In an open letter to advertisers Monday, NBCUniversal ad chief Linda Yaccarino offered a response to recent demands that media companies shift to a calendar-year upfront. She said transformation in the advertising business is a “shared responsibility” for the buy side and the sell side and made what she admits is an “ambitious call to action” for much broader change.
The evolution of the TV ad business has taken on new urgency in 2020 in light of COVID-19, which has sidelined live sports and shut down production of TV programming. Marketers have been agitating for long-term changes to the upfront ad business, which enables networks to lock in about one-third of the industry’s $65 billion-plus in annual ad revenue. This year’s upfront has been drastically altered by the pandemic, with many buyers forced to the sidelines and spending plunging by double-digit percentages in the second quarter.
The Association of National Advertisers, which represents a range of blue-chip brands, last week asked networks to formally move to a calendar-year upfront, as opposed to the traditional September-to-May focus. In her letter, Yaccarino acknowledged the calls from the ANA and others to shift the calendar, but argued that “we can go even further” than that. “This is the moment to question not just when we do business, but how we do business, at every level—because transformation is more than the private sector’s response to this moment, it’s our long-term responsibility,” she wrote.
In addition to COVID-19, which has devastated the economy, the country is experiencing convulsions over race, precipitated by police brutality and related protests but now affecting society as a whole. The two crises are connected, Yaccarino maintains, as far as the economy and the responsibilities of brand marketers are concerned.
“Over the past few months, seismic shifts have rippled across the corporate playing field and pushed us even further. Competitors now stand shoulder-to-shoulder, staring down the same systemic issues, ready to take action and change for the better,” she wrote. “Our fates are intertwined. We all now have a shared responsibility to transform our companies, our industry, and our economy—because when everything is at stake, we are all stakeholders. And there’s no industry better suited to lead this than the marketing community.”
A redesigned marketing machine, she added, can unlock economic opportunity and even drive the U.S. recovery on a macroeconomic level.
“This open marketplace will require new alliances, partnerships, business models, and maybe even some strange bedfellows,” Yaccarino wrote. “And none of that should scare us; it should liberate us to do whatever this moment requires.”
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