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So What Do You Do, Kim Martin, President of WE tv?

From pharma sales rep to business school to cable, Martin details how she worked her way to the top

- June 2, 2010
From Oprah Winfrey's upcoming OWN and Lifetime's move toward original programming (and the snagging of Project Runway from Bravo), women's television nets have been getting a lot of attention over the last few years. But both networks would be well advised to stay far, far away from debuting anything on a Sunday night. For millions of female viewers, that slot has long belonged to another cable winner. One word: Bridezillas.

'"WE tv airs original wedding series every Sunday, 52 weeks a year," says Kim Martin, general manager and president of WE tv. "But we didn't want to become a wedding network because, as a brand that reflects contemporary women, our lives are so much more than just weddings." Since Martin joined the network in 1999 as head of sales for its affiliate group, WE tv has gone through a rebranding, transforming from Romance Classics to Women's Entertainment and then WE tv in 2005, in an effort to accurately reflect women's lives as more than just romance. "I just thought it was better to have something shorter and catchier," Martin said of the change. "And women are all about community. What word describes community better than WE?"

Name: Kim Martin
Position: General manager and president, WE tv
Resume: Left pharmaceutical sales behind to get an MBA, then joined the cable industry in 1987 as an account manager in affiliate sales at the then-fledgling Discovery Communications. Joined Rainbow Media in 1999 to run sales for its affiliate sales group, and was promoted to the position of GM of WE tv (then Women's Entertainment) in 2004.
Birthdate: August 25. "I'm still in the demo for WE tv viewers," which is 18 to 49. "Just barely."
Hometown: Milledgeville, Ga.
Education: BS in political science from Georgia College & State University, MBA from Georgia State University.
Marital status: Married with two kids
First section of the Sunday New York Times: Weddings
Favorite TV show: 30 Rock, New Adventures of Old Christine and CSI: Miami. "Outside of the shows on WE tv, of course."
Guilty pleasure: "I'm a mom, I'm a wife, I juggle a lot of things, so when I get free time, I don't feel guilty doing any of the things I like to do. Like watch TV and read books. Or eat ice cream."
Last book read: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and Why She Buys, by Bridget Brennan
Twitter handle: "I do not use Twitter, but a couple people in the office tweet for WE tv."

What made you leave pharmaceutical sales for business school, and then cable TV?
I had thought I was going to work for a law firm. In my last year in college, I had worked for a law firm part-time and I had realized that it was not Perry Mason like I thought it was. I was not going to be the big mystery solver and saving people's lives, and it was just not what I had anticipated. I wanted something that I could work at 50, 60, 70 hours a week that I was truly passionate about, that I loved. And the things that I had looked at, the law and pharmaceuticals, were just not those industries. And that's why when I finished business school, I really took my time finding the right industry. When I found cable television, I recognized, this is something I could be passionate about for the rest of my life. I love TV. I grew up watching a lot of TV.

"It took me about six or seven months to convince [WE tv] that I could do the job. I don't know if I won them over with my ideas or if I was so persistent that they just eventually gave up."

How did you progress up through Rainbow?
In my first five years at Rainbow, I worked in affiliate sales. But the general manager [position] of WE tv became available, and I had put my name in the hat. Initially, the CEO said, 'Kim, you've been in a sales role for your entire career, I think this is what you're cut out for. And we really can't afford to have you leave, you've done a good job.' But, for the last couple years, I was constantly giving the general manager of WE tv programming ideas, I was really interested in the network -- and at the time it was actually called Romance Classics. So I just became an expert on the network. I set up interviews with every employee who worked at the network who was in a management role, and I put a business plan together with what I would do if I got the job, what I thought was working and what I thought needed tweaking and changing. It took me about six or seven months to convince them that I could do the job. I don't know if I won them over with my ideas or if I was so persistent that they just eventually gave up. It doesn't really matter because eventually I got the job.

How did the network transform from Romance Classics to WE tv?
The feeling was, this was still when I was in the affiliate sales side, that romance is such a small part of a woman's life. We just did not feel that it was representative of what we were trying to sell as a television network. I think the same is true of women today. So the first big step to getting distribution, even then, was the title change. Initially it was Women's Entertainment. And since I've been general manager, we've shortened that to WE tv.

So over the last few years, WE tv has gone through a rebranding. How has the network's focus changed?
When I first came to WE tv, we were movies 24/7. We initially created a strategy that was focused on creating original series that were relatable to women. And, of course, for WE tv that has been reality series. Initially, the wedding programming really popped for our audience, and so we did a lot of wedding shows. And as we progressed as a network, we started to broaden to cover more of the life stages that are important to women. So it's not just dating and getting married, but it's also having children, raising a family. So now we've found that not only do these shows reflect the lives of our viewers, but they're kind of like our viewers' lives on steroids. Women want to see shows that make them feel, 'that could be me were it not for X.' We get married, we have a family. So we have Raising Sextuplets. Jenny and Brian have six children. I have two kids, I'm raising a family. It's definitely my life on steroids when you have six kids. Talk about chaos and drama. But that's what gives our viewers the opportunity to live almost vicariously through the characters they see on WE tv.

What is WE tv's main message?
What we try to do is provide drama and chaos, but we know that viewers like resolution in the end or they want the characters to be redemptive. So like on Bridezillas -- you're getting married, you lose control of your emotions, but in the end, it's all smoothed out and every episode ends with a wedding. There is that feel-good portion of our series.

Why did you decide to spin off Wedding Central and
The popularity of wedding programming has just continued to grow. A lot of networks out there would offer a show or two, because they knew viewers would start watching it, but none of the networks in the marketplace were converting to an all-wedding service. So it really created an opportunity for us, and in talking to advertisers, they were so interested, as well.

"We've found that not only do these shows reflect the lives of our viewers, but they're kind of like our viewers' lives on steroids."

How do you pick what programs air on WE tv?
We really look for shows that we feel speak to the key stages of life that women feel are going to be relatable to themselves. But we want to be sure that those series have lots of chaos and drama with resolution at the end. So, like a show we have slated for late 2010 called Mother Knows Best, who's going to deliver more drama than Joan Rivers? [On the show, Joan moves in with her daughter Melissa in L.A.] She's a mom trying to give advice to her daughter about how to raise her son, who to date and how to run her household. That's the life we all live. However, you've got Joan Rivers giving that advice.

We have a series that is coming up called Sunset Daze, which is a total departure for WE tv and actually for the entire industry, because Sunset Daze is a reality series about a retirement community. One of the things that we've done at WE is that about 18 months ago, we acquired Golden Girls. And what we found is that the average viewing age of Golden Girls is very young women. And so we said to ourselves, 'This is really interesting. Young women are really fascinated by the friendship of these older women. So what if we started a reality series that is sort of the reality series version of Golden Girls?' And that's what Sunset Daze is. These are people in their 60s and 70s who are on their second life. Many of them have their bucket list, they're skydiving, they're going on blind dates, they're getting tattoos. It's so relatable for people of all ages. It's been a lot of fun.

WE tv has been partnering with other media companies, like magazine publisher Meredith. How did that partnership come about, and why is it important to WE?
Meredith's been a good partner for WE tv. We are both delivering information and entertainment to the same demo, so it made sense that we would be able to work together if there were the right opportunities. One of the shows that we worked with them on recently was The Locator, which partnered with Ladies' Home Journal. The series is hosted by Troy Dunn, who goes out and helps reunite families. So it's a really heartwarming series and has done very well for the network, but it's something that women around the country outside of our audience are going through. So to have an opportunity to do a partnership with Ladies' Home Journal for that particular series is a way to elevate the awareness of the show and potentially get more viewers. And they can take their readers on this emotional journey. It's worked out really well for both of us.

What advice would you give someone who wants your job in 10 years?
Become an expert in the area that you're in, because that's extremely valuable, but also have a curiosity about the areas that can affect your progression -- particularly as it relates to the new media space. As two television networks, we are very focused on linear programming. But where we see our world 10 years from now, the way that women will consume content will be completely different. I think there is huge opportunity there in the future. And so having a well-rounded new media base of knowledge will make you so valuable to a network in the future.

30 Rock recently made fun of women's programming and "women's porn." As the head of a women's network, how did you feel about those jokes?
It's so funny, I just came from the Matrix Awards and I heard Tiny Fey speak. She is hilarious. She is so clever right on the spot, she's amazing. I think the show is hilarious.

Amanda Ernst is deputy editor at Crushable.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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