Katie Couric Started Her Career as One of America's Most Beloved Broadcast Journalists. Now, With the Rise of Her Own Media Company, She's Calling Her Own Shots.
The iconic journalist sat down with us to discuss her latest media endeavors and doled out her best career advice.
In this new world we live in, somewhere between pre and post pandemic, there is no denying that the media landscapes and the way we use technology have completely changed, from the ways in which we consume both to the ways in which we are influenced by them.
Perhaps it’s some drawn out metaphor, then, as I hop on a call with trailblazing journalist Katie Couric that we can’t quite navigate the technology of this Zoom meeting properly, even nearly two years after the concept of virtual meetings started to become normalized.
The phone that’s supposed to be recording the interview for some reason won’t work on my end while echoing sounds are coming from the speakers on both Couric and her husband’s computers (they are taking the call in separate rooms of their home), yet we laugh and somehow manage to find a way to make it work.
This is precisely what Couric has done with her career.
“I pretty much did everything I could in network news, and kind of hosting an hour of the latest headlines — even though I think people are doing a great job at that, I think clearly it's a critically important job, but that just didn't appeal to me that much, especially as cable has gotten more partisan in recent years,” Couric tells Entrepreneur. “And I think primetime particularly relies much more on commentary, which is something I've never felt really that comfortable in. But I also understand why that that has emerged because we live in a very partisan country and people I think want their own views often reflected back at them — a friend of mine calls that affirmation instead of information.”
It need not be stated that the world of broadcast media is synonymous with Couric’s name — from her longstanding years cohosting the Today Show to being the first solo female anchor of a major news network’s evening program at CBS, if there’s a story or someone worth talking to, chances are Couric has had the opportunity to do so.
Most recently, she reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list with her memoir Going There.
In 2018, Couric shifted gears when she founded Katie Couric Media (KCM) alongside her husband John Molner, a media company that seeks to create inspiring, purpose-driven content by collaborating with brands to help elevate people, voices and untold stories across a variety of mediums, including a newsletter, podcast and short-form digitals.
“As the media landscape evolved, I think I wanted to evolve along with it. I think if things hadn't changed, I probably would still be in traditional media,” she explains. “But it was clear during the decades of my career that there was a real sea of change happening and I wanted to ride that wave (to continue the water analogy) and not be left behind.”
With KCM, Couric was able to find the intersection between continuing to hunt down stories that interested her and felt important while also finding a way to partner with brands that make sense organically to help tell and explore those stories.
“One of the sort of the gating parameters of our company was that we let Katie be Katie — let her cover the story she wants to cover, go where she wants to go,” Molner says. “As a company, we look for the intersection of stories that are interesting to Katie and to those companies — things they care about, things that elevate the conversation and stand for something. And so that's really a central part of our business model with all these clients. And it's different than branded content, it’s really brand supported content about things that matter.”
In the land of KCM, these stories can cover anything from politics (talking to Cecile Richards about the future of abortion rights in the U.S.) to cooking (making challah bread with food influencer Jake Cohen) to profiling frontline workers in the heart of the pandemic.
“I’m sort of cursed with this insatiable curiosity about almost everything,” Couric admits. “I'm always looking for ways to continue or dive deeper into the conversation. To be able to play in all these different sandboxes, whether it's podcasting, whether it's digital videos, developing documentaries, possibly doing a regular interview feature on a streaming service, these are all things that I'm free to explore. And I'm not necessarily limited to one particular network … Ultimately, I do see myself as just a communicator, someone who can share different people's stories, that's what I've done my entire career and I clearly love doing it because I don't want to let that go — they'll probably take me out in a stretcher telling a story!”
This is the essence of the Katie Couric method — observe, learn, notice trends, pivot when necessary but don’t lose the "you" that makes you who you are. Perhaps it’s this mindset that has made her one of the most admired journalists of our time. Sure, Couric could slap her name on a company and churn out branded content about what other people and companies believe to be relevant topics or stories, but then it would be a media conglomerate that loses the "Katie" element to it.
This concept has played a major part in the rollout of KCM’s latest endeavor, Katie’s Shop, which features over 120 brands boasting products that Couric, Molner and the rest of their team use and love in an effort to elevate awareness for smaller brands, their founders and, in true Katie Couric fashion, the story behind both.
“[Katie] wanted to tell the stories and our community really responded to that,” Lisa Tanzer, President of KCM Marketplace, says of the inception of Katie’s Shop. “So that was the idea — can we round up a destination where people can learn and shop brands that are mission-driven and values-based? And that's what Katie Shop came from. It all starts with aligned values … finding where the intersection is.”
The easy-to-navigate shop is divided into different sections based on where each brand and their founders fit, whether that’s Female or BIPOC Founded, Eco-Friendly, Mission Driven or Ethically Produced, just to name a few.
Katie wears a black sweater from Katie's Shop brand, Dudley Stephens.
But bear in mind this is no “swipe-up to buy” company, as Molner would say.
“The way that we're treating our customers, our clients, our followers and readers is the way we would treat a community of friends. And that's basically what guides us — our company's mission didn't change when we evolved to this new initiative of Shop,” he explains. “The mission was always to do something that's distinctive and that we're proud of … the second was to have impact, to do things that made the world better and to create content that was consumed and enjoyed and engaged with by a larger and larger community. And that's also true with Shop.”
The product comes first, of course — the team has to decide that they like what they’re selling, that it's of good quality and manufacturing and that it's something Couric or Molner or the team would wear, use or purchase themselves.
“We went out there to really try to uncover and discover inspiring brands and founders, so we have a vetting process where we do a lot of research before we reach out to a brand to have them be part of Katie’s Shop,” Tanzer explains. “There's unbelievable stories in there, you just can't get enough of why somebody started their business and what drove them to start it. And then once we kind of go through that and talk to them, we do test all of the products … we really want to make sure that we love them and can stand behind them and write specifically about certain things in their brand and in their portfolio that we think our customers will love.”
It’s ecommerce done the Katie Couric way and what sets her up for success as a businesswoman — look for trends and where the industry is going and find a way to tap into it, yet do so in a way that doesn’t lose you your core customer or fanbase.
“I think that we've also seen a real shift in consumers wanting to support companies that are doing the right thing or being innovative, and that are trying to clearly tackle some of these big thorny issues in addition to making great quality products,” Couric points out. “I think there is an expectation from a consumer point of view that they want to feel good about the things they're buying — not only are they high quality, but that they're serving some kind of greater purpose.”
This all drives back to Couric’s sole piece of career and business advice — be aware and notice what you notice.
And in order to do this, you have to give all of yourself and your focus to where you are, right now, in whatever your job is now.
“I think really caring and really being committed to the job you're in is the secret to your long term success,” she says. “I didn't spend too much time looking ahead and saying ‘What do I want to do next?’, I really focused on the job that I was doing at any given time, to try to be the best I possibly could, and to give it 110%.”
Still, Couric is learning and growing as KCM continues to develop and grow.
One skill she’s picked up since starting her own company? The importance of hiring the right people and building the right team.
“Ina Garten said something to me when I interviewed her, she said, ‘You can teach anybody about cheese, you can't teach them how to be happy,’” Couric shares. “So I think we really look for people who have the personality traits to be exceptional. And that is hard workers, people who are passionate about what they're doing, who really care … [don’t] be embarrassed about the things you don't know, look at yourself honestly about your strengths and weaknesses and compensate it with someone who's strong in areas that you're not. That's why John and I work so well together, because I have a skill set that is not necessarily his and he has so many strong skills that aren't mine, but I'm trying to learn them so I can at least be better.”
Perhaps it’s the business side of things that Couric wants to hone in on as she continues to progress down her path and grow KCM, but her heart will always be with storytelling and helping other people.
Couric says that she hopes to spend more time this year mentoring and helping younger talent with their career pipelines and nurturing their interests to help elevate fresh ideas and faces. She also plans to keep learning about which platforms and mediums (be it short-form or long-form video, podcasts, written articles, etc.) are best suited for certain stories and how she can leverage success in that manner.
All this, and a wider-lens focus on collaboration to explore topics that aren’t nearly touched upon enough in mainstream media.
“The women who get the all the attention and media are usually white, blonde and pretty and there's so many stories that are ignored by the media. And that's just plain wrong,” she points out. “I think I'll never run out of stories I want to tell. I'll continue telling those stories, but I’m also excited about collaborating with other people who are doing interesting, exciting things … I love collaborating with like minded people who are interested in exploring the same kinds of issues I am.”
But still, she remains humble.
“You can't necessarily be good at everything,” she admits.
“Well, you're good at everything,” Molner quips back.
“No, I'm not,” Couric maintains.
Yet from the looks of the success of KCM and Couric's career beyond, it's difficult to believe her in that moment.
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