Real Simple's TLC Show Reinvents TV Production Process

Partnership With Cable Network Takes Brand Integration to a New Level

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazine publishers have often struggled to make the most of their forays into TV. Yes, that PBS series or syndicated show extended the brand into the medium, but did it make them any money?
'Real Simple, Real Life' is a collaboration between TLC and 'Real Simple' magazine in which real people receive advice from three or four experts from a standing panel of eight.
'Real Simple, Real Life' is a collaboration between TLC and 'Real Simple' magazine in which real people receive advice from three or four experts from a standing panel of eight. Credit: Marc Royce

For its new series starting tomorrow on TLC, Real Simple magazine decided to try something a little different. "Typically you go to a network, say 'We will produce this show for you,' and the network will purchase the show, have all the rights to it and will pay a fee," explained Steve Sachs, president of Real Simple. "There's typically some kind of profit share."

But the network sells the commercial time and controls the show. The magazine typically remains rather passive.

Combining assets
"When we went to TLC, we said, 'We think there's a big opportunity here to combine our assets,'" Mr. Sachs said. "Rather than working off the traditional model of fee-for-production, let's really think of this as a partnership. We think both sides will benefit."

What resulted was the weekly hourlong TLC series called "Real Simple, Real Life," in which real people receive advice from three or four experts from a standing panel of eight. Host Kit Hoover presides.
Steve Sachs
Steve Sachs

But the spotlight belongs on the sales calls, which the cable network and the magazine only made together.

They also told advertisers they were only offering packages incorporating every part of the program -- ad pages, commercial time, placement in the show and digital ads. And they went to advertisers early enough that they could develop episodes that more naturally involved marketers' brands.

Big marketers including Kraft bought in.

Productive negotiations
"It's a unique deal and a pretty powerful one," said John Barry, senior VP-advertising sales at TLC. "The ad-sales group was brought in early on in the conversation. To have two organizations sell one essential product could be quite challenging. In this case it was quite productive. This was a much more powerful proposition than if we didn't sell it separately.

"For advertisers, they're constantly looking for unique opportunities and a full solution so to speak on whatever their needs are," Mr. Barry added. "If you can provide an advertiser the opportunity to get involved early on with a television project, to get involved in the content, it's a huge advantage that people are thirsting for."

To build out the offering, the magazine added an editorial section tied to the show, turning some advice from that month's episodes into step-by-step instructions. The magazine built the website at RealSimpleRealLife.com itself; TLC and Real Simple built a mobile site together.
John Barry
John Barry

Corporate family affair
And to advertise it all to consumers, they leveraged some honest-to-goodness corporate synergy, that much overblown concept. Real Simple put together a media plan, which it valued at about $5 million, to advertise the show leading up to its first episode. But it relied primarily on its sibling magazines at Time Inc. and Time Inc.'s siblings at Time Warner such as AOL.

The magazine didn't have to buy most of the siblings' time and space. "A lot of this is, 'We'll help you with this if you'll help us with that,'" Mr. Sachs said of Time Warner. "It doesn't necessarily involve a lot of money, but it involves a lot of people hours and figuring out how to work together."
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