August 18th, 2012
Robert Ratliff is 22 years old. I have known him for nearly all of them. I watched him learn to play baseball and earn his way into the Little League World Series when he was 12 years old. I watched him bury his father (and my dear friend) the following spring. I watched him learn to play football and at quarterback lead Nolan Catholic High School to the State Championship — a big deal in Texas football land. And, I watched his disappointment when college recruiters didn’t call.
Through it all, all of it, Robert did not quit. He never felt sorry for himself. He never stopped believing. Never.
Two weeks ago his mother, Patti, his rock and his everything suffered a tragic brain aneurysm. She is still in ICU and critical condition. Robert and brother John have been at her side ever since. Last night, they returned to Oxford. The first day of classes are on Monday – Robert is a senior and John is a sophomore. Both are walk-on football players at Ole Miss. Robert is a quarterback and John is a wide receiver.
This morning they attended a team football meeting and practice. At the end of the team meeting, Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze asked Robert to stand up. Time stood still for a few seconds and then it happened.
He awarded Robert Ratliff a Division I Football Scholarship for his senior season. A dream come true.
In God’s glory, he has walked through life, step-by-step, with an unyielding commitment to being “the very best he can be.” He is not the tallest or fastest guy on the field – ever. But, this young man’s heart is unmatched. His passion for competition and victory burns deeply. His love for coaches and teammates is true.
In so many ways, Robert Ratliff is a champion and a role model to all of us. For more than six years he was told he couldn’t play D1 football. But, for six years Robert believed. Believed in God. Believed in himself. Believed in what his dad had always told him – “You Gotta Believe.”
Robert Ratliff, we all congratulate you. We salute you. We are in awe of you. We love and adore you. We believe in you.
And, no one believes in you more than your mother, our Patti.
And his journey is just beginning.
June 16th, 2012
I have two very, very close friends at American Airlines and I am certain that this story will offend both of them greatly. But, it needs to be told. I am
a travel warrior. I have flown over 5,000,000 miles on AA. I thought I had seen it all after some 22 years of flying until early Tuesday evening. As I was walking off my airplane in Las Vegas, I saw a young 18 or 19 year-old girl running to the jet bridge door at the next gate for her departing flight to Chicago. She was late. As soon as she got there, the gate agent closed the door right in front of her without saying a word — not a word — and just walked away. The young girl broke down crying and pleaded with the gate agent who never even looked back or acknowledged her.
I stood there in disbelief. How heartless and mean-spirited can a human being be? How can a “service” agent care so little about service? How can an employee hate their job and people so much? Two complete strangers walked over to the young girl and tried to comfort her. She was hysterical as she was headed to her father’s funeral just outside of Chicago and had now missed her flight. Then, they did what the AA gate agent should have done:
They helped her! The strangers — not American Airlines.
If there were ever a time and place AA employees should be helping people it is now in the darkness of bankruptcy. I completely understand that you must get to the gate on-time, no exceptions, but in this case it was the rude, Christ-less, and unforgiving bitterness of an AA employee that was so ugly and wrong.
I salute the two strangers who helped the girl get on another flight so she could bury her father the following day. I deplore this service agent and so many like her today. They are angry and cruel. I waited there for 17 minutes before the plane headed to Chicago pushed back from the gate. I have six children aged 15 to 23. That young girl in Las Vegas could have been one of mine, and the thought of what an American Airline employee did on Tuesday to a grieving young woman makes me want to never fly AA again.
When people stop caring about others, we are no more than animals in the wild. When employees stop caring about customers, the business value equation weakens. At American Airlines, it is DOA.
June 7th, 2012
Local TV stations have a marketing problem. The problem has existed for a long time but has evolved from concern to crisis over the past four or five years.
The problem: We don’t have the level of talent and investment required to market effectively in an increasingly complex world. If there is ever a time when broadcasters need to prove, hour-by-hour, its relevance and value, it is now. Well, yesterday.
In addition, AR&D’s consumer research and critical analysis continue to paint a troubling picture for marketing local TV news. Simply put, we just aren’t very good at it. We all understand the importance of brand and its unique points of difference that drive a narrow message. But, very few station marketers have neither the ability nor time to create original, authentic creative capable of significant impact. Instead, they hold tightly to touting product “features” and using flashy “production techniques.”
My friend and industry Chief Marketing Guru, Graeme Newell has been beating this drum for years. If we continue to fail to connect with consumers at an emotional level — touching their hearts and souls — we will be left behind. Soon. Our important product features are well-known by today’s TV viewers: Severe weather/the forecast, investigative/in-depth, breaking news and traffic reports. However, station marketers are selling these product features instead of how these features make people feel. That is the essence of emotional marketing, it makes you “feel” not “think.”
Here’s a good example: Seat belts. Most states have ongoing campaigns focused on driver safety and the need to buckle up. The overwhelming majority of them use the “Click it or Ticket” campaign. The message: “If you don’t wear a seat belt, it will cost you money.” The assumption is that a $50 to $75 fine will scare people into fastening their seat belt. Unfortunately, there are volumes of research that prove traffic violations are a risk most drivers are willing to take.
One emotional marketing approach to seat belt safety is to focus on the value that “other people place on your life” and how that makes YOU feel. Click on the link below to view a spot that targets this specific message.
Ah, embrace life. Wear a seat belt.
TAKE THE LEAP
To thrive in the future, we must let go of the past (it doesn’t work anymore) and embrace new opportunities in the new world order. We must challenge ourselves to blaze a new path, a new way to approach TV news marketing. One that focuses on the value of what we do — not a play-by-play of it.
Just do it.
October 5th, 2011
July 12th, 2011
As I have preached many times, TV news must get back into the journalism business. If we were as committed to beats as we are to breaking news our newscasts would be much more relevant to “today’s local media consumer.” TV NewsCheck reporter Diana Marszalek’s article (see below) should help inspire all of us.
AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK
TVNewsCheck, July 12, 2011 7:19 AM EDT
Remember the rush of earning and covering a coveted beat?
Cops, crime. Or perhaps City Hall, schools or consumer fraud — meaty subjects, all ripe and ready to sink your teeth into, accumulating contacts and sources along the way.
But those formal beats under which TV newsrooms used to operate are fast disappearing at the majority of stations. And the dismantling of the system may be taking broadcast journalism down with it.
In the FCC’s Future of Media report released in June, author Steve Waldman takes a swipe at the declining use of the beats, saying it is one of the primary reasons why in-depth, public service stories have declined.
Way too often, local TV reporters follow stories rather than find them. Today, a reporter is more likely to recap a hospital-issued press release or news feed than uncover a public health concern, the report says. Local election coverage is particularly lacking, the report claims.
Greg Caputo, the news director at WGN, Tribune’s flagship CW affiliate in Chicago (DMA 3), says the beat system, under which reporters cover their beats — and only their beats — hasn’t existed in many TV newsrooms for years and the reason behind that make perfect sense.
“A beat reporter may go days without filing a story,” says Caputo.
Instead, WGN reporters with particular expertise or interests track certain beats, but do not cover them exclusively, he says.
“It’s not a traditional beat system, but they know what’s going on,” Caputo says. The only WGN reporter dedicated to particular coverage is a medical specialist.
It comes as no surprise that money and time constraints are cited as reasons for the demise of exclusive beats.
The concept of reporters spending the bulk of their time working a beat for stories, often coming up empty handed, would be considered a luxury at best and an impossibility by many.
Jerry Gumbert, CEO of AR&D, a local media strategy firm, says the No. 1 reason why TV news is flagging “has been a failure of news management to sustain focus on a formal beat system.”
News leaders have to realign priorities and reinstitute beat systems — and the kind of enterprise reporting that comes with them — if broadcast journalism is going to survive, he says.
Otherwise, TV newscasts will become increasingly indistinguishable from one another — a phenomenon already underway — as they become outlets for regurgitated or old news, he says.
“The result of this is catastrophic. It’s killing us because it dictates that we can only do superficial or reactive storytelling.”
In the last 15 years, the number of TV newsrooms operating with beat systems has plummeted to just one in 10, he says.
Stations in top 20 markets largely maintain beats, as do the “the great shops out there,” Gumbert says. Other stations may assign reporters to beats but require them to do general assignment reporting as well, he adds.
Today, Gumbert and others say, reporters will react in full-force to breaking news like fires and car crashes, but the concept of breaking stories through discovery is increasingly obsolete.
Bill Hoffman, EVP, Cox Media Group, sees the situation differently. “I see a world out there where there is more local news coverage going on by strong news brands than ever before.”
However, Hoffman says the kind of “beat reporter” labeling that once tied a reporter to one particular area of coverage has indeed changed. New systems, such as assigning reporters to particular geographic areas, have the same merits, such as fostering a familiarity among reporters, sources and community members.
And creating such relationships is even more important now then in the past, he says. “If you are a super brand in the marketplace, if you are the market leader, you are trying to super serve your viewers more than ever before because the contact points of that station are richer than ever before.”
Proponents of beat systems say the structure is indeed fundamental to their success.
Susan Sullivan, news director at NBC O&O WNBC New York (DMA 1), says the proof is in the number of top-tier news stories that WNBC reporters have broken on issues including widespread political corruption in New Jersey and the Martha Stewart insider trading case.
The station is reestablishing the consumer affairs and health beats, which were cut when business was bad, she says.
Greg Dawson, Sullivan’s counterpart at KNSD, the NBC O&O in San Diego (DMA 28), says he understands “if you have fewer resources it’s certainly hard to carve out beats.”
But during recent tough times his station consciously invested more in building a beat structure to distinguish KNSD from its market rivals, he says.
Dawson says station executives figured there would be bigger payoff in producing the kind of in-depth and enterprise reporting that beat reporters are known for than making everyone a general assignment reporter just to get the job of basic news coverage done.
“We have the only political reporter, the only education and only military reporters for TV and we have one of a couple of consumer reporters in the market.”
KNSD reporters spend at least four out of five days on their beats, “more time and more days then they used to,” Dawson says. “These are important issues, so covering them I think was what helped set us apart.”
May 24th, 2011
We published our second book in early 2009 about the dramatically changing local media industry. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go back two and a half years and review some of our general beliefs at the time and how we predicted the industry would change in the near future. I think you’ll find many of our thoughts, which raised many an eyebrow when the book was published, where on target and have been embraced by an entire industry. Our next book, AR&D’s fourth, will be available in late 2011.
Live. Local. Broken News. (Published 2/2009)
The world we face is one vastly different from the world we are leaving, and while intuition and experience may pull us one way, business reality is pulling us reluctantly in another. We have tried to give you insight into that new world and raise issues that need addressing, because we will not enjoy continued business success in local television without a fundamental re-engineering of everything.
What will the television station in which you work look like in 12 months, 24 months, or even 5 years? Nobody really has the answer, because if we did, we could create systems to get us from here to there. Instead, we’ve tried to present general themes of which we are extremely confident.
1. We cannot and will not manage our way out of the current situation. There is no systematic blueprint we can follow. The situation demands leadership, a willingness and ability to take risks and not allow chaos to deter our vision. Leadership, not management, from the top, therefore, is the driving force for change. But we need leaders at all levels in our companies, top to bottom. We are who we employ, and we need to empower and enable leadership from anyone willing to step up to the plate. We need that leadership like never before, because an undying focus on the vision and its execution is what will make the future difference, and we cannot find that by reliance on systems and tasks. We need the energy and sacrifice that comes from leaders.
2. In both practice and theory, journalism is shifting from a finished product model to one that is raw and unfinished. We call this “Continuous News,” and its approach satisfies the consumer need to be kept informed at all times of the day, but especially during our “new prime time,” when people are at work. Our need to be relevant in the lives of our future audience is directly tied to how well we’re meeting their news and information needs away from their television set.
3. Accomplishing this demands the re-engineering of the basic newsroom, and this applies to every employee. We need to realistically examine every system and person in this process, and we are of the firm belief that no single employee is irreplaceable or above the needs of the whole. We aren’t speaking of new titles; we’re talking about brand new responsibilities and skill sets from people who have traditionally not been held responsible, and this is especially true of our chief journalists, formerly known as our anchors.
4. As a part of this, we must get more people on thestreet gathering local content from the local community. Gone are the days when everybody in thenews-gathering process is a specialist. This is the age of the versatile, multi-skilled generalist, and training these people is the immediate challenge of all local media companies, especially television stations. Newspapers have moved to this model already, and we’re falling behind as a result. Our employees must understand that as we re-engineer our television stations, they are re-engineering their own careers, for the changes impacting local media are not cyclical. There will be no going back. This is not a season of belt-tightening that will ease with time. Our industry is facing a complete paradigm shift. Never has there been a more important time to invest in training and equipping our employees for their new roles and responsibilities.
5. The Web is our future, but not in shifting our mass media business model there. We must understand that the Web is not TV, and that includes letting go of the fundamentals of scarcity and audience building. There is no need for us to own the property that serves advertising anymore, only the advertising infrastructure. This is why we believe that the revenue solution local stations seek is in the creation of local horizontal and vertical ad networks, where ads can be served and tracked across an infinite number of local websites. In this way, the growth of the Local Web is our growth engine, and we can employ tactics to help it grow, especially in the world of video.
6. We must take advantage of the tools being created for personal media that will enable us to better communicate with tomorrow’s customers, the people formerly known as the audience. We must be mobile and unbundled, with our content able to be consumed across multiple platforms, even those that don’t appear to offer an immediate financial gain. Too much is at stake for us to ignore any way of reaching local consumers, and that includes the use of social media.
7. Doing nothing or simply cutting expenses only delays the inevitable. Without operational and cultural change, any local television station will be unable to compete in the years ahead. Stations must adopt new sales strategies, build new products and market to the right audience. But there is no more important concept for broadcasters to embrace right now than the word “hustle,” and this applies from the boardroom to sales and engineering to news gathering and production suites. At every level, the name of the game today is building new businesses, and we simply cannot accomplish that without hustle. Systems and rules that block hustle need to be stripped away and replaced by those that encourage it. Gone are the days of managing static strategies; we all need to hustle.
This book is being published in the midst of troubled economic times, which are accelerating the crisis of disruptive innovations. Budget cuts and downsizing have impacted every company, and many long-time news directors and general managers face a future of early retirement, at best. Gone are the days of reliable, double digit revenue growth, and the local television industry is full of fear.
Those concerns are real, but we choose to look at the future as one of opportunity, rather than one of decline. There has never been a more exciting time in the world of communications or in Western civilization, because technology is cutting through institutional roadblocks that have prevented people from access to knowledge. We have a choice to either fight that or help enable it and the business models available within this disruption haven’teven been written yet. What we do know is that the foundation of ad-supported content is cracking, but it doesn’t mean that businesses won’t be advertising with us in the decades to come.
May 2nd, 2011
Discovering the next big idea is like betting on the lottery. A much better approach is to build an idea-centric company that implements hundreds of smaller ones.
April 29th, 2011
When was the last time you had a new idea? Something truly innovative or interesting that could possibly create value?
Although we are no longer an industry with its head stuck in sand, we have failed to create an environment that embraces new ideas. We are still an industry with its head down driven by expense control and hell bent on doing more with less. “Research & Development” is a significant line item in most budgets regardless of the industry. That has never been the case in local media and if there were ever a time when R&D should be front center it is now. Unfortunately, stock price sensitivity, bank loan covenants and the demand for hitting a short-term number is FAR more important than long-term viability. I get it, but I think its short-sighted and balanced much too heavily on today. Investing in new ideas and new opportunities now is what will restore our margins and provide long-term dividends.
Harvard Business icon Clayton Christensen teaches us the following:
Finance and economics principles teach us to ignore “sunk and fixed” costs when we evaluate alternative business opportunities. Instead, we should base decisions on marginal costs and marginal revenues that each alternative entails. This doctrine biases companies to leverage what “they have put in place to succeed in the past,” instead of guiding them to “create capabilities needed in the future.” If we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, that approach would be fine. But, if the future is different (and it clearly is for local media) then it is the wrong thing to do.
We must become idea-driven companies filled with exciting, idea-generating people from top to bottom.
Our success should no longer be based on the past (50% margins), but on the future (a new found relevancy).
April 22nd, 2011
Step back. Look around the building. Are your direct reports leaders or managers?
Local media executives must continue to evolve from being managers to leaders. The operating model for local media clearly needs a dramatic reset, a fresh perspective, right? However, the overwhelming majority of stations still operate the same way they did 30 years ago (but with less people) despite unbelievable changes in consumer behavior. Sure, everyone does more, but how many companies actually do it different? This is an industry under siege and it desperately needs LEADERS.
• Leaders create change. Managers get a known job accomplished.
• Leaders embrace opportunities and break the old rules. Managers live by them.
• Leaders see the possibilities during unstable times. Managers focus on doing more with less.
• Leaders originate. Managers imitate.
• Leaders challenge the status quo. Manager work within it.
• Leaders do the right thing. Managers do things right.
We must all understand that change, constant change is the opportunity.
April 21st, 2011
Scale is no longer the difference between success and failure. Sometimes being smarter, more savvy and flying under the radar is a better strategy than BIG.