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For Syndicators, Burg Is the Man With a Plan

When syndicators felt like their product was getting short shrift in an ever-changing media world, they went out and found lifelong media planner and buyer Mitch Burg to do their selling for them.

According to those who hired him as president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, Burg approaches their business from a new and important angle. That allows him to best pitch the business to the people who control what advertisers buy.

“He can position syndication in a way that we haven't been able to in the past. We haven't had his broad background and knowledge about overall media choices,” says Bob Cesa, executive vice president, advertising sales, Twentieth Television.

Explaining the value of syndication to media planners, and not just buyers, has become compulsory, and the media planning crowd is a group syndicators have not paid much attention to attracting in the past. But the business has changed so that a media buy is carefully orchestrated before it is executed. If a buy isn't on the schedule, then no amount of pitching a buyer will change the way an advertiser spends money.

“The planners have not necessarily been our go-to individuals in the past,” says Chris Kager, executive vice president of advertising sales for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “Media is more crowded today and there is more choice and more complexity. The planners have more responsibility now and it behooves us to spend time with them.”

Misperceptions About Syndication

While several syndicated staples seem like an obvious choice for advertisers, many planners are younger and haven't thought about syndication in a while, Burg says. Cable is the hot new kid on the block, and new forms of advertising, such as Internet and viral marketing, are getting more attention.

Plus, planners often perceive syndication as scattered—although many of the higher-rated shows tend to run in the same time frames across the country—and they don't think they will get as much bang for their buck if they place an ad on a show that runs at 9 a.m. in some markets and 3 p.m. in others.

“Just because syndication has been around forever, doesn't mean that people understand what it is,” says Burg, who replaced former SNTA head Gene DeWitt a year ago. “When I'm out talking to clients and planners, that's what I talk about: how syndication helps them achieve their goals.”

Burg has developed several innovative presentations meant to highlight syndication's value.

First, he says, syndication reaches more viewers than network prime time. “Any one of the major networks only reaches, on average, two-thirds of any target in a week, while syndication reaches 90% of the target audience.”

Syndication also skews younger than the networks and boasts some of the top-rated shows on television due to its reach. One of Burg's recent presentations demonstrates why syndication represents buyers' highest-rated option on Fridays, leading into weekend movie-going and shopping. This is the kind of stat syndicators tended to overlook.

Burg also developed another story focusing on how syndication's ratings tend to rise during the holidays when kids are home from school, making that an excellent time for advertisers to reach younger viewers with retail messages.

'Reinforces' Sales Message

“I would say he's making my job easier,” says Michael Teicher, executive vice president of media sales for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “He's reinforcing what we do, as a person who is objective about what he's selling within syndication because he doesn't sell any one company or show. Just having an authoritative voice out there is effective.”

“Mitch has done a tremendous job in positioning the strengths of syndication,” says Howard Levy, executive vice president of media sales for Buena Vista Television and chairman of SNTA's board of directors. “His drive and knowledge of the media landscape already has paid huge benefits to our market.”

Finding the Right Combination

Back in his days as president and COO of The Media Edge, a spin-off of NW Ayer ABH owned by larger firm WPP, what Burg did best was take an overall look at a client's business, and then determine what type of media buy would best fit.

“He has this innate ability to very quickly hone in on key issues,” says Tim Jones, managing partner and account director at MediaEdge. “He looks for insights into a client's category, studies how consumers use the category and then determines a way through media to address all of that specifically.”

That means determining the right combination of television, radio, print, outdoor, Internet and other advertising approaches to best meet a client's needs.

In his almost 20 years in the media business, Burg has developed plans for AT&T; Burger King; YumBrands, (which includes Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell); Procter & Gamble; Ford; Kraft and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Not a Workaholic

While New York-native Burg is enthusiastic and impassioned, he is not a workaholic, according to former coworkers. “He hits a perfect balance,” says Joe Abruzzo, director of Media Edge's MediaLab and OHAL marketing response consulting firm. “When he's at work he's a thousand percent, but he makes time for his family.”

Burg, a father of four and grandfather of two, agrees: “Your children are why you work, and not the other way around.”