Q & A with Tegna Inc.: VP of Marketing Meredith Conte Shares Thoughts Around COVID-19 Advertising Spend and The Importance of Localization Moving Forward


We recently sat down for a Q & A with Meredith Conte, VP of Marketing at Tegna Inc. Tegna, a leading broadcast and digital media company, is one of Simpli.fi’s local media group partners.

Simpli.fi is proud to be a trusted partner to more than 150 local media groups who take advantage of our addressable, mobile, and OTT/CTV advertising capabilities. What’s more, our partnership support model offers an unrivaled array of service and training options, including digital sales enablement training through our Bullseye tool and ongoing in-person sessions from Simpli.fi’s highly experienced trainers. We work alongside our local media group partners through each stage of the process to ensure they are reaping the full benefits of Simpli.fi’s uniquely powerful audience targeting capabilities.

With that in mind, we are excited for this opportunity to sit down with one of our partners and hear Meredith Conte’s insights and analysis on a number of topics. As Tegna’s VP of Marketing, Meredith oversees various marketing functions for 62 local media brands. With extensive experience working in the media space, she is well-positioned to weigh in on current trends in the advertising industry. Topics covered in our Q & A include: ad spend over the past three months, trends in how national advertisers are approaching the various stages of economic reopening, what advertisers need to maximize ROI and reduce waste during reopening, and more.


Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and what you do at TEGNA.

I’ve spent the last 20 years working at mission driven media companies, focused on elevating their relationships with both consumers and advertisers. Here at TEGNA, one of the largest local media companies the U.S., my role specifically involves leading consumer marketing, ad sales marketing, production and design functions for our portfolio of 62 local media brands across 51 markets. Our marketing organization handles everything from new content launches and sales offerings to brand strategy and identity to set design and client production and more.


How have you seen advertising spend change over the course of the past three months? Are there certain industries that you see spending more than others? Why?

It’s been a real privilege to help our client base of more than 15,000 local business and national brands pivot the past few months. We’ve seen many brands revise their messaging, we’ve seen other brands completely overhaul their media plans and we’ve seen others more significantly invest. It’s really run the gamut depending on what their goals have been.

Categories where we’ve seen increased investment include home services since more consumers are at home and seeing areas of their home they want to improve. And as summertime arrives, we are also seeing greater investment from select travel and tourism brands, for instance, RV and camping companies. Consumers are looking for changes of scenery and ways to travel but want to make sure they’re doing so safely. State agencies are also turning to us as they look to amplify safety messaging, companies with significant corporate social responsibility messages are turning to us and really, a whole host of categories who know that the best way to survive a downturn is to remain present.


Many subject matter experts within the industry are projecting that local is the new national. What does this mean to TEGNA’s advertisers?

What I love about TEGNA is that we combine the best of both worlds. Locally, we are experts in the communities we serve. We’ve lived and worked in these communities for decades so there’s an expertise around local that other brands just can’t match. We give our clients the benefit of being present where consumers live, work, and play and our expertise helps our partners deliver relevant and targeted messages that speak to specific communities.

At the same time, we also offer our clients the benefits that come with national scale. We pair our on-the-ground expertise with a deep suite of solutions ranging from attribution to targeted OTT to multi-market opportunities and more. So what we’ve found is that between local expertise and national scale, our clients get a winning proposition.


What trends are you seeing across national advertisers during the various stages of economic reopening?

National brands seem to have a new curiosity around the power of local. They understand that the situation is not the same everywhere and that a one size fits all national solution is not going to be the answer when it comes to reopening marketing.

What’s been great to see is our partnership with national brands where we’re providing an eyes on the ground perspective of what’s happening. Our brands are deeply entrenched in our communities. We have relationships with mayors, city councils, local businesses, non-profit leaders and consumers. The national partners who look to us for that expertise are able to apply our insights in a way that makes their local activations that much stronger.

As an example, we’re working with a national fitness brand. Their locations will not be reopening simultaneously across the country so we’re developing a multi-market integrated marketing program that will roll out in phases as local restrictions lift. Because TEGNA has a birds eye view over nearly 40% of the country, we can help businesses like this understand what marketing solutions will work where and when.

And we can’t talk about trends without surfacing how brands are responding in the aftermath of the George Floyd case. Both COVID and George Floyd are playing a tremendous role for national and local brands. So we’re seeing companies working hard to balance the messaging they need to get out around safety, reopening, etc., as well as messages they want to amplify around diversity, inclusion and social good.

Our brands at TEGNA have been front and center in telling the stories around both these issues and that level of community understanding can really make a difference when a national or local brand goes to market.

National brands seem to have a new curiosity around the power of local. They understand that the situation is not the same everywhere and that a one size fits all national solution is not going to be the answer when it comes to reopening marketing.


As the country continues reopening, what do you think advertisers need to take advantage of to make sure they’re getting the most out of ad dollars & reducing waste?

Marketing in the age of COVID recovery requires a deeper understanding of the audience than what brands might undertake in a ‘normal’ situation. There is a much wider set of circumstances at play here in terms of where people live, what restrictions they’re dealing with, what their mindset is around reopening, what their employment status and financial status is, etc. So I encourage advertisers to think about a few things:

  1. What is the research approach to your plan? What data and consumer insights are you leaning on to help you build an effective reopening plan? Are those the right data sets, are there alternative ones you should be looking at, etc. Doing a good job with research on the front end will definitely improve effectiveness on the back end.
  2. How can your plan scale? Can you start small, evaluate performance and then expand as performance data comes in and shows you what’s working?
  3. What are your most important metrics? At the end of the day, what do you need the media to accomplish for you and how will you measure that? Marketing always starts with goal-setting but I think if you want to be as efficient as possible, you need to be really focused on the end game.

I also encourage brands to be very nimble because the plan you build today may need to change tomorrow.


What challenges will advertisers face in their path to reopen? What will be most important to them when it comes to driving superior performance?

Reopening will be very fluid with a lot of non-linear progress. The biggest challenge marketers will face is well defined. It’s fear, both their own and that of their stakeholders.

Adjusting to new operating conditions is daunting and with a roller coaster type of recovery at plan, it can be paralyzing. But a marketer must keep moving and learn to work with the uncertainty. The most important thing is for them to stay centered, stay focused and keep the trust and confidence of their customers, and their internal stakeholders, as true north.

As I mentioned earlier, the best thing marketers can be doing right now is listening. There are a ton of insights to be gathered from local governments to employees, from consumers to business partners. Today’s marketers need to gather the insights from their most important stakeholders and then use those insights to build out an all-encompassing reopening strategy – one that includes operations, pricing, staffing and marketing. All of these areas of the business have to work together to make business reopening effective. Marketing is at the center of it all and even though there is a lot outside our control right now and it’s very easy to get spun up into the chaos, what’s most important for marketers to remember is to lead. A steady hand and a listening ear will drive a winning outcome.


Speaking of performance, what do you think matters most to advertisers during this time when it comes to reporting and analytics capabilities?

These measures will vary industry by industry, but the three common threads that run through them all are accuracy, consistency and actionality. The performance data that advertisers receive needs to pass through three simple filters.

  1. Is it accurate? Has this data been gathered in a manner that ensures its validity and representation of measurable, articulable facts. In the absence of this, analytics surrounding performance in any area of the business an advertising is assessing lose their teeth.
  2. Is it consistent? Are the same analytics used across all time periods to produce true trend, and are they gathered using the same methods consistently to ensure visibility into an actual trend. Deviations from a consistent methodology can have a troubling effect on your analysis and drive poor decision making.
  3. Most importantly, is the data from your reporting and analytics actionable? What control over levers do advertisers have at their disposal to actually drive change in the data they are receiving. To be of value, the outputs from analytics and reporting must align with things that can be changed or manipulated by the advertiser as you adjust and adapt to changing conditions. Without actionability, data quickly becomes nothing more than news.


What are your predictions for the digital advertising industry for the back half of 2020?

I expect good things from digital as we prepare for the second half of 2020. With more people at home and online, the value and importance of digital advertising during this time period cannot be understated. More people are engaging with social media, digital content, podcasts e-commerce platforms and other popular digital channels – often while in front of the television, which underscores the importance of synchronization between digital and broadcast channels.

What will be critical for brands is to ensure they are in safe environments and the digital metrics they are getting back are free of fraud. This is something our digital teams at TEGNA work very hard at and something we expect from our publisher partners.


Lastly, anything else you would like to add?

These are historic times for American commerce. Multiple factors are converging at once to present hard-to-address challenges for businesses of all sizes in every corner of the country. Advertisers and marketers are treading in new space that has little to no history or playbook to call upon.

As leaders in this unique window of time, we have to remember the shadow we create today will remain part of the legacy of our businesses and our communities for years to come. So my hope is that we see brands respond to COVID and to the issues presented by the George Floyd case with tremendous thought and care.

As marketers, the answers to how you flourish during these times reside within the people that are experiencing them with you first hand. They are the ones who will inform you (and me) on what, how and when to communicate. Whether the channel is broadcast, digital or print – optimizing your marketing spend now is driven by listening before you speak.

I have been so pleased to see leaders coming together the past several months to listen, learn and engage. My sense is that when we look back, we’ll see that this was a time of measurable and positive growth for our both companies and communities.


To learn more about how Simpli.fi is helping local media groups successfully navigate these challenging times, reach out to us at hi@simpli.fi.