KXLY’s marketing blitz of newscaster Woodward is unprecedented in the fight for local viewers and listeners
By Tom Sowa
Since March, when Nadine Woodward started her new job, her 18-year-old son Connor complained he couldn’t avoid her, even miles from home.
On his way to school he’d see some of the 20 large billboards filled with her smiling face, part of a media blitz calling attention to her new position at Spokane broadcaster KXLY.
Last year the popular Woodward left rival station KREM in a widely publicized flap. Woodward’s decision to start a new job became a windfall for KXLY to build a marketing campaign some say is the largest ever for a Spokane TV personality.
The campaign’s frequent reminders of Woodward’s new job underscore how the economics of winning TV viewers often relies as much on having a very familiar face than anything else.
After 19 years at KREM as evening and late-night news anchor, Woodward was asked to take a 15 percent pay cut, a reduction none of her male co-anchors was asked to take, she said. She later offered to take a pay cut provided her flexible work schedule continued, but the company refused, she said.
KREM management said Woodward chose not to sign a new contract after it expired last fall. After leaving the station, Woodward, 48, sued for damages from KREM, claiming age and gender discrimination.
That lawsuit is pending, said Lukins & Annis attorney Mike Hines, who’s representing Woodward.
In May KREM’s attorney won a ruling to compel Woodward to go through arbitration to resolve the dispute. Hines said no date has been set for arbitration.
Charles Rowe, a former co-anchor with Woodward at KREM, said the KXLY campaign makes a lot of sense for a station trying to boost its ratings and advertising revenue.
Many campaigns tout a station’s news team. The Woodward campaign is solely about her, Rowe said.
“It’s the largest campaign of that kind I’ve seen in the years I’ve been here,” said Rowe, who retired in 2007 after 20 years at KREM.
The new job, according to Woodward, is a professional “rebound.” She now starts her working day earlier. She anchors the 6 to 7 a.m. TV news segment on KXLY. She then switches to radio, anchoring the station’s AM news report from 7 to 9 a.m.
Woodward will also focus on being KXLY’s lead reporter for stories on health care issues.
KXLY management won’t say how much the marketing campaign costs, but it’s far from over. General Manager and Executive Vice President Steve Herling said the station is completing the first phase of the Nadine campaign, with a second phase in the offing.
In addition to roughly 20 large billboards, the strategy included direct mailings, frequent TV and radio spots and more than 50,000 “Hi, I’m Nadine” cards placed inside Bloomsday packets handed out before the race last month.
Herling said the campaign has a simple premise.
“It’s pretty simple. It says: ‘Hi, I’m Nadine and I’m at KXLY and I’m happy to be here,'” Herling said.
Jaime Aitken, general manager at KREM, declined to comment on KXLY’s media splurge.
Patricia McRae, general manager at KHQ, said the strong support voiced for Woodward after the KREM flap proved she has unusually high viewer recognition and approval across Spokane’s TV market, stretching from Montana to central Washington.
“In terms of timing, KXLY has taken advantage of the marketing opportunity to capitalize on Woodward joining the station,” McRae said. She said she called Woodward after she left KREM but wasn’t interested in hiring her.
“There was no way we could add her (to our lineup) without disrupting the great team we now have,” she said.
KHQ is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
It was no surprise, noted both Rowe and McRae, that the heart of the Woodward campaign came during the May book, considered the most important of the four rating periods of the year. The May ratings are used in setting ad rates for the fall and holiday shopping season.
McRae also said KXLY has done the right thing strategically by adding Woodward to its morning news slots because the early-a.m. segments are a ratings battle zone.
“Competition in the early morning here is huge,” she said.
During evening and late night newscasts, KREM and KHQ have traditionally done better than KXLY, according to Nielsen Co. ratings.
“But they’re in a real dogfight (for ratings) in the early morning hour,” Rowe said of KXLY TV’s morning newscast.
In the fast-growing early-morning time slots — especially from 6 to 7 a.m. — KXLY has come to take a solid second place, ahead of KREM, according to Nielsen numbers.
Because audiences want news quickly, on demand, KXLY has the added advantage of using its AM radio station to complement and cross-promote its newscasts, McRae said. TV news reports in the morning can tell viewers to dial into KXLY radio later to catch up on key stories. Likewise, the radio newscasts can point viewers both to the TV newscasts and the station’s website.
“It’s no longer about pulling in viewers at one time or two times a day,” McRae said. “It’s about all the time.”
KXLY’s Herling agreed that the true test of the Woodward campaign will be a gain in ratings as more viewers move to his station. Herling said the best time to measure those gains will be the November book.
TV viewers, by and large, don’t quickly recalibrate and adjust perceptions as fast as station directors would like, said Teddie Gibbon, KXLY’s vice president and station manager. That’s one reason the rebranding of Woodward will continue and evolve, Gibbon said.
McRae agrees on the difficulty of changing viewer perceptions. “When I see her on KXLY, there’s a blush of me thinking I’m still watching KREM,” she said.
Woodward said she was eager to work at KXLY because the station is committed to producing the best TV news reports in the market. Her salary, she added, is below what she earned at KREM.
Woodward admits the shift to morning news has been demanding, beyond starting her day much earlier. On the set, she’s still working on fitting into the more spontaneous, give-and-take skills required during the 7-9 a.m. radio newscast with co-anchor Bud Nameck.
“TV is so structured compared to live radio. You have to develop a routine and understand what’s happening so you don’t step over each other.”
At times the campaign’s frequent messages and oversized billboard photos left her wondering if the station was overhyping her, Woodward said.
“I was concerned about what my co-workers at KXLY would think. But 99.9 percent of the feedback from people has been very positive,” she said.
“The comment I get all the time is that people are glad to see me back on TV and they refuse to watch the ‘other’ station. The community has been very supportive.”
(Sunday, June 13, 2010)