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Speciale Sees More Than JustHerself Moving to Cable

In her most recent role as MediaVest president, investment & activation, and agency operations, Donna Speciale oversaw buying and activation for clients across all media platforms for an agency with ad billings in excess of $8 billion. On Jan. 6, Speciale was named president of Turner Entertainment & Animation Sales. Just prior to her departure from MediaVest, Speciale shared her unique perspective on ad spending in the coming year, TV Everywhere, the economy and the continued growth and lure of online. An edited transcript follows.

With the economy still in a state of flux, how are your marketing clients viewing TV ad spending for 2012?

It was not surprising to me that scatter buying in fourth quarter was not very robust, because a lot of new ad money was spent in the upfront instead of saving it for scatter. First-quarter cancellation options were reasonably low so first quarter should be OK, but second quarter could be when clients start taking back ad dollars to put toward their bottom line. But as always, all categories will be different. Movie scatter spending will be based on movie release dates and pharmaceuticals will spend tied into new drugs or when patents in brand name drugs expire. If scatter buying is soft in second quarter, traditionally, that could have a negative effect on upfront spending because the upfront is in second quarter. Also, look for other platforms like online and mobile to take some dollars away from traditional television—not huge amounts, but each advertiser will spend a little more on those other platforms at the expense of television.

Who is in a better position to continue to get the bulk of TV dollars, broadcast or cable?

We have seen a shifting of dollars from broadcast to cable and this will continue, though not as drastically as it has shifted in the past five years. But as marketers, our clients are more focused today on audiences and fine-tuning their spending to target better. Cable has allowed us to do that better.

Many of the 2012 forecasts say ad spending in syndication could be down. How do your clients view advertising on syndication?

Ad spending on syndication has been somewhat flat, although so far it has not declined as much as some have predicted. But syndication today, with less original programming and more off-network shows, is pretty much tied into broadcast television. When broadcast primetime program ratings are soft and decline each year, syndication gets hurt because those are the shows that eventually make their way to syndication. And when Oprah Winfrey ended her show, a large amount of those ad dollars moved elsewhere, some of it out of syndication. But there’s a glimmer of hope. Katie Couric’s new show, scheduled for syndication in September 2012, has a lot of buzz surrounding it. She is well liked by advertisers, and that could bring some dollars back into syndication.

What is more important to your clients—TV Everywhere or addressable advertising?

It’s not really an either-or. We want both. We used to buy broadcast television and look at the audience demos we were not targeting and considered it bonus viewing. We no longer view it that way. We only want to pay for the audiences we want to target and reach. We need to fine-tune our ad buys. Turner and AMC are doing a great job experimenting with TV Everywhere, and it’s great for us to be able to buy every platform through one contact. A lot of work still needs to be done to determine the best commercial loads for each platform and how to charge for them.

With advertisers demanding better service today and not wanting to pay huge fees, how do their agencies cope with doing more for less?

Today, we are all about building capabilities. Adding shopper marketing capabilities, adding more data and analytics to the planning and buying process. We recently added a Human Experience Strategist. Media agencies have to keep up with the media market transformation. Clients don’t necessarily want to pay for all those new services, but to keep them, an agency has to have them. In the past, a lot of these were services the advertisers did themselves or [they went] to third parties. Today, the agencies do it. And we can do it cheaper than the advertisers used to spend to do it themselves. So it makes us more valuable to them. As far as not wanting to pay huge fees, clients do want to cut costs, but they also want service. So they realize that they can’t demand fees that are too low, or they can’t get all those services.

There seem to be more agency reviews being undertaken by advertisers and more clients switching agencies. Why is that?

Actually to me, it doesn't seem like there has been a big increase in the number of reviews. But today there are so many marketers and so many brands and the media landscape is changing so rapidly that clients want to make sure that their agency is keeping pace with all the new technology and changes and capabilities the different platforms have to offer.

Will television ever be replaced totally by online and mobile viewing or will TV still be the dominant place that viewers watch and advertisers advertise on?

Television isn't going anywhere. People's viewing habits are changing, but the other platforms are more of a convenience than a replacement of television. I see all media platforms as complementing one another. Sometimes people will watch television, other times watch programming online or on mobile. Traditional television will still always be there. As far as how much advertising is bought on traditional television, it will again depend on the category and who the marketer is trying to reach.

How do you view The CW and NBC with their respective hefty ratings declines this season?

The CW's audience is very much younger than the other broadcast networks and their audience watches programming differently. That's why they began offering all their shows with commercials online. So when you buy The CW, you just buy it differently. And you're also buying a more targeted audience. NBC right now is not in the best shape in primetime, but ratings for shows on a lot of the other networks are also down. As ratings continue to erode, clients are going to want to pay less, not more for advertising. Traditionally, cable was a good option because it was much cheaper than broadcast, but that gap is closing and it is starting to equal out on many cable networks. Cable is trying to raise its rates to get to the level of broadcast, but cable should stay where it is and broadcast should reduce its rates.