Q&A: CableOne Advertising's Jenny Mitchell

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Jenny Mitchell has been in the advertising department of CableOne Advertising for 16 years. She started as an account executive but became the national sales manager 13 years ago. In 1999, she also took over responsibilities for regional sales. "I can't imagine working for a better company," Mitchell said. "Training, as well as recognition makes this company what it is. We are all provided the tools to be the best." Mitchell recently spoke to Local Ad Sales contributor K.C. Neel about the issues affecting CableOne today. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How are sales faring so far this year?
The last two weeks have felt like old times. I think people are beginning to think that the economy isn't as bad in our part of the world. In Shreveport, La., the Navy is adding jobs and that helps everyone. I am adding staff in that market. I had one AE there when we took control of ad sales in January and since then I have hired three more.
In Texarkana [Ark.], we are little under budget but I think we will be on track by June. Sales are picking up significantly.

Q: What's happening in Shreveport?
We took over sales in Shreveport when Comcast bought that system. Before, sales were handled by a third-party who sold both cable and broadcast in the market. Cable was almost an added value purchase. So we are starting pretty much from scratch in that market.

Q: Do you sell spots for other MSOs?
We have third-party contracts with Comcast, Charter, Allegiance and New Wave Broadband. We represent a total 109,000 cable customers, only 30,000 of which are served by CableOne in Texarkana. Most of those systems are within a 30-mile radius of Texarkana. Shreveport is about an hour-and-a-half away. We can sell all those in zones or separately by system.

Q: Are you offering avails on VOD and online?
We are just now beginning to offer spots on VOD. We will be training our staff on it in the next few weeks. I am amazed at how strong VOD and online sales are in some of the smaller markets. I know of one CableOne market that is repped by Comcast and the sales manager there told me that revenue from VOD ad sales had already reached 80% of 2009 budget.

Q: Auto ad sales have taken a huge hit across the country. What's the landscape look like in your markets?
We have lost some auto revenue but on a national level, we are well-known for running what our clients buy; and national agencies want to work with us because they don't have worry about make-goods. Two years ago, auto revenue was huge for us. It was so big that the folks at corporate knew it wouldn't last and it didn't. We saw drop-off in 2008. But amazingly, it's coming back in 2009. It looks like April will be a fantastic month for us when it comes to auto. Dealers know they have to advertise to sell cars and we are a good buy for them.

Q: Are you seeing growth in new segments?
For some reason, we have seen more national revenue coming from cell phone companies. But service has expanded and more people are beginning to unhook themselves from landlines and move to mobile service. It's becoming a stronger emerging market for us. We are also seeing an uptick in health care sales.

Q: How do your sales break down?
About two-thirds of our AEs sell regional and local ad spots. About one-third sell national. The revenue breaks down about the same.