The Wooing of an Ad Man

NEW YORK — Strobe lights, confetti, party favors, loud music and lots and lots of parties.

A week of television network sales pitches are over and now national ad buyers can start the real work.

The events where the networks unveil the new season's lineups — known as the upfronts — may be a lot of fun, but for most in the advertising world, the real work begins after the upfronts.

In the last few years the events have become glitzier and more extravagant.

But do they really hold any value for those responsible for deciding where millions of dollars in ad revenue flows?

ABC News followed one ad buyer as he weaved his way through the CW's upfront Thursday and captured his thoughts on the process.

Food, Food and More Food

Before hearing about a single show, the audience of ad buyers, advertisers and analysts had to file through a maze of free food.

People were handing out Jamba Juice smoothies, scones, bagels, yogurt, fruit cups and other breakfast foods to the entering crowd.

For nearly an hour before the presentation started, the crowd waited in a room with more food, loud music, people doing paintings on a stage and models walking down a runway.

The CW is a network owned by CBS and Warner Brothers and targets an audience ages 18 to 34.

The room had a youthful feel, with a noise level that was more suitable for a rock show than a place to talk business.

"I wish I was back in the office," said Jason Kanefsky, a group account director with the MPG agency, a media-buying company whose clients include Dannon, ExxonMobile, GlaxoSmithKline, Volvo and Outback Steakhouse.

Kanefsky has a love-hate relationship with these events.

There is a lot that can be learned from network executives about the strategy for the season. But to hear that strategy, he often has to put up with a lot of song and dance that really doesn't help him decide where to put his clients' ad dollars.

"This doesn't really give me a sound reason to make a buying decision," he said, looking around at the food and painters onstage. "To me it's financially irresponsible."

Kanefsky waves to people, says a quick hi and checks his BlackBerry.

"It's getting less and less important," he said about an upfront.

The schedule provided doesn't always reflect what actually makes the air. Kanefsky said advertisers are really making an investment in the network based on the general feeling about the content, not on a specific lineup.

And the parties that often follow these events?

Kanefsky typically skips them.

"I don't get any real value out of it," he said.

Forget the swag he said. Get him copies of the show pilots earlier -- that's what helps him make a decision about where to put millions of dollars of his clients' money.

Showmanship vs. Vision

Not all events are created equal.

Some networks rent out lavish spaces and their presentation is more show than PowerPoint.

The CW had a bit of that in its upfront — the Pussycat Dolls performed at the opening — but Kanefsky also saw a coherent vision for the network's lineup.

He described the event as a classic upfront presentation: People see a short clip of the show and then the stars come onstage. The network then moves on to the show in the next time slot.

Introducing shows that are geared toward women for Sunday night, Dawn Ostroff, the network's president of entertainment, said the CW didn't see any options currently out there for women so it decided to take the lead for that night.

"This makes sense. She's giving strategy," Kanefsky said as Ostroff highlighted the night.

Generally, how much the crowd claps and shouts doesn't matter, especially since there are plenty of network employees in the room

"You know what's good and what isn't," Kanefsky said.

Yet if something really bombs or is a real hit, then the crowd is a good indicator.

For instance, after a screening of a new sitcom, "Aliens in America," about a 16-year-old Wisconsin boy whose mother decides to improve his social status at school by importing an exchange student to be his friend, the crowd gave very strong applause.

"That's a focus group of 4,000 that you can count on," Kanefsky said.

The crowd is filled with ad buyers, advertisers, investment bankers, some hedge fund analysts and representatives from the network affiliates.

While Kanefsky finds the upfronts helpful, he said it is the clients who truly benefit. They get a better feel for the network and the shows, which can make his job a bit easier.

"The clients enjoy it the most, especially the ones who are from out of town," he said. "Those four days are considered a perk of the business."