Backtalk: Kick-Ass Time at CTAM U.

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Having three Black Labs -- two now gray in the muzzle -- Ihave come to grudgingly accept the old saying that you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

And looking at the cable industry's overall marketingfinesse, I have to wonder if that adage applies to human behavior, as well.

Oddly enough, in some respects, the cable marketer is notunlike the old dog -- who, for lack of basic training, early socialization and nowdeep-rooted inertia and stubbornness, resorts to its past high-wire act of undisciplinedand inappropriate behavior.

To its credit, no one tackles that problem more head-on --but not necessarily in canine parlance -- than CTAM, the industry's marketing association.

As the organization says in its newly minted 'CTAMEducational Foundation' mission statement, 'the price that cable paid for its enormousearly success is that many cable executives do not have the breadth of experience inmarketing or competitive tactics required to survive the rigors of all-out consumerwarfare.'

In other words, we're talking about a basic lack of earlyand effective training, which is a major handicap for a maturing business now facingcompetition. And that's kind of disturbing after all of these years of listening to cablejawbone about how it has to better market and communicate now that competition is here.

That lack of marketing savvy still plagues the business.Just last week, I caught one of the long-awaited, on-air spots for Tele-CommunicationsInc.'s new digital cable service.

It zoned in on some of the most compelling attributes ofdigital cable, such as the multiplexed premium services that were priced at about the sameor slightly more than plain old cable.

And there might have been a quick mention of one of digitalcable's greatest attributes -- the on-screen navigator -- but if there was a mention, Imissed it, because it was so downplayed.

But, worse than that, the spot made viewers go out of theirway to upgrade to digital -- something that the industry does all of the time -- when iturged viewers, via a spot from the national MSO headquarters, to call their cableoperators, rather than targeting viewers via local insertion.

At the end of the spot, a voice-over urged viewers to orderthe new digital cable TV service now. Of course, there was no telephone number on thescreen.

To its credit, CTAM has not given up on the old dogs in thepack who haven't yet learned the most basic marketing tactics. The association this monthwill begin to aggressively drum up attendees for its first class at CTAM U.

CTAM U. -- as the association's president, Char Beales,describes it -- is a 'kick-ass,' six-day-and-evening course that will be held this June atNorthwestern University's Media Center.

The center melds the faculty and resources of the J.L.Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the Medill School of Journalism. It tacklesmanagement problems that confront media organizations, and it crosses many managementdisciplines, including strategy, strategic content, databases, new-product introductionand marketing.

The CTAM U. course supplants lectures with interactivelearning. Students are exposed to actual case studies, bench-marketing exercises andpresentations by industry executives. Teams are formed with problems to solve.

But most important, attendees get coaching on what theylearn in the classroom in terms of applying it to the realities of their own companies andmarketplaces, as Beales explains, which is often the most difficult thing to do.

The center over the years has attracted and continues toattract top executives from other media industries, most notably the NationalAssociation of Broadcasters.

Under the aegis of the CTAM Educational Foundation, whichis chaired by John F. Gault, executive vice president of Time Warner Cable, this leg ofthe program aims to enhance the professional development and growth of the industry'ssenior-most executives.

The class will be limited to 40 industry professionals, andCTAM hopes to attract a mix of executives from operations, programming and MIS -- in otherwords, not just marketers.

And that may be the key to its success: the interactionamong the various job functions and disciplines.

And that's what CTAM U. training seems to be all about:making sure that companies and executives can get and provide training, while remainingflexible and agile enough to master the new tricks of survival in a competitive arena.

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