripps Networks Interactive.

“The idea of the [Food Network] brand now is that it is really ubiquitous in people’s lives. And that’s part of why advertisers like to do specialty marketing with us, because they get the reach of an entertainment brand and they get the focus of a vertical. And that’s really unusual,” Grinthal adds.

What’s also unusual is the way personalities have been a part of the Food Network brand. “I’ve been here for almost 16 years and we did that from the very beginning, when Emeril [Lagasse] was the only known personality and we had 20 million homes and we were doing specialty custom production,” Grinthal says. “It was a lot less sophisticated, but it was definitely there.”

In this year’s upfront, Food Network will be emphasizing Chef Wanted, a series in which a restaurant searches for the person with the recipe for its success. Kohl’s is already a sponsor, but the network wants to raise its profile among advertisers and other potential promotional partners.

Chef Wanted
is hosted by Anne Burrell, who might be poised to be not only a TV star but a marketing diva. She would be following in the footsteps of current Food Network chefs Robert Irvine, a spokesman for Lexus and Sysco; Alex Guarnaschelli, who has a deal with Fisher Nuts; and Sandra Lee, who works with Diageo. Other Food Network personalities have merchandising deals, including Giada De Laurentiis, Paula Deen and Lagasse. These stars have a connection to the network that sticks by even as individual shows come and go.

Burrell started on TV as Mario Batali’s sous chef in Food Network’s Iron Chef. She also cohosts Food’s Worst Cooks in America, where she has adopted a tough but compassionate demeanor.

“She cares very deeply about what she does,” Grinthal says of Burrell. “She’s been a line cook in a restaurant. She’s been an executive chef, and she understands in a deep and personal way how stressful that job is and what it takes to do it right. Anne is interesting because she’s really tough on the outside, but she’s really soft in the inside because she has so much emotion invested. And that’s what’s so relatable about her.”

And that gives Burrell the potential to have a role in the marketing of Food Network ad clients.

0318 Upfront Central Food Network Chart

While discussions with clients can lead to talent involvement, sometimes the clients seek out the network’s hosts on their own. And when they make a deal, it is separate from any media buy.

“We often bring opportunities to talent. But when it comes to the actual negotiations, that is not our realm,” says Grinthal, who wishes talent was on her rate card.

“We try to put together what the breadth and scope of a relationship is as it pertains to us and them with the advertisers. And so our marketing team works closely and our PR team works closely with an agent to make sure we’re all in synch,” Grinthal says. “We don’t own the talent. We own the show. In the beginning stages of their career, we have obviously more say. We have approval. But the more senior they get, the more latitude they have.”

For example, Rachael Ray has a two-year deal promoting S.C. Johnson products. “We did a whole Scripps-wide deal with S.C. Johnson, so we create custom content featuring [Ray]. But the deal with the company, that’s her deal,” says Grinthal. “But it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t sat down together with a broad concept with S.C. Johnson and then they said, ‘Now we want talent in, and we want Rachael.’ We can’t offer that. That is their negotiation.”

But it pays to keep the programmer involved for marketers doing business with Food Network talent. “Target is a very big partner of ours, and they have a line of cookware and food with Giada De Laurentiis,” says Grinthal. “So we sit down and we say, ‘You have this investment with Giada, you have a great investment with us. We have all these assets. How do we make them all work hardest for you?’ And that’s the approach.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette