HRTS Member Profile: Dustin Smith
Dustin Smith is Vice President, Communications at TLC. I recently had a chance to interview Dustin to discuss gossip, Trading Spaces, and the blurry line between real time and production time.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-I was a TV junkie even as a kid, loving it and all forms of entertainment. The power of popular culture is a fascinating thing, and has only grown more engaging and immediate over time. I decided to study Communications in college and that led me on a path to work in the world I was most passionate about. After a few years at a PR agency in Boston (I’m from Massachusetts) to build my foundation, I became a publicist at WGBH, Boston’s public television producer and station. Five years later, I found myself arriving in Los Angeles and soon after, here at TLC. It’s been more than seven years now, and no day is exactly the same. I love having one foot each in the creative and corporate worlds – it’s a great balance for me, and keeps me challenged and energized.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-It’s been a few years. I had been hearing our executives and peers at other networks attending and coming back from lunches and events with compelling anecdotes, conversations, and feedback. I knew it would be an amazing way to broaden my understanding of this industry, and meet the people who are making a difference.
Q: What is a favorite memory from your career thus far?
-It’s hard to narrow it down, but one of my first memories of TLC was bringing press to a shoot of Trading Spaces, which was a show I was an avid viewer of before I came to the company. It was wild stepping behind the screen and meeting the designers and other personalities that I had known as a fan. And to deliver press on top of that was exciting – I was now part of the team.
Q: What is the importance of branding?
-It’s critical. As a viewer, I rely on my relationship with various brands to guide my decision to sample a new show, because I know if I like other things on that network or platform, I’ll likely enjoy what’s new. I think FX and Amazon are champions of brand. As a TV executive, and in Communications, brand has to be the first thought in every decision we make – does this program make sense, what will our audience think, how do we tell this story that is engaging yet fresh. Of course, there’s a need to always evolve with the viewers to stay current and have an impact, but not to step too far outside your brand promise or else you’ll alienate your core fans and lose media investment.
Q: How are communications and PR different today than when you started?
-It’s been an incredible change. I’ve been doing press relations for 16 years and I think the biggest shift is the immediacy of most coverage. At a network that is often in the pop culture spotlight, digital media is critical, and breaking news, sneak peeks, and keeping momentum going is important. And there’s also a more gossip-driven media culture that demands more nimble strategy to stay ahead of and manage. Of course, it all comes down to relationships, and traditional sensibilities such as print pieces and strong broadcast segments remain as important to the overall story as high-impact, long-lasting digital breaks and stories. So we work across the board to keep our brand and programming front and center.
Q: How will communications and PR continue to evolve as a result of the transmedia landscape?
-It’ll become even more immediate – I’m talking to media on Twitter, and we’re sending shorter clips out more often because our digital press need to fuel the audience’s content cravings. Also, the line between real time and production time is blurring. On TLC, we follow real people living their real lives, and the audience and media want to be the first to know when they are celebrating milestones or other life changes. But, those fans are also fascinated to dig deeper into their story through our series. It’s a fine line – what to reveal, what to preserve. We also experiment with different ways to break news, such as on social media, and I am sure there’ll be more opportunities to speak with press and our audience directly as more platforms emerge.
Q: How do you see the television industry changing over the next few years?
-It’s obvious that there’ll be a continued shift in how and when viewers consume content. Binge viewing, on demand, mobile devices, etc, have already changed the way we interact with our fans, and we’ll continue to see a reshaping of the current business model. From a communications perspective, it’ll be critical to convey to press how we’re staying current and bringing our brand to our audience in ways they want to consume it. It’ll be about experimentation, social engagement, multi-platform strategies, and, ultimately, really good storytelling that people will talk about. EMPIRE is an amazing example of a show that bucked the trend of viewership and proved that there’s an audience out there willing to make appointment TV a priority. TLC has that with 19 KIDS AND COUNTING right now, as the family shares their weddings and births – it’s about the emotional connection you create with your fans and your brand. That won’t change regardless of how people actually watch their show.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-Thanks so much for considering me.