A passion for local TV

If you mention Notre Dame to Chris Rohrs, you'll get an earful. You see, he's one of those alumni who believes that the function of all other schools is to field football teams that lose dramatically to the Irish. And, of course, if you happen to have spent four years in South Bend, you're in solid with the man.

But Notre Dame is not Rohrs's only passion. Another big one is local TV broadcasting. For more than two decades, he sold time for and managed TV stations. Now, as president of the Television Bureau of Advertising, he spends his considerable energy trying to convince advertisers swamped with media options that their money is best-spent on TV stations.

Particularly in tough times likes these, says the 53-year-old Rohrs, preaching from the TVB gospel, advertisers are looking for flexibility, affordability, effectiveness and accountability. "Spot delivers all of them."

The first thing Rohrs learned about television is that it beats washing dishes. As a Notre Dame student in need of money, he soon tired of washing dishes at the University Club and so was happy to find a job at the university-owed TV station, WNDU-TV. By the time he was a senior, he was working 40 hours a week as a cameraman.

The selling didn't come until he returned to his native New York after graduation in 1971 and took a job in the media department of an ad agency. There, he says, he was exposed to selling and its potential. "You could do well at a young age."

In one sense or another, Rohrs has been selling broadcast time ever since—first as a station rep and then at stations owned by Post-Newsweek Stations. For nine years, he ran WFSB-TV Hartford, Conn., before moving up to a corporate post in 1998.

In 1999, Rohrs was approached by the headhunter who had been hired to find a new president for TVB, a successor to the retiring Ave Butensky. Rohrs began sounding out members of TVB's executive committee. "As I talked to them, I found I was writing down tons of ideas about what I could do in the TVB job. It just hit me that the job would be a really good fit. It's strategic. It's competitive."

It has been a good fit. Impressed by his performance, the board just extended Rohrs contract another three years through the end of 2005. Rohrs will not discuss the terms, other than to say it includes a raise. According to TVB's IRS filing for 2000, the latest available, Rohrs earned $450,000 that year.

The key to understanding spot is understanding "geo-targeting," says Rohrs. Because advertisers can buy spot on a market-by-market basis, he notes, they can target their money in markets where it will do the most good. Before advertisers think about demography—age and gender—he says, they should think about geography.

Geo-targeting is a natural for car manufacturers and presidential candidates. But, Rohrs points out, it also makes sense in some businesses where it is not so readily apparent. Pharmaceuticals, for instance. Did you know that New Englanders are far more prone to bad backs than folks on the West Coast? Rohrs does, and he'll give you the numbers to back it up.

Rohrs is also working hard to make buying spot TV easier (it now involves too much paperwork) and to prove that local broadcast is a better value than that other geo-targeting TV medium, local cable.

To relax, Rohrs retreats to his second home in the Adirondacks or the golf course. He particularly enjoys golfing with his son, Chris, who plays on his high school team. And he is more apt than most fathers to visit his daughter, Anne, a college sophomore, at school. What school? Well, let's just say it's definitely not the University of Michigan.