Toni Erickson Knight turned advertising straw into gold when Fox decided in 1997 that it no longer wanted its regional sports networks to focus on the infomercial business.
Taking a team of four others with her, Knight opened her own firm specializing in matching clients with infomercials and direct-response ads—those that list 800 telephone numbers for viewers to call and purchase an advertised product—with cable sports networks. The market quickly proved what Knight suspected: There was a lot of demand for a firm that could place those atypical, less glamorous types of ads and very little supply.
"Personally, I wanted to go to a different level," Knight says about spinning her company off from Fox. "I wanted to develop a boutique infomercial-sales company that would expand into a global marketing company."
She lost no time pursuing her vision. A year after she started the company in March 1997, Knight's little company quickly expanded from representing just Fox's regional sports networks to representing all regional sports networks for infomercial and regional spot advertising sales.
Soon, Knight and WorldLink were bringing infomercials, direct-response ads and other integrated packages to national cable networks and broadcast stations. WorldLink offers services that many TV stations and smaller cable networks don't want to do for themselves, such as accounting. That allows networks and stations to collect revenue without incurring new overhead.
"She created a niche and then made a success out of it," says Barry Jacobs, president of E&M West/Camelot Media. "She created a formula that doesn't exist in any other place but her company. She had the initiative to find that formula and then the persistence to make it work."
Says Young Broadcasting Executive Vice President Deb McDermott, "She gets you the cream of the crop of that industry. She approaches it in a very professional manner and helps the stations achieve their goals by earning revenue for them while putting quality programs on the air. She tries to make sure the advertisers' goals are in sync with the stations' goals."
That business model made so much sense in the U.S. that WorldLink soon began attracting international customers. It quickly was offering advertising-sales services to networks in Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 2001, Knight launched WorldLink Español to service the rapidly growing U.S. Hispanic market. In the U.S., the company represents cable networks Fox SportsNet, Fox Sports World, TNN, CMT, Comcast SportsNet and Rainbow and broadcasters Pax Net, Twentieth Television, Young Broadcasting and Granite Broadcasting.
International clients include CNBC Europe and Australia, MTV Latin America, Nickelodeon Latin America, Fox Sports World Español, Telemundo, E! Entertainment Latin America, The History Channel, Hallmark Channel International, STAR and National Geographic.
WorldLink also has relationships with some 250 advertising agencies in the U.S. and internationally and offices in Los Angeles and New York. In less than seven years, it has grown from five employees to 70.
Aware that too much growth can cause businesses to go under, Knight has been careful to manage her company's expansion. "When we surpassed 50 employees, I stopped and look-ed to make sure we had maintained our focus."
Last September, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council awarded its certification to WorldLink, after the company proved it was more than 51% owned-and-operated by female leadership. That allows WorldLink to offer customers proof that they are doing business with a company committed to diversity.
WorldLink also has created syndicated weekly half-hour America's Moving To… to showcase advertisers' products. Main corporate sponsor is Ryland Homes, and WorldLink also sells other sponsorships, contests, promotions, Internet tie-ins and product-integration packages as well as traditional spots. So far, the show is cleared in 33 markets and 30% of the country.