ON THE WATCH FOR POP CULTURE WAVES

Joel Chiodi Mixes Products and Programming at GSN

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Who: Joel Chiodi, vice president, marketing and promotions, GSN

Why you need to know him: Mr. Chiodi oversees all marketing efforts for GSN, the cable network for game shows, which reaches 57 million Nielsen homes.

Credentials: Since joining GSN in 2001, Mr. Chiodi has been responsible for the development and execution of marketing planning, promotions,
Be it dodge ball or horse racing, Joel Chiodi finds a way to integrate partners into GSN's game programming.

sweepstakes, online media plans and integrated marketing initiatives for the network, including special events and promotional tours. Before GSN, he was director of marketing for online entertainment site IFILM where he managed strategic and corporate relationships. He was also manager of promotions for E! Entertainment Television and sibling network Style. Additionally, Mr. Chiodi has served as marketing supervisor for Skycastle Entertainment; manager of standards and practices for Wheel of Fortune and served as an associate producer for MNN National Radio Networks. He has put together promotional campaigns for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, American Dream Derby, WordSlam and Extreme Dodgeball. He is currently putting together a 10-city “Battle of the Bars” nine-ball pool competition to promote GSN’s new series Ballbreakers, which debuts July 18.

Is it easier to integrate brands into game shows than into other types of unscripted programming? “First off, I think I will get marched up to the principal’s office if I don’t remind everyone that our network has moved beyond game shows. Game shows will always be important to the mix, but our original programming is typically more game-related, like our casino shows or Extreme Dodgeball.  That said, regarding brand integration I think it’s less about the type or style of programming than it is having a management team that understands the value of it and is open to really creative thinking. When we put a program together for a partner, it involves programming, PR, marketing, ad sales, etc., and that leads to a really strong progressive integration.” 

Since it’s been done for decades, do brands still want exposure in shows through giveaways? How can a deal like that be structured to be more extensive than a “promotional consideration” tag at the end of the show? “As is the case for most of our shows, the value of the innovative on-air integration is worth more than the product being plugged overtly, especially when you factor in repeat airings. So unless it is part of a larger ad sales, promotional or integrated deal, we tend to structure things so the program resonates with today’s savvy consumer.”

Can you give an example of such a deal GSN has done recently? “We have worked with [Bank of America] over the last three years on the Get Schooled Tour, and together, through a live touring educational game show, have given over $400,000 away in college tuition to support students in need of funding. As part of that, Bank of America is integrated across the live event, in local spots that run with the participating cable affiliate, a network push on GSN and this year a new program called WordSlam, which chronicles the game played on the tour and the back stories on all the winners. Bank of America representatives are interviewed as experts and the brand is integrated into the show with prizing, logos and advertising.” This year's tour visited 11 cities across the country and was hosted by American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke. 

What are challenges you face in launching TV properties and how do you tackle them? “Its pretty simple: having a big enough marketing budget and getting people to sample your programming with 300 other channels to pick from are the biggest challenges. We’ve really looked at timing the programming and positioning to ride pop culture waves, as we did with the dodgeball craze last summer, or the interest right now in spelling bees, which played a role in developing WordSlam and our 'Get Schooled Tour.' GSN also collaborates closely with our local cable affiliates to create promotions and local ad sales sponsorships. Relationships with affiliates have never been more integral to the marketing scope. We will give the affiliates a 30-second spot, most of which promotes new programming but leaves space for the affiliate to tag with a local sponsor they sell in, or to promote their cable services like broadband, or just to run as part of a promotion to their subscribers.  These mutually beneficial programs delivers us literally millions of dollars per campaign in promotion on competitive networks.”  

How do you involve brand partners in those launches? “We have featured advertisers in spots that reach local cable affiliates. TCBY, Bank of America and LeAnn Rimes are recent partnerships that have benefited from this free exposure with integration into the advertising that runs locally around the country.” 

Why did you link up country pop star LeAnn Rimes with American Dream Derby? “Given that American Dream Derby was a reality show set in the field of horse racing, and the show finale was a live race with the finalists at Santa Anita Racetrack, we wanted an entertainment partner that could both attract a live audience and contribute to the programming. I am an iPod-obsessed music freak. And I have been known to like a country ditty or two. LeAnn had a new album coming out at the same time as our show. The song from that album, "You Take Me Home," fit lyrically with the show and it had that soaring anthem quality we were looking for. I know LeAnn owns horses and was a big fan on that level, so it was a perfect fit. We presented her manager with the benefits of the advertising that her song would receive being featured in the show’s marketing. We subsequently ran a promotion with our local cable affiliates who really got on board with this one and we have affidavits from these systems showing the spot ran 391,000 times in 33 million homes in 65 of the top markets during the shows run. Her album debuted on Billboard’s Top Album Chart at No. 3. And best of all, I got to sit in the front row at her concert at Santa Anita.”

There's a show coming up on your network about playing pool. How do you make that interesting to potential viewers? “With the hard-core and casual billiards enthusiasts in mind, we created a 10-city Battle of the Bars tournament. Through our event agency Promotions Group West, we solicited 15 bars in each city most popular for playing pool. Each bar is advertising the show in-house and sending one player to represent them at this main event. One player in each city will win a cash prize and a Brunswick Pool table. Brunswick’s tables are featured in the series and they are sending POP point-of-promotion] to their retailers around the country. The main event will feature live radio remotes, auditions for season two and a table where visitors can compete against players from the show. Our goal was to get people playing pool and experience the show first hand.”   

How do you take a show with niche interest and make its promotion and marketing campaign mainstream? “Forward thinking, having a pulse on what is sticking, not just slapping a sweepstakes and loyalty together but delivering the consumer something exciting.”  

Can you still grab today’s jaded consumers with a simple sweepstakes or contest? “It depends on what you are expecting from the sweepstakes and a lot of it, as always, comes down to the prize. Unless you have something completely unique or aspirational, it’s going to be white noise to most people.”

What does it take to get their attention and, more important, get them to tune-in? “A good marketer knows their brand, what is going to get their loyal audience excited and what will attract new audiences. You just cannot do generic programs. And what works for another network may not here. We have to know what the trends are, know the audiences of the network down to the hour and the show and then be diligent about creating programs that hit that mark. The more niche the programming, the more unique the marketing has to be.” 

What’s the best guerrilla marketing you’ve done? “To launch Extreme Dodgeball, we created a giant inflatable arena. It made its debut on Good Morning America live in Times Square with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson pegging each other with balls inside. It then hit hot spots like Chelsea Pier before touring the country, first at summer radio events leveraged from our ad buy and then at back-to-school college events with our cable affiliates. It got a ton of press coverage nationally and locally.” 

What’s the best you’ve seen? “Court TV has a forensics mall tour I think really captures the network and all the heat surrounding forensics over the past few years. What Wasserman Media Group is doing with their Studio 411 product is another great example as they are integrating endemic and non-endemic brands into their action sports DVDs without disrupting these picky viewers. Anything that ties back to programming and cultural beat in an organic way.” 

We understand that you’re a big reality show fan. What are your favorites and why?American Idol and The Amazing Race are two of the best shows on television. They have the emotion, suspense and competition that make for good TV. Plus, they bring a giant audience together in something communal, which in these fragmented times is rare.” 

What’s the best brand integration you’ve seen lately? “The History Channel is always doing great partnerships. For smaller brands to hit a home run, you know that marketer is working overtime and really trying to approach things in clever ways.”

The worst? “Marketers pushing content using a vehicle wrapped in graphics along with unmanaged, apathetic temps trying to get you to pay attention to whatever it is being hawked. Cringe inducing.”

What’s on your TiVo right now? “This summer it’s Six Feet Under, VH-1’s Top 20 Countdown and pundits like Bill Maher talking about the end of the world.”
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