In the competitive race for promotional dollars earmarked for the kids television market, Boston, Massachusetts-based public broadcaster and producer WGBH has found success by dedicating a small but innovative team to securing tie-in promotions.
“We are always looking for companies that will get a lot of value out of our audience,” says Suzanne Zellner, VP of corporate sponsorship for WGBH. “In the old days, companies might have looked at a sponsorship opportunity with PBS as a philanthropic buy, but that changed about eight years ago. Now it’s a marketing-based decision.”
Zellner has been tasked with finding what she calls “perfect fits” for unique sponsorship opportunities for PBS Kids’ large inventory of children’s programming that airs on PBS’s 349 member stations across the US.
“We need to express to our customers that we have a big audience, the quality of the programs is phenomenal, and each program has an educational tenet,” she says.
The promotional programs are typically designed to take place over a 12-month period and are hammered out as a partnership between a sponsor and WGBH’s promo team. One of the most successful recent programs involved restaurant chain Chik-Fil-A and literacy-based series Martha Speaks.
“For that we developed a series of books that were given out at participating Chik-Fil-A locations,” says Zellner, pointing to the fact that 4.39 million books were distributed. “It really aligned the values of the series with what the corporate sponsor wanted to do.”
Looking back at spring 2009, nationwide drug retailer CVS Caremark partnered with WGBH to develop a campaign for its charitable program All Kids Can, utilizing the series Arthur. The result was the Arthur All Kids Can Character Search, a contest whereby kids could design their own character for the series. The winner, a boy from Minnesota, brought to the small screen Lydia Fox, a little girl in a wheelchair who loves to play basketball.
The promotion also racked up more than 80 million page views and 425,000 hits to CVS Caremark’s website.
The grand prize for the contest also highlights one marketing advantage that WGBH can offer potential partners. “The top prize was to have Mark Brown (Arthur’s creator) come to the boy’s school and read a story,” she says. “Access to talent is one of those types of things we can offer that more traditional TV sponsorship deals just don’t include.”
With a trio of new series at their disposal, including Super Why!, Wild Kratts and Dinosaur Train, Zellner expects 2012 to be full of new promotions. “The biggest challenge for us is there are a lot of programs out there and so many choices,” says Zellner. “That’s we why we have to remind people that public television is a sponsorship option—it’s a bit under the radar, but we have a lot to offer.”