TV Upfront

Agency Flips the Upfronts Around, Has a Bunch of TV Networks Over for Drinks

Ad Sales Execs Mingle Over Cocktails at 'SparkFront'

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ABC-TV network sales exec Dave Mayber with Spark's John Muszynski
ABC-TV network sales exec Dave Mayber with Spark's John Muszynski

TV networks have already begun their glitzy upfront presentations to advertisers in New York City, but one media agency put its own unique spin on the upfronts last night some 800 miles away in Chicago.

Publicis Groupe's Spark hosted what it called the "SparkFront," and rather than the usual assembly of media buyers hearing about one TV network, it was a gathering of TV networks to hear about one agency.

The roughly 90 guests at Chicago's elegant University Club mostly comprised Midwestern-based sales reps from national media companies such as Turner, Fox, CBS and MTV, mingling over cocktails and appetizers in a long hallway with gorgeous views of the city's lakefront.

There were no TV stars, no sales pitches, and no overblown promises about new series that won't really last more than a few episodes.

Spark, whose clients include Dairy Queen, Taco Bell, ConAgra and Ace Hardware, held the event as a way to thank its media partners, "but to also set expectations before we go into the NewFronts and upfronts of what we are looking for," said Spark CEO Chris Boothe.

The most formal part of the evening came about an hour in, when Spark execs gave some brief remarks at a podium. Spark Chief Investment Officer John Muszynski, who is entering his 34th upfront, told the media companies that the agency and its clients would be putting a premium on data this year, including social buzz.

"One hundred percent of our deals and our decisions [about] where to invest our money will be data-informed. And when I say data-informed, I'm saying beyond standard Nielsen age and gender metrics," he said, citing information from such providers as Acxiom, Catalina and Rentrak.

But with so much data available, one attendee asked for clarification. "I'm willing to look at anything," Mr. Muszynski replied, joking that "I don't need you to come in and tell me how you are number one with left-handed, menopausal bowlers."

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