WNET chief kicks off PRWeek Conference by stressing importance of partnerships

Neal Shapiro, the former president of NBC News and CEO of WNET, used Bank of America's sponsorship of Ken Burns' latest documentary as an example of how his organization can partner with corporations for mutual benefit.

NEW YORK: WNET president and CEO Neal Shapiro emphasized the importance of sponsorships by corporations such as Bank of America when he kicked off the PRWeek Conference in New York on Tuesday morning.

Shapiro told the communications professionals and marketers in attendance that such associations help companies inspire employees about a corporation’s mission.

"It’s good for a workforce to believe you’re doing something other than just making money," he said.

During a question-and-answer session with the audience, the former NBC News president cited Bank of America’s sponsorship of filmmaker Ken Burns’ seven-part documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History as an example.

The financial institution is "delighted at how much [the association with Burns] has elevated the brand," he noted.

Before he joined WNET, where he oversees Thirteen, WLIW21, and NJTV, in 2007, Shapiro was president of NBC News and executive producer of Dateline. He has also served as a producer and writer for ABC News programs including World News Tonight.

During the opening session of the conference, Shapiro noted that some of the station’s biggest challenges are Federal Communications Commission requirements that limit its commercial activity. However, he said the organization has a bright future in educating Americans, noting both the dropout crisis in the US and competitive educational environment.

"If you’re not reading by age three, you’re pretty much done," he said, discussing competitiveness among students. "Media is a way to fix it."

Shapiro touched on other topics in response to questions from the audience.
The future of public television:
"Content is king," said Shapiro, adding that corporations "want to be good corporate citizens."

What PBS has learned from the private sector:
"To be a little more nimble," Shapiro replied, adding that WNET is trying to get on more mobile platforms.

Whether public TV stations have additional flexibility:
Shapiro cited a Wisconsin station’s three-day-long celebration for Vietnam Veterans as a way public television can go beyond media to make a difference.

How it picks partners  — including companies that are facing a reputation crisis:
"The last thing they want to do is re-live the controversy," he said. "It’s never been an issue."

How WNET is embracing social media:
Shapiro said the station has social media editors who interact with consumers when they react to shows such as Downton Abbey. "More platforms are going to give us more opportunities to do good work," he said.

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