When many consumers think of Discovery Communications, they likely think of the parent company of the Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet. Yet, the company stretches beyond those TV networks, reaching viewers in 170 countries while maintaining a core value of providing consumers with content that piques their curiosity and tells them something they might not have known.
For the communications team at Discovery Communications, about 50 employees globally, this means telling stories that interest wide swaths of the global consumer marketplace, while keeping strategy in line with local customs and traditions.
“That's a lot of inherent responsibility, representing those brands in so many markets, and the programming is very global in nature,” says Michelle Russo, SVP of global corporate communications at the company. Some of the company's top shows in the US are top shows internationally, she adds.
“We have a commitment to striking the right balance on the international side, but we also have a nice mix of the local,” she says, “so that sets the stage for... more collaboration,” for things like the global launch of a TV show.
Yet, Discovery's international communications strategy is not restricted to its external outreach. When the company had its initial public offering (IPO) last September, the communications staff worked on a yearlong internal program to create an environment so that employees all around the world could understand even the minutiae of the NASDAQ stock exchange and American business restrictions. The company also tailored its celebration-themed messaging to local offices, Russo adds.
“How do you get people in Singapore to care about [SEC] regulations, [when] it's cumbersome even in the US?” she asks. “We did the bell ringing at NASDAQ, and we streamed it live to a number of offices so that they could be there with us.”
Of course, keeping communications professionals on different continents on message has its challenges. To deal with those, Discovery Communications organizes regular communications summits, where the company's PR professionals from around the globe can strategize and build personal relationships. The summits are valuable for numerous reasons, including preparation for a major breaking news story, says David Leavy, EVP of communications and corporate affairs.
“We think it's valuable to get [international communications executives] to come to Silver Spring, [MD], and to network, to hear from senior management, brainstorm about the following year, build relationships and best practices,” he says. “When [the terrorist attacks in] Mumbai happened, the head of Indian communications [and I] had a dialogue about who was impacted and what was the potential threat to the company... [it] made the handling of that situation for us go much more smoothly.”
The large get-togethers also allow communications professionals across various networks to share strategies for promoting shows. For example, the company began using e-media kits more than three years ago for the launch of the hit Animal Planet program Meerkat Manor, notes Patricia Kollappallil, VP of communications for Animal Planet Media. The strategy was then used across the corporation.
“Usually we have a kind of task force on particular topics – like, tech is a big topic – and incorporating them into the communications strategy,” she says. “Years ago, we were among the first people do to electronic press kits to move away from paper and mailings, and incorporate everything electronically.
“We did that with Meerkat Manor, which was one of the biggest breakout hits of 2005,” she continues, “and one of the ways we got such phenomenal press response was [because] we were able to deliver this creative at the touch of a finger.”
The company also continues its media outreach by pitching its roster of reality TV show stars as experts, especially in the event of breaking news, Kollappallil adds.
“[What Not to Wear] host Stacy London is a fashion icon, and now she has a regular gig on the Today show, and that comes out of the network,” she says. “With the Discovery Communications brand, we are putting on people who are authentic. They are really experts in their areas.”
At A Glance
Company: Discovery Communications
President/CEO: David Zaslav
Headquarters: Silver Spring, MD
Key trade titles: Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News, TVWeek, Mediaweek, Advertising Age, CableFAX Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Variety
Comms budget: Undisclosed
Communications team: David Leavy, EVP of comms and corporate affairs; Michelle Russo, SVP of global corporate comms; Catherine Frymark, SVP of US business comms; Elizabeth Hillman, SVP of Comms Discovery Channel; Laurie Goldberg, SVP of TLC Comms