Entertainment A-List 2009

Entertainment A-List No. 2: Lauren Zalaznick

NBCU's 'Brand Queen' Puts Focus on Women

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Lauren Zalaznick's branding brush has become nearly impossible to avoid. Whether it's the continued success of "Top Chef" and the "Real Housewives" franchise on Bravo, the growth of Oxygen, the youthful rebrand of iVillage or any of NBC Universal's "Green Is Universal" programming or marketing, Ms. Zalaznick's fingerprints are all over the company's portfolio, not to mention those of many top marketers who've integrated their brands into her networks' shows. And her personal brand isn't too shabby, with moments like her cover of the New York Times Magazine with the headline "The Affluencer."

Lauren Zalaznick
Lauren Zalaznick
Being promoted from general manager of Bravo in 2004 to president of all of NBCU's women- and lifestyle-entertainment networks in just four years is the result of a career-long commitment to branding that permeates all of Ms. Zalaznick's work. Take the vocabulary used in marketing meetings or the iconic blue and black speech-box logos that plaster Bravo's office walls. It's no coincidence that the elevator to Oxygen's HQ in Manhattan's Chelsea Market is surrounded by a vintage oxygen tank.

The influence behind all these flourishes is the audience, Ms. Zalaznick said. "We're based around the respect and curiosity of the audience we're going to serve. They tell us more than we could ever know or guess on our own."

Jason Klarman, whom Ms. Zalaznick promoted to general manager at Oxygen after working with him at Bravo for four years, described his boss as "focused like a laser beam on brand. Being her marketing person is fantastic because it's not along-for-the-ride, it's behind the wheel."

Frances Berwick, Bravo's general manager, takes the praise one step further. "Lauren is the queen of brand," she said. "I always say she's definitely an executive who leans very much on the artistic side."

New look coming
Bravo knock-offs can be spotted almost everywhere on the cable dial these days, from Food Network's "Top Chef" knock-off "Chopped" to Lifetime's pinching of "Project Runway," which spurred a vicious year-long lawsuit between The Weinstein Co. and NBCU. To that end, a brand "refresh" is already under way for Bravo, which will retire its "watch what happens" tagline and unveil a new on-air look this summer.

Viewers of March '09 "Top Chef" finale:
Advertisers added to Oxygen's roster under her oversight:
Number of A-List execs in Women@NBCU's agency meeting:
Mention the sudden ubiquity of the Bravo brand on other networks and Ms. Zalazick gets visibly (and audibly) uncomfortable, shifting in her seat in her brightly-colored Oxygen office. But her response is diplomatic. "My competitive set is the networks that have the same makeup of original programming vs. acquired shows, the ones who are investing in their own branded content like we are. And the better they do, the happier I am, because that means it's still working."

The next task on Ms. Zalaznick's ever-expanding to-do list is to change the way advertisers and agencies buy media, shifting the mind-set from a demographic sell to a psychographic sell. Her recently formed Women@NBCU advisory board, composed of 25 senior-level female marketing, media and entertainment executives, recently discussed new ways to market to women based on their purchasing and lifestyle behavior. Sponsors such as General Mills, Walmart and Kodak have already signed on for cross-platform ad buys on Bravo, Oxygen, iVillage, "The Today Show" and other female-targeted NBCU properties.

Ms. Zalaznick suggested that NBCU's ability to brand the conversation around lifestyle targeting and also put dedicated corporate resources behind it is perhaps her biggest competitive advantage. "The agency leaders see that there is no top-down head of ad sales" for a lifestyle group at other media companies, she said. "You get the sense that every available piston here is firing."