Clear Channel Communications is crashing the TV networks' upfront party with one of its own. During upfront week in May, it will pitch advertisers and agencies on spending a piece of their upfront ad budgets on Clear Channel's out-of-home media and entertainment: radio, outdoor, Web sites and live events.
The media conglomerate is pulling out all the stops. Attendees will be treated to entertainment by pop diva Mariah Carey and the cast of Broadway's The Producers, as well as to schtick from Clear Channel radio personalities Rick Dees, Carson Daly and Rush Limbaugh.
Organizers expect close to 1,800 advertisers and agency executives to attend the event, to be held at the Ford Theater in New York on the morning of Monday, May 12. That afternoon, NBC kicks off upfront week with the presentation of its 2003-04 prime time schedule. The other networks follow with similar presentations over the next three days.
According to Lori Wellinghoff, senior vice president, Clear Channel Advantage, the company's cross-platform sales arm, the basic pitch is that advertisers should focus not just on who their target audiences are but where they are. And where they are is outside of the home, where TV is less effective, she said.
Clear Channel provides a lot of options. It owns more than 1,200 radio stations in the U.S., most often heard in cars. It operates about 935 Web sites, which draw most of their visits during the day, when people are at work. In addition, Clear Channel claims it can post ads on 150,000 outdoor, transit and street displays throughout the world. It also offers sponsorships and signage in connection with its 76 entertainment venues and with the more than 29,000 live events it produced last year.
"We're suggesting that perhaps the Holy Grail of finding why media plans are becoming less and less effective is to follow the trail of the consumer," she said. "By balancing media plans with more consideration to media that reach people and motivate people when they're gone from home, you can reverse declining return on media investment overall."
Clear Channel will present "very radical and important research" demonstrating that most people spend most their waking hours away from home and exposed to media other than TV, Wellinghoff says, adding that advertisers ought to spend more money than they do on those out-of-home media as a "complement" to their TV buys.
Agency executives say they want to know more. "It makes a lot of sense," said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast for Carat. Whether it makes sense for individual clients at Carat remains to be seen, he said, but "Clear Channel has a very legitimate platform so it's something that needs to be considered."
Said Bob Riordan, senior vice president, national broadcast, MPG, "It's an interesting idea. I think everyone has to take a look at it, especially with the inflationary nature of network and cable right now."
He says that clients are increasingly angered by and "very frustrated with" the yearly ad-rate hikes imposed by networks and cable while their audiences continue to shrink. "You could see a shift in dollars to alternative media and a pulling away from network and cable a little bit this year."
The major networks declined to comment on the Clear Channel platform, which the company is calling the "Gone From Home Network."