The Cox ABC affiliate in Orlando has taken a different tack in its news promos to stay atop this contested market. It uses campaigns from Churchman Productions that feature station viewers because "viewers talking on our behalf can be more powerful than anchor-driven, on-camera spots," according to Bob St. Charles, the station's creative services director.
Viewers Testify To WFTV’s News Prowess
Orlando is a real Mickey Mouse place. Except when it comes to local TV news.
Then it’s a real dog-eat-dog fight for ratings supremacy between heavy hitters like Cox Media Group, Post-Newsweek, Hearst and Fox.
The top dog is Cox’s ABC affiliate WFTV. In November 2012, WFTV boasted a 40% share of the market’s news broadcasts (adults 25-54, Mon.-Sun., 5 a.m.-11:30 p.m.), says Bob St. Charles, who’s been the creative services director at the station since 2002. “It’s been the overall news leader … in every daypart since 2004,” St. Charles says.
Each station brings a distinctive marketing approach to the battle, says Hal Boedeker, longtime TV writer for the Orlando Sentinel.
“WFTV stresses that it has connected with viewers by having everyday people on camera,” he says. “WESH [the Hearst-owned NBC affiliate] plays up a magazine poll as the market’s best. WKMG [Post-Newsweek, CBS] goes for a more inspirational route and explains how the station is part of the community. [Fox O&O] WOFL highlights that it is doing something fresh in local news and blowing up old formulas.
“WFTV has been most effective because they showcase viewers,” Boedeker says. “The people in the spots explain how they’ve connected to anchors and meteorologists. One oft-quoted line refers to Tom Terry rolling up his sleeves, and when that happens, you know things are serious.”
Boedeker is referring to spots like these:
“We’re not interested in winning awards, only results,” says St. Charles. WFTV is a research-driven operation, and focus-group testing of its marketing creative is a part of that strategy, he says. “The viewers tell us what they want, and we give it to them.”
The people in these testimonials “are spontaneous and real,” he says. “Viewers talking on our behalf can be more powerful than anchor-driven, on-camera spots.”
Another reason St. Charles and WFTV like testimonials is that since WFTV “is a hard news, hard content-driven news product, these humanize the product, give us personality.”
And while this campaign is the third time WFTV has used testimonials as part of its news image strategy over the years, St. Charles says the station scrutinizes its marketing messages every day.
“We review all news topicals and other in-show teases daily with station management. News and marketing must be in step, joined at the hip, so we never stray from the brand.”
St. Charles says that WFTV’s loyal viewers clearly like the testimonials, but to sway others, “you need to make the promise and then demonstrate how you deliver on the promise to make them more powerful and effective.”
All three testimonial campaigns over the years were created by Churchman Productions, owned by Peter Churchman. “Peter knows how to find those memorable characters who are excited about our news. He asks the right questions because he knows the research,” says St. Charles.
Churchman has also done testimonial campaigns for stations in Philly, New York, Chicago, and Charlotte.
According to Churchman, stations were skeptical at first about using testimonials, but that “skepticism soon gave way to endorsement.”
The key is to have “a real guerilla style, keep as low a profile as possible, because you don’t want to spook them,” he says. Using a small production team, he says, he tries to catch people “before they know what’s happening.”
He shoots as many people as possible over three or four days usually getting 70-80 people a day. His one-day record is 122 people. He often shoots more than 10 hours of material.
“The more people, the more chance to get those gems from them. I’m looking for spontaneity, their unfiltered reaction, with a passionate delivery, the stuff you just can’t write.”
Churchman says that weekends are better than weekdays and he tries to catch people at work, so they have an identity. He looks for people with a strong affinity for the brand, and believes that testimonials like these can’t be done for third-ranked stations, that it “only works well when your station is the dominant No. 1.”
Market Share is all about marketing and promotion at TV stations and appears every Monday. If you have some ideas or stories you want to share, please let me know. You can reach Paul Greeley at [email protected] or at 817-578-6324.