Public-Affairs Execs Get Some Schooling

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It doesn’t have such collegiate trappings as sports teams, but a college-level course recently concluded by the Cable Television Public Affairs Association certainly has fans.

The trade group, in partnership with George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, held a three-day master’s-type course for high-level media public relations professionals to brush up their skills on everything from media management to the principles of lobbying.

Professors from the university — joined for one module by Cox Communications Inc. CEO Jim Robbins — led 23 participants in discussions of case studies, including Bridgestone/Firestone’s handling of the Firestone 500 tire recall and safety problems, to Cox’s own “Make Them Play Fair” grassroots campaign battling planned ESPN rate increases. The Institute was conducted Dec. 6 to 8.

It was the first attempt at a professional growth opportunity for seasoned executives, according to the CTPAA. Given the response, it’s not likely to be the last.

AIMED AT VETS

The organization hoped to attract 25 executives to pony up $3,000 for tuition, food and housing for the course, but actually got 30 applicants, said Peter Kiley, director of affiliate relations for C-SPAN and current CTPAA president.

“We were thrilled with that. We thought if we got 12 in the first year, we’d feel it was a success,” he said.

Instead, 23 applicants actually made it to the class, representing cable operations, programmers, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Cable Television Laboratories Inc.

W. Tom Simmons, vice president of public policy at Midcontinent Communications in Sioux Falls, S.D., termed himself the “token small-systems guy” in attendance. But he has interests unlikely to be on the lobbying or public-relations agendas of a Comcast Corp. or Time Warner Cable.

He’s dealing with the multi-faceted issue of federal funding doled out to his competitors by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Simmons said he learned helpful tips on finding the right lobbying contacts, how to approach them and how to find allies in his fight. “I am a happy customer,” he said.

Added attendee Mark Harrad, vice president of corporate communications for Time Warner Cable: “Plugging into George Washington University, that’s a real coup. It’s the best on this topic in the academic world.”

Four regional public affairs executives represented Time Warner, in addition to Harrad.

Kiley said CTPAA’s board did a self-analysis two years ago, and concluded the group was highly rated by new executives to the industry. But it wasn’t focusing on senior-level people. The group researched a number of universities before deciding George Washington was the best fit for a graduate-level institute.

CTAM U: A MODEL

Kiley admits he was inspired by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing’s CTAM University, which he attended two years ago.

“I really benefited,” he said. “It was refreshing to be back in an educational environment.”

Attendees discussed issues management; targeted messages and delivery; how to construct advocacy plans; the nexus between politics and different cable business areas; principles of lobbying and coalition building and how to set up PACs.

“I’m definitely convinced we should do it again,” CTPAA executive director Steve Jones said. “Maybe with a Part 1 and Part 2, but definitely annually.”

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