With the pending arrival of two new lead anchors, WRTV-TV Channel 6 is preparing to embark on a big marketing campaign that station management hopes will lift it out of third place in the local ratings.
The campaign, which is set to begin next month to promote changes within WRTV's news division, will be marked by a flurry of billboard, radio, newspaper and, of course, television advertising, said WRTV General Manager Don Lundy.
But the centerpiece of the campaign takes a page from Gov. Mitch Daniels' 2004 campaign.
WRTV will send its two new nighttime news anchors on the road aboard a recreational vehicle to tour areas from Bloomington to Lafayette. The tour starts the last week of August. WRTV will also make a big marketing push at this year's Indiana State Fair, Lundy said.
In recent years, WRTV has been third in the local TV news ratings behind WTHR-TV Channel 13 and WISH-TV Channel 8. WXIN-TV Channel 59, which has a growing audience for its 10 p.m. newscast, also is applying pressure.
WRTV is losing its star anchor, Martha Weaver, who will depart Aug. 24 to return to her hometown of Minneapolis. Ray Cortopassi, Weaver's co-anchor from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., is being re-assigned to a field anchor and reporter position.
Replacing the duo beginning Sept. 10 are Todd Wallace, who comes from KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, and Trisha Shepherd, who comes from WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa. Wallace is originally from Baltimore and Shepherd hails from Chicago.
Industry experts see Weaver's departure as WRTV's opportunity for a much needed shake-up. Cortopassi has received mixed reviews as an anchor, and Weaver's popularity has slipped.
"You can't sit at No. 3 forever and not do anything," said Scott Uecker, a University of Indianapolis communications instructor and former board member of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
Lundy said the RV tour is more than mere marketing. It will also help the station learn what viewers want.
"We want to make sure these anchors get out in the community, hear from town officials and viewers and listen to what people have to say about their communities and about the way WRTV is covering the news," Lundy said.
WRTV officials may face an uphill battle in gaining loyalists.
"TV viewers like familiarity, especially when it comes to news anchors," said long-time local media buyer Bill Perkins, president of Perkins Nichols Media. "WRTV will have to spend a fare amount of money in marketing to get people to sample this new product."
Lundy said the budget for marketing its new anchor team is significant but he declined to reveal specifics.
Wallace will be one of few prime-time African-American news anchors here. Industry experts said that is a sign WRTV is attempting to broaden its audience.
The two new anchors, both in their 30s, were brought on simultaneously due to their chemistry, Lundy said.
"Todd and Trisha scored really well together with our test viewers," Lundy said.
Cortopassi's move, Lundy said, was made to capitalize on his strongest skills. "We think Ray is the strongest field reporter in town, and we want to build on that."
Marketing officials said a high six-figure or low seven-figure marketing campaign will be needed if WRTV has any hopes of gaining ground on WTHR and WISH.
Now is an especially critical time for WRTV's parent company, New York-based McGraw-Hill Cos., to invest in its Indianapolis station, observers said.
"It's never a good time to lose an anchor like Martha Weaver, but heading into the November sweeps, this is a critical few months for WRTV," Uecker said.
Viewer ratings provided by New Yorkbased Nielsen Media Research largely determines advertising rates for the following year. Since advertising during local newscasts comprises 40 percent to 60 percent of a local affiliate's revenue, those numbers are especially important.
"The November sweeps are even more important this year, because we're heading into an election year, and there will be millions of dollars in advertising at stake," Perkins said.
"Bringing on two new anchors at once is a gamble. WRTV has a couple of months to get people to like these new anchors. You can bet WTHR and WISH have their own plan to capitalize on the change."