GMC Goes on Ride with Upfront Bus Stunt



As a top sales executive, Mary Jeanne (MJ) Cavanagh has been in conference rooms pitching upfront inventory to buyers for years. Increasingly, though, even kinetic PowerPoint slides or a compelling highlight reel, make it hard to get people to look up from a BlackBerry.

That’s presuming they stay in the room and don’t duck out to take an urgent call or meet with a frantic boss -- or, dare it be said, pretend to.

“When you’re at the agencies, people are distracted,” Cavanagh said.

So this year, the head of sales at GMC, thinks she’s found a way to drive interest: a bus.

Check that. An “executive coach.”

This month, a GMC-branded luxury liner has been cruising Manhattan, with buyers coming aboard to hear the energetic Cavanagh trump investing in GMC, formerly known as the Gospel Music Channel.

By the end of month, the bus is expected to make stops at every major New York agency, while holding about 60 meetings with 12-15 buyers at a time. They can climb aboard, recline in plush leather seats and maybe feel like a rock star on tour, or a President on the campaign trail (Obama used the same ride).

When the bus -- with GMC taglines “Uplifting Entertainment” and “Uncommonly Connected to Viewers” on the sides -- shows up in front of a ZenithOptimedia, for example, Cavanagh said she benefits from a curiosity factor.

The BlackBerry may still come out of an attendee’s pocket, but she said her presentations have generated more questions than showcases she’s run before.

“This is more impactful,” she said.

(Soft drinks are served during day meetings, but parties at night include karaoke and adult beverages.)

Cavanagh joined GMC in 2008 as executive vice president of ad sales, after holding the same post at Oxygen. She said the bus cost in the low six figures, making up the bulk of her ad sales marketing budget.

Each spring, with the upfront market approaching, cable networks labor to grab advertisers’ attention. New York is filled with ads on phone kiosks and subway platforms.

At recent upfront events, Syfy executives touted the network, then offered a treat in the Broadway Spider-man show, while the DIY network had star Vanilla Ice on stage.

Now in about 50 million homes, the independent GMC has plastered its brand on New York's Times Square shuttle before, but Cavanagh said her limited budget makes “awareness” tough.

“I can’t go to Cipriani,” she said, referring to a Manhattan hot spot. “I can’t go to the Museum of Natural History to have an upfront.”

As the GMC bus travels in Manhattan, it offers the side benefit of generating some interest among viewers. “Literally our mobile billboard,” said Heidi Drucker, who heads ad sales marketing.

GMC also plans a national “Uplift Someone” bus tour to market the network. Cavanagh is offering advertisers a chance to paste their logo on the cruiser.

As a network, GMC is in transition as it looks for a wider appeal, while still holding onto the audience from its gospel music roots. In development is a singing competition hosted by Drew Lachey.

The upfront stunt seems to be paying off. Cavanagh said it has already led to a pair of agencies offering to make scatter buys. Of course, the road between now and this summer's upfront market is still a long one.















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