Two TV stations — Tegna’s KING Seattle and Nexstar’s KXAN Austin, Texas — are using investigative journalism to differentiate themselves from their competitors. How do they make the station’s intermittent investigations into a reason to watch their news all the time? And is it successful?
TV stations looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the market are using investigative journalism as the main element of their branding.
KING and KXAN are two examples, marketing themselves as the stations that stand for investigative journalism in their markets.
“We have the only investigative unit here in Seattle,” says Jay Yovanovich, marketing director for KING, Tegna’s NBC affiliate there. “When I am looking at ways where we can differentiate ourselves, that is a no-brainer. Our brand is ‘We Stand for Truth,’ and there is nothing more truth-seeking than great investigative work.”
Joany D’Agostino, creative services director at KXAN, Nexstar’s NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas, says KXAN’s investigative content is a “unique differentiator that makes KXAN different from the other stations in this market. It attracts attention and trickles down to other platforms and other coverage.”
Since in-depth investigative stories make up only a small percentage of the many hours of local news a day, how do they extend the station’s investigations into a year-round reason to watch?
“You have full-scale marketing along with the investigations,” Yovanovich says. At KING, that starts with a “visually intriguing investigative image campaign, planting a flag that says we are doing this valuable work and it is really to help this community.”
In addition to the investigative image promos, “proof of performance” promos “have been tremendously effective because some people may see the investigation, some people may not,” Yovanovich says. “It tells the story in a succinct 30-second bite to show everyone and get more credit for all this great work that we do.”
D’Agostino says part of KXAN’s investigative marketing features a revolving spot using clips from the station’s investigative stories as a kind of “proof of brand.”
“It has the same message, but we just kept updating it,” D’Agostino says.
D’Agostino says every one of these “proof of brand” spots starts by saying this is another KXAN investigation that “started with a tip from you” and the results were change happens.
KXAN’s investigative team uses development sheets to track the progress for every story, D’Agostino says. “They identify the importance of the story, they talk about accountability and what kind of evidence they have.”
In-depth, multi-part investigative stories often have a high impact. Local TV news has powerful platforms to expose wrong and get positive results. And for many people experiencing problems, seeking help from local TV news can be a last, but welcome, resort.
Actively and consistently soliciting tips from viewers is part of a system called Report It at KXAN. Promoting and encouraging viewer tips, even if it’s just from one person, often leads to results benefiting many. Plus, it’s good branding.
“It is really just telling them that they can expect you are going to continually cover things for them,” D’Agostino says.
Both Yovanovich and D’Agostino say in order for an investigative branding to resonate with viewers, you’ve got to have the goods.
“It takes a dedication of resources to have an investigative unit operating at a station, especially one that is dedicated to turning investigations and it is not in the day mix,” Yovanovich says.
Not many stations have the staffing of reporters, producers and photojournalists to concentrate on in-depth investigations and not be in the regular daily mix of news coverage.
But for stations that do have the vision and the resources for an investigative team that is properly marketed, ratings success may follow.
Research at KXAN shows that people identify KXAN as the investigative station in the market “over and over again,” D’Agostino says.
Ratings for KXAN’s 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts were up 30% or more in December.
“We are the No. 1 station all the way across the board,” D’Agostino says.
When it comes to local TV news investigative teams, “I would just like to see more TV stations continue to go this route, because it is important work,” Yovanovich says.
Click here to read a Market Share column from March 2019 about how KING’s “Truth” campaign helped its news ratings.
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