Tegna's Dave Lougee on culture change, innovation, and consolidation

The CEO of the newly created company talks to PRWeek about transforming local TV broadcast to juice revenue and revamp content.

What initiatives have you started to execute your corporate mission?
Our purpose is serving the greater good of our communities by comforting the afflicted, doing investigative journalism, and helping businesses thrive.

We have a content transformation initiative across our platforms to reinvent local news formats. Our next generation of stars go through an annual process where they come up with new ideas and vote on which to test. Those that test well are funded as pilots.

That gave rise to an Atlanta-based, digital-first investigative team called Charlie Foxtrot, an iconoclastic newscast in Minneapolis called Breaking the News, and others. We sacrificed ratings among traditional viewers initially, but we’re gaining a whole new audience. 

How do you change the perception that local TV journalism does not produce innovative content?
We do it on a market by market basis. Content innovation is not one formula, but a series of experiments. It’s orchestrated chaos, because we’re incubating and trying things in these local markets so that we’re not putting the whole company at risk.

For example, we created a vertical on Facebook called HeartThreads, which aggregates human-interest stories from our TV stations, and launched Daily Blast Live, the first live syndication show ever.

On the sales side, we no longer see ourselves as selling TV ads. Our sales team members are also an asset. There are three marketing dollars for every one ad dollar in all our local markets.

We have a suite of products our account teams can take to our customers as solutions, including digital services under our G/O Digital team and another group called Hatch, which is almost like a creative agency in Dallas.

Also, we have gone to market with the first local advertising over the top service called Premion. We insert and sell local ads for long tail services, such as Crackle and Roku, which are worth more than national ads.

We’re in 36 markets, but we’re serving ads in more than 150 markets. 

That sounds like a significant shift in strategy. Has hiring the right talent to build out that capability been a problem?
It has meant orienting our sales forces away from selling commoditized TV spots and toward tech, as well as mobilizing our local resources and talent so they can put together these types of solutions for advertisers. 

How are you achieving the transformation?
We’ve made investments, but they’re not sizable financial ones given our size. The biggest obstacle is culture change. In some cases, we’re disrupting ourselves. But we’re doing a good job staying ahead of the game.

The more success we have with these initiatives, the more good work we can do in the communities.

During Hurricane Harvey, we flew in more than 100 people from stations nationwide to help the local Texas station deal with the storm on coverage, logistics, and employee assistance.

Then we held a fundraising concert and other initiatives that raised almost $5 million for Harvey victims. 

Would you say that to some extent, you’re creating a new corporate brand?
We became a pure play broadcast company June 1 [after spinning off Cars.com]. Before we were more of a holding company. Three years ago, we were Gannett, and we owned a large local newspaper company, USA Today, Cars.com, 53% of CareerBuilder, and a large, successful broadcasting company. That’s a lot of masters to serve, whether you’re in corporate comms or human resources. 

You’ve outlined your position on the easing of FCC regulations, which led to consolidation. How does consolidation help you achieve your mission?
We don’t compete against local papers and radio. We compete against Facebook, Verizon, AT&T, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix.

Look at the size of networks owned by cable companies. AT&T owned DirecTV and then bought Time Warner. For localism to survive, there has to be regulatory reform so we can consolidate.

I’m not advocating for more regulations for others. When you look at what these major companies can own, then say a broadcast company can’t own two stations in Duluth, that’s somewhat insane. 

Isn’t a lack of competition detrimental to the community?
You have communities today with no newspapers. Had cross ownership of TV and papers been allowed 15 years ago, that would’ve been different. If you have three strong newsrooms instead of five weak ones, the community is better served.

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