UPN seeks shop for branding campaign

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TV network UPN is searching for an agency to create its first ever branding campaign as it struggles to stem a ratings decline.

UPN is considering "a long list of agencies from coast to coast" to handle the multi-media assignment, said one agency executive familiar with the review.

Several shops confirmed that they received phone calls from a network executive, but declined further comment.

Robert Rene, UPN exec VP of marketing, would only say, "We are talking to a number of agencies for creative on a project-by-project basis."

The review comes as the fledgling broadcast network attempts to regain viewers. This season, UPN tried to shed its reputation as a network that primarily appeals to young viewers in urban markets. It introduced a number of programs UPN that network executives hoped would appeal to a broader audience.

But instead of widening its viewer base, UPN narrowed it; viewership for this season through Dec. 13 is down 35% to a 2 rating among all households. Within the crucial 18-to-49 demo, viewership dropped 35% to a 1.2 rating.

The network is now said to be revising its strategy and mixing in alternative, edgier programming.

QUICK DECISION EXPECTED

Another agency executive contacted about the review said UPN wants to make a quick decision.

The network will hold credential meetings during the first two weeks of January, then cut to a short list and assign the finalists a specific project in mid-January, the executive said.

UPN hopes to wrap up the review by the end of January.

Just like other networks, UPN handles much of its on-air creative work through its own in-house staff and sometimes uses creative boutiques in Los Angeles and New York. UPN's $20 million media buying account is currently handled by Western International Media, Los Angeles.

Taking on a big agency for a major branding campaign would be similar to what ABC did two years ago in hiring TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., creator of the controversial "TV is good" campaign.

WEAK IDENTITIES

While many cable networks have built strong brands because of their defined niches (sports, music, cartoons), the broadcast networks don't have strong individual identities. Marketing analysts say establishing those brands, though, will be a crucial part of stemming audience erosion for the broadcasters.

Copyright December 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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