“Strategic communication is one of those terms that we hear thrown around a lot in the communication field. And what we're talking about with strategic communication really is the idea that we all communicate with each other daily, in organizations, interpersonally, with family and friends. And that communication is designed to relay a message between you and me right now to achieve some objective. When we talk about strategic communication, we're really talking about looking at a vision, objective or goal for an organization and developing the communication that will help us achieve those objectives or those goals over time.
“It's a field that's evolved over the years and one that I really enjoy working in because it involves not only helping organizations get from where they are today to where they want to go. But it also involves elements of crisis communication, issue communication and a range of other things that organizations are dealing with daily. I still enjoy teaching and helping the next generation of communicators.”
What made you want to take on the assignment?
“When I got to know the team here at WKAR, what I found was just a great group of people who come to work every day with this idea that there's a community out there that needs information, a community out there that needs support, a community out there that relies on this station and the people at this station to keep them informed. And while it's very different than the type of service that I spent my career engaged in, it's still service to people who need your support. And so, I felt this natural kinship with the folks here. When this opportunity came along, I will tell you the only thing that gave me pause was the fact that Susi Elkins was such a phenomenal general manager here and has done such great work that I think you have to stop and think about following in the footsteps of someone like that.
“The members of the WKAR team know what they're doing, and they don't need me to tell them what to do or how to do it. What they needed was someone to step in and be a leader and provide the space for them to continue to serve this community and to continue to do the things that they've been doing for so long and so well in this community. And so I said, ‘Yeah. I'll take this opportunity to do that.’”
What do you see as some of the challenges facing WKAR and the opportunities inherent in some of those challenges, and what are some of your goals to meet those along the way?
“We're at a sort of inflection point in public media where the days of simply turning on your television or turning on your radio and reaching your audience over the air are quickly going to be behind us. Now, to be clear, there will always be people who want to receive their news and information by turning on the television and getting it that way. And we are never going to abandon those people. We'll always be there for them. But what we've found is that there is an increasing number of people out there who want to receive their news and information on different platforms and through different digital means at different times. Sometimes they want it on demand and sometimes they want it live. And as I said, they want it from many different sources. And we must respond to that.
“It's one of the reasons why during my time as interim, I'm very focused on a digital transformation that looks across our enterprise and makes sure that all the information that we are distributing and providing to the community is getting out through multiple digital platforms. We've got to make some adjustments. We've got to change. Every time I see a challenge, I see an opportunity. This is a really great opportunity for us to not only do better for our listeners and for our viewers, but to also be leaders in the public media space with the approach that we take.”
What is the Century of Service?
“WKAR will celebrate 100 years of service this year on August 18. WKAR Radio will be 100 years old that day. It is an unbelievable milestone that we are going to celebrate. WKAR Radio started out 100 years ago providing agricultural information to farmers in the Greater Lansing area. And over the years, we have been innovators at every turn with the support of MSU. We were an early adopter of television, and WKAR was one of the founding members of NPR and of PBS. There's an amazing amount of history and a great legacy here at this station.
“When I think about things that excite me in the digital transformation, there's an opportunity to grow our audience. Public media tends to have an older audience. We tend to have people who are less entrenched in all things digital. But here's where it gets interesting. When you look at the content that's being developed here at WKAR and you look at the content that's being developed by PBS across the enterprise, that content speaks to a diverse cross section of audiences. It speaks to different communities across the country. We know that we have content that will appeal to people who may not be traditional public broadcasting consumers. The challenge for us is to figure out how to get that content to them.
“We know that once we get it to them, they engage with it. We know that they like it, and we know that they'll keep coming back for more. I see this as a real opportunity for us to expand the audience of public media. I also see this as a way to serve the community. We like to refer to this as super serving the community, that is to give them more than what they expect and constantly exceed their expectations.
“WKAR has been serving this community for 100 years, and we are going to continue to serve the Greater Lansing community, not only over the air, but out in the community. In order to stay connected with you, we have to be where you are. We have to get information into the channels that you want us to communicate through in order to reach you. Our objective is to provide news and information that gives our audience a view of the world that they might not get in other places. We are here to serve the community and to be a part of the community, and we're going to continue to make that our priority.”
MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and wherever you get yours shows.