February 2nd, 2012
The folks at KTXS in Abilene know how to kick off the February sweeps in style. They rally the troops with OPERATION CAMO DAY – asking everyone to dress in camouflage clothing as they prepare to “go to war against our competition.” The Bonten Media, ABC affiliate is serious about winning the ratings, but they also know how to have fun as they prepare for battle.
I happened to be at the station for OPERATION CAMO DAY and watched as they held a quick rally in the newsroom. “General” (manager) Kyle Krebs gave a fiery speech to send his troops into battle. Everyone left with a glint in their eye – and an ice cream treat in their hand. Very cool!
December 21st, 2011
TV stations spend literally millions of dollars of air time each year trumpeting their brand statement on ID’s, news opens, promos, graphics inside the newscasts the list goes on and on. The ROI (return on investment) for these expenditures is negligible at best for 99% of the TV stations.
AR&D’s extensive national research database shows these – to many of you I’m sure – shocking numbers when it comes to TV station brand statements. When we ask – “Are you familiar with the phrase (BRAND STATEMENT) being used by a local newscast? – 69% of respondents say “Yes.” Not a bad number you say.
But then we probe deeper – asking “Which station uses (BRAND STATEMENT)?” The number drops perceptibly to 43%. What? While 7-of-10 say they are familiar with the brand statement – only 4-of-10 can correctly connect it with the proper station. As an advertiser would you continue to invest your dollars in this venture?
And then the other shoe falls when we ask those same respondents – “Does (BRAND STATEMENT) make you more likely to watch their local newscast?” AR&D Vice President Of Research Rory Ellender says “that number falls to a pathetic 15%.” Think about that – you spend millions of dollars in airtime, thousands of hours of staff time creating the promos and graphics – and less than half can name the correct station, and 2 people out of 10 say it compels them to watch your newscast. UGH!
So where is the disconnect? Our research points the finger at a number of reasons:
- Aspiration Marketing – too many stations create promotional spots of what the newscasts “aspire” to be. But the newscasts don’t deliver on the advertising promises. That is a huge disconnect for viewers.
- Generic Brand Statements – using a brand message that claims something like, “Live, Local, Breaking News” – is too generic. Viewers typically ascribe those attributes to their favorite station (after all that’s why they watch it) – so it is nearly impossible to stake an exclusive claim on any of them.
- No Emotional Connection – many brand statements become vanilla because they don’t generate any emotional attachment to the station. For instance, “(Market’s) News Channel.” Hard to imagine what’s in that for me as a viewer.
- Who Cares Brand Statements – these tout attributes that no one cares about, for instance, “(market’s) News Leader.” First of all, our research shows no one cares about which station is #1 or which station has the largest news staff etc. Once again, they assume their favorite station is #1 or has the best news-gathering staff etc.
So, I know what you’re saying – tell me already what works? How do we fix this situation? It is actually a very simple answer – but the solution is complicated.
The simple answer – Find out what attributes are most important to viewers where you live? Then ask them, “Is any station, including your favorite, delivering that important attribute (i.e. brand)?” Researcher Ellender says, “we call that the Opportunity Gap – it is an attribute that viewers really value and desire, but no station, not even their favorite, is delivering it. So, if your station can deliver on it you will attract more viewers to your newscasts.”
The complicated part – showcasing this brand attribute in your newscasts every day in a way that makes them unique and sets them apart from the competition. Once this is achieved then you can begin using the brand statement. You also must create and deliver an image campaign that promotes the viewer-value of this unique, and most desired, brand attribute.
And, if you doubt the power of this research-newscast delivery-clear marketing promise combination let me give you the most extreme example during my two decades with AR&D. I was consulting a TV station in Honolulu – the land of sunshine, swaying palm trees, warm tropical breezes – and SEVERE WEATHER!
That’s right, AR&D research showed a huge opportunity gap in severe weather coverage. When I suggested my client become Hawaii’s Severe Weather Station you can imagine the shock and skepticism. The general manager questioned my sanity. The competition teased our news crews mercilessly when they were in the field together. But the power of exploitation of the Opportunity Gap was amazing even in what many considered a radical idea. The station’s news and marketing departments did a terrific job on making it happen.
The station’s newscasts delivered on the promise, and made weather coverage a priority in their newscasts. The marketing followed with some great Hawaii-centric promotion. The station broke out of the pack – and knocked off the longtime Honolulu leader. The weather cooperated with torrential rains, mud slides, flooding and hurricane threats along the way. Some Hawaii natives even blamed the station for this crazy weather – saying “this never happened before you started calling yourself Hawaii’s severe weather station.”
There are many other AR&D client markets where this strong exploitation of the Opportunity Gap has taken stations to #1. How about your brand statement? Does it sell something viewers in your market really care about it? Is it a unique promise that is delivered every day in every newscast? If the answers are no – it is time to stop throwing away all those dollars.
November 15th, 2011
Whenever AR&D researchers talk to local TV news viewers – whether in online or telephone studies or in focus groups – they always make the same statement. It is the most consistent comment we get from coast to coast and all the markets in between – “They all look the same.”
Of course, the fingers of blame get pointed in many directions. The media pundits have for decades blamed those dastardly news consultants for fostering this sea of sameness in local TV newscasts. To that – I say – “Balderdash!” Local TV news departments point the finger at staff reductions, and a lack of feet on the street – causing them to repeat many of the same news stories. Once again that is rubbish.
No – the real culprit in this “they all look alike” problem is the advent of computer newsrooms – and the dreaded “cut and paste” philosophy. Hey, I’m a busy producer – and this story looks OK – I’ll just cut and paste into my newscast. Why re-write it?
Well, Conan O’Brien proved “why” on a recent program. Conan had announced the day before that he would perform a gay marriage ceremony on his program. It was going to be the last night in New York for the show – where gay marriages are legal – and one of his show employees was going to tie the knot. That announcement was an item in local TV newscasts across the country.
Unfortunately – “Cut and Paste Fever” was at a high pitch – as Conan proved with this clip the next day on his program. Every local anchor read the same story – with the exact same wording – and it seemed to go on forever. Take a look for yourself - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GME5nq_oSR4.
So – to avoid such nonsense – you would do well to heed the words of KPHO, Phoenix News Director Michelle Donaldson – who sent a note to her staff after seeing Conan’s clip with these words – “EVEN IN HASTE – DO NOT COPY AND PASTE.”
October 18th, 2011
The big screen HD TV was sitting right there in front of us – but we all ignored it and dove into our mobile technology to get more information on a tragic racing accident. It struck me later that evening – that even me – a child of television – had not automatically defaulted to the TV set – choosing my iPad instead.
It was Sunday afternoon and my older son had invited friends and family to his Plano, Texas home for a cookout and a little Cowboys football. Zak was using his Droid X texting buddies in other locations throughout the game. My younger son, Josh, was using his iPhone to check on his teams in a number of Fantasy Football Leagues. I had brought along my iPad to watch other late games from the NFL Sunday Ticket “To Go.” I, of course, also had my trusty Droid X at my side for texting and emails. Wives and other guests were active on their cell phones keeping up with messages from their friends. All of this mobile activity occurred while we also kept an eye on the TV – hoping the Cowboys could hang on to win a close game against the Patriots. (No such luck!).
Suddenly Mark received an alert on his iPhone that a popular Indy Racing League driver had been killed in one of the worst accidents anyone had ever seen during a race in Las Vegas. Immediately we all peered into our mobile devices – smart phones and the iPad – looking for information and a replay of the accident. The elephant in the room – the 50-inch HD TV was ignored as the Cowboy-Patriots game droned along.
In less than a minute, Mark found a web site that had a replay of the crash. I immediately went to it – and my iPad played the carnage – with cars spinning out of control and flames everywhere. It was a horrible crash brought to us in living color on the Apple mobile device. We were able to replay it, and freeze it – while trying to determine what caused the crash etc. We also watched interviews with drivers and saw the CEO of the racing league announcing that the race had been cancelled – but that all the drivers would return to the track for a slow, five-lap tribute to Dan Wheldon – who had been killed in the crash.
It was only when Zak received a text message from a buddy of his – saying that the tribute was about to begin on ABC television – that any of us took our eyes off of our mobile technology and looked over at the big elephant in the room, as Zak switched away from the football game to watch the tribute live from Las Vegas.
Not even the 60-something, child of television, who has worked in the TV business for four decades, gave a second thought to the big screen HD TV until that moment. And that night, my friends, I thought about another lesson I’d learned that day about new media versus legacy media.
September 25th, 2011
As I travel around the country visiting TV news departments – I am amazed at how enterprise reporting has become a lost art. Back in the day, when I was on the street as a reporter, we were required to not only come in with a viable story idea every day – but also we were required to have – and work – our sources. And – for those of you who may be wondering – yes we did have electricity – and even color TV back in those days.
Well, if you are one of those “walk-in-without-a-story-idea-hand-me-an-assignment” new breed of reporter – you need not apply at WSPA, the Media General station in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They demand that their reporters come to work armed – not only – with daily story ideas – but also ones that fit the station’s On Your Side brand of journalism. It has become part of their newsroom DNA. They call it “managing the brand.”
Longtime WSPA Managing Editor Karen Kelly says it starts when reporter candidates are initially contacted by the news managers. She says, “We are very specific about our expectations.” The managers explain the On Your Side brand and Karen says, “We look for reporters who exhibit an aggressive reporting style, are prepared to ask smart questions, and are not afraid to ask those tough accountability questions.”
WSPA News Director Dan Cates says, “From the very first interview reporters understand that daily, and special report pitches must fit the On Your Side brand.” And by the way, those reporters are not only expected to offer one fresh, branded story idea each day – they are required to have two of them.
Kelly says the WSPA news managers believe the success of their enterprising reporting is based on four elements:
- Knowledge – All the reporters understand not only the daily requirements but the market research and strategic plan for executing the brand
- Consistency – The managers are relentless in their demand that the reporters pitch two strong, branded stories every day – no one gets a pass
- Reputation – The reporters know what the station demands right from the first interview – and the On Your Side brand is well-known in the market
- Teamwork – Everyone – not just reporters – build on the reporter story ideas in the editorial meetings with managers and producers monitoring progress all day
The main elements of the WSPA On Your Side brand are displayed in the news conference room. It keeps the news staff focused on the brand every day in these meetings. As the meetings progress, each reporter either makes their story pitches in person, or by phone from bureaus in the far flung Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville market that spans two states. I have been in plenty of those WSPA editorial meetings – and the one thing I have never heard (which I ALWAYS hear in most every other newsroom) is – “I don’t have anything today.”
The WSPA producers don’t skate through these meetings either. The meeting leader always starts with the question – “What’s the buzz? What are people talking about today?” After several minutes of everyone pitching in (and this is before most of the reporters usually join the meeting) the list usually has 15-to-20 items on it. Then the reporters start pitching their ideas – and get feedback and questions from the producers and news managers. The reporters are always required to begin with their On Your Side story ideas for the day.
Managing Editor Kelly says these enterprise story pitches become a habit due to WSPA’s consistent approach. Karen says, “It’s not something we do for a couple of weeks, and then forget it. It is not a fleeting idea, but takes years of daily reminders of our expectations.” I have been in those WSPA editorial meetings, and have witnessed more than once, when a reporter is sent out of the room to work the phones because they dared to come in empty-handed.
News Director Cates says, “Our viewers know what we do. They expect it. We get dozens of calls and emails each day with story suggestions.” Cates goes on to say, “We make sure that viable leads are assigned to specific reporters for follow-up.” Viewers also call, email or Tweet specific WSPA reporters. Kelly says, “Our reporters develop contacts and turn exclusive branded content because of our reputation and brand recognition.”
With everyone engaged in the editorial meetings at WSPA, the reporters don’t just get the okay to cover a story they have suggested, but the direction and elements of the story are discussed before they head out the door. What are the anchor breakout possibilities? Are special graphics needed? What will the viewers want to know? Cates says, “If the On Your Side angle isn’t evident, everyone works together on ways to dig deeper, and add relevance and perspective.”
If there is breaking news the WSPA managers use these meetings to ask questions of producers and reporters like – “How do we cover this story differently?” and “What perspective and relevance can we add that is impactful to our audience?” No one leaves the editorial meeting without a complete understanding of the important, branded stories of the day and with initial plans on how those stories will be told by the producers, reporters and anchors. Of course, many times those morning plans change during the day – but strong communication between the news staff in the field and the Managing Editor, Executive Producer and each newscast producer back at the mother ship allow for the needed adjustments.
So, the all but lost art of enterprising reporters is alive and well at WSPA. What about at your shop?
September 11th, 2011
As I watch the coverage of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, once again I am struck by the power of television, and the news organizations that bring strong emotions into our lives. Those emotions are conveyed in many ways – the sadness of the relatives of the 9/11 victims, the images of the horrific day ten years ago when a sadistic enemy used our own airliners to kill thousands of Americans on our own soil for the first time, and through the wonderful stories of the many heroes of 9/11.
There is one constant in these emotions – the power of seeing these events live while we sit in our homes thousands of miles away. For all its foibles, live television news has been a powerful force in our lives – in my life – for decades. Yes, there are many things wrong with television news – but nothing ever invented has gripped my gut like live coverage on television.
I remember sitting in my freshmen high school English class on November 22, 1963. It was a Friday and I was looking forward to our football game that night. Suddenly the principal came on the school’s public address system to tell us President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We were instructed to stay in the same room for the remainder of the school day, and he put the live radio coverage on the P.A. system. While it was a sad, gripping drama the radio coverage was missing something I wanted to see – live pictures of what was happening right now.
I remember two days later, a Sunday morning on November 24, 1963. I was a 15-year-old glued to the TV set as I had been all weekend, watching live coverage of the aftermath of the JFK assassination. They were transferring the alleged shooter – Lee Harvey Oswald – to a different location when suddenly, as I sat in my living room, a man walked in front of him and shot him live on television.
I remember the next day watching the JFK funeral live on television, when suddenly his 3-year-old son John F. Kennedy, junior stepped forward as the horse-drawn casket passed by. He stood erect, at attention, and snapped a salute to his dead father. I can still see that image in my mind’s eye 48 years later. I remember the announcer saying it was the very young man’s third birthday on the day his father was being buried.
I remember July 21, 1969 as I watched on live television – a man walked on the moon for the first time. It was surreal – the video was a bit grainy, it was black and white, but it was amazing to see Neil Armstrong bounce down the final steps of the lunar lander as I sat in my home.
I remember January 28, 1986. I was now vice president of news at KPNX-TV in Phoenix. I had CNN on in my office as I always did. Another space shuttle was being launched from Florida. The Big Three networks were not covering it live – these launches had become old hat. I was walking out the door of my office when suddenly the Challenger blew into pieces live on television. I remember the smoke was oddly colorful – blue and brown shades against the clear Florida sky – as the tragedy unfolded live on TV. I quickly rushed an anchor to the set – and we reported on the explosion five minutes before NBC scrambled to do a live report.
I remember September 11, 2001. It was an unusual Tuesday for me – I was not traveling that day – something I did almost every Tuesday. My wife Sherri had arrived home late the night before after working at American Airlines – where she assisted customers who needed a flight somewhere, or were stuck somewhere trying to get a flight home. Sherri was also on the airline’s Care Team. If there was a crash – she would be one of the people taking the calls from friends and relatives of people on that flight.
I remember tuning to the Today Show where I saw a smoking tower at the World Trade Center, live on television. They were saying a small plane had crashed into it on a clear, cloudless morning in New York. As I watched live suddenly a large plane crashed into the other tower. It happened so fast, and seemed so unbelievable, that it took a few seconds before I realized what I had just seen on live television. Then the reports started coming in of commercial airliners being unaccounted for in a number of locations, and the one that had become a fireball into the side of the second tower may have been from American Airlines.
I woke Sherri up, and she headed into work to start taking those calls – those terrible, grief-stricken calls – from people wondering if their loved ones had been on the American flights that crashed on that horrible day. My wife was gone for three days while I sat in front of the live television coverage of the horror of 9/11. It takes a special person to deal with those calls that kept coming in from around the country. Now, she too, was forever connected to the day America was attacked at home.
I remember May 1, 2011, late in the evening, when the word started spreading on television and social media – that gutless bastard Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. Navy Seals. In minutes live television began showing the spontaneous celebrations outside the White House as Americans rejoiced that an evil man had been gunned down. Some waved American flags. It was a stirring scene brought into my home on live television.
And now, on 9/11/11 – once again live television is bringing pictures – in HD now – into our homes so we can be joined as a nation watching another historic day in America. The live pictures are powerful. It is what television does best.
August 25th, 2011
When the recent surprise earthquake jolted Mineral, Virginia – the shock waves rolled out in all directions. While most of the coverage centered on Washington, DC and New York City, the tremor was also felt in Columbus, Ohio – 444 miles from the epicenter.
WCMH – the Media General NBC affiliate in Ohio’s capital city – quickly jumped on the story when phone calls started rolling into the newsroom. Within a minute of the earthquake WCMH’s email inbox was filled with people asking what happened. Before they even put the breaking news story on their traditional TV platform – reporter Tom Brockman created a Twitter hash tag – #Columbusquake, and other news staffers started engaging in conversations with their 33,000 Facebook fans. Of course, other people in the WCMH newsroom were also answering phone calls and emails from people wanting to relate their earthquake experience.
Denise Yost, WCMH Multimedia Content Manager, says once the hash tag went up – the Twitter traffic immediately took off. She says on the day of the earthquake WCMH’s Twitter traffic tripled. The Tweets flowed in – not just from Ohio – but from all over the country as the Twitter users shared their experiences with each other and the TV station. They also received hundreds of comments on the station’s Facebook page.
WCMH Director of Digital Content Ike Walker says, “When you have a big event like this email and the phone are still very important, but the best way to immediately react with your customers is to go to social media and establish a beachhead with a hash tag.” “It is important,” Walker notes, “to establish a beachhead to own the story.”
Of course, the bread and butter of WCMH’s multi-platform news strategy is their own website. So, even as news staffers were heavily engaged with customers on social media sites – WCMH created a special story about the earthquake on NBC4i.com. They also constructed a Google map with pinpoints to show how widespread the reports were. In addition, there were constant updates on the Continuous News section of the station’s website.
The earthquake story generated over 30,000 page views, compared to the second most viewed story of the day – a missing woman – that garnered 4,500 page views. Overall WCMH’s web site traffic was over 170,000 for the day – an increase of 40,000 over a normal Tuesday. The special earthquake map had 1,072 page views – an unusually high number.
Here are some important takeaways from the earthquake story coverage from WCMH’s Walker. “When a big story hits,” he says “you want to dominate the conversation immediately on social media and quickly establish a special hash tag on Twitter.” It is also important that the entire news staff instantly become part of that conversation on your station website, Twitter and Facebook. You truly have to fan out your resources onto multiple platforms.
Walker also points out, “Don’t shy away from using the free tools out there – like google maps – to organize all the info coming in and build a strata of information to dominate the conversation.”
The WCMH experience is an excellent reminder that when something happens to a community of people these days – they want to share those experiences right away – and your news staff must quickly become part of that conversation on multiple platforms to serve your customers and dominate the most important conversation of that day.
August 7th, 2011
Just like you – I have been a bit grumpy lately. I’m tired of the incessant heat, tired of politicians making fools of themselves, tired of the economy, and tired of working so hard all the time! But then I spent a 2-hour flight from Dallas to Colorado Springs with a 28-year-old Army Sergeant who hunts Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) as a career. This man puts his life on the line for his country every day. I guess a bad day at the office isn’t such a big deal anymore.
I was shocked to find out that there are Army units dedicated to finding the IED’s on a daily basis. I thought all soldiers just tried to dodge these deadly fertilizer-filled bombs. Nope – these guys lead the way down roads and through farm fields in Iraq and Afghanistan hunting for the IED’s to make the path safe for troops and other vehicles following behind them.
My flight companion has been deployed once each to Afghanistan and Iraq – and will be heading out again for a year’s stay in Afghanistan this fall. He’s looking forward to it – bored at being state-side. But the Army Sergeant – a college grad with a degree in Business Administration – has a deeper force driving him back to the war zone. He wants to help his fellow soldiers avoid the deadly killing devices. He says helping his country and his buddies is what led him to join the Army six years ago – right after college graduation.
The Sergeant told me when he was last in Afghanistan his unit (he commands a dozen men) – was sniffing out IED’s to clear the path so a Canadian Army force could move down the road to a new location. Three times – in less than 400 meters – their vehicles were were rocked by IED’s. Rear axles, tires, pieces of the vehicle were blown 800 yards away by the explosions. Thankfully the heavy armor under the vehicles – and surrounding the soldiers – kept them safe. Each time – they abandoned the blasted vehicle – and climbed into a new one. So the Sergeant – and his unit – were all bombarded by IED’s three times in less than 400 yards!
He told me that the rebels building the IED’s are getting more crafty every day. For instance, the last one that exploded had a trip lever built into the highway. It was set to go off the fifth time something – or someone – rolled over it. Apparently the fourth time was when the front wheels crossed the trigger – setting it off when the rear wheels passed over – blowing the rear axle hundreds of yards away. It was at that point that the Canadian Army commander called a halt to the operation. The three explosions had occurred in less than half the distance they were trying to cover.
I asked him why we were in Afghanistan. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I really don’t know – they keep saying it is because of the oil – but I have been all over Afghanistan, from one border to another and never seen an oil well. Now, when I was in Iraq they were everywhere.” And, much like the rest of us, he complained that the mucky-mucks in the Army never listen to the soldiers in the field when they come up with new weapons and armored vehicles. “I wish,” he said, “they’d listen to us in the field, we have experienced the situation.”
I had one final question for the Sergeant – I said – “I understand wanting to help others, but what else drives you to risk your life like this?” He didn’t even hesitate before saying, “I like the excitement and the rush of doing these missions, and the pay is very good too.” He went on, “I’m single so there is no one waiting for me back home, no kids, no worried wife, so its good for me to be the one to do it.”
And the pay differential? The Army Sergeant said, “I get an extra $400 a month for being in harm’s way, and another $325 a month for putting my life in danger.” And he added, “It’s tax free.” I have to tell you my jaw dropped. This brave American is one step away from death every day for less than $800 a month!
So – the next time you’re on the verge of complaining about a bad assignment, a bad boss, the heat, the economy or whatever – ask yourself this question – “Would I put my life on the line for $725 a month?” I know my answer – and I can pretty well guess your answer too.
So quit complaining over the minor stuff – and say a prayer for the truly brave men and women who serve over there, so we’re free to drive our cars and to get stuck in rush hour traffic – without any fear of running over an IED and getting blown off the face of the earth.
July 17th, 2011
My how times have changed. My dad was a young guy in the Navy – stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 – when the Japanese bombed the Naval Base. After the strafing and bombing stopped he was instructed to send a postcard to his family to let them know he was alive. So, Jack Willi wrote these five words on a small pink postcard – “Jane, I’m alright. Love Jack” – and mailed it to his fiancee (later his wife and my mother) Jane Peters in DePere, Wisconsin.
She told me it took three weeks for the postcard to arrive at her home from Hawaii. I asked her how nerve-racking that was, and she said, “Well every day that passed without a visit from some uniformed Navy officers made me feel better that Jack had survived the bombing.” Can you imagine – waiting three weeks to find out? It seems so antiquated in this day of instant communication – and instant heroes.
I thought about that postcard as I watched 23-year-old Christian Lopez go from zero (nobody knew who he was) – to hero in the the wink of an eye – all because he caught a baseball hit by Derek Jeter, and was gracious enough to give it to Jeter without holding it for ransom. Suddenly Lopez was everywhere – local and national TV, national cable channels – and of course – on the Internet. He went to the game a few hours earlier as just an anonymous face in the crowd of tens of thousands at Yankee Stadium, and left with a face that was beamed everywhere around the world. Instant celebrity! Welcome to the new world of instant communication!
He’s not alone, of course. When the national media decided to make a BIG STORY out of the Casey Anthony murder – she became an instant celebrity, albeit a villainous one. When she was acquitted of killing her baby girl – the Internet went wild. A Facebook page called “I hate Casey Anthony” has over 45,000 “likes.” Even more disturbing, a Facebook page called “F… Casey Anthony” has 775,000 views.
Social Media even replaced the venerable (and way out-dated) – “Man On The Street” interviews for WFLA in Tampa after the Anthony verdict. A very clever package from Jen Leigh used You Tube videos – posted by average folks responding to the news. The emotion was much more real than she would have obtained by doing an MOS.
How about the instant fame for Ted Williams. He was a homeless man with various addiction problems when a newspaper reporter from Columbus, Ohio stopped to talk to him as Williams begged for money on a street corner. The reporter shot some video with Williams once he discovered he had an incredible “Golden Voice.” The Dispatch reporter threw the tape into a desk drawer where it sat for a couple months until he pulled it out on a slow news day. The video was re-posted on You Tube and quickly amassed 4,000,000 views! In the next few days the formerly faceless homeless man was on the Today Show – and every other national news outlet, was given an announcing job by Kraft Foods, and became an instant celebrity!
Back in Tampa, the local media was running stories about a mysterious monkey that was romping around through backyards. One viewer caught some quick grainy video of the monkey which also ran in the local media. Someone decided to start a Facebook page called “Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay” – and it zoomed to 25,000 followers by the second day – and now stands at over 83,000.
And then there was the instant celebrity of the Colorado Balloon Boy. The word was that the 6-year-old had jumped into a strange balloon being built by his father and floated away. For over four hours, hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world were mesmerized as the silver balloon – that looked strangely like a bag of the old Jiffy Pop popcorn – floated over remote areas of Colorado. Of course, when it landed the balloon was empty – and it all turned out to be an elaborate hoax by a guy wanting publicity for his invention.
So – what does all of this mean? I’m not sure – but it certainly is fascinating to me how thousands – and even millions of people – can become instantly mesmerized by some event. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it. But – these are the same people who find local TV news to be a bit boring, repetitious, and not connected to their world. It makes me wonder – what can local TV news do to capture the imagination – once again – of the American public?
I’m not advocating pulling a balloon stunt or anything similar – but it does make me challenge our current thinking of what we present on local news every day. It certainly means every one – in every local TV news department – must work harder to use the many new communication/story telling tools at your disposal to be a thousand times more creative. It certainly means that you must think beyond the little box to include the social media and Internet community in your story telling.
Think of this – the average local TV story posted on your local TV website – may get viewed a few hundred – or on a great day – a few thousand times. Well, consider the #5 all-time most viewed You Tube video titled “Charlie bit my finger again.” This home-shot video of two babies has been viewed 335 MILLION TIMES!
So – where are we missing this incredible connection with your audience? How do we get there? I don’t know as I write this today – but I know our company will be working to get our clients there in the years ahead. I just hope you aren’t going to be defensive – and have a “stick your head in the sand” mentality as we tell you how to build the newscast of the future. It is going to be a very different journey than you have ever been on.
June 19th, 2011
Are your newscasts stuck in a rut? Do you plod along from one day to the next with the same old tired crime and courts low-hanging fruit content? Are you relevant to your customers’ daily lives?
I would venture to say most of you – if you are honest – would answer a firm YES to the first two questions – and a resounding NO to the third. It is certainly what your viewers say about local newscasts. Well – I have a solution for you to break out of those summer doldrums. It is time to give your newscasts a 10-Point summer tune-up so you are ready to zoom forward this fall.
- BRANDED CONTENT. To break out of the pack in your market you must offer relevant, uniquely-branded content that is valued by your customers. It starts the day before in pre-planning, gets a jump start in the morning editorial meeting and then must power its way through the day. How do you take the important stories today and brand them as yours? What enterprise stories will you offer viewers? How do you make them care about the stories you are presenting? Are you just covering the news in a superficial, unconnected manner – or do you offer content that your customers find valuable in their daily lives?
- NEWSCAST COPY. Are you “reporting” to your viewers in news-speak – or are you “talking” to your viewers in a conversational, meaningful way? Do you tell them why they should care about a story? Do you tell them why it is important to them? Do you break it down for them in easy digestible bites? Do you let them know what you did for them today (“I checked this out for you and…”)? Do you showcase your anchor’s knowledge and tenure in the market – by having them add perspective to stories when appropriate?
- ANCHORS. It is probably time to tune up your anchors too. Are they the “Chief Journalists” in the newsroom – or do they stroll in late in the day, read a little copy, disappear for a long dinner break, and then come back and read for a few more minutes? Your anchors should be the newsroom leaders – bringing in story ideas from their sources and from what they hear on the street. They should be fully engaged in the editorial meetings – offering suggestions for anchor breakouts, and graphics that will help them showcase the information for the viewers. Do they write original content – or do they just re-write what others have already written – many times taking away the branding words in the process?
- REPORTERS. Are your reporters simply robots who walk in every day and take whatever the assignment desk hands to them? Or – do you require them to develop sources and to submit story ideas – every day – than can be turned that day – and are relevant to your customers? Are they creative in their story-telling – or do they simply fall into the formula trap (copy, soundbite, copy, soundbite, standup – DONE!)? Do your reporters include graphics in their packages that aid viewer understanding? Do they plan out – and execute – creative live shots and stand-ups – or do they just simply stand there?
- PRODUCERS. Are they simply “show stackers” – filling the time between the commercial breaks? Do they “own” the lead story in their newscast – and work hard to use graphics, anchor breakouts and other elements that grab the viewers’ attention? Or – do your newscasts start like so many others with a quick 2-shot “hello” from the anchors who disappear after a few seconds as they hand off to the reporter? Do the producers tell viewers what’s – NEW AND NOW – or just simply write the same story with no updating – just as it played in the earlier newscasts?
- NEWSCAST TEASES. Are they the last thing the producers do on their way to the control room for their newscast – or – do they carefully craft these important “sells” designed to keep your customers interested through the commercial break? Do they make the teases relevant to your customers – explaining what they will get in return for their 3-minute investment of time waiting through the commercial break? Do you tease one story as “NEXT” and deliver on that promise – or do you come out of the break with some other story – angering your customers who are tired of being strung along through newscasts?
- WEATHERCASTS. Are your weathercasts “Forecast-Focused” – or are they chock full of irrelevant stats, maps and graphics? Do your meteorologists clearly tell your customers what to expect from the weather – and when? Do they waste your customers time with Almanacs, currents, national weather and other maps that are irrelevant to their lives? Are your weathercasts “elastic?” In other words, if it is going to be “severe clear” for the next five days – do you still give them 3 minutes or so to say that – or do you shorten the weathercast and gain time for other news? Conversely, if there is severe weather do your producers allow enough time for the meteorologists to accurately explain this potentially life-saving information?
- SOCIAL MEDIA. Do your anchors, reporters and other news staffers engage in a two-way conversation with your customers using social media? Or is it a one-way street where you send out some information without listening to what your customers are saying in the social media world? You must engage your customers early – and often – every day – to use social media in a meaningful manner.
- PRIMETIME TOPICALS. Are these a priority – or simply another task for the marketing folks or producers to check off their “to do” list each day? Do you target these topicals based on your research – or do you just throw out 2-to-3 stories that have already been re-hashed all day and expect your informed customers to make an appointment for your late newscast? When is the last time the news director and person who writes these important topicals actually sat down and reviewed them together?
- STEP BACK – REVIEW – DISCUSS – SET GOALS. To achieve a winning tune-up the news director must lead an effort to do these four things. First off, get everyone to step back and put themselves in the mind-set of your customers? What do they care about? What are their issues? What are their fears? What type of content do they care about? Once you’ve set that baseline it is time to review your newscasts – and to discuss – whether they are relevant to your customers. The final step – is to set goals moving forward. Pick 3-to-5 goals that deal with content, presentation, news writing, graphics – and most importantly – HOW YOU WILL MAKE YOUR NEWSCASTS RELEVANT TO YOUR CUSTOMERS?