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Vanguard Award for Government & Community Relations

3/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Last October, Alex Trebek, host of the popular TV game show Jeopardy provided contestants with this clue: “Time Warner Cable gives Chrystal Apples as awards to those who excel in this profession.” The answer: “What are teachers.”

The Jeopardy question, answered correctly by a librarian from New York, was referring to Time Warner Cable's annual National Teacher Awards, which has honored over 1,000 teachers in New York City and in many other communities in the MSO's national footprint. This year's Chrystal Apple winners received an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., $2,000 in cash for each winning project, and a $3,000 school technology grant.

The program, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, was started by former Time Warner Cable executive vice president of corporate affairs Lynn Yaeger, and since 1993 has been one of the cable operator's many community service programs overseen by Bonnie Hathaway. And her work has not gone unnoticed. Hathaway receives a Vanguard award this year for her government and community service work.

“Bonnie has been the architect of Time Warner Cable's community, philanthropic and educational outreach for 16 years, and her work has made a significant difference for this company and our communities,” Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt said.

Britt cited the National Teachers Awards as one example of the efforts that make Hathaway so richly deserving of a Vanguard. “[But] the impact of Bonnie's leadership does not stop with Time Warner Cable; [it] extends throughout our industry through her contributions to Cable in the Classroom, Cable Positive and the Association of Cable Communicators.”

Over the years, much of this work has had both a corporate and a deeply personal dimension.

“My involvement with Cable Positive is certainly a corporate one but also very personal because I lost many friends,” said Hathaway, who first got involved with Cable Positive in the early 1990s and has served on its board for a number of years. “But I'm very lucky to work in an industry that can support something like Cable Positive. Cable is really the only industry where all the CEOs and top people have come together to create an industry-supported organization for HIV/AIDS awareness and education.”

That kind of community service runs throughout Hathaway's career, though she admits she didn't consciously set out to establish a career in government and community relations.

“Writing, journalism and production was always big on my agenda,” she said. “But I never had a five-year plan or a 10-year plan. It is only looking back on it that I see a path there.”

After graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor's in communications, Hathaway got her first experience with government departments and community relations working at Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where she helped the law enforcement agency educate residents on crime and crime prevention.

That led to her first television experience as director of public information at the seven-station Georgia Public Television Network and then her first exposure to the cable industry as marketing services director for the Cable Coupon Network in Atlanta.

“At the time, cable was just starting to be on everyone's radar and I'd known some people in public television who had gone over to cable,” said Hathaway, who then took a job with HBO in 1983, as affiliate public relations manager for the Southern region covered by the premium channel's Atlanta office.

“When HBO first started to do original movies, we would work with the cable operators to do movie premiers in communities,” she said. “Then as their documentary unit grew, we did a lot of work with the operators to identify organizations within their communities that had some connection to the issues that were being covered by the documentary.”

In 1986, Hathaway was offered a job at HBO in New York. “I was a single parent and in the early part of my career made choices based on what was best for the whole family,” Hathaway said. “When I got the job offer, I sat down with my kids, one of whom as in college and the other was out of college. The kids said, 'You know you've always based your job decision on what was best for us and now is time to think about what is best for you.'

“That told me first of all that my kids had grown up and were really adults and they were kicking me out of the house,” Hathaway added with a laugh.

Hathaway moved to New York and took the job as director of public relations for affiliate relations at HBO. Here, she became increasingly active in a number of cable organizations, where she met Lynn Yaeger, who was Hathaway's boss until she retired in 2007.

In 1993, Yaeger hired Hathaway as director of corporate community relations. At the time, cable was much more heavily regulated than it is today, particularly on a local level. “It was important to have a strong community presence and work with local community leaders, legislators and regulators to develop a sense of being good corporate citizens,” Hathaway said.

While those local activities and relationships with local government officials remain extremely important, Hathaway said Time Warner is currently in the process of revaluating its philanthropic efforts to make them more focused on the needs of consumers. This shift reflects the fact that there is less local regulation and the realities of an increasingly competitive landscape.

“I think by focusing on the local regulatory side, we sometimes lost sight of the customer,” Hathaway said. To make sure future efforts are most closely tied to customer needs, the MSO is currently doing a thorough review of its efforts that includes some consumer research.

While this review is likely to alter the focus of some of the MSO's philanthropic efforts, Hathaway stressed the importance of maintaining its community efforts in these tough economic times. “We have been supporting communities for a long time and that support is needed now more than ever,” she said. “If anything, we need to redouble those efforts.”

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