Miserable circumstances, in abundance in 2020, can bring out the best in people. In the early days of the pandemic, the building housing Univision’s TV and radio stations in Miami was contaminated with COVID, and Claudia Puig, Univision Miami president and general manager, had to make some quick decisions. She decided to evacuate the building, and WLTV ended up doing its 5, 6 and 11 p.m. news March 25 from the parking lot.
The production truck bearing the station logo served as the anchors’ backdrop. The rain mercifully held off. The newscasts went to air smoothly.
Station Group of the Year: ABC Owned Television Stations
GM of the Year, Markets 1-25: Claudia Puig, Univision Miami
GM of the Year, Markets 26-50: Joel Vilmenay, WDSU New Orleans
GM of the Year, Markets 51+: John Ware, KPLC, Lake Charles, La.
News Director of the Year: Amber Eikel, KTVU San Francisco
Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year: Tegna
“We laugh about it now,” Puig said. “But we were sweating bullets at the time.”
Puig brings savvy problem-solving skills to a crisis, abundant enthusiasm to most everything she does, and an unyielding desire to keep South Florida’s Hispanic community informed and engaged. “I like to use the word passionate — it never leaves her,” Univision president, Local Media Group Diane Kniowski said. “Claudia and Univision — they’re one. It defines her. It’s who she is.”
Kniowski said Puig had about 90 minutes to figure out a Plan B that day in March. She ended up devising a Plan C, too — what Kniowski called a “redundant news production” facility at KMEX, Univision’s Los Angeles station, for the next time a crisis hit WLTV Miami, or any other station in the group. “She helped us prepare,” Kniowski said. “She said, this can’t be a surprise anymore.”
Gifted and Talented
Kniowski also mentioned how, in the early days of the pandemic, Puig organized gift-basket deliveries to advertising clients. Stocked with items to help deal with the pandemic along with various mood-brightening tchotchkes, Univision Miami staffers delivered the baskets and reminded advertisers that the stations were thinking of them. “It was, ‘You matter, we’re with you,’ ” Kniowski said, describing Univision 23 deliveries as “a little army of goodwill.”
Puig oversees two TV and four radio stations. She described the “pillars” of the local media outlets as education, healthcare, financial prosperity and civic engagement. As COVID wreaked destruction on the national and local economy, Puig set up a small business hotline, where local entrepreneurs could offer home delivery and takeout, as well as coronavirus-related products and services. The hotline evolved to promote job openings. As each TV and radio program wrapped, people were encouraged to call. “It helped employees find a job, and businesses find employees,” Puig said.
That’s the job Univision Miami performs in DMA No. 16. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the Univision outlets play a “huge role” for Hispanics in South Florida — both in terms of keeping the audience informed with vital information, and supporting beloved community events, such as the Three Kings Day Parade. “They’re a great community partner,” Suarez said.
Growing Ratings and Revenue
Revenue has been a horror show for just about every station in America in 2020,
but Puig’s creative approach has sparked some upside. Univision’s TV and radio stations in Miami outperformed revenue goals for nine consecutive months, and doubled political ad revenue from 2016 to 2020.
In the November sweeps, WLTV won late news among all Miami stations, with a 4.1 in households and 2.1 in 25-54 demo.
Kniowski mentioned daily lifestyle program El News Cafe, and how this “revenue generator” of a show, which features local client integrations, stayed on the air in the thick of the pandemic, never missing a day. Puig and her Univision 23 colleagues “came up with a million different ways to tell a story,” she said.
Univision Miami also played a huge part in getting residents registered to vote. Univision 23 has long held registration drives around the market, such as at shopping malls. But COVID meant in-person events could not happen, so the station shifted to Facebook Live sessions, answering users’ questions about voting, interviewing election officials and supplying the information would-be voters needed. WLTV phone banks also sparked voter registration.
Such initiatives are “ingrained” in the stations, Puig said. “We really want to empower Hispancis to have a voice,” she added.
Across this eventful year, WLTV contributed significant stories to the dialogue on COVID, on the social unrest, the election and, more recently, the challenge of Hispanic children learning remotely in South Florida.
Puig was born in Havana and moved to the United States as a young girl. Her father Manuel was a rower in the 1948 Olympics, and was executed for his role in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Puig’s widowed mother turned up in the U.S. with her four children. “I was the oldest,” said Puig, who was 7. “I was the quasi-Mom.”
Her childhood travails gave Puig empathy for those in the market who seek out trusted local media to answer questions and address needs. “Claudia is very engaged, very personable, very plugged into the community,” Suarez said.
Overseeing a staff of just over 100, Puig looks forward to a time when the station business is just about putting out standout local programming and supporting community events, not figuring out Plans B and C in a crushing pandemic.
“We miss being all together,” Puig said. “But it’s remarkable how we’ve been able to do our jobs and continue to serve our community under the circumstances.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.