Unless you live in an AT&T Broadband & Internet
Services service area, you may not be familiar with one of the nation's
highest-circulation publications, The TCI Connection.
With a monthly base of more than 10 million subscribers,
the MSO's newsletter ranks closely behind such top magazines as Modern Maturity,
Reader's Digest and TV Guide, according to AT&T Broadband senior
vice president of marketing Doug Seserman.
Scheduled to be rebranded AT&T Connection beginning
with the November issue, TCI Connection was launched in April 1998 to serve as a
customer-retention tool. Earlier this year, the MSO sent out a request for proposals, and
Cincinnati-based Sullivan Advertising Inc. recently took over the project of overhauling
"August was our first issue," Sullivan president
Neal Sullivan said, adding that the agency would continue to implement design changes to
help boost relevance and readability.
Seserman said AT&T Broadband conducts ongoing research
on the newsletter. In results taken about six months ago, readership averaged 26 percent
per month -- an indication that subscribers actually look at the billstuffer.
"We're very pleased with that number, and we hope
that it will grow in time as we condition people to look for what's available each
month," he added.
Unlike most top publications, TCI Connection is
small enough to fit in the same envelope as subscribers' monthly statements.
"The thinking in this industry is that bill inserts
aren't very well-read," Seserman said. "Our feeling is that you've got
to give people a reason to read them."
Sullivan and Seserman said one of the most popular sections
in the newsletter is the "Nice Surprise Coupon" page.
Seserman likened the coupons to the surprise inside a
Cracker Jack box -- something that people will be compelled to look for.
In consumer testing, Sullivan found that coupons scored
high as far as sections that were deemed useful to readers.
"We want to make sure people see the coupons,"
Sullivan said. In recent months, the agency put a "burst" on the cover
indicating, "Nice Surprise Coupons Inside."
Like other sections in the magazine, the coupons can be
localized for a given cable system. Two coupons each month are reserved for corporate use,
but systems have the option of adding a third -- perhaps from a local retailer or
advertiser -- on their own.
Programming-related editorial and advertising dominates the
publication. A "TCI Hot Picks of the Month" column breaks out recommended shows
Seserman said AT&T Broadband will consolidate the Hot
Picks column down to a single side of the newsletter so readers can more easily clip it
and post it on the refrigerator, as research shows many already do.
In August, Sullivan published 180 local versions of the
newsletter, with the Hot Picks section tailored according to channel lineups in different
Through cooperative advertising, programmers also highlight
special programming through glossy ads to help drive tune-in to their shows.
"It's a very targeted vehicle for media
buys," Seserman said, because 100 percent of the readers are cable households.
Like its "TCI Rewards" loyalty program, AT&T
Broadband uses TCI Connection as one of its primary retention vehicles. "This
gives us an opportunity for an ongoing dialogue with our customers," Seserman said.
Each month, there's a letter to subscribers from the
corporate or system level, and sometimes both. For example, in September, AT&T
Broadband CEO Leo J. Hindery Jr. explained the company's name change to AT&T.
Seserman said local general managers also have the
opportunity to describe new products and services as they're introduced at the system
"Historically, the bill has been a place for bad
news," Seserman added. "What we're doing is trying to provide the good
Ultimately, AT&T would like the Connection to be
a vehicle for two-way communication. But before the newsletter publishes a toll-free
number or a Web site, the MSO must develop a strong fulfillment infrastructure for
responding to consumer comments and questions.