Women Taking Leaps - Interview with Erin Slocum
Taking the leap to build and lead an indie cultural news platform.
A little about why I invited you to participate in Women Taking Leaps 2018:
Wherever you are, you’re a powerhouse of creativity, fun, and exuberance. Your energy is infectious and that translates perfectly into your platform, Knoxville Weekend. Learning that the Knoxville Weekend concept was developed in house and that you took the project as your own to nurture and grow made you all the more fitting - not every risk is about going it alone or starting something for yourself.
You’ve built a platform that serves over 100,000 people with culturally relevant and enjoyable happenings in Knoxville, Tennessee. This idea, which was not entirely your brain child, has taken flight by the grace of your tenacity, your curation of a strong team, and your willingness to collaborate and take risks on the fly. You could’ve said no to this project - you could’ve said “that’s your idea, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.” Instead, you said “yes” and build an incredible asset to this city and to the generations upcoming who are inheriting a vibrant, exploding Knoxville.
Before you were Erin, Champion of this incredible media platform Knoxville Weekend, what were your days like working inside a major media conglomerate?
Well, I was actually recruited to launch this idea which would, eventually, turn into a product, which would, eventually, turn into a multi-platform lifestyle and entertainment video-storytelling voice in East Tennessee. My background had included media [first with newspaper and then with media buying], but I swore I would never go back to it… <cue funnies>. So, in my transition out of media, life provided me the most amazing experience working as the Marketing Director for Dogwood Arts, a Knoxville-based nonprofit whose mission was to promote and celebrate the arts, culture, and natural beauty of East Tennessee. There, I helped launch several events and brands - and made it my goal to get locals excited about just that. I suddenly found myself working with local and regional media hyping East Tennessee’s arts, culture, and natural beauty awesomeness during specific times of the year, but mostly April. So, helping to launch a platform like Knoxville Weekend which would hype not only that, but also, all the ways to eat, play, drink, and soak up the sun within a 100 mile radius of Knoxville felt like an obvious fit. And, this time, I had one of the nation’s largest privately-held broadcasters backing me. It just. felt. right.
You’ve mentioned this idea was circulating around your leadership team for some time but that no one picked it up. What gave you the push to say, “you know what, I’ll take that on!”?
The original idea by leadership was more of a super-comprehensive events calendar. In Knoxville, at that time, there were several calendars that you could check out, but you almost had to look at five before you got a good idea of what was happening that weekend. Coincidentally, Raycom Media was launching something they were internally calling “City Weekend” as an alternative to news for their 65 stations in 44 markets. My boss knew that something like this was perfect for Knoxville. So, while recruiting me to come work for Raycom Media Knoxville, he was also making the plea that Knoxville needed this product. He won. We are so sick of news, no? Bring on something fun! To that, I said CHEERS!
The first time I met you, you were an enigma. And, you came bearing gifts. You pledged Knoxville Weekend as a collaborator with a new Knoxville-local organization benefiting makers, The Maker City, without expectation of payment or even reciprocal promotion value. Not all platforms can handle that, especially ones with as tight a team as Knoxville Weekend. Before Knoxville Weekend existed, can you tell me if there were mega-media options available for smaller, local organizations and causes? Before Knoxville Weekend, what type of cultural platforms existed for the city?
First of all, thank you. I take a lot of pride in my genuine excitement about other people's genuine excitement, non-profit initiatives, and connecting with others… forming awesome relationships. That being said, I absolutely brought that to my role as Executive Director of Knoxville Weekend. Relationships are EVERYTHING. Now, were there options for small causes in our community? Absolutely. Are they easy to tap in to? No. Knoxville Weekend is the only non-news producing, video-storytelling platform in East Tennessee - or anywhere near, at all - that I’m aware of. For me, for Knoxville Weekend, it’s important that we find partnerships in our community that speak to our community… and, in Knoxville, one of them is our makers. Telling the story of our cities’ great makers is not only amazing content for our Knoxville Weekend platforms, but it also provides hard-working makers a platform to speak to their craft, their passion, their story… and, seriously, that’s so important to me. My team and I were, without hesitation, happy to use our resources to help share the impact that makers, of all kinds, have on our region.
Tell me about your support system surrounding Knoxville Weekend. While you are the creative lead and the manager of the platform, you have surrounded yourself with tremendous talent.
Wow. I mean, I am the luckiest. Amelia, the LUCKIEST. I have an incredible boss, Bryce Caldwell, who has encouraged our team to, literally, fall on our face because we’ve pushed content to an extreme. Who gets that? I assure you, in corporate media, almost no one. While I am the Executive Director, I have a work-husband, Patrick Hoffman, our Executive Producer, who is truly the story-telling creative genius behind it all. He sees a blank wall and turns it into the most beautiful creation you’ve ever imagined - and then makes it happen in real life. He’s, easily, the most talented person I’ve ever met and I am so thankful for him and our totally ridiculous, energetic chemistry we have. Together, it’s an unstoppable force. That being said, we have the most genuinely-authentically-beautiful soul serving as our host and lead journalist. Jac Bedrossian aka Jac B. has lived all over the US, but comes to us from Mississippi. She’s taken on Knoxville by storm and her crazy-excitement about East Tennessee truly resonates with, not only our viewers and fans, but with Patrick and me. She’s talented, organized, eager, and fiesty - which I seriously love. We also have access to four other Raycom Media Knoxville producers [Don, Scott, Garrett, and Kelsey] who are seriously incredible and when we need extra hands on a shoot, and after, for editing. They each have topics they are passionate about and we try to make sure that they are involved in projects like that; the love truly shows in the finished product. I also have the extreme pleasure of working with some amazing talents, Kenneth and Steph, who are more than happy to give us their time as they work towards building their own broadcast and video portfolios. And, the most excited-intern-ever-in-life, Justin, to boot! I mean, this team, it’s amazing. Again, I am the luckiest.
How different would this project be without your core team that you’ve curated?
I just got lucky that Patrick, who had already been working for Raycom Media Knoxville for a few years, would be my counterpart. Straight up, girl, he’s incredible. I was so nervous to meet this phantom man who would be my partner in this and, now, we are total besties. How awesome is that? And, Jac, well, she caught my attention on twitter - I’m serious. She was applying for the job as our multi-media journalist, but her reel wasn’t catching others’ eyes. But, she caught mine. And, she was bold… she was hungry… she fought. She started writing articles and producing videos and tagging Knoxville Weekend in them. I, seriously, thought she was a local - and she was doing this from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I can’t imagine a more hardworking, authentic, and strong core team that this. I don’t even know what success would look like without them. It’s all about your team. ALWAYS. And, for us… for Knoxville Weekend… it’s our dream team.
A peek into Knoxville Weekend:
The diversity covered in the Knoxville Weekend platform is staggering. It seems as though you have your hands in just about everything. And, much of it is done for the sole point of promoting the best of the best happening right now in our city. How do you manage it all - and still have the time to focus on curating immensely quality content?
Such a good question - and I’m not sure I have the answer! Honestly, it’s our team! There’s a challenge in that our mission is “to be your adventurous tour guide for our city and the surrounding area. We are passionate about everything our region has to offer, including great food, drink, music, arts, and the outdoors.” We are video-storytelling… about planning… ahead of time… to give you the experience to want to get off your ass and go do something new, different, and fun this week[end]! So, planning is key for video, and literary, content. It’s absolutely crazy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s content that we are so uber passionate about that it really doesn’t feel like work. I mean, long hours feel like work, but the work, itself, doesn’t. Partnerships with folks like The Maker City, Knoxville History Project, Volunteer East Tennessee, and so many more help guide our weekly workflow, but also provide crazy-good, quality content for our viewers. We are currently producing monthly 30-minute specials that air, not only on our site, apps, and social platforms, but also as TV specials on Fox43. We get to rave about these TV specials, daily content, weekly content [What? The Weekend!], and monthly content [Trolley Talkin’, Get Reel, In Tune, Be-Styled, Knoxville: Then & Now, The Knoxville Chronicles, and more…] on our radio partners stations [WUTK, Newstalk, Sports Animal, etc.], too. And, we partner with Inside of Knoxville and Blank Newspaper to share content. It’s, truly, multi-platform, and, y’all, it’s awesome. Again, the luckiest.
What seems to be the modern trend is this idea that you have to quit your day job to live your dream. That you can’t be innovative or personally driven inside of an organization. You pretty much smash that idea. Can you share some of the pros and cons of running a platform like Knoxville Weekend from inside of a major media company?
Well, I think that most bosses are open to ideas [if you can show a realistic monetary return] these days. We all hire people that are smarter, better, and quicker than us, right? I mean, we should be. I think leaders know that and are willing to really hear what their employees have to say. That being said, launching a brand like Knoxville Weekend with a major TV station behind it, has been incredible. There are resources that we have access to that any start-up wouldn’t dream of… I mean, commercial air time sharing your message?! Or something as simple as a billboard. Those are cost that most start-ups desperately want, but can’t justify - at least at the beginning. And apps. We are currently on Apple, Android, Roku, and Amazon Fire. That’s a lot of money! Fortunately, we have a corporate group working behind-the-scenes to make it happen for Knoxville Weekend. With the way we are operating, there aren’t too many cons at all. I would really like to have paid interns, but that’s against company policy. Other than that, it’s a benefit more than anything, to fall under the umbrella of Raycom Media.
What’s been your greatest personal challenge since taking the leap to build Knoxville Weekend?
Easy. Three words... Work. Life. Balance.
And, on the flip side, what’s been your greatest personal successes?
I think it’s been the growth! I have learned so much about how broadcast and digital marketing works by being on the inside. As a marketer, the one thing I really didn’t have as much experience in was digital marketing and, now, I’m living it. I feel it makes me a more well-rounded employee and marketer, in general.
If you could dispel one myth about developing a major initiative from inside of a company, rather than going the modern route of “quitting your day job to pursue your dream”, what would that be?
It’s as simple as presenting a plan that shows potential revenue growth and cultural impact on your community. Don’t be afraid to try. If you’re passionate about something, and your current employer can somehow find a lateral line to this initiative or project within their mission and pillars, then go for it! Seriously, what do you have to lose?
For those of us still employed, working in a job that we enjoy but possibly not on the projects or subject-matter prefer, could you offer some advice for navigating the innovation process inside of a company?
Get organized. Be clear in communication of your idea. Present a plan. Be crazy-enthusiastic and passionate. Be your own cheerleader… others will follow; I promise. Show revenue potential. Show growth. Show impact. All of this can be done with a great idea, tons of research, and an amazing team. I will leave here what I tell my six-year-old and three-year-old every day since they were born… “Be kind. Be brave.” It’s literally all you need in life. I’m still figuring it all out, but I know that much is true. Go for it and fly your damn wings.
Erin Slocum is not your modern entrepreneur. Yes, she's started one of the most popular cultural platforms in Knoxville, Tennessee and yes, she's a boss-babe commanding a small creative team with an ambitious project schedule. Erin is also employed by Fox 44, a massive media syndicate in the Eastern US. While it may seem like quitting your job is the only option to pursue a creative vision, Erin took a different route: When the idea came up for her media-baby, Knoxville Weekend, she assembled a team from inside her organization, rallied high-level support, carefully implemented her company's resources, and has created a masterpiece. Erin's story is inspiring for any entrepreneur or hopeful-preneur who isn't interested in leaving the nest, but instead wants to learn to work within the system.
Learn more about Erin and Knoxville Weekend: