How Bravo's President Lures 'Affluencers' to Bravo Fold

Q&A: VH1 Vet Lauren Zalaznick Has Revitalized Another Network With Branded Entertainment

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Looking to inject some youthful energy and buzzworthy panache to your brand? Lauren Zalaznick might have a solution.
Lauren Zalaznick
Lauren Zalaznick Credit: David Schinman

A veteran producer of indie films (including 1995's "Safe"), Ms. Zalaznick helped lead VH1 out of its adult-contemporary, "video hits one" identity in the mid-'90s onto a path that ultimately led to its current status as one of the top cable networks for reaching the 18 to 34 demographic.

By the time Ms. Zalaznick became president of Bravo in the summer of 2004, she had another opportunity to make a network into something more youthful and culturally relevant. That's because her new job coincided with the breakout hit "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." After a slow first season in 2004, "Project Runway" turned into full-scale event TV, watched by more than 3 million viewers each week, with its contestants creating a blogger frenzy. Ms. Zalaznick, 43, spoke with Ad Age reporter Andrew Hampp about her engaged new audience.

MediaWorks: You recently declared your audience "affluencers," the educated, affluent, media-savvy consumers who spend just as much time blogging about their favorite shows as they do watching them. What have you learned about keeping that audience engaged across all your platforms?

Lauren Zalaznick: You can't buy eyeballs anymore. You have to have the content people want to come back to week after week. Blogs are an important signifier to what's happening with what has expanded. We have so many microsites, yet I almost literally can't feed the gaping maw of demand. What we're finding is a lot of these are clearly bookmarked because people are coming back to them on a daily basis. We're also getting lots of traffic across our mobile wireless site. That means someone's waiting for the bus and checking out "Desperate Housewives [of Orange County]" photo galleries on their phones.

MediaWorks: Bravo has become a go-to network for its branded-entertainment partnerships. How do you keep those partnerships meaningful without forcing the brands onto your consumers?

Ms. Zalaznick: There are two things we learned: You're only as cool as your client. The most innovative clients are a joy. They allow a match to be made between the shiny new toy and the veracity of content. And if they can associate in places where the consumers want to be, we will be successful with clients who take more than just an on-air look at a media buy. If you could over-index a media buy, that's what Bravo does. It's a literal payoff in metrics. If you have a client who wants to be in, you're already 90% of the way in. You have to be a little bit excited but know your limits. What is organic? If you see that disconnect early, bail.

MediaWorks: Bravo will be one of the participating networks in NBC's new partnership with News Corp. for an online video site. But what's your take on YouTube as a marketing tool?

Ms. Zalaznick: There's a strong blur there in ubiquitous content, and compensation has to get worked out. But I have this theory that getting a TV set has become the equivalent of settling down. It's going to be the old-fart thing to do, like getting your first house, getting married. Everyone is going to convert to flat screens. When you think of it that way, the content has to go there. But our ratings growth has been strong in the face of DVR, peer-to-peer. Maybe it's feeding the mother ship. We know when there's a tremendous rush to view something free and available.

MediaWorks: You've seen remarkable growth in terms of ratings and reach across younger demographics and your web properties. Canceling "Queer Eye" was one move to not rest on your laurels, but what else can be done to keep expanding the Bravo brand?

Ms. Zalaznick: We shot a flare in the sky, and we're all tramping toward it. It flies in the face of old thinking and a very simple theory -- Bravo is a young network that could greatly benefit by doing more of what we're doing.

The same is very elegantly mirrored online. More of those people are coming back. When we add pictures, they click on it. Ratings are up, the median age has gone down.

We've always found a way to value how people are watching the program [on all platforms]. There's no failure of driving the consumer to the product. ... We just redid our pricing system as a result [of its shifting emphasis away from click-through ROI]. To me, it's ... about working smart.
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