Evolution of a media man

TV celebrity Tim McNiff is leveraging his media experience for off-camera opportunities

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

After 27 years of broadcasting, Tim McNiff left his longtime home at KARE 11, where he became a fixture as sportscaster and a morning news anchor. He is now the executive director of media relations for Media Minefield, a firm that helps businesses get on TV and other venues. Minnesota Business talked with Tim about his rise in television and his transformation to a new career.

MNBIZ: How did you become interested in television?
Tim McNiff: I grew up in that golden age of television. I would really look forward to watching the 10 o’clock news at night. And I watched sports. The rule in my house was sports had to be watched on the black and white TV downstairs. I would watch these broadcasters do play-by-play, and I would say, “I could do that.”

MNBIZ: What was the biggest turning point in your career?
Tim McNiff: One of the moments that really defined my career was when I was producing for Russell Shimooka, who had a very short, but very interesting, stay in the Twin Cities, as the Sports Director at KARE 11.

He was supposed to be live from Mall of America but the live-shot went down. Russell hadn’t scripted anything that day. He was going to do it all off his notepad out from his live location. Suddenly we don’t have a live-shot and there’s a three-and-a-half minute sports window to fill. I went to the newsroom, and put in an earpiece. The teleprompter was blank. I basically just winged it and did a three-and-a-half minute sportscast, threw it back to Paul, and then realized that my knees were shaking.

It turns out that we had a bunch of corporate bigwigs in town who witnessed this whole thing. They realized I had no notes. After that my reputation shot up immensely because lot of people can sit there and read a teleprompter, but you get paid in that business when things go wrong.

MNBIZ: How did the advent of the Internet affect your industry?
Tim McNiff: It really hadn’t had a realistic effect that I had seen until the economic downturn happened in 2008. When that happened, the people who ran the news industry saw this as an opportunity to — and I love this phrase — “reset the business model.” 

They reset the business model on the backs of the people that worked in the industry, and that meant everybody took salary cuts. Myself included. You found out your value to the news engine, the news commodity, very quickly.

MNBIZ: Your market value.
Tim McNiff: Yeah. Exactly right. Your market value. They lost so much
advertising and they cut so much, because people’s ways of gathering the news and looking at it have become so much different, and they have so many more options.

MNBIZ: Having accomplished your boyhood dream, why would you ever want to leave it?
Tim McNiff: Opportunity. I was introduced to somebody who had also been a broadcaster, at Channel Five. When she explained her business model to me, my first reaction was, “Why didn’t I think of that?” We had a discussion and — long story short — she gave me a call and said, “I think you’re supposed to work with me.” Now, I’m one year into this restart to my professional life.

Media Minefield turned 5 years old in September, moving into a new facility, updating the website, updating the logo. We’re on the move. It’s a very exciting time to be there. I feel as if I’m in the rocket ship taking off. It’s fun. It’s very invigorating.

MNBIZ: What do you do exactly?
Tim McNiff: We are earned media specialists. The concept of earned media is an interaction that involves a professional journalist, with the sole intent being to inform the public about a timely topic. For example, you wake up and you’re checking your Internet feed and all of a sudden you see Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy. Okay. What? We contact the news entity and say, “Obviously you saw this thing about Angelina Jolie. We can give you a doctor who’ll tell you why she did that.” Our client in this case was a medical expert.

When you’re on that news set, you’re not there to sell something. This isn’t a commercial. By being seen as an expert, it is brand enhancement without selling anything.

MNBIZ: What is your elevator speech for media advice for the naïve business person?
Tim McNiff: First of all, know your message. You have to know your message. You can’t do anything until you know who you are. Then, tell the truth. If you tell the truth, people are very forgiving. If you take your message and do something with it that allows it to be tarnished or destroyed, that’s it. All you’ve got in this life is your reputation and you better take care of it.