It took Susan Kantor years of experience to become an expert at distilling complex ideas into just a few perfect words.
It’s a skill that’s served her well as she’s moved through the ranks to become one of TV’s most influential marketers. Today, she’s executive vice president of marketing at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD), overseeing the marketing piece of the division’s two-year-old station-relations department, as well as all trade and consumer marketing for such programs as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Two and a Half Men, TMZ, Extra, The Bonnie Hunt Show, The People’s Court, Judge Mathis and more.
“She’s really my right hand when it comes to anything having to do with marketing,” said WBDTD president Ken Werner. “When we look at issues that confront us, all of her experience and knowledge is brought to bear. Instead of coming up with a narrowly conceived solution, she finds a broad one that involves the stations, networks and viewers, as well as touches on all the different aspects of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Werner said his division has a distinctive philosophy. “We’re all about content and the marketing of that content in partnership with our customers,” he said.
It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another to communicate clearly what that means to Warner Bros. customers.
“I wanted the marketing team to create something that would reinforce cornerstones of what we’re doing and make that come alive in an interesting way to our constituents,” Werner said. “Susan went off and came back with a piece I thought was perfect. It took everything I talked about and captured it in one concise message.”
That tagline is “every program has a voice,” which Warner Bros. used to market and brand its large slate of programming in both 2008 and 2009.
The campaign uses the word “voice” as a through line to tie all of Warner Bros.’ product together, but also to illustrate what’s distinctive about each show. For example, Ellen is “the funny and free-spirited voice of a star at the top of her game,” while TMZ is “a real voice that cuts through the hype of Hollywood.”
“That campaign was a great example of what she does so well,” Werner said. “She listens, observes, understands and then provides solutions that get us where we want to be.”
Kantor was hired to head WBDTD’s marketing department before Werner was named president in August 2006. But Werner found her to be a great fit and named Kantor to her current position in October 2008.
Since then, Werner has created a station-relations department at WBDTD that’s charged with creating long-term partnerships with customers. Kantor heads the marketing arm of that department, which works closely with TV stations and cable networks to help them brand and promote Warner Bros.’ shows.
While Kantor is charged with overseeing WBDTD’s broad marketing efforts, she also spearheads specific campaigns for individual shows.
For Ellen, she created a campaign tagging the talk show as “The Best Part of Your Day.”
“We did that campaign two years ago and it really stuck, which makes me as a marketer very happy,” Kantor said. “When you get it right, it can last a long time … and consistency in messaging will make it work harder.”
She also designed launch campaigns for Warner Bros.’ off-net hit Two and a Half Men, which has been far and away the syndicated sitcom leader for 83 weeks, and for TMZ, which Warner Bros.’ successfully turned into a TV show after its Web site took off.
“We had a real look and feel for that campaign,” Kantor said. “We had to communicate how different and bold the show was going to be.”
In TMZ’s case, advance marketing allowed producers to see that the audience would accept a show with some snark, Kantor said: “During a show’s launch phase, marketing can really lead the way and push a show’s voice even before anyone sees the show.”
Kantor, who began her TV career in college, worked at Paramount, Universal, MTV and Twentieth before landing at Warner Bros. in 2006.
Her first job was working with George Lois and Dale Pon at their Manhattan-based advertising agency, Lois, Pitts, Gershon and Pon. Lois, “who was all about big ideas and passion for your work,” came up with MTV’s famous tagline, “I Want My MTV.”
And Pon “taught me to trust my instincts, and I think that’s key for any marketer. As you have more experience and knowledge, you learn to trust your instincts and fight for what you believe in.”
Kantor ended up in Los Angeles when her new agency, Jacobs and Gerber, sent her out to work as their liaison with UPN president Lucie Salhany and marketing chief Meryl Cohen.
Salhany and Cohen soon realized Kantor’s value and brought her in-house. There, she really began her education in the TV business. “It was the early 90s and Lucie was the prime example of how a woman can be successful in a man’s world. You watched her and learned from the best.
“And Meryl pushed us to do the impossible. That’s a very important skill to learn in this business.”
At Paramount, Kantor designed promotional campaigns for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and launched The Arsenio Hall Show in late night in 1989.
“Arsenio was the first really cool talent to come to syndication,” she said. “We knew he was going to be a change agent. We also knew we had to be as cool as he was.”
From Paramount, Kantor went on to Universal, MTV and Twentieth before heading to Warner Bros.
“One critical thing I’ve learned is how to listen,” she said of her experience. “I work to understand where everyone is coming from, and then I take all that information and cull it down to something everyone believes in.”