The Price Point | Why Local Leadership Matters
Local television has faced many challenges over the decades, but there are no parallels to the past months and weeks. Two crises — each with multiple implications for news coverage, employee safety, internal operations and even station policy — have stretched across the nation. These may be national events, but to those on the front lines, they are hyperlocal.
Meanwhile, station owners are also grappling with seismic industry issues, ranging from NextGen TV, to the coming competition from 5G, to the push to define some OTT services as MPVDs. These too will play out as local issues.
Stepping back, one is struck by how important leadership is during these times. Group heads set the tone and define the values of their companies, but only local leaders set the vision for their stations. No company, no matter how good, can overcome visionless local leadership.
The art of leadership comes down to a number of things, but foremost is the ability to present a bold, yet achievable, vision, then show others why it is in their best interests to take that vision as their own. The execution of vision is what great station leaders have been doing the past weeks and months.
The current challenges are not simply about surviving to fight a future day. They are unique opportunities to build relationships with new information consumers while reinforcing those with loyalists. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. This is not about marketing or short-term ratings. It is about providing genuinely superior services in a way that executes station vison. Vision goes to the heart of what a station stands for.
Great television stations do this instinctively, which means those that led their markets back in January will probably be even stronger next year. Those that trailed before will likely drop even further behind. This will be especially evident in digital products, since they are totally dependent on brand identity.
There are, of course, exceptions. I know of a handful of great stations in the making that have used increased viewer sampling to make their leadership case. Some will find themselves experiencing liftoff. This is a good thing, because competition always benefits the viewer.
On the other hand, the few highly rated stations that have taken their audiences for granted may be surprised to find themselves on an irreversible downward slope. Lack of vison is also a powerful thing.
Today’s events have profound implications for our nation. Now, more than ever, in community after community, ordinary citizens are looking for accurate, unbiased information they can depend on. They desperately want a trusted source that, good or bad, always tells them the truth.
The best television stations are those trusted sources, but great stations do not build or run themselves. They begin with vision.
Hank Price is a media consultant, author and speaker. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a handbook for general managers. He spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis. He also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.