Then & Now: Former TV news chief finds success at Tyson Foods

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,798 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Brook Thomas spent 16 years working in a television newsroom. Seven years removed, he said there are aspects he misses and doesn’t miss.

“I miss the pace of the newsroom,” he said in a recent interview. “I do not miss the [long] hours.”

Underscoring the point, Thomas said the departure from TV news resonates specifically on so-called “snow days” or during the election season.

“I’ve thought about all of my former [co-workers] during the election cycle and on election night and was glad I didn’t have to stay in the newsroom until 3 a.m. while Washington County counts ballots,” he joked.

Thomas, 45, worked at Fayetteville television affiliates KNWA-TV (NBC) and KFTA-TV (FOX) from 2000 until the summer of 2016. KFTA and KNWA are sister stations owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. of Irving, Texas.

A Fayetteville native, Thomas started as a part-time teleprompter operator and parlayed that into a full-time job two years later while attending the University of Arkansas. He had a front-row seat chronicling the news in his hometown and the greater metro region. He was a photographer, producer and assignment editor before becoming the news director in 2007. In that role, Thomas managed about 50 employees and oversaw 34 hours of local news every week.

In 2014, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal recognized him as a Forty Under 40 honoree. Thomas was to the point when a reporter asked about the philosophy that guided his rise through the local TV ranks.

“You do the job you’ve been given and do it to the best of your ability every day,” he said. “And then you do it more.”

In 2016, however, Thomas began thinking he’d done enough in the news business. He sought a different career path that would allow him to develop professionally while remaining in Northwest Arkansas.

“The media industry was starting to show signs of volatility,” he recalled. “And I had been in the same role at that point, which I probably couldn’t sustain through retirement. At least not in this market. And I had no desire to leave Northwest Arkansas.”

While examining options, Thomas sought opportunities offering stability while offering growth opportunities and challenges. Thomas had numerous contacts throughout the region through his work as a news director. Some of them worked for Tyson Foods.

Those connections helped open a few doors, and after multiple interviews, Thomas accepted a position working for the company as an associate product manager in the raw poultry division.

“I kept getting positive feedback from people who worked there that it was an excellent culture, and the culture has delivered on what was promised,” he said.

After 16 years of working in the broadcast industry, Thomas didn’t give up his passion for content storytelling cold turkey. In 2018, he began a consulting firm that helped small businesses with brand management, social media content development and marketing strategy. Within a few years, he had incorporated that side hustle into new and growing responsibilities at Tyson Foods.

“I went from doing what I loved doing in broadcast, which is the content and storytelling, to really connecting with people in a digital space and exploring the white space of communication,” he said. “It’s becoming a bigger focus in the industry, not just Tyson Foods.”

Tyson Foods has promoted Thomas three times. In his current role, he is a senior manager of digital customer experience within the company’s foodservice division, which accounts for nearly 30% of the meat giant’s sales.

“We are responsible for all the digital communications that connect with foodservice operators across the country and help support them and their businesses,” Thomas said.

Thomas and his wife of 16 years have two daughters, 11 and 6. They spend most of their time on a homestead they have named Richland Cottage. The property is in Goshen in eastern Washington County adjacent to Richland Creek.

Thomas, who is an Eagle Scout, leads a local Cub Scout pack that includes his daughters.

“My brother and father were Eagle Scouts, and I come from a family in scouting,” he explained. “My girls were interested in joining, so we jumped on the Scout bandwagon. And they’ve loved it.”