MSNBC.com, the online news arm of Microsoft Corp.'s joint venture with NBC, has worked to cultivate cross-media sales in conjunction with MSN, its sibling and the second-largest Internet network. Mary Paris is director of business development and cross-media sales for MSNBC.com, and has coordinated those efforts for two years. Paris serves as the liaison between MSNBC.com and MSNBC cable and the NBC News properties including "Nightly News," "Dateline," the "Today Show," and NBC Sports properties. "Mary Paris is the glue that connects NBC broadcast sales to MSNBC online sales and MSN sales," notes Charlie Tillinghast, general manager and publisher, MSNBC.com.
"I'm considered part of the NBC News sales team," Paris explains from her cluttered office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. "My clients are the NBC News salespeople." Paris explains that when a new sponsorship opportunity is created--for example, "Today's Superstar"--all the involved parties--NBC Marketing and News representatives and Paris--meet to structure the package for advertisers. Packages are often co-presented, or presented by the person who has the closest relationship to the advertiser.
The expansion of the "Today Show's" online presence on MSN a few months ago has offered new opportunities for creating cross-media packages. There is now more "Today" content online to draw viewers to the property throughout the day. Repeat visits and increasing stickiness are critical for advertisers.
Successful cross-media franchises aren't built in a day, of course. Among the most successful programs, Paris cites "Today's" Toyota Summer Concert Series, and the Target Wedding Series, which offered a number of opportunities for online polling and interactive engagement. In fact, she says, the Wedding and Concert cross-media packages were offered by NBC during the network's upfront this spring. NBC's "Today" has at least a dozen branded franchises associated with it, offering ideal content for cross-media packages, Paris says. She adds that the number of cross-media packages increased 10 percent during this year's upfront versus last year's.
Paris cites Office Depot as an example of a MSN client that sought an integrated media buy-TV and online media. The team created a contest called "Win a small business makeover" that was featured on MSN. On MSNBC cable, the retailer sponsored a "Small business tip of the day."
One of the greatest challenges for cross-media sales, according to Paris, is dealing with advertisers' on-air or traditional media agencies. "On-air advertisers always have trouble with on-air agencies," she says, explaining that the media agencies responsible for a client's on-air buy often aren't equipped to handle the online part of the package. When that's the case, the online agency steps in, as does the appropriate MSN ad sales representative. Another issue, Paris finds, is that traditional media sales are often handshake deals, in which online media requires a signed insertion order. Apart from the cultural hurdles, return-on-investment-oriented online media agencies often have different goals and metrics for a program than the on-air agencies. "On-air has the [penchant for] ratings, [while] online wants to know how many click-throughs ...," Paris relates. If that's not enough, on-air and online agencies representing the client often have different campaigns running.
Paris says she tries to explain, for example, to "Today" advertisers that extending their buy means simply "buying the 'Today Show' brand online." Sponsors, Tillinghast observes, are "getting multiple exposures. They also get repeat impressions from interested users on the Web. It reinforces what they did on TV."
"Cross-media is more than just taking TV and online inventory and packaging it together [and saying] 'here, now you can buy online and TV,'" Tillinghast says. "What customers want to buy is a product that is expressed in both TV and online in an integrated fashion." Take the "Today Show" Wedding Series. Tillinghast explains: "You see the 'Today Show' in the morning. Then you go online and get to examine what was shown on TV, and your vote determines where the show goes. With the Concert Series, you might have seen a bit of it, but you can come to MSNBC.com and go to the MSN Video Service and replay those clips as much as you want."
"We [NBC and MSNBC.com/MSN] have great co-productions," he says, adding: "We create the product to begin with, and have good coordination in putting the packages together. It could be in that some organizations one medium sort of dominates. We've been able to have each unit come together more as equals."
That said, Tillinghast notes that cross-media sales were tried unsuccessfully in the first years of Microsoft's joint venture with NBC. While the approach and the success rate have improved, there have been strains in the relationship between NBC and Microsoft where MSNBC cable's lackluster showing is concerned. According to a recent New York Daily News report, NBC is considering lopping "MS" off "MSNBC." In an e-mail memo obtained by MediaDailyNews, Scott Moore, general manager, MSN Network Experience, downplayed the report and said the company's relationship with NBC is stronger than ever.
Cross-media sales present a wholly different challenge on the news side, because it's hard to plan ahead and news programs don't necessarily have readily identifiable franchises. Tillinghast says MSNBC.com also finds more resistance among advertisers to sponsoring political coverage versus non-political subjects: "I think it's unfortunate because the audience that is watching political coverage is aware, involved, and affluent. You're not sponsoring a point of view, you're sponsoring democracy," he notes.
On MSNBC.com, an area called Democracy Plaza will be available prior to the November election. NBC News will broadcast live on election night from Rockefeller Plaza. For advertisers, that means "MSNBC.com is selling coverage that's not just Web, but TV [NBC and MSNBC cable], and all around the theme of Democracy Plaza. We'll integrate [MSNBC] cable's coverage of the election as part of the package that we're selling and we'll have multiple TV franchises and online."
Paris notes that much of the cross-media sales challenge is in educating the buyers at the agencies--both online and offline agencies. "We want it to be intuitive that online reinforces on-air, and that we've got cable, online, and network properties. Our challenge with advertisers is to get them to be more integrated, and to see that it really does satisfy their objectives," she says.