New York City was blanketed in snow as more than 100 Scripps Networks staffers arrived at the Helen Mills event space March 5. They were there to serve as a faux audience for the company's final dress rehearsal before embarking on its seven-city upfront tour.
At a time when other network groups are scaling back their upfront presentations, forsaking the glitz and glitter for one-on-one meetings, Scripps still firmly believes in the big show. The company continues to host such presentations across the country, flying top executives and its most prestigious stars to make its pitch in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, in addition to New York.
Scripps isn't impervious to the challenges facing the rest of the industry; it too has gone through layoffs and staff reductions and has seen its fair share of ratings erosion. But in spite of this -- or perhaps even because of it -- Steve Gigliotti, chief revenue officer, and Jon Steinlauf, exec VP-ad sales and marketing, are adamant about sticking to the company's tradition.
There's a dynamic with a live audience that can't be replicated sitting around a table at an agency office, Mr. Gigliotti said: "The audience feeds off each other."
The company is unique in its tradition of holding New York-style upfronts in other cities. While most network groups will host road shows, taking their upfront spiels to individual shops and clients outside of Madison Avenue, Scripps spares no expense to ensure regional markets feel just as important as clients in the Big Apple. "We come to their town in a way no one else does," Mr. Steinlauf said.
Scripps' Knoxville, Tenn., roots and large base of endemic advertisers throughout the Southeast and Midwest have made the company less New York-centric. "We feel like we are better off investing a higher percentage of our ad sales resources nationally rather than just focusing everything on the 10 big agencies in New York," Mr. Steinlauf said.
But doing shows in smaller markets on top of New York doesn't come cheap. To be competitive in the New York market alone is a seven-figure investment.
Scripps gave Ad Age an inside look at what it takes to pull off its seven-city tour, which kicked off on March 19 and concludes this week with its New York upfront on April 22.
Planning for the next upfront starts before the previous year's event even takes place.
Laura Galietta, senior VP-ad sales and marketing, calls it a "giant jigsaw puzzle" that starts with setting the dates and locations for its New York and Chicago events.
"I would never have thought my job would be looking at community school calendars in Cook County," she said. But in order to make sure Scripps' upfront presentations don't coincide with spring breaks, she has become proficient in school schedules.
This year, Scripps had to contend with an unlikely obstacle, the National Football League. Ms. Galietta received a call in the summer from the Chicago Theatre with news that the NFL had put the same day on hold for the draft. If the NFL wanted the date, it would receive priority. Ms. Galietta spent the next two weeks devising contingency plan. Ultimately Scripps wasn't pushed out of the Chicago Theatre, but complications like these are par for the course when planning an upfront.
Each network begins devising its concept strategy in July. Footage is captured while shows are in production; by the December holidays, executives start drafting their speeches.
This is also when preparations start for the upfront party. Scripps can't get away with the usual shrimp cocktail; as home of the Food Network, the expectation is higher, Ms. Galietta said. Menu planning falls to head of Food Network Kitchens Katherine Alford. "No matter what city you go to, if you are dealing with the St. Regis in Atlanta or the Townson in Detroit or the Chicago Theatre caterer, all menu selection gets vetted by the Food Network," she said.
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has become the unofficial kickoff of the upfronts for the company. It's here that Scripps sets the tone and messaging for its negotiations with media buyers and their clients. The winter is spent finalizing speeches, culling imagery and attending two table reads.
Crunch time comes with the week of final rehearsal. That's when Christine Cyree, VP-brand management and creative services (with the help of outside firm Duarte) develops the slides that will set the pace for the show. While 50% of the presentation is video and speeches, the other 50% are slides.
Mr. Steinlauf meticulously keeps to the strategy of "6 networks in 60 minutes." While he says Scripps is an important media company, he acknowledges it's not the biggest, so he is mindful of running a tight show.
Before each final dress rehearsal, Mr. Gigliotti addresses the room with a pep talk of sorts, stressing the importance of hitting and surpassing sales goals. While the upfront may be about schmoozing clients and boasting about successes, ultimately it's still about selling ad inventory, a job that's become increasingly difficult in a highly complicated TV marketplace.