By Sharon Edry
Special to TelevisionWeek
As senior VP of distribution and marketing strategy for Discovery Networks, U.S., Lori McFarling manages Discovery’s relationships with distributors, oversees her department’s marketing efforts and crafts the company’s national affiliate marketing strategy.
But not long after she graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1986, Ms. McFarling found herself in a less enviable position-in the bowels of the Los Angeles County Jail. “I was working in sales and marketing for Procter & Gamble’s food service division, and the jail was one of our clients,” she said. “They were a big consumer of our packaged soap products. It was a good lesson in getting out of the ivory tower into the field to get close to the consumer.”
After 19 years in the cable industry, Ms. McFarling, who is being honored with a Vanguard Award for marketing, now works with partners to secure maximum distribution for five core Discovery networks, including TLC and Animal Planet, as well as emerging channels such as Discovery HD Theater, Discovery on Demand and the Science Channel.
A longtime love for media and entertainment led her from a stint at C-SPAN to her first job at Discovery in 1988 as an account manager in affiliate sales and marketing. Today, Ms. McFarling said, her biggest challenges are to maximize the “treasure trove” of content that Discovery produces and to stay current with how consumers access their entertainment.
“We always ask, How do we take the assets we have and how can we leverage them?” she said. “Our goal is to get our content in front of as many consumers as possible. Our partners want to use the power of the Discovery brand to help fuel their business objectives, whether it is through on-demand, HD, broadband or linear channels.”
Joseph Rooney, senior VP of marketing for Cox Communications, said Ms. McFarling has been a very successful partner in creating win-win campaigns for both network and distributor. “Lori is a terrific marketer,” he said. “For example, she partnered with our marketing team in 2004 to develop one of the first bundled messaging campaigns between a programmer and an operator, using TLC on-air talent. That was some really creative, innovative thinking.”
Ms. McFarling also got high marks for creativity from Robin Fisher Roffer, president of Big Fish Marketing in Los Angeles, who called her part of a “dynamic duo” at Discovery along with the company’s president of affiliate sales and marketing, Bill Goodwyn. “The two of them together are just sensational,” Ms. Roffer said. “They’re unstoppable.”
When Discovery launched Animal Planet, Ms. Roffer said, she worked with Ms. McFarling on a “very creative” direct mail campaign to affiliates. “The first mailing featured a bag of peanuts with a picture of an elephant, then a parody on Purina with dog biscuits,” she said. “Lori always allowed the creativity to flow, but there was also so much strategy behind it.”
As Discovery Networks begins its third decade, keeping a core focus on distribution and the consumer is of utmost importance, Ms. McFarling said. She said she remains passionate about the many industry organizations she is involved with, including NCTA, CTAM, Women in Cable & Telecommunications and the Cable Television Public Affairs Association.
She said she considers herself lucky to have had a number of industry mentors over the years and hopes to give back to others in the same way.
“I’ve worked with such incredible strategic thinkers, from [Discovery Communications President and CEO] Judith McHale and Bill Goodwyn to [Senior VP of Strategy and Development] Kevin Leddy from Time Warner, [Executive VP of Marketing and Customer Service] Dave Watson from Comcast and [Senior VP of Marketing] Joe Rooney from Cox,” she said.
“The amazing thing about this industry is that there are so many smart, intelligent people who really share their learning and serve as mentors to all of us.”
Just the Facts
Title: Senior VP, distribution and marketing strategy, Discovery Networks, U.S.
How long in current position: Five years
Year of birth: 1963
Place of birth: Orange County, Calif.
Who knew? Ms. McFarling and her husband make
an annual trek to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.