This is Part 4 of a series for Fortune.com by Jim Stengel, former global CMO of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies. In today's Guest Post and in two more over the next two Fridays, Jim digs into the best practices of the best ideal-based companies and explores how they outgrow their competition.
FORTUNE -- "I'm a believer," says David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery Communications (DISCA).
Zaslav professes deep faith in his company's ideal, or purpose, and its core concept: quality content that satisfies curiosity. And he's channeling that conviction into healthy growth.
Since Zaslav joined the cable company from NBC Universal (CMCSA) in 2007, Discovery has doubled its number of TV networks. The channels you know best include Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Hub. But branding itself "the world's No. 1 non-fiction media company," it reaches 2.2 billion subscribers worldwide through an ever-expanding portfolio. Meanwhile, Discovery's stock-market value has more than quadrupled.
Zaslav's job, he says, is to lead a "a belief system" that was created by founder John Hendricks. The belief? "Content can educate and inspire." One reflection of that is Oprah's Lifeclass on OWN. Winfrey's network is a joint venture with Discovery, and when her Lifeclass premiered on OWN in 2011, "it got almost no rating," recalls Zaslav. "But there's nothing like that on the air, and we stood by it. Now, that and Super Soul Sunday are two of the most successful things on OWN because from a values perspective, it wasn't about near-term dollars. We believed."
After Discovery invested close to $500 million in OWN, the network turned cash-flow positive last year and has started to pay off for Zaslav's company.
Of course, creative leaps can result in misses -- and Discovery has had its share. But leaning into its Brand Ideal has led to hits like Planet Earth and Whale Wars on Animal Planet, and new channels like Destination America and the popular Investigation Discovery.
The missionary mentality also gives rise to "blue ocean" innovation -- that is, leading a trend instead of following rivals. Discovery recently identified a new opportunity space, lifelong learning, and launched Curiosity.com, a platform that aggregates cool learning experiences from across the web. The company also made an investment in Lumosity.com, a brain fitness application. In placing these bets, management relied on Discovery's Brand Ideal -- quality content that satisfies curiosity -- as a strategic filter. "It's a sort of north star in our investment approach," says JB Perrette, president of Discovery Networks International.
Seven years ago, Discovery invested $500 million on content. The company is spending almost three times that today. "So, when I say we believe," Zaslav notes, "I mean, we believe."
For seven years until 2008, Jim Stengel was the chief global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble (PG), where he oversaw an $8 billion advertising budget and 7,000 employees. Now heading a consulting firm/think tank aptly called The Jim Stengel Company, he advises companies on how to grow globally by driving ideals. He's the author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies, which uses a 10-year study involving 50,000 brands to show how at the best companies, financial performance relates to an ability to connect with fundamental human emotions, values and greater purposes. Stengel, 58, is also an adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and on the board of directors of AOL (AOL). He's writing this series for Fortune.com with Chris Allen, the Arthur Beerman Professor of Marketing at the University of Cincinnati.
If she wrote a book about OWN, Oprah Winfrey said on CBS This Morning yesterday, she could call it 101 Mistakes.
Oprah's No. 1 error? Launching her cable TV network "when we really weren't ready to launch," she confessed to best friend Gayle King and her co-host, Charlie Rose.
About her 15-month-old joint venture with Discovery Communications (DISCA), Oprah added: "Had I known it was this difficult, I might have done something else."
With MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 3, 2012 12:36 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Will Oprah Winfrey's OWN be a top 10 cable network?
"Technically, I don't think in terms of being in the top 10," Oprah told me in September, before the 1/1/11 launch of her new cable network. "But do I think we will be? Yes."
Fortune's recent cover story, "Oprah's Next Act," detailed her big hopes and just-as-big fears about her new venture. Now it appears that OWN's road to the MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 28, 2011 3:56 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Did you hear that Lady Gaga was the magazine world's No. 1 hit-maker in 2010? So says the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which found that the provocative performer sold more magazine covers last year than any other celebrity.
That got me thinking...Lady Gaga shares a trait with two other powerful women who are making news this week: Oprah Winfrey and Cathie Black, the new chancellor of New York City's MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 5, 2011 11:42 AM ET
by Patricia Sellers
Oprah Winfrey arrived on cable this weekend at long last. And I do mean long.
When I interviewed Oprah in her Chicago office a few months ago, she pulled a piece of paper out of her desk drawer. It was a note, scrawled in pencil, that Stedman Graham, her boyfriend, wrote to her when they were on vacation together in April 1992. Oprah had never shared the note with MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 3, 2011 12:48 PM ET
Is Martha Stewart going the way of Oprah?
Seems so, given that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has sealed a deal to move her syndicated daytime TV show to the Hallmark Channel.
The news comes two months after Oprah Winfrey rocked the broadcast TV world by announcing that she's quitting her syndicated show in September 2011 to focus on her new cable network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Surely, neither Oprah now Martha, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 27, 2010 12:27 PM ET
"You know I believe in signs."
You probably don't know that about Oprah Winfrey since you're not sitting around watching Oprah at 4 p.m. each day. (Rather, you're trying to keep your job, aren't you?)
But the queen of media mentioned this to me when we were talking about Tom Freston, the former Viacom (VIA.B) CEO whom Sumner Redstone fired in 2006 and Winfrey immediately went after. (Read "The Most Wanted Man MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 4, 2009 12:55 PM ET
When I give talks on the best CEOs and their career strategies, I pass on this advice: Think of your career not as a ladder but as a jungle gym. Particularly in today's tumultuous and unpredictable environment, who knows where the best opportunities will lie a year from now--or even next week? If you navigate your career as if you're on a jungle gym, you use your peripheral vision and MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 11, 2008 12:24 PM ET
High-placed media-industry sources tell me that Susan Lyne has been in touch with Oprah and her folks about running OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Lyne, who quit the CEO post at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) last week, won't comment. Nor will Oprah. But the cable startup—a joint venture of Oprah's Harpo Inc. and Discovery Communications that's due to launch in September 2009— would be a natural fit for Lyne, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 18, 2008 2:59 PM ET
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