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PromaxBDA Preps for 60th Anniversary Conference

When PromaxBDA was formed in 1956, the goal was to address a growing problem: how to stand out in a three-network world.

The seven local promotion managers in Chicago who formed the organization “were realizing, ‘Oh my God, our viewers could watch two other things! My gosh, how do you even market a TV show?’” chuckles Steve Kazanjian, who became president and CEO in late 2014. “In reality, though, that’s pretty visionary to establish this organization and start to implement best practices that early on.”

Cut to this week as the organization marks its 60th anniversary with its annual conference, which alternates between Los Angeles and New York. This year’s Manhattan edition will kick off with a reception June 13 at the Rainbow Room and offer three days of panels aimed at helping the expected 2,400 attendees grapple with how to stand out in today’s saturated, multiplatform landscape.

The program will range from an opening keynote with Kevin Smith, known as an indie filmmaker but more recently an expanding multi-media brand, to sessions featuring execs from Hulu, Facebook and other digital companies to a political roundtable featuring Katie Couric and James Carville. Cable networks will also factor heavily into the week—for example, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf will sit down with Dennis Leary, creator and star of FX’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

The anniversary “is a very cool milestone,” said Kazanjian, who joined Promax a year and a half ago after a career in brand marketing and several entrepreneurial ventures. “It’s especially cool because of all of the dynamic change that’s going on. You have these inflection points in the TV business—five or six times over the life of the medium, it has completely changed. And we are witnessing that right now with the shift toward digital.” 

Promax, he emphasized, is “not a conference organization—it’s a member-based organization,” with some 10,000 worldwide members that can access the group’s resources year-round. Even so, the group does 11 annual conferences, including the Station Summit for those in local TV, syndication and related sectors.

The path across six decades has not been a straight line, Kazanjian said. “In the ’60s, we were lucky if we hit 300 people” at the annual confab. Once TV proved it could outlast the surge of Hollywood movie blockbusters in the ’70s and the advent of VCRs and the DVR, Promax grew with it. But then, by 2003, Kazanjian recalled, “we saw a definitive shrinking in the industry, with less content being produced” amid the rise of reality franchises and the nonexistence of today’s scripted glut. “That’s definitely not a problem now.”