Skip to main content

Upfronts 2010: Agency Execs Stress Caution Amid Optimism

Upfront Central: Complete Upfront Coverage from B&C

Four top advertising agency executives gathered at B&C's Upfront Central event, April 6at New York'sRoosevelt Hotel, were unwilling to place a number on this year's upfront. But
they all agreed on one thing: after last year, there is nowhere to go but up.

"If things weren't better than last year, I think we
all wouldn't be here," said Magna President Elizabeth Herbst-Brady at "2010
Upfront: The Agency Perspective," a panel moderated by B&C Business Editor Claire Atkinson.
Herbst-Brady said her organization is looking at overall supplier revenues--how
much her clients are taking in versus how much they are spending. She also took
exception to CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves' typically bullish forecast that the
market would be up by double-digits.

While Mike Rosen, president of investment and activation at
Starcom MediaVest Group, agreed that Moonves' forecast was high, he thought the
CBS CEO was using a powerful anchoring strategy that would subtly push the

"What Les said was brilliant," Rosen said. "It
shows he has pride in his product, and I respect that."

Rosen, who is responsible for the buying activities of
client General Motors, said the automotive industry is still in the throes of a
sea change. While GM has opted out of a number of big event telecasts like the
Oscars, he has been fascinated to see the company's post-bankruptcy re-brand go
into effect. "[We're] trying to make the consumer confident that the
company has fixed what it needed to fix," Rosen said.

Gary Carr, senior VP and executive director of national
broadcast at TargetCast TCM, agreed that spending would be up, but said there
is still a disconnect between the traditional economy and TV prices.  "We all have an idea of how much money is
out there and we know...what networks are more vulnerable than others,"
Carr said.

"There seems to be a focus on a number: 'It's got to be
this number,'" said MEC Managing Director of Media Investment Gibbs
Haljun. "It needs to be what works for individual is not
[that] one number works for everybody because every client, every advertiser,
every agency brings different things to the table."

The executives were hopeful that improved technology will
lead to less waste and more targeted ad placements. "What the technology
is allowing us to do is take some of the waste out of the equation," Rosen
said. That would likely lead to money being spent online, though Rosen added
that television is "still the most engaging of all kinds of media."

The recent success of sitcoms such as ABC's Modern Family have proved to be a boon
for spending in that genre, which some had predicted would be supplanted by
reality TV. "There was this real fear that the sitcom genre was really on
its last leg," said Rosen. But a successful sitcom that can replay well
and deliver enough episodes for a syndicated run "is really the lottery of
the network game," he added.

And while last year's upfront presentations were somewhat
scaled back affairs, in alignment with the crippled marketplace, ad executives
say they still want to see some showbiz glamour before buying a show.

Herbst-Brady said a strong upfront presentation was
important to give the impression of brand health, but added that it didn't
replace sitting down and having one-on-one conversations on behalf of

Said Carr: "We are buying television shows--we want to
see some glitz."