Job security and soul searching aren't on the official agenda for this year's Cable Television Public Affairs Association's conference, which started yesterday at Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
But those issues will be top-of-mind for many attendees.
The official theme of Forum 2002 is presenting a unified "message" to a cable system's various constituencies. But the recent round of layoffs at AT&T Broadband, which included Cynthia Eichner, the highly respected vice president for employee communications at AT&T — who had been scheduled to appear on a conference panel — was an unsettling reminder of the fallout from a poor economy and industry restructuring and consolidation.
"Axes are falling all across the country," said one top executive. "It's hard to ignore."
The association has also hired Westat, an outside consultant specializing in strategic planning for organizations, to conduct a strategic review. "We want to find out where the organization should be going in the next few years, and get pointed in the best possible direction," CTPAA executive director Steve Jones said.
The conference itself will feature a number of panels and sessions on such communications challenges as integrating a local system's message to employees, customers, businesses and politicians; working more effectively with networks; and "cause" marketing.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Robert Sachs will give a keynote speech on the state of the cable industry Tuesday morning. Cable News Network's Judy Woodruff will then moderate a session on "communications and messaging under intense media pressure," with panelists including former NCTA spokeswoman Torie Clarke, now at the Pentagon, and Mike Luftman, the popular corporate spokesman for Time Warner Cable who recently said he will retire.
On Tuesday night, CTPAA hands out Beacon awards, which honor outstanding public-affairs campaigns by local cable systems. The association will also present its President's Award for public-affairs leadership to Cablevision Systems Corp. CEO Jim Dolan and VH1 and Country Music Television president John Sykes.
William McGorry and Larry Oliver, publishing executives with Reed Business Information — which publishes Multichannel News
— will receive an honorary Beacon for supporting cable public-affairs initiatives.