PBS promo chief does homework

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In her first six months on the job at Public Broadcasting Service, Lesli Rotenberg, 39, has seen a lot of change. In the wake of PBS' effort to reinvent itself came a realignment resulting in a 9% reduction of the work force. Fortunately, the PBS senior VP-brand management and promotion loves a challenge. "It's a pattern for me," she says. "I don't think I would be interested in going anywhere where the objective is to maintain the status quo, because for me, part of the intrigue is solving problems."

Ms. Rotenberg's first project at PBS was the marketing and positioning of the documentary "American High." Trying to boost its popularity with a younger audience, PBS began airing the series in April. This is the first time PBS has gone after the teen demographic. In another first, it bought airtime on MTV.

To reach an audience that uses non-traditional media, Ms. Rotenberg also employed word-of-mouth marketing: microsites on such popular teen sites as Bolt.com contain message boards, quizzes and information on "American High" characters. There is an "American High" Web site, and an alliance with America Online has broadened coverage. In the month after the first show aired, the site registered more than 250,000 unique users and more than 1,200 discussion threads on its message boards. The number of young viewers has grown substantially in the show's time slot.

For her next project, Ms. Rotenberg is studying public support of PBS and how to reinforce its value. She says PBS' current restructuring will require strategies for boosting membership in a bad economy and strong prioritizing. Also in the works is another season of "American High" at a new school.

Ms. Rotenberg started her career as a writer, editor, publicity manager, and director of publicity and promotion before joining the Discovery Communications' Discovery Channel in 1990. It was an inauspicious move to a fledgling cable TV channel, yet it began a string of achievements. She gained experience positioning the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet brands to consumers, affiliates, advertisers and promotion partners.

Working at PBS has a different mandate to serve the public good, she says. Ms. Rotenberg says the target market for "American High" is socially conscious and embraces a brand that cares, with a high level of volunteerism and community service. In this she sees the opportunity to create "a future generation of viewers. When they get to know PBS, they're going to like what the brand stands for."

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