The Shoemaker's Children

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It's more than ironic that an organization dedicated to promoting the best practices in public affairs and public relations gets less ink about its annual powwow than any other association.

With the Cable Television Public Affairs Association, we're looking at a classic tale of the shoemaker's children having no shoes. And that tale was again replayed last week when the group held its annual meeting in the nation's capital, attracting some 250 attendees, but few reporters.

The program was excellent and had a number of keynote speakers, including Procter & Gamble chairman John Pepper.

I didn't see him because the CTPAA — in these belt- tightening days — did little advance promotion for the event, leaving would-be attendees to search the association's Web site for details about its conference.

And that wasn't even a swell experience, because I had to drill down for several screens to see a full agenda with dates, times and speakers. By the time I finished that, I had already booked myself at another appointment elsewhere and missed Pepper altogether.

That's a shame, because many in the industry are not going to know what a wonderful meeting this turned out to be. Some reporters refer to this annual conference as a "flakfest" and don't even show. But I am not among them.

CTPAA's core mission is to strengthen community relations at the local cable-system level. Its grassroots work is tremendously important in terms of showing that cable is a concerned citizen.

To really understand the scope of the CTPAA's work, take a look at this year's crop of Beacon Award winners in the April 23 issue of our sister publication, Cablevision. Those programs create goodwill for cable. And yes, they cost money.

For that reason, the CTPAA should be supported at the industry's highest levels. That makes good business sense and, mostly, it's the right thing to do. But those who are entrusted to running the organization should do a little soul-searching about being more aggressive in getting the word out.

CTPAA needs a champion. During CTPAA's existence, it had no bigger proponent than Torie Clarke, the former National Cable Television Association head of public affairs, who has been out of the industry for several years (and also happens to be very tall).

Clarke, who for the moment serves as Hill and Knowlton's general manager, was scheduled to be on a CTPAA panel even though she's no longer in the business. She didn't make it because something suddenly came up: a U.S. Senate hearing on her nomination as the Department of Defense's assistant secretary for public affairs.

I missed seeing her and hearing her passion for an industry that more than ever needs the CTPAA to continue its work. Clark brought plenty of zeal to any project that ever crossed her desk, and in the case of the CTPAA she gave it her all, even at a time when some in the industry where so-so about keeping it alive.

The point here: there was plenty of passion oozing throughout the hallways at CTPAA and the Beacon Awards ceremony, and Clarke would have made sure that the whole world knew about it.

But she's headed to the Pentagon, leaving some very big shoes to be filled in cable, particularly in terms of championing the CTPAA.

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