More than two dozen LCLD Fellows learned about the leadership and innovation behind some of their favorite television channels at a recent Learning Experience hosted by Scripps Networks Interactive in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Scripps owns nine channels including HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Great American Country, Fine Living, Asian Food Channel, and Polish media company, TVN. During the Learning Experience, the LCLD Fellows heard insights from a dozen Scripps business and legal executives including Cynthia Gibson (below), Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer.

Cynthia Gibson welcomes the
LCLD Fellows. (Photo by
Brittney Gazaway)

The Fellows certainly aren’t alone in their love of Scripps’ channels, which are broadcast to 300 million subscribers in 175 countries and 30 languages. HGTV and Food Network are among the 10 most watched cable networks among viewers aged 25-54 in the U.S.

“When you think about our content, it’s genuine, it’s collaborative, and it gives you that warm feeling,” said Suzanne Underwald, SVP of Business & Legal Affairs and Content & Distribution Marketing. “That’s true to the company because the people who are creating the content actually value those things.”

Cynthia Gibson shared leadership advice drawn from her own life and career: “To really last as an effective leader, it’s critical to have the highest level of integrity.” Authenticity is another key virtue.

“One of the things that allowed me to get to where I am today is being real and having humility,” Gibson said. “I grew up in very rural North Carolina, but I was always comfortable with that and it's served me well.” Those life experiences—and her default status as the “first woman” at many steps in her career—also sparked her passion for diversity and inclusion.

“Do anything you can to develop good judgment around business issues,” she counseled the Fellows. “Learn about your client’s business as you interact with them, understand the financial drivers for their business, and learn as much as you can about their business strategy and how the legal work you do fits into that strategy.”

One of several "Core Values"
signs at Scripps. (Photo by
Jessica Sabesan)

Other executives discussed how creativity, diversity, and openness are essential for Scripps—including the legal department—as television content becomes more widely available outside of traditional cable networks, from “skinny bundles” like Sling to social media and web content.

“Creativity is an underrated quality in lawyers,” said David Arroyo, SVP and Chief Compliance Officer. “But the best lawyers have the creativity to recommend ways to mitigate risk, solve the problem, and contribute business ideas.”

“The media landscape is very different than it was five years ago,” said Jon Sichel, Managing Director, Global Commercial Affairs. “Our teams are spending a lot more time thinking about how to keep viewers so excited about our content that they stay with our brands.”

Chief Operating Officer Burton Jablin added, “Diversity is important to us because we need to reflect the millions of people in our viewing audience.” Diversity of on-air talent has been a challenge, Jablin says, but Scripps is working to improve it.

The executives also discussed how disagreement is actually an important factor in Scripps’ success. “The industry is undergoing a sea-change, so people have very different points of view,” said Underwald. “They feel very passionately about what the direction of the company should be.”

Respect keeps those arguments from getting personal, Arroyo added. “Because we value relationships so much, there’s a lot of goodwill built up that enables us to have those difficult conversations in a respectful way.”

Scripps COO Burton Jablin discussed how TV
content has dramatically changed. (Photo by
Jessica Sabesan)

In addition to insights on leadership, diversity, and business operations, the Fellows were treated to stories about how some of the most popular Scripps TV stars were discovered. They also previewed a video “sizzle” reel for an upcoming Travel Channel pilot, and took a back-stage tour of demo-reel, post-production, and sound-mixing facilities.

Gibson closed the day with a final thought on diversity, which flowed from her personal and professional journeys.

“Take concrete actions to make sure that everyone in the room feels welcome,” she said. “If the room is mostly one of anything, the people who feel they are ‘others’ will not feel welcome to contribute to the conversation unless you intentionally make it an inclusive environment.”

On the evening prior to the Scripps Learning Experience, the Fellows were treated to an exclusive tour of the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, followed by a reception in one of the stadium’s skyboxes—both were sponsored by LCLD Member law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC. The Fellows were personally welcomed to Knoxville by Culver Schmid, Office Managing Shareholder at Baker Donelson’s Knoxville office; Doug Blaze, Professor of Law, Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership, and Former Dean at the University of Tennessee College of Law; and Cynthia Gibson, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Scripps Networks Interactive, Inc.

LCLD would like to thank all of the speakers at the Welcome Reception and Scripps Learning Experience event for their time and insights (see the "Resources" section below for the event agenda). We’d also like to extend a special thanks to those who were instrumental in planning these events: Lysette Aviles, Deirdre Davis (2015 Fellow), Kimberly Hulsey (2016 Fellow), Heather Smith, John Ubani, Jr. (2014 Fellow), Crystal Washington, all of Scripps; and Meghan Morgan, of Baker Donelson.

Photo Gallery

Photography by Brittney Gazaway and Jessica Sabesan.