Stotts may not be able to make a news segment as exciting as a game show, but he can certainly convince viewers that it might be. In fact, he recently received critical accolades for promoting "What They Make," a story about government employees' salaries, like it was an episode of Wheel of Fortune.
Stotts has won 17 regional Emmy awards for his work, 15 of them while working for WHBQ. He snagged an additional pair while working for WKNO-TV, the local public broadcasting affiliate. Over the past two years, he's also taken home an unprecedented number of PROMAX awards: seven gold and two silver. These awards, considered to be the Oscars of news promotion, are internationally recognized as the highest award in electronic media for design, marketing, and promotion.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University, Stotts attended grad school at the University of Memphis, where he studied to be a filmmaker. He never intended to work in television promotions.
"I had been into short fiction. I didn't get into documentaries until I started working for WKNO," says Stotts. He served as co-director for the locally shot Intersections, a Robert Altman/Jim Jarmush-esque film on the life of a Memphis cab driver. "Once I started working at WKNO, I said, Forget this fiction stuff. You can have much more of an impact making documentaries."
It was while producing and editing documentaries at WKNO that Stotts started making his own promos, the short commercial spots designed to tease the projects he was developing.
"Nobody told me what to do or how to do it," Stotts says. "I just did it."
And he did it very well. Paul Sloan, WHBQ's creative director, says, "When our last promotions director left to take a job in San Francisco, she told me, There's this guy you need to hire because he's so much better than me." The person was Stotts.
"First and foremost, we are in charge of promoting our television station and promoting our news," Sloan explains. "Fifty to 75 percent is what we call topical promotion - you know, Tonight at nine on Fox 13 News. That's where you have your greatest chance of getting somebody to watch your news. But that's only part of what we do."
In addition to promoting daily stories, Stotts worked to create Rightly Seasoned, WHBQ's documentary about the 1973 U of M Tigers basketball team. While Stotts may prefer to make documentaries, he and Sloan agree that developing public-service announcements is the most rewarding work they do.
"I won't say that [other stations] don't try to make good spots, but you won't see a lot of effort put into public-service announcements by most stations," says Stotts. He approaches PSA's with a filmmaker's eye and an ear for good storytelling.
"When I was working on a campaign for the Memphis Homeless Coalition, the number one thought I had is that everyone sees them and everybody ignores them," Stotts says. "Then we talked to them and found out that their slogan was, 'Homelessness isn't a crime; ignoring it is.'"
It was a perfect fit. Stotts also wanted to show that most homeless people were normal people who had landed on hard times.
"We'd show a woman holding up a cardboard sign that said Teacher. Another guy held up a sign reading Construction foreman," Sloan says.
Stotts and Sloan hope to take the work they did developing the homeless campaign and turn it into a documentary when time and funding permit, but in the meantime they have their hands full promoting the nightly news.
"It can be exciting," Stotts says. "I've discovered that you can really be creative in a 30-second spot." n