AOL Ventures Into Upfront Territory

Splashy lighting and video effects and a sharp focus on catering highlighted the online brand’s first-ever upfront sales presentation.

April 26, 2007, 5:06 PM EDT

AOL took a farmer’s market approach to the after-party food stations. Guests could find meat, chicken, cheeses, vegetables, breads, and dips neatly arranged in square glass jars on metal risers and atop wooden cutting boards.

Photo: BizBash

Though AOL decided to brand its event as “AOL: First Look,” the presentation and after-party were decidedly of the upfront realm, marking the first time an online entity has joined the television networks's season of live ad sales presentations. “What was so neat about this event was that we as an online company came into a very established space—the networks have been doing upfront presentations for 30 years,” said director of corporate events Rachel Gross.

Held at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 17, the event kicked off with passed drinks on the sixth floor before the audience of 450 media-buying honchos filed into the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall (and soaked in the venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Columbus Circle). Running 30 minutes behind schedule (the doors opened late due to overrunning rehearsals), AOL execs commenced their speech-making duties right off the bat. Two MiTrix towers of LED-lit panels flanked the stage, changing colors and flashing phrases such as “Q2 2008” throughout. “We used the MiTrix towers to communicate to the audience which quarter they could buy our new slate of programming in,” said Gross, who also placed nine flat-screen TVs in the room to roll the programming footage. “That way, our speakers didn’t have to include it in their speeches.”

An after-party in the downstairs Atrium lobby followed the 90-minute presentation. Time Warner Center in-house caterer Great Performances created catering trays to match the new programing concepts, such as a dark wood carved-leaf-shaped palette that featured seared tuna tartare atop crispy plantain chips (representing the island-themed game show iLand). Comfort foods such as mini mac ’n’ cheese cups, mini cheese burgers, and deviled eggs sat atop stark white Lucite trays bearing the Ellen Degeneres Show logo. (AOL is teaming with Degeneres for a program about entertaining in your hometown.)

Beyond the passed food, there were also three stations of high-design foods—mini lobster pot pies, lobster seafood cocktail cups, and meat, cheese, and vegetable offerings. “We wanted to make sure that if you didn’t catch a waiter, you could still get protein, seafood, vegetables, and cheese,” Gross said. “So we took a farmer’s market approach to the stations, where you could pair fresh vegetables with meats and dipping sauces.”

Gross and her event planning team haven’t stopped lately. They helped produce the Matrix Awards on April 23 and managed to squeeze in an incentive sales meeting in Jamaica last weekend.

Courtney Thompson

Photos: Russell Hirshon for AOL (Shrek tray, Gold Rush tray, art), BizBash (all others)

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