BABE #281: GRETCHEN HARRELL - Research Director, WJXT
Gretchen is the research director for independent, Jacksonville-based news and media companies WJXT, WCWJ and News4JAX.com, where she’s climbed the company ladder holding various roles across 13 years in the biz. From national sales coordinator to digital sales coordinator to research analyst, her invaluable knowledge about the many moving parts of multimedia production is vital to properly analyzing and identifying the needs of viewers and readers, which is in turn vital to the company’s overall success. Like a true hustlin’ babe, she’s also an independent consultant for Younique cosmetics and skincare as well as a devoted single mom raising up two kiddos.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Current city: Yulee, Florida
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.A., Communications - Advertising
Very first job: Washer at a Dog Groomer
Hustle: Research Director, WJXT/WCWJ/News4JAX.com
Babe you admire and why?
Honestly, I admire all the working moms out there. It’s no joke trying to balance work-life and home-life. To do your job well and be a great mom at the same time is incredibly challenging, regardless of having a partner or not. Both have their own challenges, for sure.
How do you spend your free time?
I have two kids, so I “mom” a lot in my “free” time. But, I love to binge-watch shows, go to happy hours and brunches and just have a great time with good conversation.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
All the coffee. All the vodka. But, seriously, iced latte with one pump of vanilla. As for adult beverages, I love a very dirty martini, or vodka and water with a lot of lime.
Current power anthem?
“thank u, next”
What’s a must-have item on your desk?
Besides coffee? A fun-colored pen. Lately I keep a flip-sequin narwhal, too. It’s a fun alternative to a stress ball and people are constantly playing with it when they come in to meet with me.
Tell us about your hustle.
I am the research director for two television stations and the number-one local media website in Jacksonville, Fla. WJXT is a fully local TV station that does 10 hours of news every weekday, local programming and custom content like no other station in the country. WCWJ is a CW affiliate stacked in primetime with all the superhero shows you could dream of. We add in local programming, like The Mark Brunell Show, during NFL season for a distinctly local appeal. Then, we have News4JAX.com, our local news website, that attracts more than one million unique visitors a month. I regularly analyze these television ratings and website analytics to customize action plans with news, promotions and our sales department.
What does your typical workday look like?
On any given day you can find me building sales packages, writing press releases on news ratings, meeting with clients, strategizing digital campaigns or cleaning out storage closets. No day at the office is ever the same. But before and after the “workday” I am a single mom to two small kids, as well as an independent consultant for Younique. And, because I’m clearly insane, I’m getting my kids a puppy in a few weeks. My days are never boring, y’all.
Have you always had an interest in research and data?
I’ve always liked order, but I can confidently say I never thought I would have this job. Things change so rapidly in the industry and there are always new technologies. The numbers and data portion of the job is really just a piece of the overall picture. I thrive on taking the data and finding the story to make things better for the viewers, and create campaigns that are better for our clients.
When did you decide to enter the news market?
I went to school for communications with a concentration in advertising. If you’ve ever seen the movie “What Women Want,” that’s what I envisioned for my future. I thought I’d be at a fancy advertising agency coming up with cool slogans and taglines all day. But that’s not really how it works. I knew someone who heard a manager looking for an assistant at WJXT, and that’s how I found out about the opening. I started as the national sales assistant in 2006 and moved my way up from there.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning research projects?
Knowing the goal is the most important thing. When working on strategy for TV and digital client campaigns, if you don’t know what they are hoping to accomplish and how they are measuring the success of a campaign, you don’t know anything.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I went to a college prep high school where we always had huge projects we were working on. I think learning to always give everything your all made me really prepared to take on anything that comes my way. I felt like college was relaxed compared to what I was used to in high school, because we were all molded to be so self-driven and self-sufficient. Professionally, I’ve held five different positions within the sales department at the TV station over my career so far. Obviously that’s given me a wide variety of skills to work with, but it’s also given me perspective. I know how much those people take on and what they are capable of doing. Support roles are essential and should be treated with courtesy and respect. Never forget where you came from.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Honestly, being 36 and being able to say I’ve been with the same company for 13 years seems unheard of these days. So many people come and go from job after job, but I was able to do various jobs in the same place. I worked my way through national sales, local sales, digital sales, then into a research analyst role, then shifted into the research director position. I’m proud I was open to change and new experiences and able to elevate myself into a management role, all at the same company.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Graham Media Group is definitely a company that has less of a stigma with “women in the industry.” We have several female VPs within the company. To name just a few positions in our company: the CEO and CFO of Graham Media Group are women, and in Jacksonville at WJXT and WCWJ, our sales teams are mainly women. Some TV stations, the opposite occurs. I think it’s all about the best people for the jobs and Graham promotes that. Graham Media Group is extremely forward-thinking and focuses on the best candidates for the job, whatever that job may be.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Catherine Badalamente is the VP of Digital Media for Graham Media Group. She has worked through various levels at one of our stations, took on extra work when there were holes to fill, found key areas where leadership was needed and got herself to where she is today—all while rocking the family and mom life. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
It’s so cliché, but believe you can do it and you can—but that also means you have to work for it. Find good mentors, take on extra challenges and help yourself get to where you want to be. Project the way you want to be perceived no matter what level of job you currently hold.
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