By Jennifer Konerman
2012 was a year that saw cable start to level the ratings playing field with the big four networks, and no cable channel played a bigger part in this trend than FX. While “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy” tied for the No. 1-ranked FX telecast ever in the demographic of adults 18-34, it was “Sons” that achieved the even greater feat of repeatedly ending its night as the No. 1 show of its time period in key demographics across cable and broadcast.
To garner ratings for “Sons” that rival broadcast networks, Stephanie Gibbons, EVP of marketing and promotions at FX, and her team have cultivated a level of engagement that transcends preconceived notions of what fan involvement can be. By tapping into the show’s very specific yet universally recognized niche, they have discovered “a world within a world,” Gibbons said. “There’s a lot of fodder for fans to really dig into in terms of motorcycle culture.”
FX has proven itself unafraid to go deep into, and even become part of, that world, as evidenced by its Ride Free or Die tour in 2009 and its annual takeover of Sturgis, the summer motorcycle rally held in South Dakota. The show’s actors deepen the connection by greeting fans at events, taking photos, and gladly accepting the pomp and circumstance along with the criticism. Among the series’ contributors, perhaps no figure exhibits its open attitude more so than creator Kurt Sutter, who treats diehard fans as part of his family.
“What’s great about this show is that it’s almost a publicist’s dream. You have Kurt Sutter, who’s great with the media and media loves to talk to him,” said Dominic Pagone, VP of media relations at FX. “You have the cast, whom everybody also loves to interview and know what they’re doing. And then you have the fans that eat up everything.”
Sutter satiates those fans’ ravenous appetite by responding to their feedback directly on Facebook and supplying an exclusive “Before the Anarchy” video series that delves behind the scenes of “Sons,” looks at on-set direction, and assesses why certain decisions were made and the purpose of certain characters.
“He is such an incredible resource for us because he’s so active,” said Gibbons. “He has such a distinct voice, and he is so embracing of allowing fans behind the curtain. That makes him an incredibly special creative partner for us from a marketing standpoint, which I really feel, in the social realm, has given us such a great leg up. There’s an authenticity and honesty to it and an intimacy that he has with his fans that, to me – in addition to the essence of the show – has been our biggest marketing leverage point in terms of being able to connect in a very real way on social media.”