One of the recent cable trends being treated with much
fanfare is the influx of new marketing talent from outside of our industry. Given
increased competition and consumer choice, a key skill set desired is major
product-branding expertise. Hopes are high that these new perspectives will raise the bar
of cable's overall marketing efforts and lead us into the future.
Another less-noted but related trend is the number of
new-marketer/cable marriages that are failing, with some new marketers exiting cable. What
happens? Why do so many leave so quickly?
Many of these new marriages share a similar timeline, as
Courtship: As a marketing opportunity, cable
is attractive, exciting and very much a new-millennium product. It's no wonder why
many marketers are drawn to our business.
Marriage: New marketers enter our business
armed with fresh ideas and high expectations.
Honeymoon: This usually lasts six to nine
months. It may be an example of Seinfeld's "Two Worlds Colliding"
hypothesis, bringing the strategies and creativity of consumer-product marketing and
branding face-to-face with the core nature of incumbent cable-marketing efforts.
Divorce Court: Problems arise, expectations
on both sides are not met and a breakup occurs. Often, all of this transpires within 12 to
18 months. If breaking up is hard to do, why does it happen? Can some breakups be avoided?
Prior to entering the cable business, I spent five years as
vice president of marketing for a national fast-food chain. Much of the job centered
around television advertising, both in media-buying strategies and commercial production.
Twice a year, we would travel to Los Angeles for three weeks to shoot large pools of TV
commercials. It was a world of storyboards, concept testing, casting calls, productions,
rough cuts and finished commercials -- all creative in nature. The key person who I
interfaced with in determining our success was the creative director of our advertising
Fast-food marketing was not all creative fun and games.
Presenting new, finished TV commercials in advanced screenings to our franchisee groups
was particularly important, since franchisees understood that the strength of the TV
commercials would directly influence their bottom lines. Building franchisee support, or
"internal marketing," was key to any campaign's success. These creative
presentations usually went fine, except for one group of particularly cantankerous
franchisees -- the New York City-area operators. Our agency president referred to those
meetings as "Judgment at Nuremberg."
Upon joining the cable business, by pure reflex, I
inquired, "What about our TV-advertising budget?" The response was, "What
TV-advertising budget?" I knew then that I was in a new marketing world. I went from
a television-centric fast-food marketing world to a world of direct-mail databases, street
sheets, call lists, completion rates and sales turn-in procedures.
The marketing emphasis was on the selection of tactics --
direct sales, telemarketing, direct mail, etcetera -- and on the allocation of resources
between each. Key interface relationships were no longer with ad-agency creative
directors, but with regional marketing directors, direct-sales managers, telemarketing
managers and customer-service managers. With cable being both a subscription and a
transaction business, sales processes and procedures are critical.
Sometimes, these procedures may be given too much weight.
In one large metropolitan system, the sales paperwork was so demanding that the
administrators who reviewed and decided whether sales orders got accepted were
affectionately known as "the sales-prevention department."
The nature of the cable business -- fragmented markets,
different channel capacities and lineups, geographically defined service areas -- all
helped to define and sometimes limit the characteristics and definition of marketing
efforts. Even with a surge in the clustering of metropolitan areas under one operator -- a
tremendous marketing advantage -- some markets, such as Los Angeles, appear as if they
will continue to be constrained by fragmentation for the foreseeable future. These
variables will continue to define marketing possibilities.
Cable marketers have long had inferiority complexes. And
why not? For years, they have been told that they are weak marketers. But the people
saying this are usually broadcasters, who may need to reflect on the marketing jobs that
they've done in maintaining their own viewers.
In recent months, I have had discussions with several music
executives in Los Angeles. The music business is enduring a difficult period, with flat or
declining sales, disappointing results from formerly proven performers and few new
In discussing cable, they are impressed not because cable
has taken a small, rural business and turned it into a national media powerhouse, but
because even with high penetration rates and new competition, cable continues to display
healthy subscriber and revenue growth. Their interest is in the direct-marketing tactics
employed by cable to bolster this growth.
The cable business is changing. Branding will be
increasingly important. New and unique marketing approaches will be required to maintain
growth. New marketing perspectives and people will be essential. Can we help to improve
their chances for success?
In outlining the opportunities and challenges of cable
marketing to potential new industry marketers, we must not get so caught up in the new
branding and creative needs that we overlook the importance of the cable operator's
direct, tactical-marketing foundation. Those new marketers who enter cable looking for a
purely creative marketing play will be disappointed and possibly mismatched. Those who
relish the challenge of blending branding and new creative campaigns with the established,
successful tactical fundamentals of cable marketing will be a great asset to themselves
and to our industry.
A clear description of the unique characteristics of cable
and the accompanying marketing ramifications is needed during the courtship process. If
clear expectations are made that both direct/tactical and creative/branding skill sets
will be required, the right marketers can enter our business and maximize their positive
contributions to our future.
In an era of family values, this should be our goal.
John D. Clark Jr. has held the titles of senior vice
president of marketing and programming for Cencom Cable and Crown Media; executive vice
president of Tele-TV; and managing director/CEO of Telecom New Zealand's First Media
cable division. He currently operates a telecommunications- and entertainment-consulting