May 4, 2012
Cooking Channel Launch Positioned as New, Go-To Network for Hip, Edgy Food Programming in Rogers & Cowan Campaign
By Jim Bucci
With the Food Network serving up a top 10 cable status and other networks with some of their highest rated shows food themed, the time was right to offer viewers another helping of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all food programming. Set to launch on Memorial Day of 2010, taking over for the Fine Living Network, the Cooking Channel provided hungry viewers with another dose of classic and original culinary shows.
Rogers & Cowan came aboard to helm the "The Launch of the Cooking Channel" campaign, concentrating on driving excitement for the May 31 launch, encouraging fans of the Food Network to compliment their viewing time with Cooking Channel shows, while also winning over media outlets formerly dubious and critical of Food Network.
"This would not be the Food Network, 'Part 2,' but its own, particular channel," explains Maggie Gallant, senior vice president of entertainment and lifestyle at Rogers & Cowan. "The channel would be different, emphasizing the exotic with not as many cooking competitions, but more cooking lessons."
Once the network was up and running, original series produced specifically for the Cooking Channel would premiere and include up and coming talent like Jeffrey Saad and Kelsey Nixon, while favorite faces from Food Network created shows tailored for the new channel, such as Bobby Flay's "Brunch @ Bobby's," Emeril's "Fresh Food Fast" and Rachael Ray's "Week In A Day."
The sister network to the Food Network, the Cooking Channel aroused skepticism among media who viewed these new networks as merely recycling previously viewed programming. The campaign's success hinged on the perception that Cooking Channel, while from the creators of Food Network, would deliver unique material, not deemed "left over," but creative, enjoyable and entertaining television for food lovers.
"A strong message had to be sent to reporters that the channel wouldn't be just a dumping ground for Food Network programming," Gallant explains.
The Strategy: Play-up the Cooking Channel as the stylish, go-to network for culinary, entertainment and lifestyle programming. Rogers & Cowan sought to position the Cooking Channel as the hip place to explore food without pulling viewers away from Food Network programming, while creating a recognizable entertainment brand with culinary credibility.
Compared against the Food Network, the Cooking Channel aimed for a younger group of viewers, who cared more about food and information as opposed to pure entertainment. Their shows dug deeper into a wider range of topics, from Indian food to vegan.
To build buzz around the Cooking Channel's launch, Rogers & Cowan designed and produced a launch party in New York at the rooftop bar of the Empire Hotel to bring the programming to life for New York-based reporters on the entertainment and food beats.
"We knew we needed an event and it had to be big," offers Gallant. "And we needed to bring the Cooking Channel's players to this event."
At the launch party, New York media mingled with the Cooking Channel's new talent and sampled tastes from some of the best food around, while the stars hung out and got to know each other. Among the bevy of attending participants, Bal Arneson of "Spice Goddess" and Darryl Robinson of "Drink Up," hosts of promising shows from the network.
The PR agency also offered an exclusive to The New York Times to announce the launch of the Cooking Channel, invited The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and USA Today's Olivia Baker for an all-access tour. Celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray gave interviews to national broadcast, print and online outlets to promote their new Cooking Channel shows.
"What makes your launch different from what's out there?" Gallant asks. "That's what you will be judged on. What will make your campaign special and stand out?"
At the launch party, Chuck Hughes, host of "Chuck's Day Off," flashed his food-centric body art, while Michael Symon of "Cook Like an Iron Chef" revealed a right calf decorated with livestock images. The moment summed up how the Cooking Channel — with its rough-edged hosts — differed from the polished, TV personalities of the Food Network.
The Challenge: Highlight the differences separating the Cooking Channel from Food Network: Rogers & Cowan needed to erase the idea among media members that the Cooking Channel would not be an outlet for dated programming, but offer viewers fresh, informative and entertaining shows. The agency conducted audits of Cooking Channel hosts and Food Network media coverage to assist in developing the media strategy and tactics.
"There was some dubiousness on the part of reporters, especially when you are launching another channel," Gallant says. "Food Network regularly places in the top 10 in ratings, and we felt the viewers' appetite was not satiated yet for food programming. Food programming is not so much about food anymore, but the personalities."
They examined the roster of "unknown" hosts, deciding which should serve as the faces of the Cooking Channel and best represented what the new network was all about. The PR team asked themselves the following questions: Is he/she dramatically different from chefs on other networks? Is he/she passionate and energetic enough to compel audiences to give Cooking Channel a chance? Does he/she have a unique cultural background, reinforcing Cooking Channel's global perspective?
An audit of Food Network's coverage from December 2009 through April 2010 turned up a series of reoccurring criticisms, including a lack of applicable instruction, over-saturation and exposure of the talent and a desire to see more niche topics explored from the latest trends to a more global perspective.
"We needed to educate viewers about these unknown chefs, to have them become celebrities," she says. "Viewers tune in for the big celebrities. They want to be in the kitchen with Bobby, Rachael and Emeril."
Rogers & Cowan also conducted in-depth media training with the channel's new cast of talent to ensure the chefs properly communicated the Cooking Channel's messages in all media interviews.
The Results: Cooking Channel launch generates top print and broadcast hits, while channel availability increases: The Cooking Channel's launch party attracted over 120 attendees, including "Good Morning America," Fox News Channel, CNN, Reuters, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, SELF, Esquire, People and Radar. The campaign secured top-tier coverage in The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine and nabbed covers of The New York Daily News' Eats section and USA Weekend.
The Cooking Channel is now available in 58 million homes, an increase of 2.3 million from one year ago.
Secrets of Success: Read on as Gallant offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Bronze in "Best Use of Personality/Celebrity" at the 2011 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations & Publicity.
- Have an eye for detail. "The power of PR is in the details," she explains. "We did a large amount of media training for the chefs, to teach them how to talk about the network in media interviews. We had to make them understand the network's success is their success and that of their show."
- Target the media appropriately. "Doing targeted outreach to reporters makes a big difference," she advises. "We did a careful audit of the reporters we pitched. We looked for fans of cooking, those that cooked themselves and might be a fan various chefs or shows. For example, if a reporter was a fan of 'Iron Chef,' we could pitch them the premiere of 'Iron Chef 2.' We knew they would be brand ambassadors for the network, and that their coverage lives online forever."
- Differentiate your message from those of a similar tone. "This was not another Food Network, so we needed to differentiate our channel from the other one," she says. "Why was this different from its sister network? We concentrated on publishing more in-depth stories and probably less frequently. We educated consumers, focusing on our passion for the food. We pitched reporters that understood the Food Network's programming and could see the different slant the Cooking Channel took."
Winner's Profile: Rogers & Cowan is a global public relations agency based in Los Angeles with offices in New York City, Nashville and London. The agency works with clients in every area of sports and entertainment, including celebrities, athletes, cable and network TV, film production and distribution, among others. The firm provides strategic media relations and marketing services to assist clients with ad campaign launches, brand positioning, business-to-business marketing, business-to-consumer marketing, cause marketing initiatives, special events, product launches and much more.