The Upfront Season: Get a Bigger Piece This Year

Is it just me, or do we start talking about the network TV upfront season earlier each year? Last year, I wrote about the upfront in mid-March. Now, it’s February and we’re already hearing chatter around the industry. Many clients are anxiously looking to get a head start on the infamous advertising orgy that happens every May.

The broadcast upfront is so important to us in interactive marketing because many budget-allocation and preplanning decisions are made in advance of the broadcast buying frenzy. With so much money changing hands in such a short timeframe, the environment is ripe to secure digital spending well in advance of the “on-air” date. This is becoming increasingly important as we run into sellout situations on some of the most coveted online placements. Locking up some of those spots early benefits clients (and potentially boxes out the competition), publishers (the ability to put revenue on the books early), and agencies alike.

Last year, I placed most of the responsibility on agencies to educate their clients and put together upfront strategies related to individual client needs. Most of you will agree not a lot of interactive business was written outside the obligatory broadcast “added-value” deals (next: a full discourse on added-value).

This year, the sell side of the equation. Online publishers should focus on offering saleable packages that can easily be purchased during the upfront season. Following, a few ways to package inventory appealingly for clients to buy well in advance:

  • Clustering content and placements that speak to a specific demographic or psychographic target, such as moms with kids; men 18-34; do-it-yourselfers; gamers; c-level executives; and online shoppers. Behaviorally targeted segments would be a smart sell here, too.
  • Aggregate and package video content that’s demo-specific, and allows advertisers to buy based on guaranteed demographic deliveries. This gives agencies and clients a simple avenue for disseminating video assets should they decide to take “video money” out of the upfront.
  • Offer prime placements, such as home pages, top-level section fronts, over-the-page inventory, and other permanent placements. Some of this has been going on already as a result of limited supply and increasing demand. We should continue moving in this direction.

In addition to packaging inventory well, we should also offer more industry-standard cancellation options (as in broadcast TV). This would provide clients with necessary flexibility, as well as introduce the notion that at some point, online dollars are firm and no longer subject to the invariable budget cuts that pop up throughout the year.

I’m more optimistic about this year’s upfront, because a few powerful things are working in our favor:

  • An additional year’s worth of client media landscape presentations showing the precipitous decline in big broadcast network ratings, increasing consumer media options, and the rising importance of digital media.
  • A potentially less hectic upfront than in years past. Advertisers and agencies will have the necessary time to think through some of their options without the fear of missing the window of opportunity.
  • An industry that’s hitting its stride in terms of producing a quality environment for marketers that’s both priced right and infinitely measurable.
  • Better systems and tools in place to manage the business flow and help us to operate more efficiently and accurately.

We should be proud of where the interactive marketing industry is. The business has clearly begun to scale across most categories, including those that are traditionally the slowest to adapt to change (consumer packaged goods companies is one example). In a few months, we’ll have the opportunity to take a sizeable bite out of over $10 billion that will be exchanged between buyers and sellers.

This year, I want a bigger piece of that action.

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