It didn't take Lori McFarling long to earn the nickname “McMarketing” after she started at public-affairs cable network C-SPAN in 1986.
“Early on, we referred to her as our secret weapon,” says Kate Hampford, who hired McFarling at C-SPAN and now runs her own consulting firm. “She's cute, bubbly and funny, and she got you going with her personality. But if you thought she was going to be a pushover or that she didn't know her stuff backwards and forwards, you were wrong.”
Today, McFarling, 41, has parlayed her talent and passion for marketing into her current position as senior vice president of distribution and marketing strategy, affiliate sales and marketing, at Discovery Networks. She is also the winner of a Vanguard Award for Marketing from the National Cable Telecommunications Association, which she will pick up in San Francisco this week.
“At C-SPAN, there was this sense that no job was too big for anyone,” McFarling says. “Everyone rolled up their sleeves and dove in because they were so passionate about their work. C-SPAN imbued that sense in me that you have to be passionate about what you do and you have to be collaborative with your teammates.”
When McFarling started at Discovery in 1988 as an account manager for Northeast regional sales, she only had one network to promote: The Discovery Channel. Today, Discovery comprises 14 (soon to be 16) analog and digital cable networks, not to mention high-definition, video-on-demand and broadband offerings.
“The way consumers access content is changing daily,” McFarling says. “A couple of years ago, no one would have envisioned that you would watch a television program on your cellphone.
“But you still have to speak to the consumer in a way that makes them understand how the product benefits them,” she adds. “In this time where consumers are faced with millions of choices every day, we as marketers have to be really good at stepping back, being clear, being focused and speaking from a perspective of consumer interest.”
McFarling's employer and her colleagues note two things about her: First, she has an uncommon ability to see complicated situations in their simplest terms, allowing everyone in the room to understand and thus buy into a concept.
“She can take a very complex situation, boil it down quickly and figure out what needs to be done,” says her boss, Bill Goodwyn, president of affiliate sales and marketing at Discovery. “You can't teach that.”
Second, she considers her clients' needs first. As a result, her campaigns benefit cable operators and consumers, as well as Discovery.
“I learned that when I was at my first job at Procter & Gamble in Los Angeles,” McFarling says. “P&G's big edict was that you don't walk into a conversation with your objective stamped on your forehead. You have to understand what your client's objectives are and then step back and look at what appropriate assets you have to offer. You then have to leverage those assets to further your client's objectives at the same time you are furthering your own.”
For example, McFarling and her team developed a campaign for Cox Communications using the talent from TLC's What Not To Wear to promote Cox's bundled services. In the spots, style experts Stacey London and Clinton Kelly talk about bundling up in clothes for winter, comparing it to buying bundled services from Cox. In another Cox promotion, Discovery features carpenters from TLC's While You Were Out, comparing the difference between power and hand tools to the difference between broadband and dial-up access.
“I really appreciate marketing people who are always thinking about the consumer and not just their own company objectives,” says Joe Rooney, senior vice president of marketing for Cox Communications, who was a Vanguard winner last year.
At Time Warner, McFarling and her team created a promotion that featured Discovery HD Theater as a way to drive consumers to Time Warner Cable's high-definition services.
“When I work with Lori and Discovery, they are always aware of what my priorities are,” says Brian Kelly, SVP of marketing at Time Warner. “They don't come in asking me what am I focused on, because they already know. They take it to another level.”
Says Goodwyn, “We launched digital channels in 1996, and Lori quickly figured out that to bring people to those networks, we needed to create campaigns that drove people to upgrade their cable service and buy digital boxes. She was probably one of the first people to figure that your campaigns with affiliates have to do much more than promote the network,” he adds. “They also really have to benefit the operator's bottom line.”
While creating marketing campaigns that help both the operator and the network may seem like common sense, it is not always how business is done in the cable industry.
“A lot of places aren't like that,” says Hampford, “especially places that are run by companies that own broadcast networks.”
McFarling is known for her skills as a strategic thinker, but she also wins high praise for her people skills.
“Lori always had an upbeat attitude, and she was always friendly,” says Brian Lamb, chairman/CEO of C-SPAN. “I can see her smile more than anything else.”
For McFarling, the cable industry has become a lifestyle as much as a career. She met her husband, Tim, while she was working at C-SPAN, and many of her closest friends are in the industry.
“It's exciting to be at Discovery every single day,” she says. “I look at what the company has accomplished from the time John Hendricks started it out of his basement to where it is now as a worldwide media organization, and it's incredible.”