NBCU CMO Embraces 'Healthy Tension' Between Programming, Ad Sales

Audience Insight Work Drives Integrated Media Team

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John Shea, CMO at NBCU's Integrated Media Division
John Shea, CMO at NBCU's Integrated Media Division
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It's not often a chief marketing officer at a media conglomerate also has a first-look deal baked in to his contract. But it's these production chops that make John Shea, exec VP-CMO at NBCUniversal's integrated media division, able to think more creatively about how advertisers can work with the company's vast portfolio of TV networks and digital properties.

"We are big and you can use us that way, but we are also incredibly targeted when you need us to be," said Mr. Shea, who was appointed to his current role in November 2011. Prior to that he served two stints at MTV Network and also led the DreamWorks/Universal location-based entertainment co-venture Gameworks. He got his start on the agency side at BBDO.

The division, which is organized under umbrellas like Women at NBCU, Green is Universal, Healthy at NBCU and Hispanics at NBCU, spearheads multi-platform deals across the company's portfolio, which includes TV networks like USA, Bravo and Oxygen, as well as iVillage, Fandango and DailyCandy.

Mr. Shea spent two decades at MTV Networks in various marketing roles, at a time when music videos dominated the airwaves. He created "Fresh Takes," starring Alicia Keyes, MTV's first digital series and was an executive producer on "Gamekillers" a dating show in conjunction with Unilever.

"In that day MTV was ironically the longest-running commercial in all of TV because all of those videos were promoting product," Mr. Shea said. "So there was an appreciation of content and commerce and where they come together. So my work has always been about being left brain/right brain even way before it was popular. I was in the creative room and strategic room thinking about the revenue."

Mr. Shea also helped create the original MTV Movie Awards, which was underwritten by Pepsi in its early years. When Mr. Shea left MTV, he decided to start his own production company and currently has a first-look deal with NBCUniversal.

"This idea that we are not limited to traditional 30-second spots or three-minute branded content pieces or even digital shorts, is something baked into my DNA over the years," he said. "We are holding on to the programming wall versus the ad sales wall in a very big way, and there's a real necessity for there to be a healthy tension between those two things, but not at the expense of understanding great solutions that are all encompassing."

At MTV, Mr. Shea was also accustomed to dealing with an audience that was in constant flux, which made it critical to know the viewer beyond age and geography.

Audience insight is now driving much of the work at NBCUniversal's integrated media team. Last year the company launched The Curve, a coffee-table style book and film that digs into market trends and demographics. The book and film are distributed to media agencies, marketers and advertising partners and used throughout the year to devise creative integrations.

The Curve, a coffee-table book created by NBCUniversal.
The Curve, a coffee-table book created by NBCUniversal.

NBCUniversal released its second such film, "Indie Women," on Feb. 21. The 10-minute documentary explores the potential in an overlooked demographic: unmarried women over the age of 27, who have no kids and are not living with a partner.

Based on "The Curve" insights, Indie Women are viewing anywhere from 15% to 64% more late-night programs on NBCUniversal than average women. They are also multi-screen, multi-taskers and tend to have more disposable income.

"This is 30% of all adult women, which has huge implications for marketers," Mr. Shea said. "They have a lot of disposable income. NBCUniversal reaches 95% of all women and 93% of Indie Women, every day, across our linear and digital screens, which makes us a great partner to speak to Indie Women and for advertisers to get their product in front of them in a meaningful way."

The integrated media team is creating opportunities to connect brands with this consumer group. One such offering for advertisers is "NightlyCandy," a series hosted by DailyCandy's Chief Correspondent, SuChin Pak that will be anchored in DailyCandy's digital platform with content extensions across NBCUniversal's late-night slate. The show includes Ms. Pak sharing items she curates that are inspired by the company's late-night shows.

Mr. Shea and his team make a concerted effort for The Curve films to not appear like corporate videos and stay away from marketer speak. The documentary features interviews with Ms. Pak, Megan Hilty, star of NBC's "Smash;" Toby Barlow, executive creative director at JWT; Claudia Cahill, chief content officer at OMD; and Cindy Gallop, former head of BBH, among others.

"Everything needs to be personalized and customizable. Off the shelf is as antiquated as maybe the upfront," Mr. Shea said. "Clients want to have bigger conversations about targeting people more effectively. They want to have a bigger conversation about a life stage."

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