IF YOU'RE walking around downtown this week and notice a proliferation of guys who look like they were dressed by the "thirtysomething" costume department -- loud wide ties, maybe suspenders, slicked-back hair, broad-shouldered suits -- there's a reason.
A convention known in the television industry as the BPME -- the Broadcast Promotion and Marketing Executives -- is in town, along with its sidekick, the BDA -- the Broadcast Design Association -- attracting more than 3,000 people to the Convention Center.
These are TV's advertising types, the ones whose job is to create ads that will get you to watch programs so that they can sell more ads on those shows.
Anyone confused about that mandate could have attended a session this morning called "A Critical Eye," which was supposed to "take a hard look at what we broadcast designers do and, in an intensely personal, thought-provoking manner, ask the fundamental questions -- what for and why?"
Of course, those Zen-like queries might have been answered in a linear Western manner a bit earlier this morning in a session called "Let's Get Creative . . . and Bring in More Revenue."
The convention began on Sunday and runs through Wednesday, though many attendees came in a day or two early for sessions run by NBC and CBS for their affiliates on the networks' promotion plans for the fall season.
Promotion is growing in importance for all of television. As cable clutter has turned your set into a cornucopia of programming, figuring out how to get you to pay attention to one particular program has become vital for survival. It's why CBS has you playing games with K mart and NBC had you matching up numbers at McDonald's.
The BPME members are important enough to attract stars and executives from a number of syndicated shows to town, and Oprah Winfrey will tape her talk show at the convention on Wednesday afternoon.
Nowhere is television promotion more important than in TV movies which, as many network types have noted, have their opening and closing nights simultaneously. No time for word of mouth, you've got to get them in the tent or they're never going to see the show.
And that's why one BPME session this afternoon was called "Promoting the Network Movies: How Low Did We Go?" claiming you'll "Hear about how the networks orchestrate on-air campaigns to outdo each other in TV's most competitive area. Their unorthodox but highly successful methods reveal how truth in advertising could be a terrible thing."
Locally, promotion managers create stations' image campaigns that make everyone on your set a friend who is on your side whom you can turn to because that's what friends are for.
As one session, "The Cult of Personality," put it yesterday, "Learn how to leverage a powerful station image to overcome inadequate programming, lack of awareness and entrenched competition for affiliates and independents." Which means that the promotion manager's dream is people sitting at home saying, "I don't really like this show, but I'm not going to change channels because this station is my friend and I don't want to offend it."
Other sessions range from the use of 900 numbers to making television "environmentally friendly" -- "If your station plans to be on the environmental bandwagon, make sure it's sending out the right messages."
Perhaps the most useful in these days of layoffs and cutbacks is an hour tomorrow titled "Surviving the Pink Slip."
But the most honest might be one that took place this morning called "Fearless Forecasts," a session on the upcoming television season featuring the views of experts in news, entertainment and business and an astrologer.
For, as any BPME member can tell you, the best-promoted programs of mice and men often end up at the bottom of the Nielsens.