L.A.'s second-biggest advertising agency has only one client: itself.

The NBC Agency, a division of the NBC Inc., handles more than $1 billion in promotional airtime for the company's diverse broadcasting, Internet and cable assets.

(That makes it second only to TBWA Chiat/Day Inc., in terms of local billings.)

It is being closely watched by NBC's competitors, because the other networks still farm-out their promotional campaigns to independent ad agencies. If NBC's in-house agency is successful in saving money, observers expect the other networks to copy NBC's strategy.

"It will give NBC a more consistent look," said one media buyer, who asked for anonymity. "They want everything to look the same, but they can make individual adjustments in each of the different platforms."

The division got underway last November and is headed by two NBC veterans: John Miller, who serves as president, and Vince Manze, the creative director and executive vice president. The two marketing executives are responsible for NBC's highly successful campaigns, "Must See TV" and "Appointment Television" both of which began in 1994.

In-house advertising

The agency creates unified campaigns for NBC's TV network and its owned-and-operated stations, as well as such cable assets as CNBC and MSNBC and Internet companies like CNBC.com, MSNBC.com and NBCi.

The NBC Agency is now one of the largest advertising agencies in the country in terms of the value of its airtime though that's somewhat misleading, since the time is provided by the NBC stations and networks.

Though right now it only creates campaigns for NBC companies, it is considering expanding to outside clients. In fact, Manze said, the agency has been approached by such potential clients as the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee for its 2002 games, a syndication company, and the Hollywood Stock Exchange.

"The real savings are not in money, but in efficiency and time use," Manze said. "We can work quickly, and that is an advantage for our clients (NBC operating units)."

Another advantage of having an in-house ad agency for a media company like NBC is that it facilitates a consistent look to its promos across multiple media platforms, and allows for cross-promotion of those platforms.

For example, NBC is heavily promoting is upcoming coverage of the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. The Games will be aired not only on NBC, but on CNBC and MSNBC as well. Because not all cable operators carry the latter two networks, NBC is running promotional spots, letting viewers know that if their cable operator doesn't carry CNBC or MSNBC, they'll be missing some Olympics coverage.

NBC officials hope that will prompt viewers to put pressure on the cable operator to sign up for the missing networks. "It might goose them," Manze said.

The coming Olympics spots will feature such athletic stars as shot putter C.J. Hunter and his wife, track star Marion Jones. They will run on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and the company's owned-and-operated stations. The NBC Agency customized each of the ads for each platform.

Prior to the creation of the in-house agency, each unit of the broadcasting company would oversee the creation of its own campaign and then ask for airtime. The entire process was pell-mell.

"Someone from CNBC might come to us and say, 'Here is a campaign; please put it on the network,'" Manze said. "Everything was piecemeal."

Of course, it's not enough to promote a network or channel just within the NBC family. For billboards, radio and print advertising, NBC turns New York-based ad agency D'Arcy, which books media time and placement.

Focus on the network

Plans for the creation of the in-house NBC arm got underway two years ago at the encouragement of NBC President Robert Wright, who met with Miller and Manze in New York. While the agency's goal is to assist all the NBC operations, the brunt of its efforts are aimed at promoting the NBC TV network and its prime-time slate, which generated $2.3 billion in up-front advertising this spring.

"We can never lose track of that," Manze said, referring to the overriding relative importance of the network.

So far, Miller and Manze said, NBC's competitors have not unified their promotional efforts. ABC had been discussing such a plan, but that appears to have been set aside in the wake of the departure of ABC President Pat Fili-Krushel.

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