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  1. 1. Media Leadership The Price of Owning the Market WXII: A Case Study by Tracey Robinson-English Media Management Center Medill School Kellogg School of Management
  2. 2. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market WXII: A Case Study This case study was written by Tracey Robinson-English, a Chicago-based journalist and consultant to the Media Management Center. Robinson-English is president and CEO of English Communications, Inc., a strategic media consulting firm serving corporations and educational institutions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School, a master’s degree in management communication from its School of Communication, and certifications in nonprofit leadership from the Kellogg School of Management. Her other reportorial work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, Ebony, and The Chicago Tribune and has also been featured on CBS and PBS TV affiliates. Copyright © 2008 Media Management Center All rights reserved Inquiries about this case should be sent to: Media Management Center 301 Fisk Hall Northwestern University 1845 Sheridan Road Evanston, Illinois 60208-2110 phone: (847) 491-4900 fax: (847) 491-5619
  3. 3. Media Leadership The Price of Owning the Market WXII: A Case Study WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.– In this city of southern comfort is a guy who has led four powerhouse TV stations and supervised one of the highest-profile (but unsuccessful) attempts to transform TV news, at WBBM in Chicago. He’s now in the enviable and unusual position of running WXII-TV12, an NBC affiliate, that his group owners want him to use as a laboratory for the changes needed to compete in the digital age– a station that on his watch has risen from the ratings dump to the number one slot in every category. WXII’s makeover is catching the industry’s eye against a backdrop of incredible sameness that is crippling television news nationally. “One thing that makes WXII such an interesting case study is that it is almost impossible to move from No. 3 to No. 1 in local television markets today,” says Michael P. Smith, executive director of the Media Management Center at Northwestern. “That takes strategy, leadership and talented people to make it happen. When all three are in alignment, good things happen. I think the key factor in making WXII number one in all time slots is a clear and compelling strategy and a leader who is a true builder. Hank has a picture of excellence and the energy, drive, enthusiasm and spirit to make it happen. Those leadership skills also transcend to the classroom, where he gets excellent evaluations.” With some zany twists infused into the newscast mix– like hiring a comedian to rap traffic reports– and reporters working every angle to dominate breaking news on and off turf, WXII created a smart media strategy that differentiated the station from its competitors. Not only that, Price teaches the next generation of broadcast leaders at both the Media Management Center and Kellogg School of Management. Meet Hank Price, president and general manager of WXII and senior director of the Media Management Center, one of the gurus of media management. Over the span of his 37-year career in television, Price has developed a knack for transforming television stations into news Media Management Center 1
  4. 4. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market leaders including Gannett-owned KARE-TV in Minneapolis, with the risk-taking attitude of a maverick and a large capacity to shift gears quickly to meet the demands and realities of the market. At 59, he is one of the nation’s most revered television news executives, a survivor of the changing tides of television news and a passionate champion of change. “I’m a believer in television,” said Price. “TV’s not going away. It’s going to be incredibly important, especially with high definition. I’m just not a believer that there’s room for as many people doing it.” Price is on the front lines of a revolution in the television industry. Faced with a devastating predictability among stations across the country and viewers with more media options, the television industry has lost the loyalty of audiences nationally, he said. Survival in the digital age of choice means forgetting the past and shaping the future in spite of a great deal of uncertainty. Price’s insights echo a new Media Management Center/Medill study, The Local TV News Experience, based on a survey of about 1,400 local television news-watching adults in the Chicago metropolitan area and a content analysis of 46 randomly selected night-time news programs on five of the main commercial broadcasting networks: WBBM CBS2 Chicago (news at 10 pm), WMAQ NBC5 (news at 10 pm), WLS ABC7 (news at 10 pm), WGN-TV (news at 9 pm) and WFLD-Fox 32 Chicago (news at 9 pm). (Download the report at The main findings from the survey: • Local television news has seen competition for audiences increase as mass audience fragments, appointment viewing disappears, and Internet usage explodes. • Viewers have very similar experiences with the five local news programs. That is, no program caused its viewers to react or feel differently than the others. • Overall, the stations are more similar than they are different in the content of their night- time news programs. Situations similar to Chicago’s reverberate throughout the country, causing more and more viewers over time to disengage from local TV news and increasingly to connect to other forms of media for news and information. In other words, the television news industry nationally must find ways to win back and reconnect with viewers based on what viewers want and need. At WXII, Price is a pied piper of change. His easy-listening leadership is converting staffers and paying off big for the once struggling TV station, owned by Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. “When I first met the staff, I said, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Within five years, we’re going to become number one. They just looked at me like ‘Yeah, right,’” said Price. “I told the staff: ‘Once we become number one, we’re going to reinvent the future. I don’t know what that is, but were going to try it.’” The Winston-Salem Challenge To understand the staff’s incredulity, it helps to know the tough situation Price faced when he came to WXII seven years ago. The station had been at the bottom in the ratings for years. WXII had record-low morale. The building and equipment were in bad shape. The newsroom was in a poorly ventilated basement. 2 Media Management Center
  5. 5. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market A new media darling Some teens across the country are tapping into a new multi-platform virtual hang out to get the latest 411 at their highs schools. It’s called High School Playbook, a new social networking venture created by the digital team of Hearst Argyle in New York that connects an entire high school community to TV, mobile and PC screens. (See Seeking to reach the lucrative multi-billion dollar high school market, Hearst-Argyle launched the first phase at a handful of stations, including WXII, in August 2007. “It’s been a phenomenal success,” Price said. “Conventional wisdom says teenagers are not interest in news. That’s just not true. They are very interested about the world they live in, especially their high schools,” he said. Under the Playbook model, each participating station trains selected high student journalists and equips them with Canon HV20 high-definition camcorders to report local events. The High School Playbook Web site features lots of social networking, school information, game schedules, statistics, individual athlete profiles, interscholastic comparisons, music and “game day” weather reports provided by participating TV stations. It also includes personal profile pages, team pages, school pages, cheerleader pages, fitness and nutrition pages, SMS voting and related messaging tools to enable byplay among rival schools and fans. “We’ve created a super-charged broadband platform with a stellar ‘user experience’ to give high school athletes a spotlight,” said Terry Mackin, executive vice president of Hearst-Argyle. Mackin directly oversees the company’s efforts in digital media, including programming for digital broadcast spectrum and for digital devices using technologies such as broadband, wireless application protocol, Java for mobile video and other applications. This summer, WXII and Hearst-Argyle stations in Orlando, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina rolled out the project to the applause of a whole new audience of teenagers. Next year, the company plans to launch Playbook at fifty additional stations inside and outside of Hearst-Argyle. Mackin said Hearst-Argyle made a “seven-figure investment, minimally” in Playbook. The investment is already paying off at WXII. Price said the new, customer-focused venture is already “a phenomenal success,” creating another lucrative revenue stream in the millions. Playbook comes at a time when media companies are increasing the stakes in high school sports. Sports Illustrated invested heavily in school sports/social networking site earlier this summer, and CBS Corporation bought Fox-owned stations are tweaking their own high school sports/social networking platform. New research conducted for Hearst-Argyle by SmithGeiger showed a growing demand for high school sports content online, with 59 percent of respondents expressing interest in a website of this nature, and 74 percent having recently attended a high school sporting event. “We now have an entirely new audience of teenagers,” Price said. Among local and national advertisers (including McDonald’s, Toyota and Pontiac), High School Playbook is the new media darling. The goal among marketers is to gain favor earlier with student athletes and give them a taste of the kind of exposure they may be getting later on in college. Advertisers are also going after their coaches, teachers and principals– not to mention their fans, friends and families. The reasons are obvious. High school athletes and their social networks are a multi-billion dollar market. They buy sneakers, gear, sports beverages, grooming aids, magazines and video games. They also influence the purchasing choices of their parents in important categories like cars, cell phones and computers. “Playbook is about having a kid think our brand is important to them for local news and information,” said Glenn Haygood, WXII’s general sales manager. “Their local news and information is different than our news. That’s okay. They will look at our brand totally different because we now have something that appeals directly to them.” Media Management Center 3
  6. 6. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market “We used to call it the hole,” recalls Lisa Faulk, an executive producer who began her career at WXII. Part of WXII’s problem was geographic. Many viewers in the eastern part of the three-market triad area including Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point didn’t watch WXII. They were convinced that it only served the Western Piedmont part of the market as a result of a previous marketing strategy: Complete Local Coverage of the Western Piedmont. Additionally, WXII had spent less on its news operation than its competitors: WGHP, an ABC turned Fox affiliate, and WFMY, a CBS-affiliate where Price once served as president and general manager. So viewers saw the news product of WXII as inferior. Beginning the turnaround Price leaned into the process of turning WXII around with the exuberance of the Mississippi wrestling ring announcer that he was long ago before his break in TV– and with Hearst-Argyle’s blessing and deep financial pockets. The company invested more than $7 million to rebuild the sagging infrastructure, install digital systems, including a state-of-the-art newsroom (which they moved to the first floor), better graphics and conversion of the station into a tapeless Sony Blue Ray/Avid system. It made WXII more competitive, with a screen look of a bigger market station. “Digital allows us to look cleaner, better and faster,” said Jerry McBride, news operation manager. Price and Hearst-Argyle also placed a premium on hiring quality employees to train and develop to move up the company chain. “Payroll is the largest component of our budget and the biggest upgrade we’ve made,” Price said. “Those who do especially well move up at WXII or on to another station in Hearst-Argyle. Over the past 7 years, the company has promoted about 25 people to bigger stations or bigger jobs within Hearst.” More importantly, WXII kept the majority of the staff while it hired additional producers, an assistant news director and a meteorologist. It switched around the main anchors and eliminated most of its old segmented marketing strategies that distracted rather than appealed to viewers. Developing a Winning Formula All the changes were made according to WXII’s new strategy, which is posted on walls throughout the station like huge sticky notes: • Win The Big Story • Win Weather • Have Fun • Take Risks 4 Media Management Center
  7. 7. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market This positive, concise message that the staff practices daily has helped change old beliefs and contributed to measurable increases in the ratings, said Barry Klaus, WXII’s news director. “We’re rebuilding now and that’s a part of it. We discovered that our viewers were giving us credit for content. When we added the personality component and had some fun, all of the pieces came together and locked it up for us,” he said. This strategy was built after the station listened to consumers and then took a good look at its strengths and weaknesses. “We actually did some focus groups and looked at ‘What does the station do really well?’ Based on that information, we said Winning the Big Story …Let’s not try to be everything to everybody if we can win in Winning the Big Story means overwhelming a couple of areas,” said Mark Strand, creative services director selected local stories with reporters, resources and in-depth coverage. Very few and a key player in forming the strategy. stories are “big enough” to warrant total coverage, therefore they must be selected “A strategy is not just about the things you do. It’s also about carefully. The tragedy at Virginia Tech was the things you do not do,” said Price, who teaches broadcast an obvious choice. Dell’s announcement of a manufacturing facility In Winston-Salem and strategy at both the Media Management Center and the its potential effect on the local economy is Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. another example. The sudden death of Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser also “We certainly have a community presence and report all the qualified for Big Story coverage. If a story is news. However, we purposefully do not put extra resources big enough, it sometimes takes up an entire newscast, leaving only time for weather. into things like health, education, investigations– even sports. We try every day to remove things from our newscasts that do not advance our brand strategy,” he said. Winning “the big story” was one of the critical categories where the station figured it could shine. “We knew that we could not win at breaking news in the entire market since Greensboro and High Point were about 26 miles away from the station,” Strand said. “Instead, we decided that we would do a better job covering stories regionally with more in-depth reporting, packages, and promotion, even if we didn’t get there first. The big story coverage is what we’ve become known for.” Weather was another thing. WXII already had a reputation for the best weather coverage, so the staff decided to build on that with Weather-Plus, a 24-hour digital TV channel, promoted as “current conditions anytime you need it.” Management also tossed out old slogans and stripped the brand down to simply WXII12. That’s it. “You can’t manipulate viewers,” Price said. “Someday, we may have a slogan, but only if it comes from what the viewers think.” Media Management Center 5
  8. 8. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market The Oprah and Dr. Phil shows boosted the programming A WXII Tragedy line-up, while the sales team repositioned itself with a “big News stations are in the business of covering service” model, offering station-sponsored community events other people’s problems, of course, but when it’s one of their own reporters, it hits home. and special deals across multi-platforms to new and existing customers. Such was the case with former WXII morning anchor Tolly Carr, who was sentenced August “It was this kind of integrated approach between news and 13, 2007, to not less than two years in prison after he pled guilty to a drunk-driving accident sales that tipped the scales,” said Glenn Haygood, the station’s in March that killed a local resident, Casey general sales manager. Bokhoven, 26. Over the seven years Price has been at the station, WXII At 33, Carr was one of the TV station’s rising slowly built a customer-focused station, based on seven key stars. He joined WXII seven years ago but lost his future as an anchor in an instant after areas of emphasis: the DWI crash. His blood-alcohol level was .13, well above the legal limit of .08. • Operational excellence; “I had a very irresponsible night,” Carr said, • Changing beliefs; fighting back tears outside the county jail in Winston-Salem and surrounded by his • Strategy that reflects market realities and consumer mother and defense attorneys. “I took the life interests; of another human being and that’s something I can apologize for but there’s nothing you • Big ideas; can do to bring Casey back.” • New enterprises that cut across multiple platforms– Faced with two felony charges, Carr TV, newspaper, web, radio, magazines, new media, apologized before turning himself in at the wireless; Forsyth Country jail earlier this year. WXII also placed Carr on unpaid leave until his • Putting the best people in the best places; sentencing this August and was put in the unfortunate position of covering Carr’s • Offering employees an opportunity to train for investigation, the victim’s family members future jobs. and later Carr’s trial. For months, it was the big story. The station also posted reports “Changing the culture is the hardest part of my job,” Price on (See news/13239529/detail.html.) acknowledged. “Change makes people feel uncomfortable. They hate to take risks. We’ve had some success, but there is “He’s a quality young man. I mean that,” Price said. “It’s a tragedy. Bad things happen still a long way to go.” to good people and in a blink of an eye; you can make some really bad choices. Everyone here is just devastated.” A passion for experimentation As the ratings climbed over time, the word “win” soaked into As the morning news anchor, Carr had charisma and was the center of the station’s social the station’s DNA. Station morale today is higher than it has network. “The ratings shot through the roof when been in years due, in part, to Price’s cheerleading spirit that he was on,” said News Director Barry Klaus. helped the station kick old habits and begin to experiment. When the horrible news broke, WXII brought in counselors to help staff handle “Hank has a passion to do something new and different,” the emotional toll. Anchors and reporters said Kim Ballard, assistant news director. “You go into his looked particularly somber as Carr’s mug office for five minutes to talk about a new idea and you have shot flashed across the screen and as they reported Carr’s investigation and trial. his total buy-in. “I don’t think we should be necessarily “I was pretty old school and believed there were certain things commended for it, but we did what we were you don’t do on TV,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe supposed to do. We did our jobs,” Klaus said. “We covered it like any other story except for we’re doing this.’ …Not everything we do works, I can assure one thing. It wasn’t any other story.” you, but we try. If it doesn’t work, we won’t do it again.” 6 Media Management Center
  9. 9. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market Likewise, Klaus said, “I think everybody knew what ‘win the big story’ and ‘win weather’ meant, but they didn’t really know what the fun part was all about. The fun part is not taking yourself too seriously.” “We take the news seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s not about being silly or outrageous; we’re laughing and having fun within appropriate boundaries,” he said. Leading the “fun” bandwagon is Jennie Stencel, an improvisational comedian the station hired two years ago to deliver traffic reports, peppered with jokes and banter. A morning segment, for example, featured Stencel rapping off beat while an African-American teenager patted rhythms on the news desk to the disbelief of the anchors. (See Jennie’s Page at or on YouTube at WXII also hired chief meteorologist Lanie Pope, who wakes up audiences with impromptu dances. Cutting across platforms to reach more viewers, WXII regularly posts the antics of Stencel and Pope, along with other news events, on YouTube and its own Web site, About 60,000 viewers tuned into Stencel’s rap segment on YouTube. Pope’s jaw-dropping version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk and high kicks during a weather segment snared more than 43,000 YouTube views. (See Lanie Pope’s dancing at “Jennie was brought in as a catalyst to help the anchors loosen up,” Klaus said. “She’s an acquired taste. Some people like her and some people don’t. She’s a personality that’s created a buzz and got people talking.” Not everyone was delighted. “We’ve received hundreds of complaints about Jenny. Viewers love her or hate her and there’s little in between,” acknowledges Price. Nonetheless, these moves have paid off with viewers. “In the two years Jenny has been with us, our morning news ratings have more than doubled. Most of the new viewers are younger women,” said Price. They have also paid off with employees. Media Management Center 7
  10. 10. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market “You want to go to work just to see what this guy is going to do,’’ said McBride, who has been at the station for three decades. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not covering the news. We do a darn good job at it, but it also means we’re having a lot more fun doing it.” As Price sees it, “We can not achieve goals without risks. Risk must do two things, scare us and create viewer complaints.” “We really don’t want to shock viewers, but we do want to give them something to talk about to their friends and co-workers.” The style of “Hank,” the GM Not a stiff shirt operating from behind his desk, the six-foot TV executive often makes the rounds in preppy, pastel-colored cotton shirts and slacks; he appears to have discarded the corporate blue altogether. Throughout the station, everybody calls the GM “Hank” and makes a ritual of chats with the boss around the water-cooler. “Hank” knows everyone’s first name, offers a broad smile and his undivided attention. He sits in a swivel office chair with deep-rocking action. Part of his spacious office features a traditional, cozy living room set and lamps to make guests feel right at home. A small plaque on Price’s oversized oak desk tops it off: Confessions daily from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. “Some people see their manager coming and they walk the other way down the hall, but when Hank makes the rounds, he makes you feel like you are important to this company,” said Lisa Elderidge, a longtime research manager who keeps her eye on daily ratings. “He makes you feel like you are important to the company and what you contribute is worthy.” “He applauds everyone,” she continued. “It doesn’t matter if you clean the bathrooms here, you’re a part of the reason we’re No. 1.” Price’s easy-going, almost pastoral leadership style and friendly face sometimes mask his voracious drive to exceed expectations. Behind his hospitality and fatherly advice is a man who loves to outsmart his competition by cleverly changing the nature of the game. For example, the station’s strategy of intentionally holding back on covering some events to pull out the stops on “the big story” has worked to differentiate WXII from the pack and has given the station an edge. How he got here Hearst-Argyle purchased WXII from the Pulitzer Company in 1999. At the time, “I didn’t have any interest in running any more television stations,” said Price, who had just left WBBM-TV in Chicago where he led the station through financial woes, rating wars and a highly-visible, short- lived experiment to reinvent local TV news. (See: WBBM-TV vs. WXII.) After the debacle, Price felt it was time to exit television news altogether and assume a teaching post at Northwestern. He had also promised his wife that he would someday move back to North Carolina. “I realized it was finally time to put her first, so I changed my plans,” he said. “I happened to mention this to a friend of mine, Tony Vinciquerra, at Hearst-Argyle. Tony asked me to go run WXII. I turned him down because I didn’t want to manage any more stations.” 8 Media Management Center
  11. 11. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market WBBM-TV vs. WXII Hank Price’s attempt to transform Chicago WBBM-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast from “happy talk” to a no frills “give-it-to-me straight’ format with hard-nosed anchor Carol Marin is a page out of journalism folklore. With nowhere to go but up in the ratings in year 2000, Price, then the station’s general manager, convinced CBS network heads to do something different at WBBM, for both business and journalistic reasons. He acknowledges the move was a “desperate” attempt to save a failing operation that was in last place among five local stations, mired in financial and administrative headaches. “I went to the news director, Pat Costello, one day and said, ‘Pat, the ratings are not getting any better. We’re both going to lose our jobs at some point. Do we really want to just keep going down with this sinking ship and have a painful death? Or, do we want to do whatever we think is right? He said he would love to do a newscast without all the fluff. I said, ‘Great, let’s do it. Why not?” What have we got to lose?’” Chicago’s response to the no-nonsense news was mixed. Either you loved it or you hated it. The station’s ratings increased slightly– worth millions in television revenues– but its growth didn’t continue. Marin’s newscast eventually flopped. “We really couldn’t get people to pay attention to us,” Price said. “We made it too straight. We should not have gone as severely as we did.” Another major hurdle was breaking through to consumers’ loyalty. Today’s viewers are incredibly sophisticated and have many more options for news information than predictable TV stations that offer the same kinds of features done by the same kinds of people. “This sameness is especially devastating to stations with lower ratings,” Price said. “Why are stations willing to pay exorbitant prices for programming such as Oprah? Because we know a great number of viewers are no longer loyal to any station and will watch whatever newscast comes on after their favorite program.” So how did the same person who failed at WBBM manage to take WXII from last place to the No. 1 spot in the market? The difference, Price said, was that WBBM’s owners continued to cut station resources– interested only in improving the bottom line, but not in “involved investment.” “When they realized what we were trying to do, they effectively strangled us, taking all of our promotion and advertising away,” he said. In contrast, Hearst-Argyle was committed to WXII, invested heavily in the station’s makeover– in excess of $7 million– and wanted to win, he said. WXII also got smarter. It expanded its presence to the Web and snared Oprah and the Dr. Phil program to lead-in to the 5 p.m. newscasts. “We were willing to look at what we could become with fresh eyes,” Price said. (For more on Price’s WBBM-TV initiative, see (At the time, Vinciquerra was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Hearst- Argyle Television. He is now President and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Network Group.) Then Vinciquerra did two things: he asked Price to use WXII as a laboratory for experimentation and a training ground for Hearst-Argyle talent, and he worked it out with Northwestern so that Price could still teach at the Media Management Center while running the station. “I did know Hearst as an incredible company. They’re known for news ethics. They’re only one of a handful of companies that are left that have a long-term commitment to their communities. If anybody was going to look beyond just today, it was them. So I went,” Price said. “I agreed to run WXII for three years, then work for the Media Management Center. The job turned out to be much more than that so I kept doing it.” Media Management Center 9
  12. 12. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market Learning to Think Differently In Price’s book, playing it safe, big egos, and running the station from the corner office are out. What’s “in” are taking risks, innovation, and adopting the customer-focused philosophy preached by John Lavine and the Media Management Center. (The founding director of MMC, Lavine is now Dean of the Medill School of journalism and integrated marketing and communications.) Price first met Lavine in 1992 during a National Association of Broadcasters’ management seminar at MMC. Price, then running KARE-TV in Minneapolis, started putting the strategies he learned at MMC into daily practice. “Over the next few years, KARE became one of the highest rated and most successful television stations in the country and still is,” he said. Price has been a student of Lavine’s ever since. “I have sat at John Lavine’s knee for 15 years learning from him,” said Price. “This is where I get all of this stuff.” When Price moved to Chicago to run WBBM-TV in 1996, he forged a closer relationship with Lavine, who invited Price to guest lecture on the Evanston campus and then to join the MMC faculty in 2000. “John changed my entire view of the television strategy,” Price said. “He taught me how to step back and see the bigger long-term picture. I’ve always been skeptical of the ‘herd mentality’ we have in television. John showed me how to take advantage of that– to differentiate product through calculated risk.” Since joining Hearst-Argyle, Price has continued learning from (as well as teaching at) MMC, the institution Lavine created. MMC has for many years run the Hearst Management Institute, which teaches media strategy and management to all Hearst Corporation’s top executives in all platforms. Price noted that among news organizations, Hearst has delivered an unusually high level of commitment to funding management education. New Thinking for News Leaders Now that Lavine is dean of Medill, his revolutionary style of leadership has stirred commotion within the academic journalism community that has reverberated throughout the wider news industry. He declares that today’s journalists and news managers must understand “new media”– Web sites, videos and podcasts. With disappearing traditional jobs in print and broadcast and the changing demands of customers, Lavine believes media outlets must also know their audience– who the customers are, what they want and how to reach them– a far departure from traditional journalism teaching. “A lot of people in our industry applaud what John has to say, but are afraid to actually try it because [they believe that] creating and sticking with a unique strategy is hard, very hard,” Price said. But his teaching is certainly in use at WXII today. “We have to be relevant to the next generation of local media users,” said Michael Pulitzer, WXII’s station manager and a relative of the Pulitzer media dynasty, which formerly owned the TV station. 10 Media Management Center
  13. 13. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market “Viewers care about the medium, but they want the information when they want it and they don’t care where they get it– the Future On-the-Job Training Now phone, TV, Internet. That’s the current trend among 18-to-24- One of the most unusual advantages of working for WXII appears to be that employees year-olds. We have been successful at what we do, but now are offered a chance to train for future jobs we have to be proactive and look out at the future and be there while holding on to their current ones. with it. We are now competing against AOL, Google and “Ten years from now, we won’t need master YouTube,” Pulitzer said. control operators, camera operators or even technical directors,” Hank Price said. As Price sees it, “The fundamental issue is that we live in an “Technologies will replace almost everything. era where people have choices and it’s not just media choices. I said to the staff that if anybody would like to It’s everything from health clubs to Barnes & Noble. So, one train for the future, we’re going to work with you to make this transition.” of the problems we have in the television industry today is that it all looks, sounds and feels alike. The viewers, at the same time, have gotten busier and incredibly sophisticated. We cannot influence how the consumer looks at the world. “It’s beyond that. We can’t even get them to see it our way. So any gimmick isn’t going to work. It’s very clear that television can’t continue the way it is. …It has to serve the consumer while understanding there is a baseline of journalism and ethics that is incredibly important to what we do,” he said. That’s why Price has worked hard to differentiate the station Some employees are grabbing the offer, from its competitors and why he is taking WXII beyond including Paula Atkinson, a master control television– building a robust station website and, earlier this supervisor, who created a “Pets Page” on year, launching an all-new high school sports Web site called the station’s Web site, Lew Bode, an overnight master control High School Playbook, a multi-platform site that combines operator, spends much of his shift loading social networking with music, statistics and robust, high- news stories on the Web site. Another is Kim definition video. (See A New Media Darling.) Clarke, a creative services assistant, who runs the station’s online wedding business. (See A new Media Management Center study, Running While the The wedding page was created by Judy Earth Shakes: Creating an Innovation Strategy to Win in the Stone, a WXII director who has since been Digital Age ( promoted to Hearst-Argyle’s corporate digital media group. RunningWhileTheEarthShakesReport.pdf), highlights why Price’s approach matters. “Everything you want to know about weddings is on the site, ranging from where The report found that a company that keeps the customer to buy this or that to the best month to get married,” Price said. “We have the ability at the center stays flexible and automatically shifts as the now to target audience segments and consumer changes. It’s a critical process that must be quickly create things just for them that they can’t get built into the DNA of a company for its future survival in the anywhere else.” digital age. Several advertisers, mostly former newspaper clients, now market exclusively In today’s economy, Price believes his competition is anything on the Weddings Web page, which is that takes up a consumer’s time. He fights to win as much of expected to generate $50,000 in revenues this year for WXII. that time as he can. “Our goal is to eventually move many of our Price knows exactly where he wants WXII to go in the future: employees into full-time digital jobs“ Price dominion over competitors including newspapers. said. “They are building their own futures.” Media Management Center 11
  14. 14. Media Leadership: The Price of Owning the Market “Why can’t we dominate? Why would we let newspapers have any part of it?” he questioned. “We’re the gatekeepers because we’re in people’s homes first.” The innovative TV executive believes technologies will replace many traditional television jobs, such as camera operators, font operators, technical directors and even photographers. (See sidebar, Future On-the-Job Training Now, for how Price is approaching this transition.) But, he believes it will also drive broadcast companies to take greater risks to transform their relationship and business enterprises with consumers to win in the digital age. “The vision seven years ago is different now and keeps changing and we’ll keep adjusting,” Price said. “As a leader, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned [is] that besides change being about what the consumer wants, you’ve got to operate out of strength, not desperation. You can get attention and credibility for the people who work for you when you take calculated risks.” You can also succeed and succeed, as Price has done. 12 Media Management Center