Insights from Turner CMOs

This post recaps the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association breakfast: Turner CMO Roundtable event, June 4th at TBS, Inc.

Roundtable Speakers:
Jeff Gregor, Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, TBS & TNT
Jeff Mirman, Vice President of Marketing, Turner Sports
Michael Ouweleen, Chief Marketing Officer, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang

Melinda McLaughlin, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Tremor Video

1) Content should speak to your audience
2) Have a synced schedule for content and messaging
3) Put the audience at the center of the conversation

turner panel pic
Jeff Mirman, Michael Ouweleen, Melinda McLaughlin, Jeff Gregor aka “a Jeff Sandwich” (Credit: Lindsey Simms)

So this was my first trip down to the Turner campus. Really awesome work space, elaborate bridges from parking deck to offices, tons of surrounding nature and, of course, TVs eternally on their network brands — CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT. It’s a whole lot bigger than it looks driving by on the Downtown Connector, too!

We kicked off around 9am after some networking and another great Christophe’s To Go breakfast spread. Melinda, as the moderator, began with a few surprise quotes she compiled from the panelists, setting the light-hearted tone for the morning. One quote drove Michael to say, “I don’t even remember 2014 … that was like 9,000 emails ago!”

The conversation moved to responsibilities and, naturally, Turner programming. Cartoon Network came up first.

Did you know that Cartoon Network is the Number One ad support kids network? Michael pointed out three fundamentals:

1) Content should speak to your audience (Cartoon Network = humor with heart),
2) Good schedule of content/messaging (don’t send your audience in 19 directions; focus on ~3-5 messages showing that you are really into what you do), and
3) Put the audience at the center of the conversation.

This last one, in particular, Cartoon Network has been dominating! They successfully introduced an App that puts viewers (kids) in their programming. Basically, Cartoon Network built ads and commercials including user-generated content; mostly images and videos. This was an idea that started cynically like, “They’ll watch more if they are actually on the channel.” Well, it worked! Michael went as far as to say it was the best thing ever, and perhaps it’s not a fundamental, but more of a “new” practice. In the programming industry, you constantly want increases in both awareness and intent to watch. Brands like TNT/TBS may change over time, but Turner as it’s own brand still needs to build equity.

Melinda asked if it is common that viewers link popular shows to the broadcasting network. According to Jeff Gregor, to compile data, the network must be embedded into messaging, in a good way. For example, the average millennial does not care where the message is coming from: they just care about the content; so the integration must be somewhat subtle.

Jeff Mirman added that he’s a big fan of marketing to behavior. For example if we know the audience likes basketball, show them when the games are on. If they are general sports fans, convince them to like basketball, TNT’s flagship programming.

With data, we can now understand consumers like never before and create whole new models and processes. This big data in audience insights is extremely valuable for Time Warner and Turner to leverage, as they are ultimately content producers.

The “roundtable” (Credit: Lindsey Simms)

Michael used Cartoon Network to exemplify his challenges with data and analytics: There’s almost nothing to chase on the kids’ side, he said. You can highlight Instagram, since that’s where a lot of them are playing, he added, but a lot of the time all you can do is use personal conviction and take some risks.

We shared a chuckle over the perception that the Adult Swim audience is stoned dudes living in their parents’ basement when really they are normal people with jobs.

Another insight to chase comes in what other shows this audience likes to watch. Those who watch “Rick and Morty” were also “American Horror Story” fans, which is really valuable information in the media buying/placement process.

Jeff Mirman opened the discussion on doing whole shows via YouTube. When asked Why?, the only explanation Jeff needs is Why not? It’s important for Turner to develop a futuristic mindset as industry leaders and innovators: what’s happening today is already second-in-line to what’s coming next, and broadcasters are now releasing entire content segments free of charge on the internet.

Michael briefly touched on the social progression he’s seen during his tenure. What started as a sales tool for “Adventure Time” shirts is now being used primarily to share user-generated content (look back at his fundamentals and the Adult Swim retweet example below).

This has been wildly successful, he said, dating back to an early Facebook campaign asking fans to send in self-addressed envelopes to Turner Studios. Michael’s team found stickers, paperclips, Post-it® Notes, note cards and whatever else they could (in a very Adult Swim-esque fashion) to send back. Viewers went on to share their new knickknacks on social. Michael told the roundtable audience not to worry about what they do on social, as long as it’s in their own voice.

Jeff Gregor added insights on the need to ramp up their production competencies. Production must always include the right message, at the exact right time, said Gregor. He referenced Bleacher Report as an excellent example, and I agree. Bleacher Report is a publication comprised of mostly young people with all kinds of broadcasting talent and rudimentary technology, but more importantly, lots of fun. Videos or Vines, like the one below, don’t always have to be top quality, but hitting at the right time (in their case, breaking the news/story) is crucial. A bit of creativity doesn’t hurt, either. From compelling editorial content to custom creative, the folks at Bleacher Report and Team Stream, a mobile app, are killing it, said Jeff Gregor.

Jeff Mirman reemphasized the need to understand what your audience wants, something that Bleacher Report has honed in on rather quickly and delivers again and again.

On copyrights and restricted content, Jeff Gregor said not to worry. Operating under the Sports News halo makes this practice OK, similar to what we see from Vice and Buzzfeed. He explained the value of an outlet like Buzzfeed taking native advertising to the next level.

In terms of re-prioritizing campaign momentum mid-swing, Gregor stated the importance of a Control Center to see what’s going out, and track current/past progress. It was at this point that I Periscoped for 14 live viewers, resulting in an overwhelming 17 hearts (thanks, Joe).

When the discussion wrapped up, we had time for a few audience questions. I ended up asking specifically about the Unedited Footage of a Bear and Too Many Cooks infomercial campaigns (definitely watch them if you have a few minutes). These are played on Adult Swim during the middle of the night and, come morning, the Internet is almost melting (Michael’s words). Not much thought or promotion is built around these commercials — it’s just Adult Swim and their producers being awesome.

Highly creative people need an outlet, so why not release 4 a.m. “no strings attached” content that aligns perfectly with your audience? Really great stuff, if you ask me.

turner steffan question
Me asking the panel about 4 a.m. Adult Swim content that, yes, I do watch from time to time (Credit: Lindsey Simms)

Other topics discussed include Kung Fury and the unfortunate fact that Turner does not show soccer and has not bailed out FIFA, yet. All in all, a great roundtable discussion and awesome morning at Turner HQ. Great to see lots of you out there, and look forward to connecting again soon!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s