Formerly a Meredith station news director and GM, Patrick McCreery now is overseeing the expanding company’s broadcast news and marketing in an unusual paring. “I think those departments need to be in lock step. It’s critical. If your marketing department is not properly marketing your news product, and 10 hours of your product is news, you’ve got a problem.”
For the first time in about a decade, Meredith Corp. has a broadcast group level VP of news, naming Patrick McCreery to the job in May. A Meredith man since 2003, McCreery most recently served as VP-GM of the company’s KPTV and KPDX Portland, Ore., after stints as station manager, news director and assistant news director. McCreery says the creation of his position reflects the growth of Meredith, which, thanks to recent acquisitions, currently owns 15 TV stations.
Formally Meredith’s Local Media Group VP of news and marketing, McCreery will oversee both the group’s news and marketing efforts — hardly a mainstream idea in a business in which those departments are frequently at odds. In this interview with TVNewsCheck, McCreery discusses why he thinks warmer relations between news and marketing departments is crucial, what Meredith’s acquisitions in St. Louis and Phoenix bring to the mix and how he wishes he had a “silver bullet” to insure success.
An edited transcript:
Having oversight of both news and marketing is an unusual mix. Aren’t those often considered competing interests?
I think those departments need to be in lock step. It’s critical. If your marketing department is not properly marketing your news product, and 10 hours of your product is news, you’ve got a problem.
I’ve seen creative services directors and news directors go at each other’s throats and that does not generate the best possible product for our viewers.
I think you could have a good creative conversation with someone, and a difference of opinion, but what you can’t have is the news department having one mission and the marketing department having another.
How do you separate the news value of a story from its marketing potential?
If the news department is doing a story then the creative services department’s job is to best promote it. It is a lot easier to achieve goals when they are playing from the same book. I want them to work together better than they have.
A lot of people don’t take local news seriously. Is that a journalism or marketing predicament?
Here’s how I look at that: Local news is one of the primarily differentiators that we have, and so it is critically important to our success to be visible and relative to our communities. But in each of our markets the challenges are different. In some, it may be marketing issues — that we have a great product but the message is not resonating. And then there are others where maybe the execution isn’t so good and people aren’t watching because the direction of the product is not on point — and then that’s a news issue. It requires getting in and analyzing the station and its position, and then deciding on a course of action and, of course, sticking to that course of action.
How are the news directors taking to now having a group head?
I think the reaction has been mostly positive. I try to put myself in their shoes and how I would react. They don’t report to me. They still report to their GM and that’s how it should be. One of my main jobs is to remove hurdles that prevent them from doing their jobs.
What sort of influence will you have over the work being done at the local level?
I will be present for any and all research, and out of that research we will create an action plan. I will be part of the team that holds them accountable to that plan. I will spend a lot of time on the road and visiting our stations and understanding what their challenges are.
In this position, I wouldn’t want to make any day-to-day calls because I am not in the market and I don’t know their circumstances. These are good people who are hired to do their jobs and I am not going to get in the way of them doing that.
What are the initiatives you are implementing group-wide?
There are certainly some areas of focus that could use some refinement and standardization across the group. I can tell you they focus around operational issues and processes. We have hubbed traffic and business operations.
But we are not, for example, going to have a graphics hub. I fundamentally do not believe in that because each station has a unique identity and I don’t think we can have one size fits all. Part of our goal and part of our charter is to serve local communities. You have to be in those communities to live and understand and no one can do that better than the people there.
Meredith recently acquired stations in two of the country’s bigger markets — KMOV St. Louis and KTVK Phoenix, where you now have a duopoly. Does having stations like those foster more news sharing or have other impacts on the group?
That’s something that happened on an ad hoc basis. We’re not putting in a Washington, D.C. bureau but there are greater opportunities that we can identify for sharing resources. We didn’t have a monthly call for creative services directors, but we now do have that. There is more group communications and group sharing, although some stories can travel better than others. [During the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., KCTV] Kansas City sent resources to KMOV to help, and we took the A block from St. Louis and aired it in Kansas City.
Can we expect more acquisitions?
We also now have WGGB Springfield [Mass.] and WALA Mobile [Ala.], and our company has made no secret about its interest in growth in broadcasting. Meredith has always espoused that we look at deals individually and that we are looking for stations that fit. We don’t want to make bulk acquisitions. We want to make smart acquisitions.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Meredith partnering with Raycom on digital content. Could you see expanding these sorts of partnerships?
Absolutely. I think there are opportunities that have yet to be explored. If you look at that dynamic on a local basis, we have chopper-sharing deals in markets, we have LNS deals in some markets. There are opportunities to continue to make our business more efficient and still serve the public.
Much local news looks the same, sounds the same. What are your ideas for doing something different?
I wish I had a silver bullet because then I would ensure my own success. Realty is there isn’t a silver bullet. We have to work harder and smarter to our serve our communities.
We aren’t going to do anchorless news or younger news or faster news or slower news. We are going to be relevant in our communities. We want to serve the viewers with good, solid journalistic information to help them live better. It may sound simplistic. But it’s much harder to execute that because doing that is different in each of our markets. You can’t execute a product that’s not there. You have to have good journalism.
How do you define and foster “good journalism?”
We are investing in building I teams in certain markets where that makes sense. Competitively in some markets that doesn’t make sense. Someone else owns that franchise. On the technology side we are employing technology at many of our stations that make us better – new radars for weather or LiveU technology for better field reporting. We understand that covering local news means investing in those local stations.
We have expanded local news in many of our markets. We are now producing as a group 548 hours of news and local programming per week and that is up significantly from last year. In addition to the acquisitions we have added an additional 40 hours of programming. We have additional newscasts in Phoenix, Portland and we are adding another one in Greenville later this month. And we are hiring people. If we are running our business efficiently we have to.
Who are these efforts targeting?
The core news viewer is traditionally older but that doesn’t mean news users are necessarily old. The way news is consumed is evolving but that doesn’t make us irrelevant. We are still news producers. You can have the debate about value and salability [of TV news] but the reality is we have to be ever present. People are still watching television.
Which stations need more attention than others?
In Phoenix we now have two very large, active news-producing stations, so that is going to be a very interesting merger. KPHO and KTVK both have very unique marketing positions. So the question is how do you merge two unique brands? It is challenging but provides an incredible opportunity. We will have the largest television news operation in the Phoenix marketplace. We also have some work to do in Atlanta. But we have some really talented people that work there, which makes me very positive about the prospects there.
With Meredith already in the original programming business with The Better Show, do you see your newsrooms venturing into producing more original content?
I absolutely can see opportunity for unique local programming. But I don’t think those all turn into syndicated programs like The Better Show. We have to include local original programming where it makes sense. I am not going to create a show and force feed it down every market’s throat because I love the idea.
When it comes to news products, what would you like Meredith stations to be known for?
Being consistent, relevant and viewer centric.