It’s a conundrum, John Lansing told members of the Knoxville Area Urban League Young Professionals Monday night. It’s hard as heck to recruit creative, talented employees to Knoxville to work for Scripps Networks. But once they get here, they never want to leave.
Lansing is the president of Scripps Networks. Sounds like the same thing the folks at Whittle Communications used to say.
Like Whittle, Lansing says Scripps has figured out how to make being headquartered in Knoxville work to its advantage.
“In Knoxville, people who come to work for Scripps Networks in the morning come to work for Scripps Networks,” he told the young business people. “In New York, a person might ride a train in to work for the A&E network. And then they might think another network looks better so they change companies and still ride the same train in to work. In Knoxville, that doesn’t happen. You come to work for Scripps - and that’s where you stay.”
Lansing said Knoxville has three attributes that make it attractive to people once they come here. “Knoxville’s natural beauty, its family friendliness and the general ambiance of the area make it so appealing that our employees rarely leave,” he said.
And that, he noted, makes employees passionate about their jobs and their company. “They want to make the company work,” Lansing said. “They think, ‘I like this. I want to stay. This is working for me.’”
Lansing assumed the presidency of Scripps Networks and its five brands (Food Network, HGTV, DIY, Fine Living, and Great American Country) in 2005. He is a longtime employee of the E.W. Scripps Company, the parent company of Scripps Networks. He began his career at age 17 as a television news photographer and has worked in many different markets before coming here.
“Knoxville is special because people here want it to be special,” he said. “It’s not perfect. No place is perfect. But, believe me, I’ve seen imperfect. I’ve lived in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis. Believe me, this doesn’t compare.”
He said that because he thinks Knoxville is so special, he agreed without any hesitation when he was asked last year to chair this year’s United Way campaign. “Knoxville provides us with such a unique business advantage that it was easy for me to decide to chair the campaign,” he said. The first thing he insisted on when he agreed, though, was that a survey be done of the 100 largest businesses before the campaign set a fundraising goal for this year.
“The data spoke very loudly,” he said. “Fewer people in town were working - and those that were working, were making less money.”
With that in mind, the United Way of Greater Knoxville, for the first time in its 58-year history, set a goal that was smaller than the previous year’s goal. This year’s campaign goal is $11.8 million. Last year it was $12.8 million.
But, he noted, the same data indicates there is more demand for services from the agencies funded by the United Way. “Everyone providing emergency services or support services is seeing a 300 percent increase in demand,” he said.
Lansing urged the young professionals to do what they can to help the United Way this year. “Give up a cup of Starbucks coffee every day and give that money to United Way,” he suggested. “If your neighbor knocked on your door and asked you for help, you’d give it,” he said. “Well, they are knocking on your door. You just can’t hear them.”