Turner Turns ListeningInto Upfront Specialty

Forming collaborations with agencies and advertisers

Turner Broadcasting is going into this year’s upfront in a cooperative mood. Once May and June arrive, Turner will still be aggressive as ever in pushing for broadcast-sized price increases. But before getting to the bargaining table, it is working hard to be easy to work with.

This cooperative spirit follows last year’s hiring of Donna Speciale, the wellregarded senior media buyer, and a reorganization that allows agencies and advertisers to access as much of Turner as they want through a single, primary contact.

“What’s really important is that now what Turner stands for at this point in our evolution is, ‘we listen,’” says Speciale. “The clients now are seeing us as a holistic company. They want us to be their partner.”

One example of Turner’s collaborative sprit is a deal with media agency Zenith for a long-term study of viewer consumption habits in multiscreen environments. The test, using Zenith client brands and Turner resources including the Time Warner Media Lab and set to continue through this summer, is looking at how consumers respond to shows employing Automatic Content Recognition technology on smart TVs in order to develop engaging experiences and create consumer rewards. Turner wants to set up more of these projects during this upfront.

Turner also has a yearlong deal that makes MillerCoors products the only brews that are integrated into original series on TBS and TNT. MillerCoors also bought customized promotion on platforms including CNN, TruTV, Funny Or Die, NBA on TNT, Bleacher Report and NASCAR.com.

“What they are right now is significantly more flexible,” says SMGx chief investment officer John Muszynski, a veteran media buyer who has worked closely with Turner for years. “They listen much, much better these days. They’re better business partners than they ever have been.”

Muszynski says Turner was already a great partner, but, “a lot of time you’d ask for something and what was responded back was why they couldn’t do that.” Now, “their first response is ‘What are you trying to accomplish? Let me see if I can help.’ They’re much more can-do.”

David Levy, Turner president of ad sales, distribution and sports, reorganized his ad sales team after longtime deputy Linda Yaccarino left for NBCUniversal.

Speciale left MediaVest USA and was named president of Turner Entertainment & Animation Ad Sales, overseeing a broader swath of networks. Under Speciale, Turner veterans Frank Sgrizzi and Joe Hogan were promoted to executive VPs, with Sgrizzi in charge of TBS and TNT and Hogan responsible for TruTV, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

In its pre-upfront meetings, Turner’s sales team is introducing clients to its programming executives. “We’re really putting clients and marketers much closer to the content,” Speciale says.

With a year-round supply of content, the idea is to put together packages that reach consumers across networks and across platforms, with branded entertainment and new technology such as second-screen apps.

“There’s going to be new products around different types of content offerings, different types of marketing offerings around sync apps. Those are things we’ll be introducing in the next few months,” Speciale says.

“What we know is that the consumer is using a second screen. They’re doing something with it,” says Sgrizzi. “If us, or anyone, could figure out a way to keep them engaged, which we feel our sync apps do, that’s one aspect of it. And the other aspect is to figure out the best way to communicate that. Through research, that’s heightening what we can provide and what many other folks can’t.”

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