Cable is determined not to lose the public-relations war
Executives of the National Cable Television Association
have long asserted that the industry lacked media savvy when it fought reregulation in
'We've always encouraged media training. One of
the lessons that we learned from 1992 is, 'Don't let other people tell your
story,'' said Torie Clark, vice president of public affairs for the NCTA.
'That's become Decker's mantra.'
NCTA president Decker Anstrom has stressed PR. And with
cable rates becoming a major issue in Washington, D.C., again, some operators are finally
Cable operators now express confidence that they have
consumer-media contacts in place at the field level, ready to counter any attacks coming
out of Washington.
A strong proponent is Insight Communications Co., where CEO
Michael Willner brought in a professional media trainer for the MSO's recent
managers' meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.
The MSO's goal: to excise the word
'monopoly' from coverage and to create a 'reservoir of goodwill' with
local reporters and editors. That should guarantee that the local paper will call for
comments from the local operator, rather than just running wire stories that are critical
of the industry.
'We're trying to teach them that they are the
ambassadors of a new age' for cable, said Carol Shander, the former cable executive
who offers 'PR 101' to the Insight managers. That company's front line has
been instructed to schedule editorial-board meetings and to get to know their local beat
'Some people look at it as yet another job to do, but
it really pays off,' she said. Insight managers are clipping local coverage to
forward to Shander for comment. She said she's already seen a change in the tenor of
coverage in the form of newspaper clips that detailed service improvements and programming
additions early in the stories, while rate increases were mentioned lower.
Managers don't have to become media professionals --
just focus on a few basics, Shander said. Call reporters back promptly and tell them all
that you can, but always be truthful. If you can't comment, let them know that, too.
And remember, the reporter is probably one of your
customers, too, she added.
'Insight is one of our superstars,' Clark said.
'They're doing it the right way.'
But she added that she thinks that many cable companies
have gotten the word over the last five years.
'A few years ago, the attitude was, 'Oh my gosh,
I hate that.' Now, they see it as an important part of their business,' Clark
Indeed, after the rhetorical beating that the industry took
in 1992, more than 4,300 executives and system personnel took advantage of a
three-year-long media-training program offered by the Cable Telecommunications Association
CATA gave courses on rate regulation, public-affairs
essentials and presenting critical-viewing workshops. Some attendees returned for more
education when CATA updated the curriculum, according to a report on the program.
'The industry got the message years ago. I don't
think that any [media-contact increase] is in response to press releases from
[Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, a frequent cable critic]. It's part of an ongoing
process of communicating [the fact that] cable is a good value at these prices,' said
Jim Ewalt, executive vice president of CATA.
Although few cable companies state that media training is
mandatory for general managers, corporate dictates instruct managers to try to find time
to meet with local reporters before a crisis hits.
'We know that what matters is what touches
customers,' said LaRae Marsik, spokeswoman for Tele-Communications Inc.
After slashing public-affairs personnel two years ago, TCI
has upgraded its media machine, hiring state or regional public-affairs executives to
cover the entire country.
Local response to issues still lies with local managers,
who are expected to know their local reporters, but they can fall back on state or
regional public-affairs executives for assistance, she said. For instance, to deal with
recent stories on TCI's pending rate hikes, TCI provided local managers with national
averages and other contextual information to adapt to their situations.
To help local executives, corporate distributes 'TCI
in the News,' so that managers can read news clips about the company from around the
country. It also publishes an internal newsletter called 'One Voice,' with
in-depth stories on company issues.
Time Warner Cable's major systems and clusters each
have public-relations professionals at the director or vice president level, said Mike
Luftman, vice president of public affairs for the MSO.
'They work very hard on context, stressing
improvements and their impact on prices,' he said.
At Jones Intercable Inc., managers have a media tool kit,
constantly refreshed by divisional communications directors.
'But this isn't, 'Media Campaign,
First-Quarter 1998' -- it's part of the job,' said Jones spokeswoman Erica