Q & A

ABC TV Event Chief
Brenda Major

May 8, 2002, 12:00 AM EDT

Brenda Major is vice president of conference planning and special events at ABC Television Network, where she produces 50 events a year. Her current challenge is coordinating ABC's Upfront Week event on May 14, when the network will introduce its fall lineup to advertisers and journalists with a presentation at the New Amsterdam Theater and a party later at Cipriani 42nd Street. She's held her current job for six years; previously she was the director of special events at Radio City Music Hall.

BiZBash: Why is Upfront Week so important?

Brenda Major: The Upfront is the most important event of the year because that's when advertisers get a sneak peak at the fall schedule. This is when the majority of the sales take place. Advertisers look at what our season is going to be and buy advertising “up front.” They place their bets early.

What does it take to plan ABC's Upfront Week event?

There are two primary things: Finding a location for the presentation, and finding the location for the party afterwards. The other thing is closely working with our creative services and marketing departments, so that we have a cohesive look and feel of what the network is all about. We work to make sure that everything is branded properly-it's not just a big cocktail party.

We also work with our talent relations department. They bring in talent from the shows. We make up photo op stands, and the casts come, so advertisers can go stand with [actors like] Dennis Franz. The ad community enjoys that a lot.

As far as d?cor, that's really based on what the branding campaign is. We use photos of the talent, using ABC's yellow and black theme. Yellow and black is not the easiest thing for a florist to do. There was some resistance to that. Our florist really gets that we need that yellow hit, and not just with sunflowers. For other things, like printing, we deal with whoever comes in with the best cost.

What's the most challenging.phpect?

I think this is probably true for all the networks, but ABC really doesn't finalize the schedule until very close to the event. You don't know until the eleventh hour which shows are going to get pulled. We have to go ahead and print up [materials for] all 15 when [we know] we're not going to pick up all 15. That's a little nerve-wracking.

When do you start planning for Upfront Week?

I have to tell you, this year our event is May 14. I'll start planning the next event on May 15! We have to secure the spaces, make sure we're all locked and ready to go for next year.

How does the Upfront event differ from year to year?

Every year the network is in a different place. The year we had Who Wants to Be a Millionaire we were number one. This year is more challenging. As far as the logistics, now that we're at Cipriani there are different people for me to deal with. But it also depends on what's going on in the big picture with the network. We feel very optimistic about what's going on this year.

How did you get involved in event planning in the first place?

I was the kid in the backyard that produced The Sound of Music for our parents in the summer; it's something I've always done but didn't always know it could be a job. When I found out it was in the early 1980's. I lived in Washington, D.C., and I was a paralegal but always volunteered to do fund-raisers for local politicians. I applied to be a low person on the totem pole at a new convention center and got the job as a junior event coordinator. That's the first time I really got paid to plan events.

What are ABC's big events besides Upfront Week?

When we're the broadcast network of the Super Bowl, that's a big one. That's taking place for us in 2003. We have press tours, which take place in L.A. twice a year. TV critics gather in a hotel and then all the networks take turns presenting. It happens in July, and then in January we do mid-season replacements and updates.

How big is your staff?

I have two full-time people in New York and one in LA. It's a small staff but we work really well together--it's a real team effort.

What trends are you seeing in events right now?

Now more than ever people really want to identify the business purpose of events, especially in the TV industry. There really has to be a purpose. I've always looked for ways to save money and be as cost conscious as possible. But certainly there have been cutbacks on the number of events that are done now. Some of that has to do with the downturn in advertising-we had events that were cancelled after 9/11. Things are coming back but people are still cautious about spending money and planning events.

Do you have a preferred list of vendors you always work with, or do you constantly try out new companies?

We like to be loyal to someone who does a great job for us, but we do look around for different vendors to see what's new, what's different.

What makes a vendor stand out?

I'm a pretty down-to-earth person, so although it's interesting to hear about the flashy names and people that vendors have worked for, that's not-for me-the top selling point. And that's what some vendors sell, and their pricing reflects that. I look for vendors that are solid, dependable, creative and cost effective. A vendor doesn't have to have done the latest “ooo la la” party. That doesn't necessarily impress me. I want to feel like I can be upfront with someone about my budget and my ideas. I'm very honest on all of that stuff, and I like to feel that the vendor's being honest with me.

Posted 05.08.02

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