Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, Senior Vice President of NBCUniversal Integrated Media, and Neil Isford, VP of Smarter Solutions for IBM North America, discussed cross-company marketing solutions and changes in how people consume information
Neil Isford: Can you start us off with a bit about your background prior to NBCUniversal, as well as your current role there?
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber: I was fortunate to start my career in politics and had various experiences before I ended up at NBCUniversal. I worked in politics on the communications side, and ended up attending business school at NYU. After that I worked a little bit as a producer for NBC News and made some relationships there which continue to this day. From NBC I moved to AOL for what was then called AOL Time Warner Global Marketing Solutions, which was the cross-consumer advertising solutions group that was formed when AOL and Time Warner came together as one company.
From there I went back to my political roots for a short time working at Rock the Vote, and registering young people to vote was not only a tremendous experience but also important for me in terms of understanding youth culture and using the Internet as a way to connect with younger audiences. It was at the time when the idea of being able to register to vote online had just come of age. While there I met colleagues at MTV and ended up managing the integrated marketing for MTV, MTV2, MTVU and dotcom brands. I spent a period of time working on the West Coast, which was also interesting as I was working very closely with the movie studio businesses as well as all of our production teams for MTV.
Then I came back to New York and worked more closely with advertising partners and agencies here. And most recently before taking on this role I was the SVP of Marketing at iVillage when it was going through a massive rebranding and renaissance. I joined that team to really delve into the idea of connecting with women through digital platforms. Primarily we found that mobile was such a growing force for that business that we started a kind of mobile-first publishing endeavor, which not only changed the way that the brand connected with the consumer, but also the way that the brand was able to mobilize in terms of technology.
Finally, in November of last year I came back to the cross-company marketing solutions group known as Integrated Media, where I lead marketing, production and research teams on the strategic cross-portfolio trade and marketing initiatives across all of NBCUniversal.
The mobile evolution is really changing the world and how people consume information every day. In that respect could you tell us about your Amplified campaign?
When I joined this group in November, one of the key initiatives for Linda Yaccarino – who is the President of Ad Sales for NBCUniversal – was to develop a true cross-portfolio message for NBCUniversal which had never really been leveraged in the marketplace. The idea of this campaign is really to convey to the trade community that NBCUniversal is a unified company, and that as an advertising partner you can work with us across all of our entities – on air, online, theme parks, movies and studios. It’s a very unique proposition in the marketplace because of the scale and scope of NBCU. Unlike any other media company, we’re really able to deliver a unique alignment of assets.
The Amplified campaign itself was borne out of this idea of how do we think about and convey the power, as well as the emotional connection, that consumers make with all of the NBCU brands? And when we’re thinking about the trade marketing of NBCU properties, it isn’t always network-by-network or platform-by-platform. In this case, it’s really thinking about the business holistically, and how we’re connecting with consumers in so many different ways around passion points.
The Amplified campaign came from thinking about our business in a slightly different way. We launched the campaign in April just prior to the upfront season, and not only did we launch a strategic media buy that connected directly with the trade community, but we also did in-agency activations, and the result was a big internal education around the company to introduce the idea of thinking about the business in this cross-portfolio way.
Can you delve a little bit more into the value proposition? This sounds like you’ve got a very unique opportunity given the breadth of NBCUniversal’s range of capabilities. But if I’m the buyer, what’s the real value here to me?
One of the amazing things about NBCUniversal is that we actually reach about 93 percent of all adults monthly, which is an incredible number when you think about the true size of this business. From an advertiser perspective, while reach is incredibly important, it’s also the other aspects of how we make this emotional connection in a targeted way on a day-to-day basis with our audiences.
The campaign revolves around the tagline “Content. Consumers. Collaboration. Amplified.” These three components are the value proposition to the advertisers. You can dissect it and look at each other, from “Meet the Press” to “The Voice” to “The Kardashians” and to the Olympics NBCU delivers the most compelling content. We create emotional connections through our best-in-class storytelling – and the stories are told across multiple platforms.
The second component, consumers, we reach 93 percent of adults every month, and whether it’s hi-tech moms, affluent homeowners, moviegoers or Hispanic millennials, we can deliver the most desirable demos at scale. And that’s really part of what makes this an incredible value proposition. The last piece is the idea of collaboration. It’s really us working together in partnership with advertisers to develop very customized marketing programs that deliver against the consumers and the content to provide completely unique opportunities to connect with their target audience.
"The Amplified campaign itself was borne out of this idea of how do we think about and convey the power, as well as the emotional connection that consumers make with all of the NBCU brands … It’s really thinking about the business holistically, and how we’re connecting with consumers in so many different ways around passion points.”
Is it too early to indicate whether this has met or exceeded your expectations so far in terms of the whole Amplified program?
We have had an incredible response from the advertising community, who is really connecting with this idea of thinking about our offerings in this cross-portfolio way. In addition to everything we did from a media perspective, we also launched a new website called Amplified.NBCuni.com, which gives us an indication of “success” – using the traffic on the website, as well the engagement -- how our clients and partners are coming back to experience the content. And the content on that site started out as really a replica of the ad itself that we ran in the New York Times and some other outlets. The ad itself featured augmented reality powered by a company called Aurasma. So when you download the app and scanned your phone over the face of the celebrities in the ad, it would launch a video that provided a deeper dive about that capability.
Through this new campaign we connect with consumers in a different way and the power of insight to drive our business across the entire company. When we launched the website it replicated the ad, but then it morphed into a place where the trade community could actually come back and see all of the content from the different upfronts across the NBCUniversal portfolio. The user can experience the cross-portfolio upfront in a very unique way from how we’ve delivered it in the past. And just from watching the engagement on that site, we feel confident that the NBCU Amplified message really got out there.
That is not a unique objective but your scale makes it probably even more profound. Are there some examples where a client might be leveraging the broader portfolio to reach their target clients and drive results?
We obviously have multiple clients who are doing cross-portfolio programs at a given time. But one great example is a program that we did last year with P&G when they launched Tide Pods, which were those stand-alone clothes-washing pods that you can throw into your laundry machine very easily. The campaign tagline was “Pop in, Stand out”, so we partnered with them to develop a pop culture concept that incorporated our properties from NBC like “TODAY,” Bravo, E!, Oxygen, Telemundo, DailyCandy and iVillage. This is a perfect example of how we were able to bring an idea to life across multiple networks and platforms.
One of the best parts of this campaign is that we created original content in partnership with them that featured talent like our SuChin Pak, who is the DailyCandy spokesperson, where she was really talking about a “pop of …” A pop of color in something, a pop of spirit in the shoes that you pick, etc. So we were able to use that “pop of” creative across multiple brands in the portfolio, and drive to additional content that you could see on DailyCandy. It was a perfect marriage of all our assets together, and we found that so many of the people who saw the spot remembered the idea of the new Tide Pods. The ROI on the program did extremely well for the advertiser.
Back to the Amplified campaign, are there any particular favorites in terms of the individual ads that you think were particularly successful with clients?
In terms of the Amplified campaign, one of the things that we did in terms of looking at the connection lines between our content was to pull together the broader idea of comedy and drama. And when you look at comedies across NBCUniversal, it’s not only about the idea of those super-high-profiled scripted comedies that one might see on the NBC network. There are comedy components in multiple shows and even reality shows. So when marketers want to connect with an audience through comedy, there are really multiple ways to do that across our portfolio, but some may not fall into a traditional 30-minute comedy bucket.
A lot of this is just reframing the way that we think about ourselves and also the way that advertisers think about connecting through these really emotional touch points that our audiences are craving.
When it comes to technology, how is NBC utilizing data and analytics technologies to better understand all this company information that you’ve got?
There are two different components to that. The first is that when it comes to these customized campaigns that we’re developing in partnership with advertisers, we work very closely with our partners at the beginning of any endeavor to understand their KPIs. We want to make sure that we’re developing research around these programs that help them understand success from their perspective, because each one of these campaigns is so customized that success looks completely different depending on who you are and what the campaign might be about. So if it’s more of a branding campaign, where we’re looking at very different metrics than if it’s really an engagement campaign, where we’re trying to drive social media engagement. That’s a really key component for us.
The marketing community obviously strives every day, particularly as marketing becomes a bigger and bigger expense, to justify their value. I know you spend a lot of time helping on the ROI pieces, so can you talk a little bit more about how NBCUniversal does that with your clients?
In terms of measuring our ROI, we work with the clients to figure out the best ways the custom campaign can be incorporated into their market mix models. Then we also have access – if it’s appropriate – to use the Comcast set top box fusion data, or even parties like Nielsen Catalina, to help us show how TV ad exposure affects purchase behavior. It depends completely on the needs of the advertiser as well as the specific program, because obviously there are only some campaigns that would warrant that level of measurement. But we also use ongoing buzz trackers that we have built in-house, as well as compiling data from different sources like comScore, to take a holistic view of brand momentum over time.
So we do a lot. In addition, one of the other things that we have in the integrated media group is a research team that publishes a trends and insights report twice a year called “The Curve Report,” the most recent of which was a digitally focused report. We use that data not so much for the ROI, but to inform the campaigns that we’re developing and building with the advertisers. So oftentimes we’re able to bring a perspective that they may not have had due to the proprietary research that we’re doing here.
You talked about this Aurasma technology, but is that something that you’ve been able to quantify? It’s obviously something fairly new, so what’s your experience with that?
Our experience with it was excellent. First of all they were an incredible partner. Part of the reason why we feel like it was successful is that Aurasma actually is a great example of the kinds of programs that we can do with our advertisers. It’s all about finding new ways of applying technology to the campaigns that we run and lead by example. When we’re marketing our own brand of NBCUniversal, we’re also showcasing ways that we can think out of the box for marketing with you as an advertiser. We felt it was very successful and would certainly consider it for future programs.
So given what you’ve just done so far, where do you go from here?
We’ll continue to market to NBCUniversal using “Amplified” as the most effective and powerful proposition in the marketplace.
Before we conclude is there anything else you want to share?
One thing that we’re also doing with the Amplified website is that we continue to refresh the content in terms of what would be relevant to the trade community, with some thought leadership content as well as original interviews with different marketing professionals across NBCUniversal and people behind the scenes. We’re making our content and all of NBCUniversal come to life. I think that’s an important part of thinking of NBCU as Amplified. It’s not only the end product, but it’s the people who go into making it happen, and we believe that will be a nice addition to the way that we think about us as a company.
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber currently serves as Senior Vice President, NBCUniversal Integrated Media. Balsam-Schwaber leads the division’s signature cross-property, multi-platform marketing campaigns, and identifies innovative synergistic opportunities designed to meet client’s needs across the entire NBCUniversal portfolio. In addition, IM leads the company’s cross-portfolio trade marketing efforts as well as proprietary research initiatives on consumer trends and insights, including The Curve Report, the group’s bi-annual look at what’s next in consumer culture, and The Curve Films, the division’s in-house production arm behind documentaries that complement The Curve Report. The group also encompasses Women at NBCU, Green is Universal, Hispanics at NBCU and Healthy at NBCU – key initiatives that enable brands to deeply engage with key consumer groups and integrate messages around important issues, such as health and the environment.
Most recently, Balsam-Schwaber was Senior Vice President of Marketing for iVillage, where she led all marketing initiatives, brand strategy, cross-channel partnerships, and internal relationships across NBCU for the largest online content driven community for women.
Before joining NBCUniversal, Balsam-Schwaber was Vice President of Integrated Marketing for MTV Networks, where she drove content initiatives ranging from branded entertainment to short-form programming and product placement. Prior to MTV, Balsam-Schwaber served as the Vice President of Marketing Partnerships & Programming for Rock the Vote, and was an Executive Director in Program Development & Ideation with Time Warner Global Marketing Solutions. Notably, Balsam-Schwaber began her career as a Staff Assistant in the Clinton White House, which led to her position as the Technical Assistant on Rob Reiner’s film "The American President."
Balsam-Schwaber earned her bachelor’s degree at Brandeis University and went on to receive her Masters of Business from New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business. She currently lives in Manhattan with her husband Edward Lang and their two children.
Neil Isford is the Vice President of Smarter Solutions for North America. In this newly created role, he leads a team of industry subject matter experts who propose IBM solutions that help Line-Of-Business and Functional executives achieve their desired business outcomes. These Smarter Planet Industry Solutions can include IBM software, services and hardware, and incorporate IBM’s Big Data, Analytics, Smarter Commerce, Smarter Cities, Mobility, Cloud and Social Business capabilities.
Previously, Neil had responsibility for leading IBM’s Smarter Analytics growth initiative for North America across all IBM Brands and Industries and he maintains this important responsibility in his current role. Neil also spent two years as the worldwide VP of Sales for the software products that are part of IBM’s Information Management, Business Analytics, and Enterprise Content Management portfolios. This included Data Management, Information Integration, Data Warehousing, Advanced Case Management, Business Intelligence & Performance Management, and Predictive Analytics software. Neil also helped lead IBM’s successful acquisition of Cognos.
In 2006 and 2007 Neil managed IBM’s software business for Asia Pacific. He also led Business Partner Sales for the IBM Software Group and in 2005 created the industry leading Software Value Incentive (SVI) Program.
Neil spent 9 years in various Professional Services roles, including CEO of Plural, a private consulting/SI firm based on Wall Street, and as the leader of IBM’s e-business services practice in IBM Global Services.
Neil grew up in Toronto, Canada, and went to Wilfrid Laurier University. He started with IBM in 1980 and held various sales and sales management roles in Edmonton, Vancouver, Southwestern Ontario, and Toronto before moving to the United States in 1994.