Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Meet the media: Bill Sherck of "Due North Outdoors"


Those who love the outdoors probably would consider Bill Sherck's job the position of their dreams. Sherck, known as "The Man About The Woods," can be seen on some of the country's most popular outdoor television programs, including:  Backroads with Ron & Raven” on The Versus Network, “Legends of Rod and Reel” and “Pheasants Forever Television” on the Outdoor Channel, “Minnesota Bound” on NBC in Minnesota and “Due North Outdoors," which Bill co-hosts on Fox Sports Network (North & Wisconsin).

1. Could you recap your television career before moving to outdoor television?

I actually started in college in Green Bay in the winter of 1993/spring of 1994. I had an internship at WLUK, which was an NBC affiliate. I was told that I was going to wash news vehicles and file papers. I told the person who hired me that I wanted to hang out with a team. Every night I hung out with the 10 p.m. team. I got to do some stories and build my skills.

My first full-time job was at WDIO in Duluth after graduation. Then I spent three years at the ABC affiliate in Madison, Wisconsin. My big break came when Fox News called. I got to work at an owned-and-operated station in North Carolina. I was based in High Point with a station called WGHP. It was fun because I covered local news, but then when national stories broke, I would do coverage for Fox stations around the country.

At one point, when I was covering Y2K stories in North Carolina, I started thinking about where I was in life, and decided that I wanted to come back to Minnesota. I came back to Minneapolis in 2000. I started working for Channel 5, where I spent three years.

2. How does the "Minnesota Bound" and "Due North Outdoors" team decide which places to visit and stories to cover?

I have file cabinets full of story ideas. We have far more stories than time. For “Minnesota Bound”
due north outdoors
and “Due North Outdoors,” we sit around four times per year to discuss story ideas and what we have time to get done.

We work with our clients too to determine stories. Ontario Tourism is a big client, so we figure out stories with them, for example.

3. How would you describe your approach to TV storytelling? 

It’s storytelling...the good, the bad, the ugly, the honest. We really don’t try to make it up. We just go and document and show what we’ve got. Sometimes you just go out the door and things go to pot. The fish aren’t biting, the big one gets way, the vehicle breaks down. That makes for the best television, though. Being honest and showing it like it is – that’s what I like to do. Sometimes the stories are really great, and sometimes you get your tail handed to you. In some ways that connects with audiences better. It’s television storytelling – matching words with picture and sounds, and weaving all that together.

4. What has been the most surprising or unique story that you have covered?

There are too many to list – literally thousands of stories. Doing outdoor stuff, it’s amazing how many people break down, people who get emotional in our stories. Grouse hunters, for example. They break down or get emotional. People in the outdoor world are very sentimental about the places that they go. The gear means a lot to them. It’s more than gear to the owner – it’s how they do their sport or hobby. So many of the stories that we do, people get emotional. I understand that, because I have that kind of passion for the outdoors. It’s fun to see others get so emotional.

5. You turned your focus to outdoor television in 2002. How has that type of TV changed during your career?

When I started, outdoor television was still gearing up. Many networks had more airtime than they had shows. It was very easy for us to get shows on networks. If you had high-quality stuff, it stood out. Now there’s a lot more competition. Prices for camera gear have dropped also. Now you could buy a full HD camera for $4,000 -- $5,000, which is significantly less than before. It allowed a lot more people to enter the arena. It improved the quality of outdoor television shows as a whole, created a lot more competition, and created competition in sales. It’s a lot more difficult to get advertisers. Content in this business is secondary to sales.

Television news is still a really big deal. They have gotten away from reporting the news, though.
Now they worry more about what color their tie and dress are, what kind of technology they can use and what the studio looks like.

I dealt with Magid (Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc.) in Madison, Minneapolis and Duluth. He caused me a lot of headaches over the years. Magid would come into stations and say, “TV news should look like this,” and the station would change.  

I never had an agent. Maybe it held me back professionally, maybe not. Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite knew how to tell a great story. I feel that if you can tell a good story, people will want you. I moved into a top 20 market relatively quickly in my career. When I broke into a top 20 market, I thought, “Now what?” 

6. What do you see as the future of producing content across various platforms?

outdoors television
It’s changing, and it’s changing very quickly. I just sat with Tom Mackin, the head of Rapala USA, and we were talking about this. I feel old. I can’t keep up. Television is still a great medium. I think that there a lot of people who feel that newspapers and magazines are dying. Advertising is reflecting that. You have the Internet and social media, which are separate things in my mind.

The money still comes from television, not the Internet. I don’t think that many people have figured out to have videos online and make money. There’s a guy who has a video on how to tie the four fishing knots, and makes money from Google. Some people are lucky that way.

On demand through the Internet is something that we’re going to look at down the road. Instead of worrying what time the show will be on, you will be able to watch it online. We don’t know what’s going to happen with YouTube, Facebook and all those others.

I struggle with Facebook. I burn copious amounts of time because I feel that I need to, but I don’t know that it’s directly helping our company. I threatened to quit Facebook, but then I received comments from people who live vicariously through me.

7. What is your biggest catch?

I caught a 14-pound walleye through the ice on a barbless hook with six-pound line up in Saskatchewan. That’s the fish of a lifetime. Not just the fish, but that it was a barbless hook and six- pound line.  

I have caught some 45-inch pike up in Canada. I have as much fun seeing my five-year-old catching sunfish and bass. That sensation is more profound. I have caught a lot of fish. When you get to pass along that passion to your kids, that’s a big deal. Brady’s five and Bennett is three. It’s fun. That’s my next chapter.

8. What are some of your favorite stories that you have covered in your career?

There are so many. Every time I go out the door, it seems like I meet wonderful people. I share a passion for the outdoors. The stories are great, the people are even better – literally every time that I go out. We just meet great people. The fun of this job is destinations and the people. It’s the stories. Everything we shoot.  

I was working a booth at the ice fishing show in December. A couple of ninth graders wanted me to autograph their ball caps. I knew that I had a story when I met them. They go ice fishing every day. They want to be professional guides, but the biggest thing holding them back is that they don’t have driver’s licenses to go to the bait shop. It turned out to be a great story.

9. How can public relations professionals help you in your job? What are you looking for from them?

They are a key resource for us on many levels. Number one, helping us with story ideas. It’s been a busy day. I was on the phone with someone from the state of South Dakota. He’s a key resource on finding destinations, story ideas, money for sponsorships. Everywhere we go, they all have people working to promote a message. Those messages are all directly tied to what we do – travel, entertainment, natural resources. I deal with those folks daily. 

It’s the same for companies. Public relations and marketing folks can help with our advertising. They’re kind of the conduit to the money at times. I love a lot of them and hate a few.

For a collection of more public relations tips, insights and reflections, buy the book "19 Tips for Successful Public Relations: Insights on Media Relations and Reputation Management" from!
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