What a difference a year makes. One year ago, when Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s Jim Weiss turned over the helm of the Cable Television Public Affairs Association to me, the industry was a vastly different place.
The ensuing 12 months brought a major merger, which saw the departure of one of the world's most recognized brands from the cable industry, and the rise of Comcast Corp. to dominance. Satellite competition thrived, while the cable industry lost basic customers for the first time ever. The entire industry suffered, on Wall Street and in reputation, when two major operators faced embarrassing corporate scandals.
And the dissonance between programmers and operators continued to grow as consumers and Congressmen scrutinized cable prices.
Today, cable is an entirely different place — and the need for solid, strategic public affairs that communicates all that's good about cable has never been greater.
Enter CTPAA, which this week hosts its 18th annual conference in Washington. Titled "Capitalizing on Cable's Competitive Edge," the conference will feature speakers, discussions and presentations that center on what makes cable the leader in broadband communications: a superior network, compelling programming, great consumer value, committed community relations and a growing audience that has surpassed that of the broadcast networks.
Focus on change
The CTPAA board of directors has spent the past year focused on the changes taking place in our industry, and considering how our organization should change as well. The result is a new strategy aimed at better serving our members' needs, enabling an enhanced reputation for the cable industry nationwide, and ensuring that cable public-affairs professionals have a consistent resource to help them keep up with the changing industry.
The plan has three goals: Create a favorable environment for business growth, provide professional development resources and recognition and strengthen the association's effectiveness. The board adopted the plan in September 2002 and has reorganized itself into committees to support and implement each goal. The committees have already honed a multitude of ideas into strategic objectives for each goal, which will be the focus of the association's work over the next year.
For example, the goal of Committee One — creating a favorable business environment for business growth — will be to develop an outreach campaign aimed at media and policymakers about cable's positive economic and social contributions to the country.
The goal of Committee Two — focusing on professional development for our members — will be to concentrate their efforts on identifying "best practices" from other industries that can increase the professional competency of our members and assess the viability of establishing a certification program for cable public affairs professionals.
Committee Three will work to strengthen the organization itself, by evaluating its resources and its ability to leverage relationships with other industry organizations to provide additional networking and educational opportunities for members.
As many of our industry leaders have noted, it's time for the cable industry to adopt an aggressive competitive mind-set — to truly understand all of the competitive advantages cable has to offer, and be ready and able to communicate them to the audiences that matter: consumers, legislators and regulators, competitors and critics. The new strategic plan gives CTPAA a clear road map for helping our members understand and excel in this new environment. This week's Forum 2003 makes that clear with its timely, relevant theme.
"Capitalizing on Cable's Competitive Edge" is an acknowledgement that our industry is at a turning point. Cable now offers an array of exciting new services that no other telecommunications provider can match. And quality cable programming continues to win viewership from the broadcasters. This week's agenda will help industry public affairs professionals understand how to communicate all of cable's advantages.
Cox Communications Inc. president and CEO Jim Robbins will open the conference Monday [March 31] with a keynote address about the importance of strategic public affairs in our increasingly complex world. Following his remarks, Court TV's Catherine Crier will engage Robbins in what's sure to be a lively debate about the state of the cable industry, and how public affairs plays a critical role in today's competitive telecommunications marketplace.
Hearing from a CEO who fully supports and champions the strategic role of public affairs should reinforce one of
CTPAA's core beliefs: that communications expertise is required at the senior management table. Particularly in these times of stringent corporate scrutiny, it is imperative that communications goals and messages be directly aligned with the CEO's business goals and messages.
Mind your rep
CEOs who don't believe this, or don't actively practice it, are the ones most susceptible to embarrassing public incidents. Your communications professionals are there to help you build, enhance and maintain strong corporate reputations. We can keep you out of trouble, or deliver a deep well of goodwill if you get into trouble anyway.
It will be my pleasure during Forum 2003 to recognize two of cable's best CEOs for their outstanding commitment to public affairs. CTPAA President's Awards will be bestowed on Michael Willner, president and CEO of Insight Communications Co., and Henry Schleiff, chairman and CEO of Court TV, for their longtime support of public affairs activities that have positively affected the cable industry on a national level.
As two-time chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Willner has charted cable's course through some turbulent times. His leadership was instrumental in the industry's development of unified financial reporting guidelines for capital expenditures last year, a key move in convincing Wall Street that cable remains a good investment. He practices what he preaches at the local level too, encouraging strong community relations programs at Insight cable systems across the country.
Schleiff has set an industry standard with the award-winning and entirely relevant Choices and Consequences
public affairs program at Court TV. The recipient of the prestigious Golden Beacon Award in 2000, Choices and Consequences
is widely recognized as one of the strongest community relations programs in the cable industry.
Community relations can be a key competitive advantage for cable operators today, because our primary competitor largely does not support local communities. How can cable maximize this advantage? Attendees can find out from Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, during a lunchtime address Monday.
Strategic communications counsel can deliver another key benefit to the bottom line: a stable and positive regulatory environment. Attendees will hear more about building strong relationships with local political leaders when U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California speaks about the importance of multicultural communities in the United States. That theme continues on Tuesday, when NCTA president and CEO Robert Sachs opens the day with a keynote policy address, followed by Federal Communications Commission commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.
In addition, Forum 2003 attendees will enjoy a number of break-out sessions that focus on fully utilizing public affairs as a strategic driver of growth in a competitive marketplace. Among the topics to be covered: media tools for local market success; communicating cable's broadband edge; new ideas for building effective community relations programs; and strategies for making public affairs a critical component of marketing campaigns.
As always, CTPAA members will be treated to their share of fun, as we have entertaining evenings planned. On Sunday, CTPAA will sponsor its fifth silent auction to benefit the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interest in Media. Thanks to generous donations from CTPAA member companies, the auction has historically netted more than $10,000 each year for this important organization.
On Monday, CTPAA will host the 2003 Maxwell Media Awards, honoring excellence in news coverage of the cable telecommunications industry and presented by the ever-entertaining Paul Maxwell.
And on Tuesday evening, we will recognize and honor the excellence in our own ranks with the 11th annual Beacon Awards dinner and ceremony. The Beacon Awards recognize dozens of exemplary public affairs activities, from large, national programs, to small but powerful local initiatives implemented on a shoestring budget.
I encourage you to review our full agenda for this year's CTPAA Forum (available online at www.ctpaa.org/forum), whether you have "public affairs" in your title or not. After all, public affairs is everyone's business in this new world, where enhanced reputation ultimately leads to customer loyalty, a more favorable regulatory environment, and value creation for all of our companies. Helping every cable employee understand that would truly be capitalizing on cable's competitive edge.