Vivi Zigler, this year’s College of Liberal Arts distinguished alumni speaker, spoke to students and faculty about what it takes to excel in the workplace Thursday. And she should know. Now the president of NBC Universal Digital Media Studios, Zigler has been promoted nine times since starting as an intern at local television and radio news stations KSBY and KVEC in San Luis Obispo, not including all of the extra positions she has taken on in her career.
Zigler used her media career as an example of how to manage employees and get noticed by your superiors, but her advice applied to any career.
The reason why she decided to talk about leadership and office interactions was because neither school nor the business world teach you what you need to know to be successful, she said.
Zigler, who graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s in journalism, said the practical experience she gained while at Cal Poly helped her more than anything when she entered the workplace. One way she got that practical knowledge was by working as a disc jockey at Cal Poly’s radio station, KCPR, doing a news show as well as a more light-hearted show called Nikki and the Captain that was the lead-in for Weird Al Yankovic.
“Back then you had to have a Class III engineering license and had to know quite a bit in order to be a DJ,” she said to the crowd gathered in the cafe on the second story of Robert E. Kennedy Library.
The experience helped her get an internship and eventually a job at KVEC, she said. She was useful to the station because she had enough experience not to be treated like a gopher. Instead, they trusted her to go out and report from day one. After her internship she was offered a full-time job while still in school. While reporting for the radio station, she got noticed by KSBY, the NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo, and moved onto television — first writing local commercials for the station — all while still in school. She was able to take classes in the early morning and late at night while getting credit for her jobs and internships.
“I conned my adviser into giving me every bit of credit I could get while I was here,” she said.
Once at KSBY, Zigler worked hard to make it on camera until she became jaded by the news aspect. During the question-and-answer period of her presentation, she elaborated on what that meant.
“The KSBY news director told me that if I slept with him that I would be the 11 o’clock anchor; that’s how I became jaded,” she said.
She did not leave KSBY after that but moved behind the camera, editing sound and video at the station where she said she “fell in love with (production).”
“When I first started at KSBY we were still shooting on film.” she said. “It was an experience I would not trade for the world.”
She eventually worked her way up to station manager at KSBY, a position she held for three years.
Zigler said back then, advancing in a company was seen as a ladder stacking one position on top of the other; now it is better to see advancing more as a pyramid. Getting a broad range of knowledge allows a boss to efficiently manage people working in all areas.
Jeanette Trompeter was one of the people that worked underneath Zigler at KSBY. Trompeter was doing her internship while at Cal Poly when Zigler was station manager.
Trompeter, who is working at KSBY again as an anchor, said Zigler had an excellent management style.
“She was able to walk that fine line between like and respect,” she said about Zigler. “It felt like she was your friend, but she wasn’t afraid to put you in your place.”
During hectic news stories, like wildfires or earthquakes, Zigler was able to pitch in and do everything necessary to get news out because she knew how to do everything at the station, Trompeter said.
“She had done everything and that gave her the authority to get things done,” Trompeter said. “You felt like she had the authority, but not over you.”
Zigler said while there are many ways to manage employees, her attitude was to act like she needed to be elected into her promotion in order to be effective.
After leaving KSBY for Seattle’s NBC station, where she was in charge of marketing among several other responsibilities, it took only two years before she got a job offer from the NBC corporate office to coordinate marketing for all 230 NBC affiliate stations.
Shortly after her move to NBC 10 years ago, Zigler put together a marketing strategy for MSNBC, outlining a plan to establish the network as a foil to FOX News and represent themselves as a more progressive cable news channel, she said.
MSNBC was only one of the many jobs Zigler did for the network. She has been involved in a number of big projects at NBC, one of them being the acquisition of Bravo.
“At that point Bravo had Cirque de Soleil, Inside the Actors studio and not much else,” she said
After the acquisition, Zigler, in addition to her other three jobs at NBC, became the marketing director for Bravo and was responsible for promoting “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” as well as “Celebrity Poker.”
In her most current position as the president of NBC Universal Digital Studios, Zigler is in charge of running NBC.com. She is in charge of everything from the production of digital shorts to website design.
“Vivi has transitioned NBC.com from a largely promotional site to a significant revenue-generating business in a very short time,” said, Marc Graboff the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studio, in a press release at the time of her promotion. “Her expertise in many different areas of the television business is invaluable in the expanding digital entertainment business.”
Zigler showed off what she has been doing at the website by showing webisode clips from “The Office.”
Eileen Joseph, director of advancement and college relations for the College of Liberal Arts, said the event was a great opportunity for students because Zigler is such a sought-after speaker.
“We were looking at all the areas where liberal arts and technology collide in the work world,” she said, about why they invited Zigler
Zigler, when asked directly the best way to be promoted, simply said, “You have to be good.”