It wasn’t enough for Laura Nathanson to know that her network was targeting the teens and twentysomethings known as Millennials. She needed to learn the demo inside and out. Nathanson studied hard to glean what sorts of brands and products this demographic sought out. That has paid off well for ABC Family, which has been growing like gangbusters since Kyle XY broke out four summers ago.
“ABC Family is all about the Millennials,” says network president Paul Lee. “That’s in large part because Laura figured out how to sell them to advertisers. She realized they were going to start driving buying cycles and pop culture, and five years later she was absolutely right.”
Nathanson came to ABC Family in 2001 after spending two years as executive VP of primetime sales at ABC. She was also VP of interactive sales at Fox, where she had worked in the department since 1989.
ABC Family built its brand by deciding to “zig while everyone else was zagging,” Lee says. “[Family shows] like 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls had worked well on The WB. We were looking for inclusive shows like those.”
To that end, ABC Family just acquired the much-praised NBC drama Friday Night Lights, which should fit right into the channel’s brand. It has also targeted its originals—Secret Life of the American Teenager, Make It or Break It and Greek—to turn the network into the place to find fun family programming.
Nathanson capitalizes on that focus by selling advertisers both on the popularity of the shows and on the wholesomeness of the brand. The slogan Nathanson and her team came up with—“A New Kind of Family”—fits perfectly.
Nathanson has also learned to craft product integrations into a show’s story line. Sour Patch Kids was an early sponsor of Kyle XY, becoming the main character’s candy of choice. That integration became so popular that Kyle fans showed up at the Comi- Con convention waving bags of the candies.
As Nathanson puts it: “My overall philosophy is to do everything I can to make working with ABC Family a constantly improving experience for our clients.”