If you're in the business of showing viewers how to make that great American home look better, what's more natural than a campaign that centers on restoration? That was the thinking behind HGTV's Restore America: A Salute to Preservation campaign, which launched last summer.
It was conceived three years ago as the network inched toward full distribution at 86 million homes, says Cindy McConkey, vice president of corporate communications for Scripps Networks. "We felt we had the reach to really make a difference," she says. "This was our first big stake in the ground in public affairs."
The network teamed up with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has its own Save America's Treasures program. "We could bring the exposure and the on-air pizzazz," McConkey says, "and they could bring the credibility and the knowledge and administrative abilities."
And, of course, as with all public-affairs campaigns, the project would generate positive publicity for the network, particularly in the markets in which it concentrated its grassroots efforts. The network involved executives from brand marketing, ad sales, corporate communications, affiliate sales and marketing, programming, and online departments in the planning. (Beyond PSAs and on-air programming, this meant that the brand-marketing group coordinated efforts to gain favorable media coverage on local Scripps broadcast stations. The ad-sales group brought Lowe's in to sponsor the Restoration Center at HGTV.com, which aimed to encourage others to start their own projects.)
Since its launch, the program has restored one building a month—from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan to the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn., to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to Frank Lloyd Wright's Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago—with HGTV proudly airing the efforts and results. HGTV not only took on the on-air production and promotion costs but also donated $2 million to the partnership. It expected its second-annual gala this summer to generate another $850,000. (The gala honored Restore America Heroes including singer Don Henley, who fought for years to preserve Walden Woods of Henry David Thoreau fame, and businessman John H. Bryan, who spearheaded the renovation of Chicago's Lyric Opera House and Orchestra Hall.)
McConkey says the project has been great in part because of its "measurability": Both HGTV's Web site and the National Trust get surges of interest from people looking to get involved. "This initiative does, indeed, cause our viewers to act," she says. "We have made a difference."
Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.
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