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Kim Guthrie: Quintessential Team Player

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 @ 10:23 AM

Kim Guthrie: Quintessential Team Player

The new president of Cox Media Group got her start in TV news before moving into sales and management, where she’s had a history of success, creativity and passionate support of her team members.

Back in 1986, Kim Bredar took a risk. The young TV journalist, just two years out of Iowa State University, made a major career move.

Since graduating with a journalism degree, she’d been working in TV news, making less than $11,000 a year. Her boyfriend (Todd Guthrie, who became her husband in 1988) who was in radio asked her if she’d ever considered selling advertising.

“Of course, I didn’t know what people sold. I was a news person for God’s sakes, I didn’t understand how the whole sales process works,” she recalls.

But Todd told her that it was similar to journalism, requiring only curiosity and a little courage.

“So I went into sales in a small market — LaCrosse, Wis. — selling an AM-FM combo and absolutely fell in love with the whole process of marketing and sales — and radio, too.”

The new career path took her from radio sales and management to TV management to the presidency of Cox Media Group. She reached the last milestone on Jan. 1, succeeding Bill Hoffman upon his retirement after 38 years with the company.

Big Shoes To Fill

Cox Media Group has the distinction of being the last major media company with both newspapers and broadcast stations.

The portfolio includes 14 TV stations and one local cable channel, 59 radio stations, seven daily newspapers and more than a dozen non-daily publications, and more than 100 digital services. In TVNewsCheck’s 2016 ranking of the top 30 station groups, Cox Media was ranked 14th with estimated 2015 spot revenue of $510.4 million.

Guthrie appreciates the challenge. “Bill Hoffman was such a great broadcaster and operator,” she says. “I can only hope to carry Bill’s legacy forward and pick up where he left off and find a great vision to continue doing great things here at Cox.”

And Hoffman seems sure that’s exactly what Guthrie will do. “Kim is a proven operator, believes in innovation, and is a trusted leader,” he says. “I have known Kim for nearly 15 years, she has the wonderful ability to drive for performance while making sure the culture supports bringing out the absolute best in people. She builds great teams and knows the importance of keeping CMG a highly-collaborative place.

Guthrie says her “natural sense of curiosity” has driven her “since I was five years old.” At Iowa State University in Des Moines, a journalism major was a no-brainer. “I enjoy reading, I enjoy writing, I enjoy the news and it just seemed like a natural for me.”

She was a DJ at the college radio station and also held down a job at ABC affiliate WOI-TV in nearby Des Moines. “I worked two years through college doing the Good Morning America cut-ins, those 7:25 and 8:25 little news breaks. I actually wrote, produced and anchored those breaks.”

Baked in Journalism

She also had an internship at WQAD-TV Davenport, Iowa-Rock Island-Moline, Ill., before graduating in 1984. A week later she reported to work at KAAL-TV Rochester, Minn.-Mason City, Iowa-Austin, Minn.

“I worked Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and I really feel I paid my dues those three years I worked there. I was a reporter and [on weekends] I did the weather and was a news anchor. I shot my stories, I edited my stories, I voiced my stories, I anchored the news. I did, you name it, for those three years. So I’m really pretty baked in journalism from those days.”

Nine months after taking that first radio sales job, Guthrie took a big step up, market-wise, moving to WLUM-FM in Milwaukee. The urban-formatted station was owned (and still is) by former Green Bay Packer legend and NFL Hall of Famer Willie Davis.

Guthrie spent five-and-a-half years at WLUM, advancing to local sales manager. When she was 30 and pregnant with her second daughter, she applied for the job of general sales manager and got it. “That was unthinkable in those days — to promote a pregnant woman to a sales management position. Until then, everybody who had had a baby had gone out on maternity leave and never came back. I don’t know if they were desperate or what, but I could not believe I got the job.”

In 1995, she moved to Minneapolis to become general sales manager of Hubbard Broadcasting’s KSTP-FM, under Ginny Morris.

Morris, who’s now chair-CEO of Hubbard Radio, fondly remembers Guthrie as “smart as a whip, tremendously creative. A real champion of her people [who] has a wonderful ability to bring the best out in the individuals she works with.” In addition, Morris says, “she’s got a wicked sense of humor.”

Her ambition was obvious to Morris. Hubbard was a much smaller company in the mid-1990s and “it was pretty clear that given the size we were then, we were not going to be able to satisfy her need to grow and expand,” Morris recalls.

Sure enough, in 1998, Cox Radio approached Guthrie with an offer to be VP-general manager of WBAB-FM and WBLI-FM on Long Island, N.Y., so she and her husband and three daughters moved east. “I certainly loved everything that Cox was about. I think a lot of people describe Cox as very similar to Hubbard Broadcasting only bigger. These are family-run companies, family broadcasters, true operators.”

Increasing Responsibility

Guthrie’s progression up the ladder at Cox since then has been frequent and steady:

2001 — Regional VP overseeing four other markets in addition to Long Island.

2009 — Group VP at the newly consolidated Cox Media, which marked her return to TV, since this job included oversight of both radio and TV stations in 10 markets. “I had three NBC affiliates and a pretty big handful of radio markets still. So I did a lot of traveling.”

2013 — Executive VP of the radio division comprising 59 stations, plus the company’s TV station in Tulsa, Okla.

2015 — President of Cox Reps (in addition to her EVP chores). “Jim Monahan, who had been president of the Cox Reps business was retiring and they asked if I would come run it and continue to oversee all of the national platforms.”

She also picked up oversight of Videa, a start-up that Cox has been building for about two-and-a-half years offering automated local TV buying technology, and Gamut, a digital media buying and selling service.

What’s On The Horizon

Looking at what’s ahead for her and Cox Media, Guthrie says: “I think this is a really disruptive time for our business and there are so many different ways to consume content that our approach so far in terms, not just of television, but all of our media interests is to have our brands available wherever our viewers, readers and listeners are looking for it. So whether that’s … in a mobile form or on the desktop or through some of these aggregators like NewsON …, there are just so many ways to consume our brands that we need to make sure that we’re putting ourselves out there wherever our audiences are trying to find us.”

With her first year as president falling in a non-election year, Guthrie won’t have a flood of political spending to fatten the P&Ls. But that’s OK, she says. “I’m very happy with our approach in sales that we don’t just wait for the phone to ring. We go out and make business happen and support our clients and our advertisers by being good resources to them, and I think our efforts on the digital sales front have been remarkable.

“To do more than just peddle spots, we really do try to solve problems for our customers, and often that means being more than just a television, radio or newspaper seller.

“You’ve got to be able to talk multimarket or [offer] a media mix … and advise them on other ways to advertise besides the traditional methods. Digital working together with legacy advertising is really effective and we are putting a ton of effort into our sales force to educate them so that they can help our clients. That’s going to help ride out those the odd years, the nonpolitical years.”

She’s also bullish on the possibilities of ATSC 3.0, the next-gen TV standard. “Everyone talks about data. Data is kind of the Holy Grail — to be able to serve up targeted ads. The issue of addressability is going to be huge for television and we’re not quite there, but we’re certainly baking those plans as we speak. Cox is right in the thick of all of that and we will continue to be.”

The company’s digital side and its rep businesses, also under her purview, are another growth opportunity, she says. “Creating great content is one thing, but you’ve also got to find a way to monetize it and I think we’re trying to be really aggressive and nimble on how advertisers want to purchase that advertising. I think we’ve got some pretty good solutions and smart solutions.”

But when asked what she sees as the biggest upside to her company, the journalist in her comes to the fore. “I think investigative journalism — watchdog journalism — is going to still be critical to our communities. I think audiences are going to need that and demand it in this world of fake news. I think it’s going to come back to the fact that people want credibility and they want to know that what they’re reading or watching has been proven, [that] someone did the fact checking, someone is looking out for them. I think that is always going to be important and I think our company is very well positioned to take advantage of that.”