Social media has been an invaluable marketing tool for news organizations, but MSNBC believes establishing a one-on-one connection with viewers is still a critical aspect to becoming more than just a TV network.
To that end, the cable-news network is bringing its MSNBC Experience to New York City for the election.
It will open two days later than planned due to Hurricane Sandy, operating on Monday, Nov. 5, at the NBC Store in the Rockefeller Center and on election night. The network will also recreate the MSNBC Experience in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration.
"In-person is personal," said Sharon Otterman, chief marketing officer at the network. "Everything in politics is personal. Viewers still crave the one-to-one relationship. Social media is important to mobilize the nation, but it's still about one handshake, touching one person and going out to local markets."
"When we take our talent on the road we see lines around the corner," Ms. Otterman continued.
Taking its talent on the road has been an integral aspect of MSNBC's "Lean Forward" multimillion-dollar campaign, now in its second year, and Ms. Otterman said the election presents the network with an opportunity to further establish its motto.
"The Lean Forward campaign was always intended to be a long-term strategy," Ms. Otterman said. "We are making a shift to become a brand not just a TV network."
The MSNBC Experience, which was first rolled out during the conventions, gives viewers an opportunity to connect with the channel and its hosts. It features interactive photo booths, personalized souvenir button-making, book signings, show giveaways, meet and greets and viewing parties, including an election night viewing event.
In Charlotte, N.C., the MSNBC Experience saw more than 10,000 people -- some drove from more than three hours away -- gather to interact with the brand. Ms. Otterman had initially expected a much higher turnout in New York City. But following Hurricane Sandy, the network is tempering its expectations. It says it expects crowds similar to those in Charlotte, but there are clearly challenges, like the possibility of limited public transportation.
"We have passionate fans who want to come together as a community during big events," said Ms. Otterman, who joined MSNBC in October 2009 from ESPN. "They want to watch on our TVs, under our brand."
The "Lean Forward" campaign, which was created by Mono, was designed to help MSNBC differentiate itself from competitors with a slogan that doesn't lean right or left. Nonetheless, MSNBC is often characterized as a left-leaning network.
MSNBC has seen ratings gains in recent quarters, reporting 935,000 total viewers in prime time in the third quarter, a 24% increase from the year prior. It continues to widen its gap from CNN, which saw 616,000 total viewers during the same period, a 9% drop off. But Fox News continues to dominate, with 2 million viewers in prime time.