It’s that time again, when glitzy presentations compete for the attention of clients, advertisers and the press. Upfronts, sizzles and TCA videos, oh my!

It’s almost as competitive as your mother and mother-in-law vying for time with your first-born. To complicate things further (not with your in-laws), we are talking to a bunch of advertisers who see hundreds more TV messages than any viewer out there, and that can leave them jaded.

And while you’re busy trying to convince those advertisers why this show will be the network’s breakout hit, there are hundreds of critics, with pen (or laptop) in hand, ready to churn out a whole lot of opinions on what they’ve seen. If you think advertisers spend a lot of time watching programming, imagine being inundated for two weeks with shows, panels and spin. Tapes made for the Television Critics Association’s (TCA) biannual press tours have an immediate effect on earned media, possibly impacting the fate of a show that hasn’t even seen the light of day, and can even be the basis around which a network rolls its campaign, should it rings some bells.

So how do you come up with creative that will blow the pants off a room full of people who have seen practically everything?

Come up with something that hasn’t been done before is one of the biggest challenges we have as creatives, but just because something seems crazy, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

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When thinking about cutting through the noise in this extremely cluttered landscape, it really comes down to putting your best creative foot forward. What does that look like? Here are some helpful suggestions:

Understand your audience and your client’s expectations for that audience.

The upfront and sizzle audiences differ in many ways and, for that reason, you must make sure you are approaching your project with a voice and a narrative that is not only going to fit the type of work you’re doing, but also stands out amongst the rest.

Scour, scour and scour!

Online, books, magazines, print campaigns, documentaries, art installations, your kid’s macaroni picture he just brought home from kindergarten — this is the time to get inspired. Like a dog off a leash, we are about to leave our :30 cage to run free with time, so let’s make the most of it. There is inspiration everywhere. Seek it, find it, pitch it!

Don’t be afraid.

As Jon Acuff once tweeted, “next time you’re afraid to share ideas, remember someone once said in a meeting ‘let’s make a film about a tornado filled with sharks.’” Go out on a limb. Being creative means different things to different people, so shoot for the moon – you can always pull back.

Push for the unconventional.

Your clients know you make kick-ass trailers, do amazing live-action work and nail your launches, but here’s your chance to show them how big your creative muscles truly are. Find a visual device that really fits your narrative. Use a mixed-media approach that incorporates what you’ve been given to work with and what you’ve found to work with. Use an unexpected audio track like we at 2C did to present National Geographic’s visually stunning “One Strange Rock.”

Go out there and find real fans of a show, an actor, a network and build something from their point of view, like the upfront presentation we did for Cartoon’s “Makers.”

Maybe create a need for a live performance to supplement your idea – shout out to ESPN for getting the guys from Hamilton to perform in the inspiring open to the network’s upfront presentation.

See how your cut might play on multi-screens in a giant space like we did for CNN’s “Great Big Story” upfront presentation, where multiple screens elevated a big story into something way bigger.

The possibilities are endless. You just need to spend the time thinking unconventionally like the team over at Adult Swim with its 2017 upfront film. Sometimes you get the green light to go all in and they did just that.


No, I don’t mean listen to your client (well, wait… you should definitely listen to your client). I mean listen to music, sounds, interesting rhythms. Don’t be the guy who presents the same Imagine Dragons song that everyone else is pitching. Go for the obscure. Go for a remix. Go acoustic. Go without. Music can change the entire dynamic of your piece. Scratch that. Music will change the entire dynamic of your piece, so don’t be afraid to tap all your resources. I had my teenage niece and nephew once put together a song list that turned out to be four pages long, front and back, of some of the things they were listening to, which led me to different things and eventually landed me in a whole stream of music I never would have listened to otherwise.

And, finally, make sure your message is clear.

Yes, clients are looking for great creative for their presentations, but if you aren’t tailoring that creative to the client’s messaging, it will be a miss. It may look pretty, it may sound pretty, but the feedback may be less than pretty. So collaborate, get your office together, grab a production assistant, your accountant (really anyone who has signed an NDA) and talk about it. Just because you think you’re putting together something mind-blowing doesn’t mean everyone is hearing the same message you are.

Marni Wagner is creative director for Miami-based 2C Creative.

Tags: 2c creative marni wagner thought leadership upfronts 2019 winter tca 2019

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