Meredith Conte, who oversees marketing at Gannett’s 43 stations, says her job “is a little of everything.” But of all her myriad tasks designed to boost the stations’ visibility — and ratings — she says the one she thinks is most appreciated by those in the trenches is being “an extra person, an additional marketer, who can bring in a fresh viewpoint.”
Meredith Conte juggles for a living. She doesn’t juggle balls, or oranges or even chain saws. What she juggles is far more difficult.
When she was hired in 2012 as Gannett’s first VP of marketing, she started juggling the marketing efforts of 23 TV stations. Then when Gannett merged with Belo in 2013, another 20 stations were added into the rotation.
That makes chain saws look easy.
But two years in, Conte has a good grasp of what her role is at Gannett, and she shares those insights in a broad-ranging interview with TVNewsCheck’s Market Share blogger Paul Greeley.
Prior to Gannett, Conte was director of marketing for TLC, the cable network owned by Discovery Communications Inc. Her award-winning campaigns made TLC the No. 1 cable network for women 18-49 on Friday nights.
In this interview, she reveals her goals, her role in staffing and her most important accomplishments so far.
How do you spend your time? Branding? News promotion? What is the job?
The job is a little of everything. I serve as marketing’s advocate on our leadership team, formalize the sharing of best practices, create training and collaboration opportunities, develop trade and internal marketing strategies, generate group-wide product launch tools, oversee marketing innovation tests, recruit and assess talent, liaison with business partners, evaluate creative and, most importantly, serve as a sounding board for our marketers. It’s really an exciting variety of tasks.
Can the right marketing really turn around the station? Lift it from No. 3 to No. 1?
Absolutely. We have seen those success stories at Gannett. Over three years, WGRZ in Buffalo transformed to become the dominant local news brand in the market.
They honed in on who they are and remain relentlessly consistent in delivering the brand. Their focus, too, on emotional marketing connected with audiences and engaged viewers with their brand.
I would add that the right marketing can also help sustain and grow a station’s leadership position. Getting to No. 1 is one thing, staying at No. 1 is another.
KUSA in Denver has done a tremendous job over the years maintaining their leadership position. The key there is truly aligning under one brand. The marketing and the product — and the leaders of each — are completely in sync and that makes a tremendously positive difference.
What’s the working relationship you have with the marketing directors?
There’s a really powerful bond that exists at Gannett between all of our marketers. Part of my job is really to give them support, but also bring them together so they can support each other. It’s not unusual for our group to call on each other for ideas, to brainstorm together, to critique each other’s work in a positive way. It’s not just that every station has a marketing team, it’s really that every station in our group has access to a collective of marketers that is dozens if not hundreds strong.
Do you have a monthly conference call?
We are in constant communication, in person, over the phone and in the digital space. Every day our marketers are talking to one another and constantly seeing work from around the group
It sounds really collaborative. How does it work?
We have communities of our marketers on Facebook where they can post work, they can get critiques from others, get ideas from others.
We also have people that move around from various stations. We had a marketing director from Buffalo move to Atlanta and with that they bring a lot of experience from other markets to bear on their new stations.
Once a year, we get everybody together so that they can establish personal relationships and forge bonds that can support their personal growth, support the local businesses and so on.
How involved are you in staffing and recruitment?
Recruitment is incredibly important and we recruit on a 24/7 basis. There’s nothing more important to us than our people and we focus a lot on the training and development of our current employees as well as bringing fresh perspectives into the organization.
We have a significant number of leadership and development opportunities, whether it’s sending people to various Promax events, whether it’s providing people with mentors across the group, whether it’s sending marketers from one station to another to observe, whether it’s sharing work across the division. We constantly want our marketers to be in a state of learning.
I confer with every general manager when we have marketing leadership positions open in our stations.
Marketing needs are constantly changing. So helping general managers be in a position to recruit and to grow their marketing leadership is something that I value in terms of what a corporate marketing leader can do.
Could you describe the ideal candidate for a marketing director opening at your stations?
We look for strategic marketing leaders. We look for people who will push boundaries. We look for collaborators. We look for people who are proactive, people who I would call collaborative architects. We especially look for big bold thinkers and innovators and, at times, people who can be a strategic disrupter.
A strategic disrupter?
At times, absolutely. The exciting piece about the media business is that it’s constantly changing and so being able to challenge and to push in order to evolve brands forward, and to consistently be the voice of the consumer is a really important role for a marketing director.
How and why does the marketer become the “voice of the consumer”?
The marketer has to be in touch enough with consumers to be their representative within the organization and they have to be confident enough to raise that voice at the leadership table. They also need to have an insatiable appetite for research and be able to apply it in meaningful, relevant ways that bring the brand to life.
How important is it to give marketers a path into station managaement?
It’s very important. We have a number of marketing directors who have grown to become general managers. Micki Byrnes in Cleveland [WKYC] went from marketing director to station manager. Steve Carter was marketing director in Denver and is now our general manager in Portland, Maine [WCSH].
What sort of influence are you having over the work that’s being done at the local level?
This is a new position. It’s been in place for about two years now and I think if you asked the marketing directors, and I encourage you to do so, I think they would tell you that they really appreciate having a sounding board, having an extra person, an additional marketer, who can bring in a fresh viewpoint.
I think they appreciate efforts to be together and to have someone who facilitates that connection across the group. I think that they would tell you that sometimes it can be difficult to have someone who pushes them where they might not always be comfortable to go, but they’ve been incredibly receptive to having a marketing function.
Just this past year, we had our marketing directors participate in aspects of our 2015 budgeting process and giving them that access to strategic planning and budgeting was really eye opening for a lot of them.
Without that visibility, you’re not maximizing the potential they can have on the business and that’s really what I’m here to do — maximize the potential they can have on our business.
What do you feel have been your biggest accomplishments so far?
I think the integration of the Belo stations into the Gannett fold has been a significant accomplishment.
The efforts that we undertook to welcome our new stations into the Gannett company was a significant focus, making sure that they felt welcomed, making sure that we took the best practices and the best thinking from their company and Gannett’s was a really big focus.
So whether that’s welcome gifts on every desk the moment the acquisitions closed, whether that was really beefing up executive presence at the local level early on, just that philosophy of overly communicating with our stations and our employees was a big focus.
How big a role is digital in marketing?
Significant. And I use the term “digital” as an umbrella to cover website, mobile apps, social media and so forth. We talk a lot about reinventing local news in a digital age so whether it’s placing paid media on digital platforms, investing in digital marketing talent at the local and management team levels or increasing promotion of our digital products, we place a significant focus on all things digital.
We live in a digital age. More consumers are viewing content on their mobile phones and tablets than ever before. And they’re consuming content when it’s convenient for them, not necessarily whenever the content is available.
Stations need to think all screens, all the time and be mindful of where audiences are at various points in time. Audiences may wake up to station push alerts, turn on the morning news, engage with us on Facebook during the day, watch a live stream on their mobile phone in the afternoon and then join us back on television for late news before they go to bed. It’s our job to keep them flowing through our content — wherever they want to consume it — at all points throughout the day.
How do you use social media to drive viewership?
Social media is a huge factor driving audience. It is a playground for content marketers and these days, that’s what we are. Promo marketing is one slice of the mix, but the pie is much larger today. We have dedicated social teams at our stations who work hand in hand with our marketing and news teams. Our marketers produce original content for the social sphere and invest in paid social media for their off-channel promotion. Our journalists are active on social media and use it to source, share and promote stories. Social media is integrated into everything we do.
What’s most important to understand about social media is not the media itself but how, why and when audiences uses it. Social media can offer such a great lens into our audience and be an incredibly valuable source of consumer insight. The analytics and data social companies are offering today can inform so much, not only for marketers but also for journalists and producers.
If there any particular campaign or spot created during your tenure that you are particular proud of?
There are so many. Gannett is fortunate to have a rock star collective of marketers and I will say when our teams produce powerful, emotional marketing that moves people, that’s when I beam with pride. Fortunately, a lot of our stations have all produced work along these lines so it’s really hard to pick just one.