2008 Creative Marketers: HBO

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HBO's Courteney Monroe
HBO's Courteney Monroe
It's not marketing, it's HBO. From the content-creating "Voyeur" brand campaign and the John Adams letter-writing partnership with the United States Post Office, to the gothic alternate-reality placesetter for True Blood, it's clear that HBO is hell-bent on changing the game—not just in terms of programming, but with its branding efforts as well. While the network picked up 26 Primetime Emmys last month, its "Voyeur" campaign tore through the awards circuit like wildfire, picking up two Cannes Grand Prix and helping to earn BBDO, New York top agency (and network) honors in our 2008 Awards Report.

"Truly, what we strive for is to try and make the marketing as innovative as the programming itself," says Courteney Monroe, executive vice president of consumer marketing and a 10-year veteran of the cable giant. Monroe, who works with a 10-person team, began her time at HBO just as the first season of Sex and the City premiered, after a run with American Express and a stint on the agency side as an account executive at BBDO.

Given the success of shows like The Sopranos and SATC, it's clear that HBO has no problem creating content that wins audiences over. But what HBO also does so well is create the bigger story around its programming—and its brand—with its adept and distinctive marketing efforts. Take for example the pre-launch push for True Blood, a vampire drama from Six Feet Under writer/director Alan Ball. Monroe says what made all the difference was Ball's desire to preload the public's imagination with the show's "reality," a process set in motion over a year before True Blood made its debut. HBO called on L.A.-based And Company and Campfire—the latter which knows its way around a horror launch (remember Blair Witch Project?)— to execute a multipart campaign that introduced key characters and the synthetic blood integral to the story. "[Creators like Ball] are the storytellers; great marketing is about storytelling too," she says. "It's about creating engaging stories around the consumer."

Just where these stories engage the consumer is changing, too—it can be at the airport, the post office, or just around the block. To promote Entourage's fifth season, HBO introduced "Entourage Class" on Virgin America (another creative marketer, see p. 52) and premiered the first episode of the series on board a new route from New York's JFK to Las Vegas. During September, flyers were pampered on the way to Sin City and had access to premium network content.

Created by New York promotional agency Civic Entertainment Group, the campaign for John Adams, "Power of the Letter," was significantly less jet-set, yet still garnered significant talk-value. The effort allowed people to hark back to the conversations Adams had with his wife Abigail by sending postage-paid cards with special postmarks. "The beauty of both of those promotions was they were so organic to the specific show," says Monroe. "The Virgin partnership with Entourage makes so much sense on so many levels."

What's next for Monroe and HBO? Digital agency R/GA is hard at work on a sorely-needed relaunch of HBO.com, expected to be complete in the second quarter of next year.

Read about Cadbury, another of our 2008 Creative Marketers.
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