Learning Lessons the HGTV Way

Today, HGTV is in 99 million American households and 170 different countries worldwide. Its gabled-roof branding is recognizable by nearly every channel surfer in the nation. It is how many consumers learn what they know about home ownership.

Yet, when the network was nascent, that kind of confidence was hard to come by. Susan Packard, co-founder and former chief operating officer of HGTV, remembered her early doubts about the vision.

“Would people think this was as exciting as watching paint drying?” she wondered aloud in front of an audience of real estate professionals at the NAR Leadership Summit Tuesday morning.

Packard’s Leadership Summit presentation, Now What? Creativity, Innovation & Leadership, recalled some of the setbacks and successes of HGTV, with the hopes of passing those lessons on to Leadership Summit attendees.

One of the lessons was something HGTV had to teach the industry. Back when they were just getting started, they approached Better Homes and Gardens and offered to be their new multimedia arm, allowing greater reach for the magazine but without the competition in their own market.

“And they politely declined. Why did they need us?” Packard recalled. Yet now, with Better Homes and Gardens reaching a small fraction of the audience that HGTV pulls in, Packard says it only goes to show that you should never “underestimate a competitor” and always “proactively seek partners.”

Of course, HGTV had its fair share of slip-ups on their way to the top. When the brand tried to get into the home shopping market by purchasing Shop at Home, a fledgling home shopping channel, Packard notes that the venture did not play to their strengths.

“It was a disaster… none of us had any background in retail,” Packard said. To underscore this, she showed the audience a video of a salesperson on Shop at Home trying to demonstrate the virtues of a samurai sword, but injuring himself instead. Scrapes aside, they learned a lesson about staying on target.

“The good thing about focus is that it helps you to not be all things to all people,” Packard said.

Packard’s overarching point was also well focused, and concentrated upon the building and maintenance of a brand. She encouraged the audience to articulate the core values of their organization on paper, insisting that this would help them innovate and face future challenges.

For example, HGTV’s core value of compassion allowed them to integrate community outreach via their company-wide volunteer week. When they acquired a struggling Food Network, their value of clear communication allowed two very different cultures to speak to one another.

Perhaps the best-received lesson Packard had to pass on to attendees came from her personal life. Packard recently sold her home with the help of a real estate professional, and on top of the lessons she learned about how to show a house with three cats and a pool, she learned a great deal about what REALTORS® bring to the table.

“Don’t forget the human element of what you bring to people like me who don’t have a clue,” Packard said. “You really are a trusted advisor.”

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]realtors.org.

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