Getting Results Means Remaining Relevant

Mullen: Advertisers still need to reach a local audience

Like the company he works for, Pat Mullen is results-oriented. Early in his TV career, he took charge of a startup stand-alone independent in the Grand Rapids, Mich., market with virtually no revenue and turned it into a station with cash flow in excess of $10 million and a 20% share of the market's revenue.

Acquiring a Fox affiliation along the way didn't hurt that effort. Still, the numbers speak for themselves, and, when Tribune acquired WXMI(TV) Grand Rapids in 1998, it was no great surprise that Dennis FitzSimons, then running Tribune Broadcasting, was curious to see whether Mullen could get similar results at other stations as well.

FitzSimons asked him to take charge of Tribune's six Fox affiliates. That was in mid 1998. A year later, Mullen added six of the company's WB affiliates to his duty roster and relocated to corporate headquarters in Chicago, becoming regional vice president in charge of a dozen Tribune TV properties.

Three years later, Mullen was named president of Tribune's Television group and, earlier this year, succeeded FitzSimons (now CEO of the entire company) as president of Tribune Broadcasting.

So, in three years, Mullen went from running a stand-alone Fox affiliate in market 38 to running the fourth-largest (by revenue) TV-station group in the country. By any standard, that is a career on the fast track.

Not bad for a guy who started out in the insurance business. In fact, Mullen considers his 31/2 years there a critical training ground: "That's where I learned to sell."

He also didn't let a significant learning disorder—dyslexia—hold him back. Diagnosed when he was in high school, Mullen, ever the optimist, says such a disorder can be an advantage "because it forces you to learn differently than most people. You see things from a little bit different perspective."

A native of Michigan, Mullen attended the University of Michigan in the mid 1970s. After two years, though, he grew bored with college life and "wasn't really sure why I was there. I went into the sales business and never looked back."

That's when he pulled up stakes and traveled west to California to seek his fortune, hooking up with the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. in San Francisco. He did well for himself financially, he says, but soon became bored with the life-insurance game (what, actuarial tables, boring?).

One good thing about college, Mullen recalled at the time, was that he found some of his TV and radio courses fairly interesting. So, after 31/2 years of selling insurance, Mullen moved back to Michigan, where he and wife Kim had decided they would rather raise a family, and he blanketed his home state's broadcasters with résumés. He landed a job with a Traverse City TV station and was promoted to sales manager within a year. After a short stint in Fayetteville, N.C., it was back to Grand Rapids, where, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Looking forward, Mullen says the biggest challenge for the industry is keeping its eye on the ball and remaining relevant to local viewers and, in Tribune's case, to readers as well. "Local advertisers still need to reach large local audiences," and there's no better way to do that than with well-run TV and newspaper outlets, he says.

Mullen's day is a long one. He's usually in the office by 6:30 a.m. and out by 6:30 p.m. And there's a lot of travel, both to the 26 TV stations he oversees and to various industry-related activities (he sits on the board of the National Association of Broadcasters, the Television Advertising Bureau and the Association of Maximum Service Television). He figures the travel adds up to two or three days a week 40 weeks a year.

Still, Mullen manages to squeeze in some fun time. He's an avid hunter and fisherman, a tennis player, "and a poor golfer but I love it."