Managing Your Morning Meetings

The morning editorial meeting is where good newscasts, and good promotion, begin. This article originally appeared in RTNDA's Communicator.

Whether your goal is reinforcing a strong, credible brand or to get more sampling and frequency of viewing to make a move in the market, it all starts with the morning meeting. That’s where the debate and discussion begin on what to air, and also, what to promote.

The news director can really set a tone in terms of getting the staff focused on the importance of the marketing/promotion relationship during these meetings. If the morning editorial meeting is the place to manage ideas all day long, why not shape the promotion as well as the news stories right there?

Here are some tips for keeping your meetings-and your promotion-viewer-focused and more effective.

The Morning Meeting

Picture yourself going to an ad agency’s creative meeting. If you ever attended one, you would not think of going through the process of storyboarding without spending brainstorming time in the agency’s creative room. The news meeting can serve the same function. Make sure the viewer as the “consumer” stays the focus. You may think this is heresy of the highest order, but if your promotion staff isn’t in on your morning meetings, your newscast may be missing something. The promotion manager or producer probably represents the viewer more than anyone in the newsroom. Their role is to promote news content to an entertainment audience vs. a news audience, a concept that sometimes makes news people shudder.

The morning meeting should be the place where all groups in the newsroom are represented. This is the place where news talks not only about what is good content but also what is good television. So, here is where you can make your case for good promotion. Build systems that deliver a product you know your viewers will care about. More than one news director has pushed, “Don’t produce news for the newsroom. Produce news for viewers.”

News must understand that good promotion is essential in the war for better ratings. If your promotion director is seen as a contributing member during the morning meetings, it will help build respect for him or her as an expert on audience flow and the target audience.

Use these meetings to establish and build rapport. Promo producers-like news producers-should do some homework before the editorial meeting, and know what’s happening on the news front as well as what people are talking about. Houston’s KHOU-TV news director Mike Devlin has made an original story idea the ticket to get into their editorial meeting. It has been pivotal in setting a standard for his very successful enterprise product. Make sure everyone is informed. If preparation is a problem, distribute a daily reading list of websites that plays to your target demo and content.

It also helps to set a positive tone. One tried-and-true way to kick off the morning meeting is to show a well-executed piece from the day before. Why not show the promo for the piece as well, to prove it makes the viewer connection?

The Story Board Is the Meeting

Try constructing a newscast-oriented story board instead of an assignment board in the actual meeting room. Save one section for your news lead-in program so you know the program and the content that day. Audience flow is critical. Make the first column the most important lead-worthy or compelling stories and your angles to those stories. Maybe make the second column the rest of the news of the day, logical follow-ups, along with scheduled events. Think about a third column with all the special emphasis stories, ones that need special explaining, animated graphics or showcasing. Flow the debate from column to column, so you will keep the focus on viewer-based storylines.

If your station does research, your content decisions should reflect how your viewers have voted. Most research today reinforces that viewers want a lot of weight given to the top story as well as explaining the news in an understandable way. Building your board this way keeps the debate on track with those preferences. Some stations actually post this list of content priorities in the meeting room.

Also dedicate space and discussion to live coverage, so you start thinking early about how you will produce the liveshot and the reporter insert. Most stations put all the thought into the package and the live angle becomes an afterthought-thus the breathless “Live with the Latest” appearance in front of a dark building. By starting the thought process early, you have time to plan a demonstration to help understand the story better. Your liveshots can be a point of difference between newscasts and with your competition.

Have sections on your board that deal with more strategic goals; issues like special projects, longer-term investigations and upcoming special events. Maybe cite how you will be interactive or even solicit viewer response and share important resource info through your website.

The Best Ideas Are in the Most Obvious Places

Stations spend hours in news meetings agonizing over that one “miracle” story; probably a stunt or a one-day trend or something lifted out of USA Today. Consider changing the culture.

Take the six key “news of the day” stories you know your viewers are interested in and brainstorm angles you know your viewers will find interesting. Get the coverage beyond the event-driven, traditional general assignment treatment of the who, what, where. Make your package focus on the why. Tease and promote those angles to drive viewers from newscast to newscast. You were planning on running the stories in later newscasts anyway, right?

Use your best enterprise and investigative reporters to help in the debate. Use your most resourceful, web-trained producers and desk people to set up the stories. Facilitate the debate and move a computer with modem into the meeting room so they can be researching ideas that let the reporter hit the ground running. Look at the best national stories of the day that have local impact. These become local stories!

Using this approach will actually feed “the topical beast” for afternoon and prime promos with stories that differentiate. Over time, they should create an expectation from your viewers that all started in your morning meeting.

The “20-Minute Rule”

If you still struggle with promotions buy-in for the morning meeting, try the “20-Minute Rule.” Graeme Newell, a former creative services director at WBNS-TV in Columbus, OH, who now travels the country doing promotion tease writing workshops says a time limit may help. “Too many promo producers feel the morning meeting may be a waste of time. News tends to debate event coverage and logistics, not storylines and promotable angles.”

Make it a rule that you will get to the important/interesting (promotable) stories within 20 minutes, or you’ll get the attention of the person running the meeting! You also could try to produce the meeting like the newscast: Start the meeting with potential lead stories, then move to impact angles for news of the day and other promotable stories, rather than by event timelines from the news daybook.

Talk About How the Stories Will Appear on the Air

Debating story treatment is one final-and sometimes overlooked-element to managing a good morning meeting. Don’t just talk about what to cover; talk about how the stories will appear on the air. For example, the whole country was concerned about the Washington-area sniper shootings last year. One of the most captivating angles was how someone could shoot so accurately over long distances and then disappear so cleanly. Baltimore’s WBAL-TV brainstormed early in the coverage what was obviously synonymous with 100 yards. Their reporter shot a standup with a telephoto lens at a nearby football field to visually dramatize for viewers what these rifles could do. When the snipers were captured late at night, Good Morning America sketched for viewers and their stations an animated graphic showing the inventive car trunk “pill box” the gunmen used to execute their plot so effectively. They beat the other networks by 12 hours.

What’s helpful about all this creative debate is you are helping formulate interesting promotable angles to stories rather than just promoting, “Live with the latest,” “More details,” or the event itself, which may be old news. The earlier in the day you drive the news marketing agenda, the better off the news department will be. The news department needs to admit they can’t get there in today’s fragmented markets without the proper marketing.

Marv Danielski, vice president of marketing for Hearst-Argyle, has a lot of experience and success in his station group with this approach: “Mutual respect comes from mutual communication. Both entities must be actively engaged in the editorial process.”

Danielski says the promotion department needs to remember that the price of admission to the editorial meeting is story ideas, interesting topics and the ability to communicate and determine what topics are newsworthy and promotable. He advises that the news director and the creative services director must both be actively engaged in this process multiple times on a daily basis.

But it all begins with the editorial meeting. As Danielski says, “Successful stations place a premium on developing this process into a strong mutually important relationship. Other stations fail because they can’t execute this fundamental editorial and communication process.”