Residential Lighting: How did the idea for HGTV come about?
Susan Packard: The idea was Ken Lowe’s, who’s also a founder. He and his wife had built many homes and had no readily available, 24/7 place to get information. So when we came together as a founding group, we had individual experiences of building and remodeling homes and saw the need for a solution. Other cable networks were coming along, but this one was a big hole that no one had filled. I had been on the ground floor of a number of programming networks: CNBC, HBO, Cinemax, MSNBC. My expertise was the business side — building successful models that could be made national and international.
RL: What obstacles did HGTV encounter and how did you overcome them?
SP: The parent company of HGTV was a 160-year-old newspaper company. They had never done anything like this. They were high on the idea, but we had to convince them of the importance of creating a new culture with new people — none of us looked like anything they had ever seen before.
There’s a phase of a business, when you’re on the ground floor, called the concept sell. In my experience, people want to believe. They want to give you a chance. It’s very important that whatever you promise, you deliver on it. You have one chance. You put something on the air and if, for whatever reason, it turns off viewers, you don’t get them back. They have too many other choices.
Think about the end-user. That’s how you build a brand, something lasting, something that has good will. Overcoming obstacles goes back to fundamentals: Are you satisfying a consumer want or need? Are you in the marketplace offering something of value to the consumer? If the answer is no, then cut your losses.
Another thing that happens when building businesses is not defining the culture of the place. You don’t express, articulate or define expectations for people. If you don’t do that, then everybody runs around crazy. A little of that is expected with startups, but you really have to have clear guidelines about how people treat one another in order to build the brand. In the early days at HGTV, we talked a lot about “shared responsibility,” which helped us to trust one another and know that someone had our back. You go so fast that you have to be able to trust that others in the organization will pick up where you leave off.
RL: Have you ever had to bounce back from an outright failure?
SP: While I’ve had a lot of failure, I’ve had one or two more successes. So the answer is yes — everything from losing jobs, being up for a promotion and somebody else getting it in my place or losing pieces of business to others. It comes with the territory. Just realize that it’s like being a batter at the plate. If you hit 300, you’re successful, which means two out of three times you’re going to fail. It just requires resilience. In the past, when I’ve lost business to a competitor, I try to confront the situation and understand why it occurred and how to exert some control next time.
RL: What’s the latest from HGTV?
SP: All kinds of new programming will be debuted in January and February. I left the organization three years ago, but I stay close from a consulting standpoint. We continue to innovate and provide better formats. We’re putting a lot more layers of social media onto the programming. We talk to our customers all the time. We just hope we stay current and maybe one step ahead of them.