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SIPA Member Profile: Baskerville Excels in TV After-Life

Tim Baskerville, Principal, Media Service Group, West Hills, Cailf.

SIPA: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
TIM: As a senior in high school, I decided I wanted a career in broadcast journalism. Every week I’d call up the woman at CBS in Hollywood who managed editorial assistants, and every week she’d say I was awfully young but that I could call back in the future if I wished. My regular calls continued for a year, when she eventually said the teleprompter typist scheduled for the coming Saturday night wasn’t available, and if I’d fill in for that one shift it might lead to something. I was 17. After that night I worked in a variety of roles virtually every weekend at CBS for the next five years, before and after college graduation.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
While going to school, I set a specific career goal: becoming a TV news producer in a top ten television market. Based on the pattern I’d observed at CBS, I figured it would take me about 15 years to attain that goal. Well, with years of experience in junior news jobs and good references from CBS, by the age of 22 I was hired as the producer in San Francisco (a top ten market) for the top-rated prime time newscast. The good news: I’d achieved my career goal by age 22. The bad news: Did I really want to stay in the same job for the next four decades? So, in a few years I decided to pivot out of broadcasting and become my own boss.

In brief, describe your business/company?
Media Service Group helps information/media companies solve either strategic or execution challenges. These can involve consulting, investing, marketing strategy, product positioning, operational turnarounds, mentoring—whatever it takes to get on the course for success. Representative roles in the last year: a virtual entrepreneur-in-residence for 1105 Media, a portfolio company of private equity players Alta Communications and Nautic Partners; a board member of Wanted Technologies [TSX-V: WAN], a Canadian portfolio company of Desjardins Venture Capital and Innovatech; and senior adviser to HG Data, a “big data” tech startup in California founded by serial entrepreneurs.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
I have stolen liberally from the pioneers in the business. Years ago I sold a company to Tom Phillips and stayed on to manage it—a good career decision. Tom’s mostly known for direct marketing, but he also taught me portfolio management—how to feed the winners and starve the dogs. In television I learned that you only want to be number one or two, a lesson famously promoted by Jack Welch at GE. And with Baskerville Communications, an operating company I had in Europe in the 1990s, I learned that B2B information products have to catch the wave at the right time—not too early and not too late. In that case, I caught the wave at exactly the right time—European mobile in the mid-1990s, and sold out at exactly the right time, to Informa Group in 1999. Even mediocre execution of a timely idea will outperform ill-timed execution of a brilliant idea.

What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
More than one portfolio company I’m working with today is having success using the same process: 1) Identify very specific unmet information needs of a very specific audience, horizontal or vertical. 2) Discard any information need which cannot be addressed using scalable technology. 3) Take the surviving concepts and productize them as online solutions using the techniques discussed at every SIPA meeting. I call this process “big data meets B2B.”

Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto in 2012?
Absolutely, and I’m passionate about it. I think B2B players have been shortsighted in seeing changes in technology only as drivers to streamline distribution and improve marketing ROI. Operationally, those are truths. But strategically, the bigger shift that is emerging is using technology to generate the content itself. To get 50% more content of suitable quality, a typical publisher would probably have to add 50% to its editorial head count. But by mashing up cutting-edge analytics with terabytes of unstructured data, it’s often possible to create at relatively low cost the proprietary, valuable content that can help B2B decision-makers. And in B2B, the purpose of publishing should be to give decision-makers what they need, not just feed them content that they believe they could generate themselves in a few seconds on Google. It’s early yet, but I believe this trend will define the best growth path in the coming decade.

What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
I joined SIPA (in its first incarnation) when it held its first national conference in New York, which coincidentally was a month after I got into the newsletter business. When Tom Phillips was president (and before I worked for him), he asked me to launch the Southern California chapter, which was a great networking opportunity for everyone. I’ve been involved ever since. It’s a remarkable group for sharing fresh ideas.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Southern California. My high school vice principal was the real-life father of the actor who played Beaver in the sitcom Leave It to Beaver. That mash-up of Leave It to Beaver suburbia with Hollywood was the culture from which I sprang.

What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
UCLA was phasing out Journalism as a major just as I enrolled, so I switched to Theater Arts/Television, which was (and is) a prestigious department at the school. My instructors were quite impressed that I was working at CBS, and let me get credit for an eight-unit “TV production requirement” by submitting a show I created for CBS, a documentary miniseries on illegal immigration. I got an A in the class, and the show was later nominated for an Emmy.

Are you married? Do you have children?
I’m divorced, but in a longstanding relationship. I have an adult daughter I keep urging to get an MBA, but she thus far refuses to take the bait.

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
My experience in consumer journalism got me hooked on political analysis and current affairs. So, I spend probably more time than most people absorbed in such topics.

Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
Though it’s a bit dated now, Stephen Baker’s The Numerati (Mariner Books) opened my eyes to the role of using analytics to monetize unstructured data. To my mind this will be the great wave in B2B content creation over the next decade. And as discussed, catching the wave at the right time is one of the great keys to positive disruptive change.

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