Dan Longest Is the Only Man Who Can Get You in

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Who: Dan Longest, senior vice president of integrated marketing and promotions for the ABC television network.

Why you need to know him: If you’re a producer who wants to integrate brands into your ABC show, you’ll have to go through Mr. Longest first. Similarly, if you’re an executive who barters those deals, whether at the marketer’s media agency, ad agency, third-party firm or the brand itself, you’ll be working with Mr. Longest and his team, who coordinate all brand integrations into the network’s scripted and reality shows.

Dan Longest, senior vice president of integrated marketing and promotions at ABC TV.

Credentials: Mr. Longest has been with ABC for nearly a decade, starting in 1996 as the director of consumer promotions for the network’s marketing division. While in that job, he helped create such advertiser-driven promotions as the “3-D Week of Comedy,” when the network’s sitcoms included 3-D scenes and partner Wendy’s gave away 30 million pairs of 3-D glasses. He also shepherded a program in the late ‘90s that gave away 160 Oldsmobile Aleros to hype the fall lineup. He also worked on ABC’s first brand integration, between AT&T and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? More recently, Mr. Longest has overseen brand integrations in scripted programming, such as Nokia’s involvement in the spy drama Alias, and he’s overseen the deals between the network and Sears for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Buick, Nissan and Maserati for Desperate Housewives.

Since ABC was early in the brand integration game, how did you initiate those deals? “Establishing a process both internally and externally to get these implemented was critical from the start. These projects are very labor intensive and many people have to be involved in the process –- the client, agency, sales, programming, producers, legal, BS&P –- and we needed to build an infrastructure to ensure quality, efficiency and effectiveness.”

Sears was involved in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition before it began airing. How did that deal come together? “We've had a long-standing relationship with Sears and, accordingly, were aware of their business objectives regarding branded entertainment. When we saw the concept for EMHE, it looked like a great fit for them. Their brand is about providing ‘the good life’ to their customers, and the show was about providing ‘a better life’ for those needing help. We met with Perianne Grignon from Sears and their agency Starcom to discuss the match and all agreed we had the perfect platform to build a partnership. From that point, we worked with the show producers to create different ways to best integrate Sears into the program.”

A show like According to Jim has had some high-profile product integrations, like Darden Restaurants’ Red Lobster prominently written into a storyline, as was Buick with Desperate Housewives. How much more difficult is it to integrate a brand into a scripted show? “We've actually had great success in both scripted and reality shows. Both genres provide challenges and opportunities. It really comes down to the creative idea and how the product or brand fits into the moment.”

Many marketers say they want to do brand integration, but how does the network decide who can participate and who can’t? “The primary driver is whether there is a creative fit to accomplish the client's goals. Obviously, not every brand makes sense in every show; however, because we are such a broad network -- with many different programs across all dayparts –- we have the ability to work with a wide array of brands/partners. Additionally, we require that the partner be a customer of the network through media commitments.”

How do you deal with the increasing number of producers who want or attempt to make their own brand integration deals? “Every integration deal that exists at ABC goes through our sales and marketing integration departments. Obviously, great ideas are born in many places and we are open to discussing opportunities from many sources but we must control the process to ensure quality and equity among the various deals we have at the network.”

Some people use the terms product placement and product integration interchangeably. You don’t. Can you explain the difference? “We view placement as a passive experience where the product is displayed within a scene but does not have any specific relevance to the story. This is not an area we focus on. Instead, we concentrate our energies against developing integrations where the product has a reason for being in the program and in some cases becomes an element of the story. The result is usually a better experience for the brand and for the show.”

How have brand integrations at ABC changed over time? “I think ABC is at a place where our efforts over the last six or seven years are really paying off. By focusing so much attention to process and building an infrastructure to accommodate these integrations, there's a greater willingness –- internally and externally –- to explore opportunities that might not have existed in the earlier days. The network, our shows and our clients are all in pursuit of the best integrations possible, so our starting point begins with 'How great can we make this?' vs. a concern over 'How do we get this done?’ ”

How do you think brand integration will evolve over time? What will the deals look like in, say, five years? And what will the content look like? “I think we've made some incredible progress and because we have such creative and enthusiastic people working on this business, we'll see some amazing stuff produced going forward. As long as we, as an industry, continue to police ourselves and make smart decisions, I think we'll continue to see this area grow.”

What are the clumsiest brand integrations you’ve seen? “Instead of critiquing a specific integration, I'd prefer to say that this is still a very new area we're in and it takes time –- and trial and error –- to find out what works. I think there are some examples of how not to do integrations but we're all still learning and recalibrating as needed.”

What are some good integrations -- outside of ABC -- that you’ve seen? “I thought the Burger King integration into Arrested Development was great. I'm a big fan of Christopher Guest's movies (Spinal Tap, Best In Show) and that integration reminded me of something he'd do.”

What’s on your TiVo? “I don't own one. Yet.”

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? “With four little kids, ‘spare time’ is kind of rare in my house. However, I coach my three sons in baseball and love to golf whenever I get the chance.”
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