AD COUNCIL PACT WITH NETWORKS ENDS PSA FEUD: GROUP WILL CUSTOMIZE MESSAGES USING BROADCASTERS' ON-AIR TALENT
The Advertising Council, seeking to end an unusual public feud with broadcasters and win more airtime for its public service messages, will begin tailoring ads for individual TV networks.
The new approach would give each network its own separate public service campaigns, in some cases using the network's stars.
The Ad Council has complained that TV networks and stations are airing fewer and fewer council PSAs and more public service spots starring the networks' own on-air personalities. Such ads, the council has said, amount to little more than promotions for the networks' shows.
CHOOSING THEIR CAUSES
Under the approach outlined last week, TV executives will now be able to choose their own causes from among Ad Council clients, with the council or the TV outlet producing ads using Ad Council-developed themes that tie to its non-profit clients' facilities, programs and community support. The Ad Council also will produce ads that can be run locally.
Ad Council President Ruth Wooden called the new policies part of a "re-engineering," and said they are a significant departure from the council's previous way of operating. Until now, it basically expected each network to run the same 20 to 30 Ad Council-produced public service campaigns as its competitors ran.
TV outlets will be expected to run the Ad Council spots instead of their own public service messages, but the spots would carry both network and Ad Council identification and some could feature network stars.
"The aim on my part and that of our sponsors is to get effective frequency," said Ms. Wooden. "But for the networks, this becomes part of an effective branding campaign."
NBC last week said announcement of a campaign being produced under the new policy is imminent, with spots featuring NBC stars delivering an Ad Council message to air in a month and a bigger program slated for next year.
"It makes the best use of Ad Council and the network. It's a partnership," said Rosalyn Weinman, NBC exec VP-broadcast standards and content policy. "We do think Ruth has recognized that as we enter into the new generation of public service, there are more effective ways to generate public service advertising."
OTHERS MEETING TOO
Both ABC and CBS also said they have been meeting with the Ad Council about developing campaigns that would fit the networks.
"In the old days when people didn't have to have too many choices, networks didn't have to have a branded identity," said ABC Television President Preston Padden. "Now consumers are increasingly making choices based on branded identity and it is increasingly important to have a branded identity run across our entire spectrum of programming and public service."
Last April then Ad Council Chairman Alex Kroll chastised broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters convention and urged they set aside at least 60 seconds a night for Ad Council messages.
Mr. Kroll, the former Young & Rubicam chairman, suggested the networks were backing away from their traditional social compact of providing public service time in return for use of the airwaves. Broadcasters, who had used their reach to sell U.S. Savings Bonds, save trees, help raise money for African-American colleges and get drunks off the road, were falling down in support of current public service issues, he said.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt heightened the criticism, accusing broadcasters of failing to adequately offer public service messages.
Mr. Hundt, Mr. Kroll and Ms. Wooden at the time said broadcasters who ran public service messages using their stars instead of running Ad Council messages were effectively running "sponsored" messages, not public service ads.
Mr. Hundt said a commission being formed to study what additional public service responsibility broadcasters should incur in return for getting new digital channels should examine their responsibility to run PSAs. Ms. Wooden said last week that the Ad Council's main concern is seeing that the messages of its sponsoring groups get aired, and that she never opposed using TV stars in ads.
"I was never against using network stars. My concern was the lack of non-profits as a sponsor," she said. "We are not in the business of making ads. We are in the business of getting messages heard."
TRADITIONAL ADS CONTINUE
Ms. Wooden said the Ad Council will continue offering traditional PSAs, but looks on the network campaigns as an additional asset. She said the Ad Council is also reexamining the possibility of allowing private companies or marketers to sponsor some of its PSA messages.
"What we are doing now is living in a constrained inventory," she said. "What we