Michael Greco takes pride when people refer to him as a number cruncher.
After several years as the head researcher at MTV, Greco, the new executive vice president of research at Lifetime Networks, says that research finally “has a voice at the table.”
“Early on in my career, research was more of a back-room operation,” admits Greco, 36. “Now, I see it recognized more across the board as a front-room operation. It's not about running the numbers and sliding them under the door.
“Research is really about telling the story and really making the research actionable,” he adds. “And it's so much more important to be able to say this show doesn't fit on this night and why.
“The job of research shouldn't be just to supply the numbers. The people who are reading [the report] shouldn't even have to read the numbers. They have the numbers as support. Research is about supplying recommendations. That's a really important philosophy to try to maintain.”
It's arguably more important than ever in a continually fractionalized media climate that has just endured a seismic shift in metrics from average program ratings to average commercial minutes, with some measure of DVR playback.
To that end, Greco and his team have undertaken a comprehensive study to gain a clearer picture of the Lifetime viewer in particular and women in general so that the network can more effectively program to them.
“This is really a deep dive into our demographic,” he says. “This is a lot less about the numbers and a lot more about understanding their passion points on various topics from religion to technology to motherhood and politics, and how those attitudes change by generation or by other factors like being a mother or not being a mother.”
The study employs focus groups, ethnographies, online surveys and polls, and aims to bring a little more psychology to the statistics. “It's really about deepening our understanding of today's women and how to speak to them,” he says.
That's information Greco can use on a personal level as well since he lives in a household of women: wife Katie and daughters Lily, 3, and Zoe, 1.
“There's got to be some joke in there about maintaining a relationship with my daughters and my wife by diving in and doing some women research,” he says.
Greco met his wife while they were both working at the Bozell Group before it was acquired by Interpublic and folded into the company's media negotiating entity Magna Global. It was at Bozell under the tutelage of Steve Sternberg, current Magna Global executive vice president and director of audience analysis, that Greco learned the nuts and bolts of research.
“From the day I hired him, Mike had an insatiable appetite for knowledge, to learn how things were done and to expand his responsibilities,” says Sternberg. “He had an innate grasp for the intricacies of the business, and all I needed to do was open some doors and point him in the right direction.”
After a stint at Bozell, Greco went on to media services giants BBDO and OMD, and in 2000 jumped to MTV, where as senior vice president of research he oversaw primary research on all MTV brands and across multiple platforms.
Seven years at MTV may not have done much for his cool credentials. “I was the least cool person in the MTV building,” he laughs. “Although I did become cool to my youngest cousin because I was able to bring her Beyoncé CDs and things like that.”
But Greco did learn many important lessons at MTV. “They're great branders,” he points out. “I definitely learned the importance of a brand strategy and how to do really insightful brand work, and also the importance of understanding your audience and having an ongoing and constant dialogue with your audience.”
AFFINITY FOR NUMBERS
Greco didn't grow up with dreams of becoming a research guru. But an affinity for numbers led him to study accounting at Bryant College in Rhode Island.
“After one semester of accounting, I decided I didn't want to become an accountant,” he recalls. He changed his major to marketing and when his junior year rolled around, he began to wonder: “What the hell am I going to do with this marketing degree?”
His college adviser counseled him to think outside the box. “She told me I needed to dream a little bit,” he says, and advised him to follow his passion. “Being a 19-year-old guy, I was passionate about sports and television.”
That led him to New Haven, Conn., TV station WTNH, where he landed an internship with the director of research. After college, he went to work at Nielsen as an analyst.
“I was always a numbers kind of guy,” he says. “But I was also interested in what makes people tick and consumer behavior, and everything that goes along with that.”
It's that psychological insight that makes Greco more than a numbers guy. “He, in my opinion, is going to redefine the role of research at Lifetime,” says Lifetime president Andrea Wong, herself a recent convert from head of reality programming at ABC.
“I knew he was our guy the minute I met him,” Wong says. “He is proactive. He is creative. He has lots of opinions, lots of recommendations. He'll tee up ideas that are very thought-provoking and worthy of discussion. He's an inspiration.”
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