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How to Chase Girls

The CW has stayed relevant and trendsetting by developing a targeted niche for young women and sticking with it, both in its programming and its eye-catching marketing. As its new season rolls out this week, the man behind the messaging--CW Executive VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy Rick Haskins--spoke with B&C's Andrea Morabito about how he stays ahead of a pop culture curve that never stops moving. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

What's the biggest thing you learned in putting together your marketing plan for this season?
Well what's funny, and that's a great question, is that every year there are so many new technologies that we try and take advantage of them all. This is the first year I can tell you that we're doing apps, to start with, definitely the first time we've done an iPad app. I think that mobile is becoming more and more important to us with reaching out to our target audience and talking to them. But at the end of the day, those are kind of the bells and whistles of a marketing plan. Even for our audience, TV still drives TV, and that is our most important building block. And I think sometimes marketers want to work with what that shiny new toy is, and people forget about the basic building blocks.

What media platforms should marketers be paying attention to now to target the young demographic? Are Facebook and Twitter still the gold standard, or is there something new?
Facebook and Twitter still are the gold standard, there's no question about it. But you are starting to see things bubble up--myYearbook is becoming more important for a younger audience and it is a high school version of Facebook, and so we're definitely in there. The thing that's happening is that back in the day, if you were in radio, TV and print you were done--no longer the case. What I'm finding is that even your basic TV drives TV, but TV today is different than TV yesterday in that you've got to be on all the digital TV platforms, plus your usual platforms. You've got to be on TiVo, you've got to be on satellite, you've got to be on the IPG. So using that medium, you've got to use it in different ways than we used to use it. It's both different mediums and how you use the traditional mediums.

What do you think the hot topics or trends are today in marketing to young people?
I get about 50,000 emails a day from companies saying "Hey, would you like to know more about social media and how it fits into your media plan?" So that's obviously the big buzz right now. I think that the biggest challenge for me is staying relevant and slightly ahead of the curve but not too ahead of the curve. For instance we were talking about Xbox, and how we're doing a huge campaign with them for Nikita. A few years ago, you would never try and reach women using a video game. But what we're finding now is that they are using video. The other thing that we're doing, and this is kind of fun, for Hellcats, is you know social gaming is very fun, Farmville and all of those. Sorority Life is a fairly big social game on Facebook. And one of the things we've found is that about 38% of people's time when they're on Facebook is on social gaming. So we went to Sorority Life, and what we did is we actually incorporated Hellcats into that game's play value, where people can go and try out to be a Hellcat.

The CW's marketing strategy is about pushing the boundaries and being provocative. Do you worry that always going for shock value becomes expected or cliche after a time?
Yeah, I think that's a really good question. We definitely like to push boundaries because our audience does. We don't necessarily do shock for shock value. We don't do that. I think that we do what's right for the show.

Do these types of campaigns only work for a smaller network? Or are bigger networks capable of taking risks?
Oh, you're going to get me in trouble [laughs]. I think that broadcast networks are definitely just that--they are broad. And in order to be broad and make sure you don't disenfranchise anybody, you do tend to have to have a not quite as provocative visual or message. So I do think that when you have a unique brand like The CW, which does always try to be culturally current, which does try and be social and digital, it does allow you to be more inventive and think outside the box. I think that's fair. I think the other networks do know their audiences and provide them creative that that audience can relate to.

What's the one show on another network you would love to launch a marketing campaign for?
Great question, obviously Hawaii Five-0 would be a really fun one. Big Bang could be fun. Those are two CBS shows, so let's move beyond our parent company [laughs]. There are a lot of shows; Modern Family would be a very, very fun show to launch because it is such a broad show, it would be pretty fun to communicate all the pieces of it.

Tell me what you're planning on your network for this season.
This year's focus is on our two new shows, Nikita and Hellcats, I would say 50-50 between those two campaigns. Nikita is a much broader show--I think it's going to appeal to both males and females in a very, very broad sense. Because of that, our strategy was about going after both males and females and expanding where we normally would advertise. In addition, we're doing what we call a "technical scavenger hunt" with a company, Brightkite, that is like a Foursquare, where if people see a Nikita sighting, they can go back and write where they saw her, and this can be either on a billboard, in a magazine, or hear her on radio, see her on TV. And the person who sees Nikita the most gets a trip to the spy museum in Washington, D.C.

What's the one coolest thing you are doing to promote a show this fall?
Vampire Diaries, we're doing a lot of things digitally, that's a very viral show. We've done a lot of pieces on that. I don't know if you saw EW named Ian Somerhalder the "Sexiest Beast" (I always say vampire, but it's really around vampires, it's the sexiest beast around). So we're really taking that show to the fans, and it's funny - we have over 200 million people on the Vampire Diaries Facebook fan page. - we put something out there, and literally in 30 seconds it's been consumed and spread virally everywhere. So we're really focusing on getting the fans wrapped up by doing things on Facebook and then letting them be our messengers for the show. Gossip Girl, the show itself has really helped us by giving us a fantastic hook of going to Paris for the first couple of episodes, and what we've done is we've translated the "OMFG" campaign to French, so it is the "OMD" campaign, Oh Mon Dieu, and really have that taking off and I think the fans will really love that too because there is a playfulness to it, yet there is a home base of what I think the fans really loved with the OMFG campaign.

The newNikita billboards are selling a highly sexualized Maggie Q in a tight red dress. Is that part of your campaign to reach the male audience?
Well, yes and no. It's interesting, when you talk to people about what makes a good spy, what makes a good spy is someone that can kind of fit in to any type of situation, and a lot of very good-looking women fit in and make good spies because they are very attractive and men want to talk to them. So what we've done in capture Maggie, who is the consummate assassin, and the reason why she's good is she can fit in in a very natural way and get close to people she needs to get close to. And I think that the tagline "Looks Do Kill" is perfect for what the show is and what Maggie's character does.

And what do you have planned on theHellcats side?
While Nikita is flying up and down in a helicopter, we [were scheduled to be] in Dallas for Hellcats and [were] attempting to break the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most cheerleaders in one place doing the same cheer at one time. And for perspective I think right now [the record] it's about 300 people, we have--it's crazy--we have like 2500 people, 2500 cheerleaders who are going to be packed into a stadium doing this for us.