I’ve always been into Sci Fi. First books when I was a kid then movies and television. When Star Trek first debuted on a Thursday night in 1966 I was eagerly sitting in front of the set watching the voyages of the starship Enterprise. I remember one memorable episode the Enterprise was under attack and in the middle of the melee a comely yeoman with a clipboard approaches Capt. Kirk for his signature while he’s barking orders to the crew. I thought that was the coolest thing and vowed someday I’d get a job where I had to sign my name a lot. The irony has not escaped me forty years later when every Thursday I usually groan after seeing the stack of checks the Business Office has dropped on my desk for my signature.
I’ve told the story previously of hiring Edye Tarbox now E.D. Hill of Fox News for an anchoring job in Pittsburgh. The station was WPXI-TV; the NBC affiliate for the Steel City, the year was 1986. The promotion director at the time (they weren’t called marketing directors yet) was a genuinely smart and good guy named Steve Riley. Edye was teamed up with the current male anchor Mike Hambrick. It was Steve’s job to craft a promotional campaign to introduce this freshly minted team to the market. A lot of people used city busses in Pittsburgh. It could have been the narrow streets and dearth of downtown parking that drove them to it but whatever the reason a lot of them did.
One of Steve’s ideas was a bus billboard campaign. On the side of the bus the billboard would read, “Mike & Edye Are On This Bus.” On the back of the bus would be a picture of Mike & Edye. As Steve presented the concept in a meeting with me and the general manager I groaned and shook my head.
“I take it you don’t like this idea,” said the GM.
“I hate it,” was my reply.
“What’s wrong with it?” asked Steve.
“Well for one we’re lying to people. Mike & Edye aren’t on the bus,” I shot back.
“Sure they are,” he replied. “Their picture's on the back.”
“Oh please. We’re lying to folks and they are going to see right through it. This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with promotion,” I shot back.
The argument went on in this vein for a while and stopped when we both looked to the GM for guidance.
“I gotta tell you Mike I don’t have a problem with it.”
I gasped in disgust and did a pantomime of washing my hands as I left the meeting. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and the bus campaign is launched. It was one of the most successful anchor campaigns I’ve ever seen. It just caught fire.
Radio stations jocks started talking about Mike & Edye are in our studios. Restaurants put signs in their windows: Mike & Edye are in this restaurant. A local magazine that wouldn’t give us the time of day before put the two on their cover with the headline Mike & Edye are in this magazine. It was huge, got us some much needed attention and jump started the new team. I went to Steve, apologized for being a jerk and learned a valuable lesson in humility, something that doesn’t come easy to news directors or general managers.
Steve is now the Marketing and Promotions Director at WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Most people never noticed but under the picture of my first WKRN ID badge in the space for name and job title it read: Michael Sechrist...Starfleet Commander. After 9/11 it seemed trite and I had it changed.