NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The principals of the latest marketing agency: Maria Bartiromo, Meredith Vieira, Tori Spelling and Susan Lyne.
They, along with 22 other estimable names, including Ogilvy & Mather Chairman-CEO Shelly Lazarus, aren't forming an agency in the traditional sense, but will be part of a "panel" offering marketing and general business advice to NBC Universal and its clients on how to reach women. The group will also blog, write and appear on air for the media company's women-oriented properties and contribute to a quarterly newsletter, "Power of the Purse," covering marketing to the demographic and the latest female trends. The panel will convene for the first time Feb. 10. In effect, it could become the most powerful female-focused agency in the country.
Pulling together this group of high-powered women is Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal's Women & Lifestyle Networks, which include Oxygen, Bravo, iVillage and "Green is Universal," the company's environmental initiative. She will chair the panel, which will allow NBC Universal to "think like a marketer instead of a programmer," said Ms. Zalaznick and help advertisers reach various segments of female consumers.
Advertisers will still need to retain creative and media agencies to put their marketing plans into action, Ms. Zalaznick said. But no media owner ever cops to the idea that they might be cutting out the agencies, and her assemblage of prominent advisers marks the latest effort by a media outlet to adopt duties more traditionally associated with an ad agency -- and threatens to tack another layer of competition onto an industry already dotted with big global networks and a raft of independent upstarts.
The trend of media outlets offering agency-like services has been sprouting for several years. Rolling Stone, Maxim and Vogue have helped clients tailor their print promotions. Vogue's in-house agency, known as Vogue Studio, even became agency of record for a fashion designer in 2006. Time Warner set up a corporate-marketing unit in 2004 headed by former Young & Rubicam executive John Partilla. Its goal was to try to secure additional dollars from clients by devising marketing programs that could work across the media giant's many assets.
"It was becoming more important" for media properties to have such services in-house, and "now the process is accelerated by the economy," said Rob Gregory, a former Rolling Stone and Maxim executive who is president-network sales and marketing at Plum TV. The basic-cable outlet targets residents of high-income communities, and helps marketers including American Express devise ads that fit the network's environment.
Ms. Zalaznick's venture won't necessarily make Ms. Spelling, "Today's" Ms. Vieira, CNBC's Ms. Bartiromo, Gilt Group's Ms. Lyne or any of the other participants -- who include author Candace Bushnell; Lisa Caputo, exec VP-global marketing and corporate affairs at Citigroup; Laura Caraccioli-Davis, exec VP at Starcom; Marti Barletta, president-CEO of TrendSight Group; and Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure magazine -- available for hours of one-on-one consultation.
"I don't think it is the equivalent of 'The doctor is in,' and you put up your shingle and you come by," Ms. Zalaznick said. Instead, the idea is to convene the panel several times a year on a formal basis and "a lot more frequently on an informal basis," she said, so clients can use it "as a sounding board" and "to discuss the issues of the day."
Journalists and other members of the group will be able to recuse themselves as necessary to avoid conflicts.
Members of the panel see the group as a way to add some extras to the traditional relationship between media outlet and advertiser. "Everyone is looking for differentiation and doing things that will add more value to clients. I think we're all kind of exploring," said Ogilvy's Ms. Lazarus, who heard about the idea because she is on the board of General Electric.
But will the marketers really clamor for advice from the likes of the "Money Honey," and will that result in NBC gaining new business? "There's no harm in [creating the panel]. Maybe it can give them a leg up," said Andrew Donchin, director-media investment at Aegis Group's Carat. "If we can come up with some integrations or some concepts to add to our schedule, then maybe it will be very helpful."
The panel is expected to convene four times a year, Ms. Lazarus said she was told, and members can attend via phone if they wish. "There are enough women who are involved with this that if you had to miss a meeting here or there, there would be more than enough participants who would be engaged," she said. She said she does not envision marketers bringing specific assignments to the group, but rather "it's going to be discussing broader issues relating to marketing to women, and then the conversations about these issues will be shared with the clients of NBC."
The purchasing power of women is well-known. What's harder to understand is how to market to different kinds of women, said Peggy Green, vice chairman of Publicis Groupe's Zenith Media and a member of the advisory board. "What kind of woman you are [depends on] how much you make, where you work, where you live," she said. The panel could help clients better shape their pitches to different segments of female consumers.