MSNBC Leans On Spike Lee

Celebrated filmmaker shoots new promo campaign

RELATED: Maddow: Network News Not Going Anywhere

MSNBC is moving forward with its “Lean
Forward” image campaign. A new round of
documentary-style promos, directed by filmmaker
Spike Lee and featuring MSNBC primetime hosts
expressing their opinions on key issues they examine on
their shows, begins airing today.

Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell
and Ed Schultz are shown outside the studio and in locations
that are meaningful to them. Maddow is in front
of Hoover Dam, as an example
of the kind of ambitious project
the country can embrace,
rather than austerity.

MSNBC President Phil
Griffin says “Lean Forward”
expresses a progressive, positive
sensibility and a desire to
work toward making America
a better place. “This isn’t just
a marketing tagline,” Griffin
says. “It’s the way we want to
approach how we do our job
every day.”

It’s also the sort of marketing
a channel can do when it’s
gotten some ratings traction,
he says. MSNBC is now the
No. 2 news network behind
Fox News Channel, ahead of
CNN. “We’re finally part of the culture and people are
aware of what we’re doing,” Griffin says, adding that the
campaign’s first wave helped boost ratings and improve
other measures of brand health.

Absent from the campaign is Keith Olbermann, once
the network’s most prominent progressive anchor. Since
Olbermann left in January, “we haven’t skipped a beat,”
Griffin said. “Our success speaks for itself.”

Unlike the first ads, which showed the hosts at work,
the new ads show “what they believe,” says Sharon Otterman,
the network’s chief marketing officer. The ads are
designed to build host connections with the audience.

Taking its on-air talent out of the studio and allowing
them to express opinions is a departure from traditional
news marketing, but Griffin says MSNBC primetime
shows are about deep analysis from a point of view that’s
clear from host to host. “We know that people, especially
news junkies, get their information all day long on
the Web and their mobile devices,” he says. Unlike Fox,
which “takes a single point of view,” Griffin says, “we’re
progressive, but welcome many more voices.”

Otterman says that the new ads will air first on MSNBC,
then appear on other NBCU channels, getting a
heavy rotation in June. MSNBC has also bought space
in arty movie theaters, on radio and online.

Schultz filmed his spots in his hometown of Norfolk,
Va. In one spot, he talks about how Wall Street is going
through the roof while Main Street pays the bills.

“Going back to my roots and explaining what I believe
in and what I advocate for I thought would be a good
start with a lot of people that were just tuning into the
show,” Schultz says.

Schultz enjoyed working with Lee, who is a fan of
the network. “I knew what subjects were near and dear
to me, and then he suggested different angles and locations,”
Schultz says. “He emotionally dove into the
project. I appreciated his intensity.”

How different was this promo shoot from others he’s
done? “Quite honestly, I’ve never had a network pay this
much attention to me,” Schultz says.

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