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Keefe Keeps Stations on Course

For Kathleen Keefe, head of sales for Hearst-Argyle Television, management training began at a young age. The second-oldest of nine children, Keefe got a crash course in the nuances of motivation and management in the North Haven, Conn., home of her childhood by dint of her birthright. The daughter of a paper-sales manager and a registered nurse, she was given the arduous responsibility of looking after numerous siblings as a kid. “It very much influenced how I progressed in my career, and how I manage people today,” says Keefe. “My experiences growing up really come in handy.”

These days, Keefe oversees a far larger brood from her New York office: Hearst-Argyle's 29 TV stations. Lately, it has been a challenge to run TV sales, with the digital playbook changing every day and every news outlet in America clamoring for revenue while a mammoth presidential campaign begins its long march. With her three decades in the game, and a deep Rolodex of industry contacts, there's no one Hearst-Argyle CEO David Barrett would rather have heading up his sales operation. “Kathleen's got terrific experience, and such a variety of experience,” he says. “She's got in-depth knowledge of how TV sales are transacted, both at the local and national level, and she can really help us elevate our game.”

Rising Through the Ranks

Her wealth of experience began in the late '70s as a media buyer at Young and Rubicam in New York. After six years in sales at TV rep firm MMT Sales, she took up with the Post-Newsweek station group, moving up the ranks at hometown station WFSB Hartford, Conn., before being named general sales manager in 1989 by then-GM Chris Rohrs, currently president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB).

“I think promoting Kathleen was the first move I made,” says Rohrs. “She's always been very proficient in the science of the business but has absolutely not forgotten that it's still a people business.” Indicating Keefe's knack for building and maintaining key relationships, some 18 months ago, Rohrs tapped her for the TVB board of directors' executive committee. (She has been a board member since 2000.)

Keefe worked her way up to VP of sales at the Post-Newsweek stations, citing industry luminaries as personal mentors, such as past Washington Post publishers Katherine and Donald Graham (Donald is Katherine's son) and former Post-Newsweek President Bill Ryan. “Bill is/was one of the best leaders I ever encountered,” she says. “I would follow him over any hill if he told me we had to take [it].”

She made the jump to Hearst-Argyle in 2001 and immediately helped build the station group into one of the nation's most elite. Today, she's focused on strengthening convergence packages (combining television and Web avails) and establishing the broadcast group as a leader in terms of marketing hopefuls in the 2008 presidential field. One concept on the agenda: figuring out how a 30-second television spot translates to the Web, whether it's a 10- or 15-second pre-roll or a different length altogether. “It doesn't even have to be a fixed length,” Keefe says. “It could be nine seconds, 11 seconds. We're still figuring it out.”

Leaders in News

Keefe believes the key to capturing the lion's share of political monies is having the best news in the market, and she feels the Hearst-Argyle stations are doing a pretty fair job of that.

“I think eight of our stations were No. 1 in every major newscast in February, and another dozen or so were either No. 1 or No. 2,” says Keefe. “They're very strong properties, and they'll be a magnet for political advertising.”

She's also working on retooling the station Websites, although she's very reluctant to share details about the overhaul. Working with Internet Broadcasting (IB), the entire station group will get upgraded sites, featuring more video, more user-generated content relating to news, such as natural disasters, and a substantial blog presence for the election. “They'll be very different from what people have seen,” she says. “They'll be modern, fun and easy to navigate.”

Barrett says Keefe has done a stellar job of getting the Hearst-Argyle sales force focused on selling multiple platforms. “There's a growing awareness in our company that there's additional inventory that's of great value,” he says. “They've made a commitment to expand their skill set every day; we're building smarter sales people.”

Iron Will

When Keefe's not concentrating on keeping the Hearst-Argyle stations ahead of the curve, she unwinds by watching programs like Ugly Betty, Heroes and The Sopranos, reading the works of Barbara Kingsolver and John Updike (she also raves about Ishmael Beah's new boy-soldier memoir A Long Way Gone), and partaking in sports, such as paddle tennis, skiing and her primary passion, golf.

While Keefe says her move to the concrete confines of Manhattan has not done much for her game, she's intent on lowering that 22 handicap. “My short game needs work,” she says with a laugh. “That's my goal this summer.”

Rohrs, for one, knows not to take Keefe lightly on the links. “She's passionate, she's positive, and she's extremely competitive,” he says. “Kathleen brings the same qualities to her golf game that she brings to sales.”