Mending The Fences

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When Judy Meyka joined Adelphia Communications Corp. as senior vice president of programming last year, she found herself at the center of one of the MSOs most critical problems — repairing relationships with vendors who were underpaid, paid late or not paid at all.

It was clear to Adelphia’s management that it couldn’t solve many of its most vexing difficulties until it dealt with suppliers. After all, it wouldn’t improve its relations with customers if it couldn’t upgrade its plant and add new services. And the MSO wouldn’t be able to make creditors and shareholders happy if it couldn’t improve its bottom line — which goes back to selling new and more products and services to customers.

“Rebuilding those relationships has been arduous,” Meyka says. She has smoothed over relations with programmers that hadn’t been paid for months, renegotiating expired contracts and crafting deals for new products and services.

“We have worked hard, and we’ve done the things we said we’d do,” Meyka says. “So things are much better. For one thing, we started paying our bills. That alone went a long way in mending fences. I think the respect programmers have for the new management team and seeing how focused and dedicated the company is has helped as well.”

Coleman Breland, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Turner Network Sales, agrees. He says the new management at Adelphia has done a good job considering the “tough situation” they stepped into following the ouster of the founding Rigas family and the subsequent filing for bankruptcy. Breland says that Meyka and her lieutenants have worked overtime. “There were times when we were talking on the phone at 9:30 or 10 at night,” he says.

Moreover, “they’ve done a good job being responsive with us, and not just with the financial situation. They’ve been good at dealing with day-to-day issues as well,” Breland says.

While Meyka’s team continues to forge new deals and repair relationships, the company’s marketing team is furiously trying to sell as many of the company’s products as possible after years of lackluster and non-focused marketing campaigns. In the middle of that process is Nancy McGee, who joined the company three months ago as senior vice president of marketing, during the company’s auction process.

McGee had worked with Adelphia’s two leaders, president and chief operating officer Ron Cooper and CEO Bill Schleyer during their days at AT&T Broadband. “I looked forward to working with both of them again,” she says. “Plus, it was a unique opportunity to make an impact in the industry, and I think we’ve done that. This job has been surprisingly fun.”

And hectic. Two years ago, all of Adelphia’s marketing efforts had to be approved by corporate, and it often took field personnel months to get an OK to undertake any marketing projects.

Since the new management has come in, and despite the bankruptcy proceedings, Adelphia has ramped up the marketing of its products and services. That has positive implications for the company’s programming partners. Indeed, Starz Encore Group executive vice president of sales Ed Huguez says he enjoys working with Adelphia today.

“They are actively trying to move forward despite the uncertainty [that] they are having to deal with on a daily basis,” Huguez says. “The bankruptcy hasn’t affected what they are doing and what caused the bankruptcy in the first place is behind them. Every company has a different personality, but I’d have to say Adelphia today is one of the most aggressive when it comes to marketing.”

Huguez credits Adelphia’s veteran staff for making the most of what they have to offer customers. “We like working with them,” he says. “We have a good working relationship with Adelphia, and we’re planning for a full slate of marketing campaigns and rollouts in 2005, regardless of whether there is a sale or not.”

Breland says Turner’s marketing partnership with Adelphia was strong in 2004, and he expects that relationship to continue into next year. “We’ve been very pleased with how responsive they have been. And we’ve had some successful campaigns this year,” he says.

Clearly, Adelphia’s marketing efforts have been driven by an expanded selection of products to sell. To grease the wheels, Adelphia’s new management decentralized its marketing functions last year. Marketing experts have been ensconced at both the regional and local level to undertake campaigns that fit their needs.

Corporate has also been busy. Adelphia reconfigured its digital-product lineup to make it simple for customers to buy and for customer-service reps to sell. In an attempt to satisfy customers, the marketing department has spent a lot of time, resources and money on better target marketing.

“We want to better understand our customers,” McGee says. “It’s a challenge balancing aggressive promotions with knowing who your customers are and what they want. And at the same time, staying away from deep discounts to make sure we maximize profits effectively.”