SPECIAL Post: Brand Equity & The Race to be Number One in TV News

CBS This Morning hit a major milestone this past week reaching 1000 episodes. For a network that has struggled to pose a serious threat to its rivals, this was a quiet victory and validation that a newsier strategy is working. I’ve often noted that being in third place is a good thing. You have the freedom and luxury to experiment with new ideas. Most work. Others fail. The show and its talent are not subject to intense scrutiny. The pressure to deliver and maintain a lead on your competition is minimal because efforts are focused on producing the best show possible. Clearly being an underdog has its benefits.

In my view, being in third place and offering a distinctive product or serving as a niche news provider with brand equity is more important than racing to the top to be number one. In a mature and saturated market, how do you stand out? Some marketing professionals will tell you to imitate the market leader. Boom. Done. In the morning news wars, Good Morning America did just that. The news division under James Goldston amplified their sweet offerings and waited for the right moment to strike and overtake Today. When CBS was contemplating its umpteenth version of a morning show in 2011, should it have employed the same failing strategy it used for a decade? Absolutely not.

Other industry specialists such as television branding guru Martin Lambie-Nairn will tell you is…be different. But doing things differently requires great courage as he states in this presentation. Some might say CBS had no choice but to be different. This is the beauty of being in third place. Over three years later, what do we have? A show that is a ratings success and critically acclaimed for being unique in substance and style. Niche is good in my opinion unlike CNN US which is trying to reach everyone, the lowest common denominator of society, and coming out with no one. CBS This Morning may never be number one. And that’s OK. But it does have brand equity which is more important than having news anchors willing to dress up for a circus act over Halloween.

The same theory can be applied to other broadcasters such as BBC World News or Al Jazeera America. The BBC realizes that it will always be a niche player in what is considered the most competitive media market in the world. Its taken over a decade for it to establish itself in the US and it still has a ways to go. What they offer is a window on to the world that most broadcasters are not. The BBC News brand is instantly recognizable particularly with the younger generation. That used to the case for Al Jazeera when their English TV service was available online for free. During the Arab Spring, their online viewings skyrocketed. Part of the allure of Al Jazeera English in the US was it didn’t have wide distribution; it was a niche provider that had built great brand equity. Watching AJE was like being identified with a product that most people did not have access to so it made you different and resourceful.

Once it got overly ambitious to crack the US market, part of its arrangement during the acquisition of Current TV was to cease the AJE online offering. Not good. First of all, what was the rationale for spending $500M and more on an ancient business model? Take that and spend one-fourth which could have been used to start the best online venture money could buy with an entirely new brand. Knowing the name itself was controversial, they could have built a brand that was fresh and distinctive enough to compete in a crowded space. TV was not the way to go. Online was the future then and it continues to be. Just ask CBS News Live. Ironically, it celebrated a one-year anniversary and while it may not be perfect, it’s a slick operation that isn’t marred by the limitations of traditional broadcasting. Viewers who have sampled it like what they have seen and appear to be coming back for more…just like me. Being part of the CBS News family have given it tremendous brand equity. I have no qualms admitting that I have offered @Mosheh and @davidgrayrhodes suggestions to improve it. It’s called viewer feedback and I’m a viewer. As trivial as it may sound, one thing I’ve focused on is their music package. I like music and feel that a news theme should sound unique and contemporary. If I wanted to listen to a marching band, I’d visit my local high school. Thankfully, Bloomberg – in their latest on-air re-branding efforts – has gotten the drift. It’s time my friends over at CBSN get it too.

Special Post: Bloomberg TV Relaunch

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but the decorators have made some major changes
to Bloomberg TV. Under the leadership of Ross Fitzpatick, Creative Director of Visualization, the upscale business network relaunched with new programming, sets, graphics, and music on October 5th. It takes courage to be different and not mimic the market leader, but Bloomberg has achieved a distinctive and an effective look in a crowded landscape. Although market information remains – unfortunately – to the bottom and side of the screen, the other presentation elements appear elegant and clean. The sets are bright and the music package is contemporary and unique for an American news channel. News themes in the U.S. tend be loud and pompous. Not Bloomberg’s. It’s simple, modern, and classy all at the same time. This is British composer David Lowe’s first major project in the United States. Through his work for Bloomberg, Lowe has shown the competition that news music can be a pleasure to listen to. Still not convinced? Just ask the thousands of viewers on YouTube  or across the globe who have listened to his news themes for the BBC, CCTV, TV2 Norway, NDTV, and Al Arabiya.

From a programming perspective, Go appears smart and informative. It had a lot of prominent guests perhaps due in part to its debut on the network. The one show that has shown potential is Bloomberg West with Emily Chang. Its new look gives it a modern/techie vibe. Check plus. The commentary is smart and insightful and viewers would be game for a full hour versus a constrained 30 minutes. I know I’d be up for it.

Commonalities with Mishal

This teenage crush might be fading away, but it seemed like a silly and fun idea to identify what I have in common with the BBC’s Mishal Husain. Apparently, there’s quite a bit that based upon the list below.

Star Sign: We’re both Pisces. Kind. Caring. Empathetic. Down to earth folk.

UAE: Both lived in the UAE and left at the age of 12. That’s a daily double!

Language: People – in my opinion – find it cute when we speak our native language. Hey, at least we try.

Religion: We share the same views on faith. Progressive. Liberal. It’s not as simple as what you do on the exterior (i.e., praying).

Family: Both come from respectable families which contributed to the founding of Pakistan and its society.

Social Circles: We share common family friends.

Personalities: Both citizens of the world. Our parents were born in one country and lived in many others. We’re curious about the places we live in and the people we share it with.

The Rise of Incompetence in Today’s Workforce

You need no reminding that today’s global workforce and economy is rocked by instability. The sad part is the economic collapse in 2008 and 2009 gave companies a solid justification to reduce their respective employee counts. As those same companies earned record profits in recent years, the employees that were handed a pink slip were never hired back.

What is more troubling in this volatile economy is the rise of incompetent managers who don’t have the skill sets to manage employees and are simply doing the bidding of their unqualified leaders. Here are some hard truths.

1. It’s not about WHAT you know. It’s about WHO you know.

2. You may think you are performing well and will work hard to receive a favorable review at year end, but politics eventually comes into play and if you haven’t done enough brown nosing – despite all your achievements – those efforts will be useless.

3. The rise of incompetent managers is driving talented individuals to quit.

4. You are at the mercy and whim of your manager. This rule can be applied to any career level (i.e., entry, mid, senior).

5. Companies are not investing in their employees. Many people learn on the job and “fake it till they make it.”

6. If you try reporting a problem about workplace bullying, human resources will dance around the issue and ultimately point the finger at you. HR is their to protect the company. Not you.

7. Instead of promoting from within and offering an employee a decent pay increase, a company will seek external candidates who have no understanding of the company culture or inner workings and will shower them with an attractive salary.

8. During the glory days of the global workforce, employees would join a company and work there for the rest for their lives. Upon retirement, a person would walk a away with a golden handshake, a nice fat pension plan or both. It’s rare to find any of those things in the current climate.

9. Don’t ask us where we see ourselves in five years. We don’t even know where we’ll be next month. Our foremost mission is to hang on for dear life and defend ourselves from colleagues trying to sabotage our careers by dragging us down or stabbing us in the back – sometimes with the approval of management.

Dear Al

Dear Al,
Al Jazeera America (AJAM) finds itself in the news for the most unfortunate reasons. In recent days, countless articles have covered the issues facing the fledgling network. Yet few have shared their views on what can be done to right the ship. That is where is D.C. Internationalist steps in for this special blog post. I hope you read my feedback as I used to be a journalist who also happens to have a great understanding of the U.S. and global news media landscape…who know what works, what doesn’t and why. These ideas, not terribly unique in nature, are aimed to help AJAM be far less bureaucratic, nimble, and sharper. If you’re in doubt, call me? Maybe?
Branding – The network has a weak on-air identity and even weaker tag line. There’s more to it, no pun intended. Who is your target audience? What is their age? What are you trying to convey? Here is a link to a recent tv news branding project that was very successful. Now, that’s what I call an identity. Sharp, clean, and powerful.
Resources – When a breaking news story develops, AJAM and AJE should not be sending their respective correspondents to cover the story. It’s a waste of money, time, and, resources to utilize multiple teams. I think one correspondent is capable of covering the story for both networks.
Programming – Partner more with independent production companies to provide scripted programming. Also, how about a Sunday AM show that invites foreign journalists based in DC and NY to offer their views of events here in the US? Flagships shows will need to be developed for the morning and evening hours so you attract a decent amount of advertising dollars. Develop a show that is co-anchored by an AJAM and AJE presenters. The show can go out live on the networks at the same time. Big savings there and fills in an hour of programming.
Website – Merge the AJAM website with the AJE website. Contribute to one main site where I can read stories by reporters of both networks. Segregating stories based on network affiliation is silly.

What I Know…

Well, well. It’s been a while since I blogged. But with good reason or shall I say reasons. Life. Work. Motivation. Indeed, there has been a lack of motivation on my part to continuously write and keep you folks interested.

I’ve been eager to write this post for some time and while my english and grammar may not be polished, I hope you will not hold that against me in what I consider to be my final post. I knew exactly what I wanted the post title to be. “What I Know” sums up the essence of what I would like to convey. It also is the title of a music theme played in AMC’s The Killing. it’s a beautiful track if you ever get a chance to listen to it.

So, what do I know? Five years ago, I started this blog knowing that it was my last chance to cling to an industry that I had worked so hard to try and become a part of. Despite starting a career in a different field, this blog was my ticket. I worked tirelessly to build on a theme or niche that readers would find distinctive with a voice that was peppered with a mix of tongue and cheek. Within a few months of launching, I convinced other bloggers to add me to their respective blogrolls and public relation professionals to add me to their mailing lists. With a combination of luck and persistence, I grew my readership and managed to attract some influential folks to follow me on Twitter.

You see, I wanted to be part of the media industry since my early days at university. I was passionate about communication and the world itself. Like my parents, I was born in one country and lived in many others so there was a certain desire on my part to bring the world closer together through storytelling. Along the way I had role models to give me the inspiration to pursue this very competitive industry. My own family members such as my great-granduncle – who contributed to Pakistan’s founding after India’s partition in 1947 – proved to be altruistic as well. But five years later, it’s time to put the pen down. Why? Well, I shall tell you.

What I know…is that while I consider myself to be lucky (to an extent), I don’t have the experience, talent or connections to continue pursuing a career in media. I don’t have the star power or wattage to attract decision makers in an industry that is struggling to survive and be profitable. I wish more folks would communicate this to students aspiring to be in media or journalism. I am not my great-granduncle. I am no Brian Stelter. I am no Imran Garda. I am no Adrian Finighan. And I am certainly no Mishal Husain. Unlike most in my generation, I do no consider myself to be special. I am not special and I never will be. I’m just me…an ordinary chap who may have grabbed your attention with a few posts and that is perfectly okay.

So with a heavy heart, I want to thank all of you for your support and reading this blog. While I may pop up every now and again, for now…it’s good night, and good luck.

The Interview: Sean Doyle, EVP of The Americas, British Airways

British Airways and IAD Celebrate Arrival of A380

As the British Airways A380 aircraft touched down last week at Dulles, D.C. Internationalist caught up Sean Doyle, EVP of The Americas in the following Q&A (unedited).

DCI: Why did BA bring the A380 to the DC market? Aging 747? Competition?

SD: Washington DC is an important destination in the British Airways network.  By nature of the industry sectors located in DC we know it is important to offer a superior, premium, experience and fast, efficient access to London and Europe.  Washington was a Concorde route for us for many years and we are proud to be bringing one of our most innovative aircraft into the market again. This marks the first and only nonstop A380 service between the two nations’ capitals.

In regard to our Boeing 747s, we will continue the daily BA292 between Washington DC and London. Some of our much-loved Boeing 747 aircrafts are to receive a cabin refresh as well as state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment systems from next year. The refit will include a cabin interior refresh, bringing these 747s more in line with the airline’s newest aircraft. New seat foams will be installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort, and new style seat covers fitted to improve appearance and match those on the A380 and 787. Carpets and curtains throughout the plane will also be replaced to the new aircraft color palette.

British Airways Dulles Lounge Dining

The BA Lounge at Dulles remodeled in line with “The Galleries” at Heathrow Terminal 5

DCI: How does BA plan to engage and get involved with the DC community to promote its offerings?

SD: We have a broad marketing campaign in place to support the launch, including out of home and digital advertising as well as awareness-building through social media channels. We are also participating in Taste of DC this year, promoting our Height Cuisine approach to food and the new flavors to discover in London. All proceeds from our participation in the event will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.