A Traveling Man Stays Local

Sehring focuses on Cincinnati market
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Chris Sehring, VP and GM for Clear Channel's powerhouse CBS affiliate
WKRC Cincinnati, has honed his understanding of localism by traveling the
world. During his 30-year career in local TV, Sehring has taken time out to
hopscotch the globe, visiting such far-flung locales as Bhutan, Morocco and
Peru. In each place, Sehring says, he has made a point of learning about local
culture and values. He often travels solo and likes to take spontaneous bus
trips to little-known towns.

Abroad or at home, Sehring says, he learns from the locals. “I like to
get out into the community and listen. What are their needs? What are their
issues?” Cincinnati is hardly exotic, but the city has its own local customs
and priorities. Focusing on them is essential to WKRC's continuing success,
Sehring says.

A Columbus, Ohio, native, Sehring grew up watching WBNS Columbus, the
CBS affiliate that dominates central Ohio. It left a lasting impression.
“WBNS is a model for how a good station operates,” Sehring says. “They
are involved in the community, have great local programming and top-rated
newscasts.”

WKRC is a similarly strong performer. It is the news leader in the
market and ranks among the top five rated CBS stations anywhere in the country.
In Cincinnati, CSI scores big ratings. and
Survivor sizzles. Sehring says CBS'
programming meshes well with Cincinnati's more traditional, family-oriented
viewers.

The Procter & Gamble approach

The southern Ohio region, the 33rd-largest market in the country, is
home to several Fortune 500 companies, including the Kroger supermarket chain,
Federated department stores and Procter & Gamble, the city's most famous
employer. Sehring never worked at Procter & Gamble (or as a “Proctoid,”
as he refers to a P&G employee), but the consumer-products giant has shaped
his views on business.

“They believe in getting return on investment and moving product,”
Sehring says. That focus, he adds, applies to television, too. “Television is
the most powerful medium,” he says. “When I meet with nonprofits and
advertisers, I tell them the same thing: TV can win the hearts and minds of
viewers.”

Sehring developed his ad-sales savvy as he moved around the country
working for local stations, a common experience for local broadcast executives.
After graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Sehring worked at
sales-rep firm Telerep and spent two years learning the TV-ad-sales ropes. But
when the training program ended, Sehring headed to Europe to backpack, his
first of many travel adventures. He came home enlightened but broke, and
returned to Ohio to work as a salesman for WSYX Columbus.

From there, Sehring did stints at KPHO Phoenix, Meredith
Broadcasting's former independent and now a CBS station, and KMGH Denver, a
McGraw- Hill-owned ABC affiliate. At the two stations, he ventured beyond
sales, learning about news, programming and promotion. When Clear Channel
needed a station manager for WXXA, its Fox affiliate in Albany, N.Y., Sehring
got his first shot at station management.

The travels have all been training for WKRC, where Sehring arrived in
1999 as director of sales. Within a year, he took over as VP/GM, after former
WKRC chief Bill Moll was promoted to run the Clear Channel TV-station group.
One of Sehring's early moves was rebranding WKRC, which is channel 12, as
“Local 12,” a positioning Moll says was effective. “Viewers and
advertisers know 'Local 12' is not an empty promise,” Moll says. “It is
a thoughtful commitment to local service, to viewers, to advertisers and the
community.”

As he does when visiting another country, Sehring studies the Cincinnati
market closely, looking for trends and opportunities. That is how he hit on the
idea for Nuestro Rincon, WKRC's weekly
Spanish-language newscast. Two percent of Cincinnati residents are Hispanic,
and the population is fast-growing. “Someone needed to serve that audience.
As the local station, I wanted it to be
us,” says Sehring. “Some viewers took jabs at us, but they missed the
point. We are serving the community.” The station hired a bilingual anchor
and several producers to work on the newscast. It is an example of Sehring's
innovative spirit, Moll says: “Chris is the consummate local broadcaster.”

Karma connection

Another way for WKRC to connect with viewers, Sehring says, is to get
out into the community. That priority spawned WKRC's “12 on Tour,” which
sees the station's morning newscast broadcasting from smaller towns across
the market.

With these efforts and others, WKRC can count on its eight sister Clear
Channel radio stations for promotional support. But it can be challenging to
manage, Sehring says. “You can pull in other mediums when it makes sense.
That is when it is synergy.”

When the Cincinnati Zoo, which advertises on WKRC, was drumming up
attention for a new dinosaur exhibit, it called on the station for help.
Sehring organized a visit from Survivor star
Rupert Boneham and recruited the station's Clear Channel radio compatriots to
promote the event on-air. The event drew about 4,000 people.

Sehring is vigilant about maintaining WKRC's status and wary of
complacency. “It is hard to stay No. 1,” he says. “There is a tendency to
resist change, but I believe you have to change.”

Echoing a bit of Zen he picked up in the Far East, he says, “I believe
there is karma for the station. We need to always serve the community.”

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