Canada is about to get a taste of American-style network TV marketing.
Ten days from now, the Canadian news broadcasting landscape will enter a new era when Dawna Friesen assumes the anchor chair of the supper hour newscast Global National. Until last month, Kevin Newman headed the Vancouver-based broadcast and served as the face of Global's news division, squaring off against the veteran newsreaders Lloyd Robertson on CTV and Peter Mansbridge on CBC. Not only will Ms. Friesen become the first full-time female anchor of a nightly network newscast in Canada, but her new role will be trumpeted by a multiplatform advertising campaign that the network's parent CanWest Broadcasting is calling the biggest ever undertaken for its nine-year-old flagship broadcast.
Ms. Friesen began her broadcast career in small-town Manitoba, but after working in numerous cities, she left Canada in 1999 to become a foreign correspondent with NBC based in London, where her husband Tom Kennedy works for CTV. As such, she is little known among Canadian viewers, making Global's choice an unusual one in the current environment, where networks usually turn to established stars when handing over the reins of a broadcast, as CBS did in hiring Katie Couric in 2006 and ABC did last year in replacing Charles Gibson with Diane Sawyer. Next year, CTV's anchor chair will be taken over by Lisa LaFlamme, who has been with the network for more than 10 years.
"We do recognize Dawna has not been on Canadian television for some time, so we certainly knew we had a big job ahead of us to re-establish her, but we're confident that people will get to know her and connect with her very quickly," said Walter Levitt, the chief marketing officer of CanWest Broadcasting. "The big objective of this campaign is to very quickly establish not just Dawna and her name and her face, but to establish a real emotional connection between Dawna and [viewers]"
The campaign spans radio and newspaper ads, transit shelter and billboard posters, oversized digital superboards, and eight 30-second TV spots that will be rolled out on Global and numerous CanWest Broadcasting channels over the next few months. Ms. Friesen is helping the campaign by pressing the flesh in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg to meet with her new colleagues and local media.
(Some viewers think the campaign is too much: This week, a number of commenters on the Global web page devoted to Ms. Friesen's appointment complained about the promotional overkill.)
Already, viewers can recognize there will be a sharp difference in tone struck by Ms. Friesen, 46, and the broadcasts hosted by her predecessor and the pair of formal, authoritative and notably older men that Canadians are accustomed to watching every weeknight. In one 30-second television spot featuring clips of her work on NBC, Ms. Friesen explains that she got into journalism "because I wanted to bear witness. Young women in Afghanistan: so brave, so smart, so full of hope. Children in Iraq, who crave what we in Canada take for granted: peace, security. I wanted to give a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard."
The remaining three spots emphasize both her Canadian roots and her extensive foreign reporting experience. One shows her walking slowly through a field of tall grass - the Canadian outdoors - as she explains the connection. "Starting out in small towns, that grounded me, and gave me tremendous opportunities," she says. "It taught me how to dig for a story. Those skills, that experience, helped launch me as a foreign correspondent. But I always knew I wanted to come back. Back where I belong. Canada. To the familiar places, to the stories about Canadians. The people I love. I'm coming home."
Each of the four ends with the on-screen text: "Welcome home, Dawna." It was a phrase heard over and over on the day of her appointment, uttered almost chorus-like by the local anchors at many of the Global stations across the country as they conducted remote interviews with Ms. Friesen, who was in Toronto.
And the network would very much like viewers of Global National - 60 per cent of whom are female - to feel they are on a first-name basis with Ms. Friesen. During her introductory press conference in July, she suggested that a different approach to the delivery of news was required. "There will never be another Cronkite, there will never be another Lloyd Robertson," she said, adding: "I think what we have to do now is have more of a conversation with Canadians."
Much of the early marketing of Ms. Friesen has sought to present her as a fully rounded individual who thinks for herself and isn't worried about admitting she has emotions. The Global coverage of her appointment included mentions of her young son and the pride she took in Canada while covering the Vancouver Olympics for NBC. On the day her appointment was made official, Kevin Newman interviewed her by satellite from Vancouver for a four-minute segment that concluded the Global National broadcast. When he joked that their on-air encounter was like being on a first date, and asked her playfully to tell him a little bit about herself, Ms. Friesen laughed and immediately threw her voice into a high girlish register "Well, you know, I grew up on a farm …"
Earlier that day, she had said during a press conference: "My feet are on the ground. I'm a mother and I grew up on a farm. I just had peanut butter and maple syrup smeared on me this morning at breakfast - I get real life." She added: "I think I'll be balancing work and motherhood, like all mothers do. It's a struggle and a juggle, and we all do it. There are huge rewards from both, and like a lot of women I'll make it work."
Asked to describe the Dawna Friesen brand, CanWest's Mr. Levitt used the words "credible," "experience," and "Canadian." "And I'd add a fourth as well: I think she is real. She is a national news anchor who's clearly a real person who does a very important job but recognizes that, to connect with viewers, being real is critical."
In playing that "real" card, Global is emphasizing the differences between the Friesen brand and those of the network's competitors. It is also taking a page out of the introduction of Ms. Friesen's former colleague at NBC who may have helped blaze a trail for her.
When Katie Couric took over as the main anchor of the CBS Evening News from Bob Schieffer in September, 2006, the move was heralded by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that saw her face plastered on the front of every single transit bus in New York City. She travelled to a number of key cities to meet with CBS affiliates and local reporters. She sat for numerous glossy magazine cover stories.
But really, viewers already had an intimate relationship with the woman they knew as Katie. They knew the names of her children, had spent three hours with her every morning as she chatted with movie stars and goofed around with her co-anchors on the Today Show; they'd read in the glossy pages about her husband's death to colon cancer at age 42; they'd seen her undergo a colonoscopy on-air: There was very little she wouldn't share with viewers.
Indeed, during her first week at CBS, when a medical correspondent mentioned that 25 per cent of 15-year-old girls were sexually active, Ms. Couric - whose eldest daughter was at that time 15 years old, responded, "Well, you've just ruined my day."
Ms. Friesen's son is only five years old; it presumably will be years before viewers hear of his sexual exploits.