Industry Pro: Television Host Paige McCoy Smith
Today’s profile addresses a question I get A LOT from readers of YII and other aspiring entertainment pros. It goes something like this, “I am a midcareer professional outside the entertainment industry but I still harbor dreams of being in the biz. Is it too late for me?” Paige McCoy Smith might’ve had the same question a little over four years ago when the vision for her brand, The Not-So-Perfect Parent, was forming and she decided to take some action. The answer for her was “Absolutely NOT!” She is now a television host on a network affiliate morning show, the writer of a popular blog, a speaker, and a radio host. And all this, AFTER having had a successful career in another field. Read on to find out how she made the switch…
Current position: I am a parenting host for “Good Morning Texas,” a morning show on the ABC affiliate in Dallas.
College & degree: I received my Bachelors Degree in Communications from University of Colorado and my Masters in Marriage & Family therapy from Abilene Christian University.
Internship: During undergrad, I did a sports marketing internship for several years with our college athletic department.
Pre-Entertainment Career: For nine years, I worked at a large non-profit organization as their Vice President of Communications. I really enjoyed that, believed in the mission, and had a very fulfilling experience. But I essentially grew as far as I could grow in that capacity and was anxious to do something new. I ultimately began to craft my own brand, to shape my idea. I can explain how the epiphany happened…
Right after my firstborn arrived, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed like many new mothers. And I happened to be watching “Martha Stewart.” In that particular episode, she was shown literally pulling honey from a bee hive to use in a recipe. Then she wove her own rug. (She has her own loom!) And then she picked miniature corns out of her garden for recipes. And I started realizing this is a persona I could never attain. Especially when you add in having a child, the possibility of being this perfect person was completely out the door. So I developed a brand called The Not-So-Perfect Parent.
I sat on it for a while. I really thought about it, and I would dabble and I would start to put together a plan. Frankly, I spent a lot of time trying to ignore my inner voice that was encouraging me to try something new, to launch this idea. Eventually I decided to spend some considerable time focusing on it. I developed a very basic business plan and I started to shop it around to different places. I knew I wanted to launch it in a public forum. I wanted to test whether the concept resonated and if it would take root. I found myself on the doorstep of the president of the Dallas ABC affiliate, WFAA. I said, “Here’s my concept. Would you punch some holes in it for me and give me some advice and some insight as to how I could make this better and then make this happen?” And she said, “I think maybe you can make this happen here.” Of course, that panicked me. I had not done television at all and this was a Top 5 market. It was a bigger opportunity than I imagined. But it boiled down to a leap of faith. And I jumped.
It was a difficult learning curve. I went from having a beautiful office, an administrative assistant, and a large staff to starting over, with a remote parking space and a tiny little cubicle. But even during the difficult times, I never for a moment regretted doing it. Since then, the concept has grown. I’m now in a position where I’m doing even more than what the not-so-perfect parent brought to “Good Morning Texas” to do. And I’m really excited about the future and the potential for it to grow even more. It’s been an amazing ride.
How did you get that first meeting? I knew the president of WFAA through my prior career. I called her and asked her for a favor, asked if she could sit down and listen to my idea. I really didn’t anticipate that it would ultimately turn into a job opportunity. I thought she would give me direction and advice and maybe some contacts. But she really took a chance on me.
Did you have a reel or anything? No. I didn’t. Isn’t that crazy? Actually, very soon after that first meeting, she had a medical crisis and she was gone for a few months. But during that time, she assigned her chief photographer to work with me to put together some of my segments. He spent hours and hours and hours with me. And that’s what you would call a reel, I guess, if you will. She wanted me to work with the best photographer on staff so the concept would take more shape. And after that, I was offered the job.
Did you create the website before or after you went on TV? I created it after I was on TV.
So I guess I don’t need to ask you what your big break was? Yeah, it was crazy. It was a very exciting opportunity.
Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.): Well, there are several of them. The one that gave me the courage to take the job and leave my other job, of course. Then, once I was in the job, there was a big eureka moment when I realized that it’s not about me. It’s about the person that I’m interviewing. At that point, I was free from focusing on, What does my hair look like? Am I nailing the teleprompter? Am I sitting properly on the couch? Am I impressing people in the control room? When those things no longer became relevant and when instead I listened and I concentrated on the people I was interviewing and the packages I was creating, that’s when it really all came together. I recognized the privilege of being in a position to speak to people in a really intense time and allow them to tell their story, to give them a platform to tell their story.
Describe a typical work day in your current position: I live in Fort Worth and I work in Dallas so I usually get up by 5:30 and by 5:40, I’m in my car. I’ve gotten it to a science. I get up and within 10 minutes, I’m pulling out the driveway. I get to work around 6:30, look at the rundown for the day, review the scripts, review what’s happened in the overnight news and just get prepared. We then have a pre-show meeting where the producers and the talent talk about how the show is going to be structured that day. And then we hop in the car and take a ten minute drive from the office to the studios. We go into the makeup room and I do my hair and makeup. (The Dallas affiliate does not have hair and makeup. We have to do it all on our own.) Then you get mic-ed, you meet and talk to the guest and make sure they’re comfortable, and 3-2-1, you’re on the air at 9:00. After the show, you have a post-show meeting, talk about what worked and what didn’t work, talk about the next day’s show. And then, I also write and produce most of my segments so I spend the rest of my work day on upcoming pieces.
Worst day in entertainment industry: There were two: I was very green, very new, and I was sitting in front of a guest and I started to faint. I had to will myself to stay conscious, will myself not to pass out. Because I realized if I fainted, my career would be over. On another occasion, I forgot that I had left a big honking hairclip in the back of my hair sticking straight up. I had several viewer comments about my hair. That was a little uncomfortable. There have been tons of slip ups and mishaps and falls because it’s live TV. But mainly it’s a kick in the pants. It’s a lot of fun.
Best day in entertainment industry: There have been so many. I did a story about a little girl who was adopted from Russian who was born without any arms. It was called Nadia’s Story. And at the end of the piece, I looked around the studio and everyone was crying. All of these big, burly cameramen. And, again, it wasn’t me. It was her story, but I was able to shape and tell that story. And that was a privilege and very exciting.
Best thing about your current job: Oh, my gosh. There’s so many things. I think one of the best thing about my job is that I never lose focus on my kids. Because my kids are what inspired the brand, inspired the stories, inspired everything. So I have been able to have a new focus on my kids that is extremely attentive. I’m really listening to what they say. I am capturing it, I am documenting it. Also, the job is flexible. I can pick them up from carpool every day. That’s a real joy of mine.
Worst thing about your current job: Other than internal politics in the industry- in any industry- the pettiness of sometimes how people act. Other than that, I have to get up early. That’s probably the worst thing. And I don’t get paid nearly enough.
How long have you been doing this? I just passed the four year mark.
Brush with greatness (can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do): There are a lot of those, too. It’s not one person. It’s all the people and all their stories. Whether it’s a celebrity or just a mom, I just learn so much. And also the stories that I get to tell about remarkable kids who are in really tough situations, really tough circumstances. Whether it’s socioeconomic or a disability or a disease, they have this resolve and ability to make it work. That’s my #1 “brush with greatness.”
Secret of your success/advice to the newbie: I interviewed a guy named Gary Randall who has an organization called H.O.P.E. Farm which basically helps extremely at-risk kids, helps position them for success. Gary serves as a father figure to hundreds of kids without fathers. And one of the things that he said that impressed me most, when he talks to the boys, he says, “If you can see it, you can achieve it.” The things that I’ve accomplished and the things that have unfolded for me have been a vision that I held onto and prayed over and focused on and believed in. And that’s made the biggest impact.
Next move (or next five moves): Well, I’m talking to some radio stations about starting a radio show. So that’s in process. And a couple of production companies. So we’ll see. I have a very clear vision and I have a very clear direction and I’m going to follow that. But the good news is that I have been utterly grateful for the whole ride. And if it ended, if the show shuts down or if these other opportunities don’t pan out, I will never regret it and I will always be grateful for the opportunity. I have loved every minute of it. Well, not every minute. Most minutes.
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