“How That Happened” Episode 39: David Griffin – Griffin Communications – Communicating With a Focus on Community

Interview Transcript

David Griffin:                You’ve got to do a great job of super serving your advertisers and super serving your viewers. If you super serve your viewers and you have the number one stations in the marketplace, that creates an opportunity for advertisers to really do great work, and we can help them sell more things.

Aaron Ackerman:         From HoganTaylor, I’m Aaron Ackerman and this is How That Happened, a business and innovation success podcast. On each episode of the show, we sit down with business and community leaders behind thriving organizations to learn how business and innovation success actually happens. Well, welcome back to another episode of How That Happened. My guest today is David Griffin. David who’s a native Oklahoman and graduated from OU in 1988 is now the owner and President of Griffin Communications, which is, at this point, a broad media company with assets in TV, radio, internet, outdoor advertising, and other things.

                                    A lot of our listeners, especially in Oklahoma, will be familiar with KWTV News 9, which is their CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City. KOTV News On 6 is the CBS affiliate in Tulsa. After graduating OU, David went to New York and worked for TeleRep, which was a national TV ad seller, and in about 1990 returned to Oklahoma to work in the family business. Now he’s, like I said, the President of Griffin Communications. We’re going to talk a little bit about the history, how much it’s grown, a lot of really interesting stuff. David, I’m so excited to have you here. Thank you for coming and joining me today.

David Griffin:                Well, Aaron, thank you very much for having me. You used to work for us a few years ago, and always appreciated the effort that you put on our team. When I got the call, I was very excited to do it.

Aaron Ackerman:         Well, I’m honored. Thank you. Yeah, I did. So full disclosure, I worked for Griffin Communications for David and Ted Strickland is his long-time CFO, who’s still involved with you today, right?

David Griffin:                Yep. He’s president of my holding company.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. I was there for probably what I would say are the six or seven most formative years of my career. I learned so much from watching David’s leadership. I definitely was mentored by Ted, and really that’s where I feel like I grew up in my career. Those years at Griffin are really special to me. Just a little bit, David, about the history of the company, and maybe let me preface by saying Griffin is really, if I’m right, correct me if I’m wrong, one of maybe just a handful of family owned local TV groups that’s left in the country. There’s been lots of consolidation. The big operators have gobbled up a lot of those. Is that right? There’s just maybe a few, right? 

David Griffin:                Yeah. There is very few of us left. There’s the Goodmon family out of Raleigh-Durham, the Hubbard family out of Minneapolis. There used to be a few more, the Wolfe family out of Columbus, which they’re no longer. Then there’s few and far between. The TV industry, they establish it by market size, New York being number one, LA number two, and Chicago, three. Oklahoma City’s around… It fluctuates between 39 and 40, 41 maybe. Tulsa is in the 50s. So if you cut it at top 60 markets, there is less than five of us left up there.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. That fact alone makes you guys unique, and we’ll talk a little bit about maybe what’s great about that, what are some challenges for that. But the other really cool thing is this company, in a couple of different forms, has been in your family since basically TV was invented and went on the air. I mean, you guys signed on in what, ’53?

David Griffin:                Yeah, in 1953. The actual company is 112 years old, which is just kind of crazy to me-

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Wow.

David Griffin:                … to think about that.

Aaron Ackerman:         You’ve got to be one of the oldest Oklahoma-based companies.

David Griffin:                Yeah, I think us, BC Clark, maybe, Manhattan Construction. I know the Rooney family who’s also… I grew up in Muskogee, and the Rooney family is from Muskogee also, and good friends of our family.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Maybe just a little bit, because I think it’s fascinating. So really the original company was primarily the food company, which a lot of people would probably be familiar with Griffin syrup and those things that you see at the grocery store, which is in Muskogee, still a thriving company today. And then I guess in the, what, ’30s, sometime in there, they got into the media.

David Griffin:                Yeah. I’m trying to make a long story very short. We’ll go through 112 years in one minute. How about that? [crosstalk].

Aaron Ackerman:         Sounds good.

David Griffin:                My grandfather moved in Oklahoma in early 1900s before statehood and founded a company and it failed. He filed bankruptcy. Then he went off and started another company, a wholesale food company. So he supplied general stores with the products that they got. He did that. And then in 1923, he thought he should be in the manufacturing business. So he actually moved the company to Muskogee, Oklahoma from McAlester and bought the factory in downtown Muskogee. It’s still there to this day, same exact factory.

Aaron Ackerman:         Wow.

David Griffin:                Which is pretty cool. But the story goes that, and I don’t know if this is true or not, so couch it, that you’ve got food products that he had and he thought that radio might be a good way to sell those products. So instead of us buying radio advertising time, why don’t we just buy the radio stations? So he got into radio in ’28 through ’35, in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Little Rock.

                                    He was deep into radio in that, and then, having great success. Even my father told me that during the Depression, they had just really, really great success. My grandfather must have been a very, very, big entrepreneur and very successful. His health started failing in their forties. As my dad would say, he was camping out in Europe in 1944, with a rifle and a lot of other men fighting in the war.

                                    But my grandfather passed away in 1944, and my dad was at a very young age. After the war, came back, finished up at OU. He started noticing TV antennas on top of people’s homes.

Aaron Ackerman:         Just driving around.

David Griffin:                Just driving around and say, “All right, we’ve got to get in that business. It fits with radio. And so, let’s go.” At that time, you could own three markets. FCC regulated that. And so, we got Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Little rock. And so my father and my uncle, so my dad had a sister, so her husband, Jimmy Lake, were running the company. They launched out, so they had food, TV, radio, and some banking interest in Muskogee with the Rooney family.

                                    Family businesses can be really hard. My father and my uncle, I think they recognized that. My father had younger kids in the late ’60s, myself and my brother, and my uncle had some older kids, and how do you split all that stuff up? So they split the company up. And so, my father ended up with a TV station in Oklahoma City, KWTV and the food company, and my uncle ended up with a Tulsa station and a Little Rock station.

                                    When I was growing up, that’s where we got to in that transition. So that’s what I knew as in my formative years and as I was growing up in Muskogee. That’s what we did. Then my father passed away in 1985. I was 19 years old. It was a really tough time. It’s the way not to do succession planning. There were a lot of issues around that. I was still in school. I was actually at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, and ultimately had to move back to Oklahoma and finished out here.

                                    There was just too much going on here. I couldn’t be away. And so, I was in college and the company was just lost at that time. In the 80s in Oklahoma was not a good place to be anyway. Banks were going out of business. It turned out, as I was graduating college and went to work in New York and then subsequently Atlanta, the company got really adrift and my mom was putting it into a terrible position. She didn’t have many trusted advisors. Some of the leadership in the company were doing things that were not…

                                    As an accountant, Aaron, you would not be happy with what they were doing. So company was really a mess. It had some debt on it, was not operated really efficiently. We got into business we should have never gotten into. I was away. It was a fascinating time. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Okay. Very interesting. Dad passes away. You’re 19. You’re at college. Growing up, and this may be an assumption on my part, did you always know, like, “I’m going to be in working in this business when I get older, when I grow up”?

David Griffin:                Yeah. Unfortunately, I never really had much of that conversation with my dad. He let me be a kid and-

Aaron Ackerman:         So it’s not like you were always in training, but I mean-

David Griffin:                No-

Aaron Ackerman:         … this is what your family had always done. That’s right.

David Griffin:                Yeah. But I mean, I love television, I loved what it is. We’d get the ratings, and it’s not like they are today, but we’d get a rating book. I’d understand how ratings work. I would come over every once in a while and go to a budget meeting and sit in a room and not understand the thing that was going on. Did I always think I’d work in the family business? I don’t think prior to his death that I ever even had that thought.

Aaron Ackerman:         Right. Yeah. Because you were at TeleRep. I mean, that’s part of the industry after you graduated. So I’m really fascinated about when you came back. I guess, starting in ’85 when your dad passed away, things over the next few years just got… The company lost its way a little bit.

David Griffin:                That’s an understatement, I would say, but-

Aaron Ackerman:         You come back and you’re, what, 25, six, something like that?

David Griffin:                Yeah. So…

Aaron Ackerman:         I mean, you said that your mom was in a tough position. Sounds like you were in a tough position as well. 

David Griffin:                It was me and my mom and my brother. My mom was never groomed to be in a position where she could run a business. I mean, that’s not what she did. She was a traditional. She was fantastic, very supportive of my father. We didn’t have a board of directors. We didn’t have a good set of mentors for her. We had leadership issues in the company that quite frankly took advantage of things. And then, so my brother and I in 1990, we had to fire the CEO of our company. It was a mess and ended up getting into lawsuits.

                                    But I did not want to move back. I needed some more time and seasoning. I know my brother probably didn’t either. I think he was working in actually television in Virginia at a local station there. But we felt we had to move back because it was just, the company was a mass, there were legal fights. I think I was 24 years old.

Aaron Ackerman:         Wow.

David Griffin:                We had some good people at the company, thank goodness, some people who we could really get behind and trust, who really, really helped us. We got the company between ’90 and ’94. We got the company all turned around. Our financials righted and get the company growing again. So that was a formative time for us.

Aaron Ackerman:         I mean, that’s jumping into the fire, I’m sure.

David Griffin:                Yeah. Yeah.

Aaron Ackerman:         I know now, I mean, just the culture at Griffin, you’ve got employees that have been there 20 years, 30 years, probably you may have some 40-year people. I don’t know.

David Griffin:                Yeah. Yeah, No. It’s our chief operating officer, again, Rob Krier. He celebrated his 45th anniversary.

Aaron Ackerman:         Hoorah. That’s awesome.

David Griffin:                Yeah, Rob is terrific at what he does. He is one of the best in the business.

Aaron Ackerman:         Was it like that back then too? Were there people that had probably known you since you were in grade school or whatever, that had been around the company that long? I’m just envisioning that 25-year-old David showing up reluctantly having to run the show, try to get things fixed. How did you build credibility? How did you build leadership at that time, at your age, and with people that were older than you, had been around forever? I mean, it had to be challenging.

David Griffin:                Well, I think we had people who cared about my brother and me a lot. They were really helpful and they gave us the benefit of the doubt. It was a messy time. I mean, we had to cut a lot of expenses. We had to restructure a lot of things. We had to make some big decisions. But we had people who cared about us and supported us and made tons of mistakes. God, I mean, I was so focused on getting the company financially turned around. I had tunnel vision, but out of the people that took care of a lot of the other stuff, but some hard decisions had to be made.

                                    It was very formative of me, but as I said, tons of mistakes. I mean, when you’re 24 years old, you don’t know anything, and I didn’t know anything, and maybe that was the… But I worked hard. I mean, that was my mission, was I can outwork most people.

Aaron Ackerman:         You referred to succession planning and thinking ahead. I’m sure that’s something you carried with you. Anything else, just from that time, that really shaped your leadership style now that really was something that crept into your mind back in those days?

David Griffin:                Well, just everything you learn through going through tough times. I say that the worst thing ever happened in my life was the death of my father when I was 19 years old. Worst thing. Absolutely. But it also, out of that, came a lot of experience at an incredible young age. When you have that, and now I’m 55 years old, so it’s you learn so much in those times and if you can survive it, it works out pretty well for you.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Want to talk about something… You probably don’t even remember this, but when I came over to Griffin, actually, before I had received an offer. I was meeting with Ted and he said, “I want you to meet David.” You and I met at a Panera, and this would have been… I’m trying to get my timeline straight. This would have been, say, late ’06, okay? I just remember you sitting down and putting your cell phone on the table. I don’t remember what it looked like. It was-

David Griffin:                It was a Palm Pilot probably what it was.

Aaron Ackerman:         Probably. I mean, the iPhone didn’t debut until 2007.

David Griffin:                Yeah, that’s right.

Aaron Ackerman:         So this was pre-iPhone. And you said, “Man, this business is about to change, and it’s going to be fun, and you need to come and join us because we’re going to go on a ride. And you put your phone on the table and you go, “Everything’s going to be on this device.” I mean, that’s a pretty early recognition about how important mobile was going to be.

David Griffin:                I should have put my money where my mouth is. I could have made a lot of money doing that, right? 

Aaron Ackerman:         It made an impression on me because, I mean, it’s not like the internet was some brand new thing. I mean, but still to think that the way people got their news was going to be completely disrupted back in ’06, before everybody had an iPhone, like you said, there was Palm Pilots. There was some BlackBerrys. I mean, people were getting a lot of information on their mobile device, but not anywhere close to where it was even just a few years later.

                                    As we sit here today, I mean, we’ve got social media, which has been, I’m sure, very disruptive for the way people get news. There’s probably a lot of people that still sit down at 10 o’clock and watch the news. But there’s a lot of people that don’t. Even if they’re fans of News 9 or News On 6, they’re getting it some other way. I don’t even know what the next disrupter is. What are you guys thinking about as far as whether it’s social media? What is the big disruptor that you see coming down the pipe that that’s going to have an impact on Griffin?

David Griffin:                Yeah. Well, and so the interesting thing is, and obviously we measure ratings. We live and die by ratings and we get them every day. The interesting thing that we have is the fact that we have so many people watching us. In local news, viewership has not declined hardly at all.

Aaron Ackerman:         Really?

David Griffin:                If you look at ratings. Now it has shifted. What’s happened is the 10 o’clock news, where it’s still the bell cow for us. However, what’s happening is that viewership and that consumption of news has shifted to five o’clock to six o’clock. We launched a four o’clock news. Getting ready to launch in nine o’clock news here in Oklahoma, 9:00 AM news in Oklahoma City. It’s shifted to the morning. The mornings have become incredibly important for people because people still have that need to connect with their communities.

                                    They still have that need for information. We’re here in December, so it’s… We had a snow storm coming this weekend. People still want to know that, and you can’t get all that information on your phone or on your computer. And so, our mission as a company is to keep Oklahoma safe, informed, entertained. Whether we do that online, or we do that on television, or we do that through our billboard company or a radio company, whatever we do, it goes to back to that mission and the audience sizes that people get.

                                    I get a lot of questions like, “Oh, do people watch TV anymore?” And some of our young producers who are… You’re coming out of college and your world is this mobile device that we’ve all got right. And if I say to them, “Well, if you’ve got your 5:00 AM newscast in the morning, reaches the same number of people that are in memorial stadium, Gaylord Memorial Stadium in OU when it’s full.” And they look at me like I’m crazy. They’re like, “I had no idea,” because they only see it does a two or three rating. But what’s that mean? Well, it means that a lot of people are watching.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah, that’s awesome. You talked about ratings. This is fascinating to me. Another thing you said to me back in ’06 was, “This is a simple business.” And it is a-

David Griffin:                I couldn’t be in it if it wasn’t simple business.

Aaron Ackerman:         It is. I mean, there’s a lot of complexity to it for sure. But the business model is pretty simple. You’re not dealing with inventory. I mean, it’s-

David Griffin:                Yeah. So we have a fixed cost. I mean, it cost us X every year-

Aaron Ackerman:         Just to be there.

David Griffin:                … to be there and do that. The only variable cost is how often the helicopter flies or in-sales commissions. Once you figure that out, you don’t have any inventory, and you’ve got to do a great job of super serving your advertisers, and super serving your viewers. If you super serve your viewers and you have the number one stations in a marketplace, that creates an opportunity for advertisers to really do great work and we can help them sell more things.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. You talked about ratings and you’ve got these, what, three or four times a year where you get the books twice a year.

David Griffin:                No. Now you’ve dated yourself.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. Here we go.

David Griffin:                How about every day?

Aaron Ackerman:         Well, I mean, you get overnight ratings every day.

David Griffin:                Now we’ve got demos every day.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. So the books are… That’s a thing-

David Griffin:                That’s a thing of the past and it all comes in in an email now.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Okay. But that’s where I wanted to go anyway, was this almost instant feedback. It’s almost like watching your stock every single day in the stock market. It could drive you to drink when things are bad or when it’s going good, you think, “We’re the best that ever existed.” How do you think about, okay, we get this feedback every day. Now what do we do with it? Because I would be tempted to say like, “Oh my gosh, we got a bad rating today. We’ve got to make these changes or think, “We’ve got a good rating, so we’re the best.” It almost seems like it’s right for overreaction if somebody’s emotional about seeing those numbers.

David Griffin:                Well, you’re 100% right. It is the most damaging thing that we have in our industry, is the fact that the Nielsen Company who does the primary measurement, they measure about 350 homes dictate what happens, the number of people that watch us every night. The volatility in those numbers, it’s too much. I’m not a fan of Nielsen but they’re a necessity. But the volatility is incredibly high. If I had a magic wand, I would say, “Nobody look at anything other than a month’s worth of information.” That way it cuts out some of that volatility.

                                    But everybody looks at the overnights every night, and it’s just part of the culture. People react and fortunately for our company, we do really, really well. When we do severe weather and big events, severe weather in Oklahoma is a big thing. So when we see those and we dominate severe weather, we’ll do about half the total viewership of severe weather events. It’s like our Super Bowl. And we do incredibly well.

Aaron Ackerman:         I mean, your stations have a reputation that probably goes back decades for being really good at that. Is that, at this point, is that personality driven? Why do you dominate weather and somebody else doesn’t?

David Griffin:                I think it’s brand driven. I think we have the finest people out there. I think we’ve got the best meteorologist on staff who they know that we are committed to them and their craft. We’ve got the finest storm chasers in the world. If you listen to David Payne, we have the biggest storm-chasing fleet in the world, and I think that’s a true statement, because we’re dedicated to it, because it goes back to that core mission of keeping Oklahomans safe, informed, and entertained.

Aaron Ackerman:         Right. Now, tell me if I’m wrong. I think Oklahoma, and maybe just this region in general, because it’s tornado alley, it’s a little different. Your average person in Oklahoma could look at a radar and tell you what’s going on. Somebody in some other state wouldn’t even know what they’re looking at.

David Griffin:                I tell this to people, that I think we have the greatest TV markets in the country because we are highly relevant in people’s lives. If you think about how big a role weather plays in everything that we’re doing, as I said earlier, there’s a snowstorm coming. If you’re in California, are you really relevant in people’s lives that much? No, in Oklahoma, you’re relevant, and people in Oklahoma have a unique relationship.

                                    That’s why when we determined that we want to keep News 9, we came up with this Oklahoma-focused media company strategy. That has been the best decision that I’ve made, is coming in and say, “Okay, what we’re going to do is limit ourselves to Oklahoma only and super serve this state through whatever medium we’ve got. If it’s in Wichita, Kansas, I don’t want to deal with it. If it’s in Wichita Falls, Texas, I don’t care. But we’re here for Oklahoma. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. I never really thought about it. But does the weather component in Oklahoma build a little bit of a moat around protecting your viewership? 

David Griffin:                Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously, we do news, weather, sports, and we do really quality work. But you ask people, why do you watch local TV, weather is number one.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Wow. That shift, maybe there’s shifts in other parts of the country or the world away from sitting in front of the TV and watching a news program that comes on at a certain time. But we’re a little bit immune to that because of weather.

David Griffin:                Yeah. Well, in local news in general, across the country, is immune to the shift of streaming. I mean, people aren’t getting up at 6:00 AM in the morning and streaming Netflix. That just doesn’t happen. At 10 o’clock at night, is that happening? Absolutely, it’s happening. It’s happening more through DVRs and things like that. But when people come home from work, they’re not saying, “Hey, let’s just turn on Netflix and cook dinner.” I mean, we’re a part of people’s lives here and…

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah, that’s very cool. Sorry, I want to backtrack just a little bit.

David Griffin:                Sure.

Aaron Ackerman:         You were talking about Nielsen and it just occurred to get me-

David Griffin:                That gets me fired up, so-

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah, no, this is great. So Nielsen, you said, you’re going to poll or however they do it, 300 or 350 households to determine what your market share of a million people is.

David Griffin:                Yep.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. Obviously, that’s right for error. I mean, just look at political polling, we know how accurate it is or it isn’t. In fact, I had an engineer explain this to me one time and he took like a yard stick and set it on the ground and said, “Draw a line at the top of the yard stick.” Then he lifted it up and put a penny under one edge. At the top, so the penny’s like, whatever, a couple millimeters thick. At the top of the yard stick, that penny moved four inches away from the line you drew on the wall.

                                    That just demonstrated you’re going to have one bad diary or one bad reading, and it’s going to completely… You extrapolate that over a million, you could get a completely wrong number.

David Griffin:                Yeah. If one or two of our households goes on vacation, our numbers drop significantly. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Okay. So there’s some inherent flaws with that process. My question is, almost every single household at this point has some kind of digital box or device that is literally reading everything that happens going through that device. Why are we still using a statistical sampling methodology when all of that data’s sitting at Cox or Apple TV or whatever? Like couldn’t that-

David Griffin:                No, that’s great.

Aaron Ackerman:         … data be grabbed?

David Griffin:                Nielsen is trying to get that information, and they’re starting to present that. It’s called return path data. There’s some issues with it still, but they’re trying. They just announced in 2024, they’re going to go to a whole new way to measure along the lines of what you’re talking about. I’ll believe it when I see it. As you can tell, I’m a big skeptic of Nielsen. I just think [crosstalk]-

Aaron Ackerman:         Because in theory, if you can corral that data, you don’t have to guess.

David Griffin:                Yeah. The most unhealthy thing about our organization, and any organization, is the volatility of the information. Running a business, you’ve got to have good information. And if you don’t have good information, it’s hard to make decisions. We’ve had to supplement it with… We do a lot of research right now. We’ve teamed up with ShapardResearch here in Oklahoma City to do a lot of research for us and do panels and help us give us information so we can make smart business decisions.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Yeah. You don’t want to make huge decisions on data that-

David Griffin:                No.

Aaron Ackerman:         …. could turn out to be bogus, right?

David Griffin:                That’s right.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. So, okay.

David Griffin:                I wouldn’t use word bogus, highly volatile [crosstalk]-

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. That’s fair. I’ve always been fascinated with any kind of ad-supported platform because there’s really two big sets of customers. You’ve got your paid advertisers, and then you’ve got your viewers, watchers, your clicks, your traffic, whatever who don’t pay you. But the cycle is good content creates good traffic, good traffic creates sales. How delicate is that balance, or how quickly…

                                    There’s a lot of things that could upset the balance. Content changes and is not accepted well, or advertisers do something that make people turn the channel off. How quick do you see those things? How delicate is that balance between your viewers, your advertisers, and you guys in the middle?

David Griffin:                Yeah, it’s a great question. We always lead with ratings, viewers, users are number one. And if we keep that up, and then we hire the best sellers on the street, our salespeople are terrific, and then they take care of their customers. You keep that going. But if any of that falls apart between our audience or the way our sellers super serve their customers, it kind of breaks…

                                    As we talked, we’ve got a fixed cost business. And it breaks that cycle and wouldn’t allow us to do the things that we do. We have a Washington DC Bureau we just launched pre-pandemic, which was great timing on our part, having Alex Cameron there in Washington, DC. We do so many things. We invest more money than anybody in the state. We have the largest newsroom in the state, newspaper, whatever you want to call it. We have the largest newsroom in the state. Why? Because we’ve got great ratings.

                                    If the ratings ever start falling apart, it starts blowing up that whole cycle. Every day is game day for us. We’ve got to be the best we can be every single day, and there is no room for error in that.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. That explains it. It’s a fascinating business model. One thing about it, I tell this story all the time when I’m talking to people about the importance of forecasting and shock testing your forecast for things that are unanticipated. When I was working there at Griffin, I’m trying to think. Was it ’08 when the Japanese tsunami…

David Griffin:                I think it was little later than after the pandemic. Not the pandemic, the financial crisis.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. So that was the Great Recession. So maybe it was like ’10.

David Griffin:                It was 10 or 11. Something like that. Yeah.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. I remember vividly getting up in the morning and getting news about this Japanese tsunami. And I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible, tragic loss of life.” I had that thought, and then I get ready for work, and I’m like I never even dreamed that would have a big impact on me. I work for a family owned Oklahoma city, local company. It didn’t take very long, probably a few days maybe. Probably you knew right away what was going to happen. Didn’t hit me for a little bit.

David Griffin:                I had no idea. I was getting ready to go on spring break. My daughter told me there was some tsunami. I’m like, “Oh, okay. What happened?” And then-

Aaron Ackerman:         But thinking about how interconnected the world is, right? I mean, one of the key advertising groups for Griffin communications is automakers, car dealers, local car dealers.

David Griffin:                Yep, 25% of our business.

Aaron Ackerman:         Just like that, gone, almost overnight, like turning off a faucet.

David Griffin:                Yeah. And so, for listeners-

Aaron Ackerman:         Because they couldn’t get parts. They couldn’t get cars-

David Griffin:                Yeah, the supply chain got disrupted. So what happened was they manufacture any cars because the supply chain is totally disrupted. So our great customers, our dealer friends, they couldn’t have any cars to sell. So what do they do? Can’t get people on the lot. That was an interesting time. It took about a year to break that cycle and get the inventories back up. We’re actually seeing some of that in the pandemic right now that we’ve got. The supply chain is severely disrupted. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Right. Well, that’s another great example. If you’re in December of ’19, January of ’20, if you’re a restaurant owner or a travel business, or name it, you have no idea what’s about to happen to you. You can’t predict a tsunami, you can’t predict a pandemic. But what I tell clients is you have to think about, what am I going to do if 25, 30, 50% of my revenue goes away? What are you going to do? Are you prepared for that in some way? At least, have you thought through a plan?

                                    But I use that tsunami story quite a bit because it just demonstrates, one, how interconnected the whole world is, even if you are some siloed company in the middle of the country that doesn’t do any international business. You’re connected. Two, you have to be prepared for things that are just unpredictable to some extent.

David Griffin:                No, you really do. And you’ve got to assume that something’s going to happen. It’s starting early in my career at a young age. I’ve been through the Oklahoma oil bust, the Gulf War I, the dot-com bust, 9/11, financial crisis, tsunami, I forget about that one. And now pandemic. And so, all those things impact businesses.

Aaron Ackerman:         Sure.

David Griffin:                And you’ve got to keep a good, healthy balance sheet, be able to navigate it all and have a plan. We’ve got a pretty good playbook that we pulled out for the pandemic this year. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Well, and as a leader, you don’t want to just hold up in your room and hide.

David Griffin:                Nope.

Aaron Ackerman:         I’m kind of a hopeless optimist. And so, it’s been something I’ve had to really work on my entire career, and Ted would help me with this. We’ve got to think about, what’s the worst thing that could happen? I’m like, “That’s not very fun. I don’t like to think about that.” But you really do have to really consider, like we’re not going to plan for this, but we have to be ready just in case something crazy happens.

David Griffin:                Yeah. If you think about that, if you think about, what’s the worst thing that could happen, it frees you up to go take care of other opportunities, because you’ve already thought through the worst. I’m an optimist too. And so, it allows you to go focus on things that you can do to grow the business, keeping in mind that, “I’ve got a back up plan.” So it actually gives you freedom. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Well, we’re coming to the end of our time here. I’ve got, as you know, five questions we ask everybody. So I want to get to those in just a minute. But I don’t know, is there anything on leadership or about the company? I mean, I could talk about Griffin and News 9 for hours. I mean, I grew up watching Gary England and everything and then had that great opportunity to work for you for a while, and those were great years. So it’s a topic I love talking about. Is there anything we didn’t hit on that you think-

David Griffin:                No. I mean, I’m just lucky to be in the position I’m in and I’m blessed to have people that I work with in a group of people that truly care about each other. You see it more now than almost ever, that a group of people that come together who care can do really, really great things. And I’m fortunate to be a part of that and have that group of people. I’m lucky I’ve got a brother who’s incredibly supportive of me and he’s my business partner.

                                    And then, my wife, Kirsten and kids are all incredibly supportive of what I do and a big part of my life. So I’m just grateful for everything I’ve got and the people around me.

Aaron Ackerman:         You know what? You just reminded me. One thing along those lines, I know your core leadership team. Probably the one that’s been with you the least, it’s probably been more than a decade or so. I mean, you’ve got your core team and people throughout the newsrooms and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and everywhere that have been there for decades. But what do you attribute that to? I mean, I know people like and respect you personally. I know the company has a great culture, but that’s rare to have your C suite, your leadership team stay intact for decades. 

David Griffin:                Yeah. I guess they put up with me. I don’t know what the deal is. But no, it’s I think it goes back to people really care about each other. We’ve got a great culture. We’ve got just a genuine care about each other, care about the product, care about our mission. Keeping Oklahoma safe, informed, entertained, that’s what we do. It’s having that and-

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Something you can feel good about.

David Griffin:                Yeah. When the pandemic’s hitting and we know, God, we are an essential service. How are we going to serve everyone? We had an ice storm, what, month ago? I lost power in my house for 10 days. We are highly relevant to people. How do you get information out to them? I mean, we’ve got a great mission and a great group of people, great culture. I’m just grateful they all put up with me.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah, that’s good. All right. If you’re ready, I’m going to hit you-

David Griffin:                Sure.

Aaron Ackerman:         … with the final five here. What is the first way, David, you ever made money?

David Griffin:                Yeah, so my dad… We were in the food business, so we had a neighborhood grocery store. And he said, “You’re going to go to work this summer.” I was 14 years old and I went to work as a stock boy at Walker Superette in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on Okmulgee Street. I still have my first paycheck.

Aaron Ackerman:         Nice.

David Griffin:                Yep, that was pretty cool.

Aaron Ackerman:         How much was it? Do you remember?

David Griffin:                It was like 15 bucks or something like that. We’ve come a long way.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. What would you be doing? I mean, your family’s been in this business, you’ve been in this business forever. What would you be doing if you just had a completely different path, another career?

David Griffin:                You sent these questions, which I appreciate. I don’t know what I would be in. I love what I do. And so, if you think about what I love about this is I love the energy. I love that every day is fresh. I love being part of a great team, working together, and doing some pretty complex things. So the thing I love to do outside of work is I love to hike. I like to be outside. I love whitewater rafting. So I think I would be a hiking/whitewater rafting guide.

Aaron Ackerman:         Nice. Yeah. You’d have to probably move.

David Griffin:                Yeah. Probably so. That’d be okay. A day in the mountains leading a group of people is something I really, really enjoy to do. My executive team, I’ve done that to them a few times and they cuss me every once in a while. 

Aaron Ackerman:         I love this question for you, David, particularly because of your experience. This hits different people different ways, but I think based on our conversation, you may have an interesting answer here. What would you like to go back and tell your 20 year old self?

David Griffin:                Yeah, it’s another great question. I thought a lot about it over the last day or so. I’d say, “Go out and find someone to help you.” Yeah, I was 20 years old and lost. I mean, it was in college and in my formative years. I really would say that go out and find somebody. I did have some people that did care about me and helped me. I don’t want to say that, but I didn’t take advantage of that as like I should. There are people in Oklahoma City who I attribute a lot of my success to, but I didn’t capitalize on their care and love for me enough.

Aaron Ackerman:         That’s awesome. That’s a great answer. I mean, I think I could say that now. I mean, even you said you’re 55, you’ve been leading this company for a long time. I know you probably have people you still go to and bounce things off of, and-

David Griffin:                Sure. Absolutely.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah.

David Griffin:                And having people on your executive team who have been around the block. I mean, it’s good to have people like that or people outside the business and friends who you can run stuff by.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. I mean, just anecdotally, I know, from experience, that you’re not a leader that a lot of us have probably seen or been familiar with in our time, where it’s what I say is the law and you have to agree with me or you have to go away. I even remember when I was just a pee-on, you saying, “What do you think about this?” I looked behind me, like, “Is he talking to me?” But you do value opinions. I’ve seen that firsthand. That’s awesome. What is the name of your book going to be? What would you title your book?

David Griffin:                I’ve got a long way to go. There is no title. You know what? I may flame out and fail miserably. So who knows? I mean, we’ll see. I’m 55. I love what I do. Yet to be written.

Aaron Ackerman:         Fair enough. Last question. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

David Griffin:                Yeah. The best advice that I’ve ever received is that… I’ll never forget. I was with a business leader here in Oklahoma and he was talking about your energy, and you’ve got a finite amount of energy. How you manage that energy and how you apply it to things that are most important is the best business advice I’ve got, because so many things are out there that you can go do, and the shiny new objects. We all get that, right?

Aaron Ackerman:         Yep.

David Griffin:                And how you spend your energy, and whether that’s energy in business or energy with your family, or whatever, your church, whatever is how you spend your energy is the most important thing, and be very conscious of how you spend your energy. Because ultimately that will determine, to a great degree, your level of success.

Aaron Ackerman:         That’s brilliant. Love it. It seems like every day almost, there’s more and more things vying for attention and energy.

David Griffin:                Well, all the shiny new objects. I recently got off of all social media because it was just such a distract… I wasn’t on social media, but it’s just what I thought about is, “I’m not going to spend my energy on this. A lot it’s just garbage anyway.”

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. That’s brilliant. Well, David, thank you so much. I feel like-

David Griffin:                No, thank you, Aaron.

Aaron Ackerman:         … there’s a lot more we could talk about. Maybe we’ll have to do part two in a year or something and cover the things we didn’t talk about. But just thank you so much for your transparency and sharing leadership and just some of your experiences. So it’s awesome. Appreciate it.

David Griffin:                No, thank you very much, Aaron. Glad to be here and I really do appreciate you and everybody at Hogan and Taylor. 

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Thank you. That’s all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2020 HoganTaylor LLP. All rights reserved. To view the HoganTaylor general terms and conditions, visit www.hogantaylor.com.


David Griffin is the President and CEO of Griffin Communications, a broad media company with assets in TV, radio, internet, and outdoor advertising. Griffin Communications is a family business that has been in existence since 1953.

In this episode, David discusses the company’s history and how it has evolved to be among the leading media companies in Oklahoma, gives us an understanding of how the media world works, and explains how his family overcame tough measures to build a community-driven local business.

This episode is now on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also listen via the podcast player embedded above.

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