Fox News Shakes Up Ad Pitch to Madison Avenue (EXCLUSIVE)

Brian Steinberg

Whether or not they watch Fox News Channel regularly, a lot of people talk about its primetime hosts: Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. Now executives at the network hope to spark new conversation about its news anchors, like Martha MacCallum, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.

The cable-news outlet this week is reaching out to Madison Avenue with a marketing effort that aims to remind advertisers and media buyers about how well-watched the network’s programming is and how much people talk about it. A new marketing slogan, “America Is Watching,” has been trademarked and a map of the United States has been created showing that no matter whether the region tilts red or blue politically, Fox News is the most-watched cable-news outlet there – pressing against the notion that the network is only for conservatives. Fox News will highlight that theory in ads placed around New York (a mock-up of one of a possible placement is pictured, above). The network has also invited buyers to an event in its studio March 13th – the first time in the outlet’s history such a meeting has been organized.

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“The opinion programming is incredibly popular, and steals the bigger part of the headlines,” says Jason Klarman, a consultant who has been working with Fox News and who is supervising the marketing effort. but “literally more than two-thirds of the millions of people who come in and check out the channel every day are coming for the news programming.”

Fox News sparks the new initiative at a time when its opinion programs have come under scrutiny from advertisers. Some sponsors have pulled their advertising from Tucker Carlson’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” or Laura Ingraham’s “The Ingraham Angle” after remarks made by the hosts in 2018 and amid subsequent protest from advocacy organizations. Those commercials have been moved elsewhere on the Fox News schedule, and those two programs often sport a narrower roster of national advertisers along with more direct-response commercials and in-house promos.

Keeping the ad dollars flowing at Fox News is critical – not only for the network, but for its parent company, 21st Century Fox. At some point in the next few months, Fox is slated to sell the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. The remaining company, known as Fox Corporation will rely on not only Fox News and Fox Business Network, but Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. The Fox News unit has contributed around 20% of the overall company’s operating profit. In a pared-down structure, it might be more. And while many analysts focus on the revenue Fox News derives from affiliates, its ad dollars will also be important after the sale.

Fox News Channel took in $1.02 billion in net advertising revenue in 2018, according to estimates from Kagan, a market-research firm that is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, and is seen climbing to nearly $1.07 billion in 2019.  Despite the recent ad boycotts, 21st Century Fox said its advertising revenue rose 6% in its most recent fiscal quarter, largely due to better pricing at Fox News.

Fox News launches the effort as the TV industry is gearing up for its annual “upfront” sales session, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season.

Media buyers suggest their clients recognize the value and size of the audience around Fox News programs, but are leery of being called out on social media by advocacy organizations monitoring primetime advertising. There can be other complications: Clients who withdraw ads can risk alienating the Fox News audience.

The company’s news programs, Klarman says, can be compelling places for advertisers. “If you’re not buying us, you’re not reaching the whole audience,” “he says.

He points to scoops and recent interviews nabbed by the Fox News news staff. Martha MacCallum has scored exclusive, early interviews with both then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and former New York Times editor Jill Abramson when they were in the center of a news cycle. Fox News was first on Election Day to call the 2018 midterms for the Democrats, owing to investments in new polling technology. Some of its hosts are winning more presence in popular culture: Bret Baier has been a frequent visitor to CBS “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

“News is transcending its own genre and becoming popular culture, thanks in part to the Trump presidency,” says Klarman. Because Fox News is the nation’s most-watched cable-news network, he says, it is benefiting proportionately from that dynamic.

Klarman has years of experience touting some of TV’s best-known properties. He was part of the marketing team when Fox News launched in the mid-1990s. He also had a hand in promoting Trio, the cable network that curated critically acclaimed TV series, and Bravo, before moving on to become president of Oxygen at NBCUniversal and chief marketing officer of Fullscreen. He recently took part in helping to launch Fox Nation, the new Fox News streaming service.

Fox News has typically been sold to advertisers separately from other Fox properties, but once the Disney sale is completed, its ad-sales efforts will be handled by the same executive who oversees the function at the rest of the company. Marianne Gambelli, a former NBCU ad-sales executive, has been named president of Fox ad sales and has in recent weeks been putting her stamp on the company’s sales organization. Klarman says Fox News aims to “continue the conversation with clients and advertisers year round.”

 

 

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