To paraphrase former U.S. House of Representatives speaker Tip O'Neill's age-old axiom about the essence of politics, in the cable industry, all business is local.
For customer service training to resonate; for packaging and pricing strategies to maximize revenue; and for marketing, ad sales and public relations initiatives to successfully achieve their stated objectives, they must pass muster on the front lines.
Similarly, the most successful of these initiatives are fully integrated-that is, they involve multiple business partners, are multimedia in nature and fully leverage the resources of all the companies involved.
The term "fully integrated" has been much bandied about lately. And while the phrase is used broadly, we wonder how many people have ever stopped to consider what full integration really means.
In cable systems, divisions and regional offices all across the country-as well as marketing, ad-sales and public- relations people-continue to do remarkable work, often with a minimum of resources. Yet we wonder how much easier their jobs would be if they would fully leverage the resources of their programming partners and "integrate" them into their efforts. By that, we mean taking their knowledge of the local marketplace and our comprehensive resources and combining the two into an exciting and effective marketing, ad-sales and communications initiative.
So our affiliate marketers, ad-sales and communications partners can know the success of a fully integrated local effort, we offer the following checklist of questions that should be asked while planning your next project:
1. Did you hold a meeting? Asking this question may seem as silly as directions on the back of a shampoo bottle, but you'd be surprised how often companies plan major undertakings without full weigh-in from all key departments. Trust us, the first step in creating a successful campaign is to "integrate" it into your own operation.
2. Does this initiative utilize the resources of a network partner? Integration means not only multiple departments, it means multiple companies. So many firms on the content side of our business have entire staffs dedicated to creating value-based products for affiliates to develop and use on the local level. And as consolidation decreases the number of affiliate companies while increasing their size, more and more programmers are tailoring specific initiatives to the specific needs of a particular affiliate.
3. Will you leverage the power of the programmer's brand? Some of the most powerful media names in the world are MTV, CNN, Disney, Discovery and ESPN. People respect and admire these brands. They resonate with consumers, and this fact is born out in the increasing number of successful new business ventures that carry those names. For the affiliate, this is a great opportunity to harness that loyalty and leverage it to sell new products and services.
4. Does this initiative go beyond acquisitions? As competition increases, the standards by which a healthy business is measured are changing as well. Mere penetration figures provide only a snapshot of the business at any given point in time, at the expense of more meaningful measurements like customer satisfaction, brand loyalty and willingness to switch, buy new products or downgrade. Any initiative that is only designed to acquire new customers without building equity in the corporate brand is faulty by design.
5. What role does local ad sales play in the initiative? If you answer "none," stop right now and go back to the drawing board. A fully integrated plan will not only market the multichannel operator's products and services, but will drive revenue through an infusion of local ad-sales dollars. No matter what the project entails, there are many ways to involve local ad-sales professionals and provide them a unique selling opportunity that also benefits sponsors.
6. Will this initiative drive new, renewable revenue? Any new initiative should be designed to drive new ad sales revenue and ensure the revenue will be recurring. Be careful you are not simply taking existing ad dollars and redirecting them internally.
7. Have you produced an effective TV campaign to support the initiative? Television is the most powerful communication medium in the world, yet on the local level it is only occasionally leveraged to its fullest extent. An effective TV campaign doesn't have to cost a lot of money, but does require some imagination, a clear understanding of the target demo and the ability to craft an effective message.
8. Have you developed a plan to strategically use your local avails? If you have not already done so, have your ad-sales people build an advertising flight for your marketing initiative or promotion that uses all the strategic and demographic rationale they would employ for a client. As is often the case, the local pizza shop will receive a very clear, strategic and carefully crafted flight, while the system gives itself whatever is left. Treat your initiative like a client, and use avails wisely. Know the specific demographics of the audience you're trying to reach, target your message and "negotiate" the best schedule possible.
9. Have you explored local programming opportunities within major national networks? Networks like The Weather Channel, Headline News and others provide affiliates with unique ways of integrating local programming (and ad-sales opportunities) into the national programming block. Explore those opportunities, find ways to bring unique, highly visible programming to your local market and watch how eagerly local advertisers react.
10. Will you utilize the growing number of programmer brand extensions? ESPN has ESPN Zone restaurant and ESPN The Magazine, Discovery has a very strong retail presence and Nickelodeon has a whole series of terrific products for kids. Just because these brand extensions are not telecommunications-based doesn't mean they can't be used to sell telecommunications products. Call your affiliate representative and find out how these exciting new businesses can help you promote your products and services locally.
11. Have you included other media? Full integration not only covers multiple departments and companies, but media as well. Locally based radio stations, newspapers, magazines and Web sites are all hungry to promote themselves. The most successful initiatives have partners in promotion, and the more local media you can include, the greater the likelihood that your message will be heard by your target demo.
12. Is there a public - relations element? One of the hot new concepts in corporate America these days is "mar-com," which integrates marketing and communications. The principle is that a company needs one clear message in the marketplace, whether through media that is bought (marketing) or earned (public relations). A major live event, a charitable fundraiser, a local contest or a competition can all serve as a springboard to great local press, and one more opportunity to get your message heard.
The cable industry works best when programmers and affiliates work together to build our businesses. Let's continue to do so, and we will find success in the "integrated" future.
E.J. Conlin is director of affiliate marketing and promotion at ESPN, and Joan Wilson is vice president of affiliate advertising sales and new business for the network.