Local TV Marketing ‘Not For Faint Of Heart’

Executives from Tegna, NBCU Television Stations and Fox Television Stations told a TVNewsCheck webinar that local station marketing is best executed by those in the market itself — with support from corporate — and that marketing needs to start “from a place of brand, not from a place of product.”

A well-executed branding strategy can improve audience numbers and loyalty for local TV stations.

Speaking during the “Marketing Local TV in a Changing Media Environment” webinar held by TVNewsCheck last week, a trio of broadcasters said marketing approaches that are developed locally and supported at the group level via oversight, guidance and access to resources reflect and meet unique market needs. Local marketing itself is “not for the faint of heart,” especially given the sheer number of products and platforms in play. But the effort of marketing and branding pays off in terms of increased connection with the local audience, which can lead to higher revenues.

Promoting the local brand is a job that extends beyond the marketing department: all employees at the station can be brand ambassadors. Sound is a component of branding that often strikes an emotional chord with audiences. And in the last year particularly, stations have focused on strengthening their overall emotional connection with their audiences.

Frank Cicha, EVP programming for Fox Television Stations, said local stations are run by local general managers who make decisions pertinent to their market.

“We have oversight, but we leave the Xs and Os to the people on the ground,” Cicha said.

That strategy has paid off for stations like Fox’s WDAF, branded locally as Channel 4, in Kansas City. During a recent trip to Kansas City to carry out focus groups, he said, “it was amazing how much Channel 4 meant” in the area. “The anchors are their friends.”


Therese Gamba, chief marketing officer and SVP of acquired programming for NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, said her group’s marketing function was once hubbed, but hasn’t been for years. The promos of old were created by an agency and looked like they had been done by a tourism board, she said.

“We don’t live in all those markets,” she said. “You need to have the people who can live and breathe and touch that market so that they can understand what the people need.”

Meredith Conte, VP consumer and ad sales marketing at Tegna, said all of her group’s markets are unique and so each of the stations has its own autonomy but has access to guidance and help from corporate. Some of that help comes in the form of access to the collective brainpower of fellow marketing colleagues across Tegna.

Local marketing “is not for faint of heart,” Conte said. For a marketer to “market all the products a station has individually, they’d probably have a heart attack.”

Fortunately, she said, branding can carry a lot of the weight.

“For us, marketing starts from a place of brand, not from a place of product,” Conte said. “If you have a strong brand, that is the tide that will float all the boats.”

When Tegna’s WFAA Dallas worked on its brand three years ago, she said, revenues started rising.

A local station with a strong brand will see overall loyalty go up regardless of the products that come and go, she said. And it’s incumbent on the local marketers as the chief brand officers to curate the brand strategy and make sure it’s executed consistently, Conte said.

Promoting the brand is something with which all of a station’s employees can help.

According to Gamba, the people at the station can serve as brand ambassadors, but they need to know the correct way to talk about the brand.

One method of promoting a brand, said Ritch Colbert, principal, PPI Releasing, is through vehicles like weather and news apps, such as the KELOLAND news app for KELO, Nexstar’s CBS affiliate in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Another way to support the brand is through the types of spots a station runs. PPI delivers spots and promos for on-air use that match and promote the local brand. Those spots and promos have evolved to meet demand for shorter pieces. At the same time, more short-form content that can support the local brand is available, Colbert said.

When it comes to branding, Stephen Arnold, president of Stephen Arnold Music, said there has been an emphasis on conveying sonic branding very quickly.

“A brand’s value can be conveyed in a matter of seconds if it’s done correctly,” Arnold said. One of the reasons this is true, he said, is because the brain understands sound faster than it can visuals. And sound creates emotion, he added.

Historically, he said, sonic brands were bold, fast and urgent. Now, there’s more of an effort to support, rather than interrupt, the journalism, so much of the music Stephen Arnold Music supplies now is more subtle than in the past.

“A good sonic stamp is essential for the audience to be able to connect with,” Arnold said.

Gamba noted that the NBC chimes strike an emotional chord with some people.

But generating that emotional connection encompasses so much more than sound.

Last year, Conte said, Tegna “infused more humanity into our brands” because of the nature of 2020 as a news year with COVID, social unrest and an election. There is “so much you can do to create that emotional connection” through the combination of sound, language and visual presentation, she said.

“If accuracy is paramount in journalism, emotion is paramount in marketing,” Conte said.

And while marketing local television stations is a big job, there are some tips and tricks that can make life easier.

For starters, Conte recommends periodically making sure the right people, tools and workflows are in place to support marketing strategies. A marketing calendar can also be a great help, she said. But one of the biggest factors is self-care.

“If you are not strong in the self, you will never be strong for your station,” Conte said.

And these days, Gamba said, marketers need to be competent across multiple platforms and capable of multitasking.

According to Fox’s Cicha, the best marketers have “got to be able to look around the corner and see what’s coming, to see what the next platform’s going to be.”

In a time when it’s easy to feel bombarded by content, Cicha said, it’s important for marketers to remember one essential task: “Watch the programs. You’ll market them better.”

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