Do you remember Ted Turner’s “I was cable before cable was cool” billboard and poster? As Turner explained in an interview for the Cable Center, he came up with the idea when the broadcast networks, which had rejected his invitation to co-fund a 24-hour news channel, decided to create their own following CNN’s successful launch.
Looking back, it’s hard to find a time since the days of CNN, HBO, ESPN, USA Network and MTV when being part of the cable industry wasn’t cool. When competition from satellite was looming, cable responded by launching scores of digital TV networks helping fulfill John Malone’s vision for a 500-channel universe. And when the Internet became a consumer commodity, dial-up DSL modems were no match for cable’s always-on broadband networks.
But we seem to have lost some of our coolness lately. According to the 2015 Annual Compensation Survey from the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA), “The attractive amenities and hip cultures prevalent at digital and high-tech companies, whether they are located in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley,” are serving as “powerful talent lures,” even when cable is matching their salary offers.
Cablefax staff took a “Deeper Look at CTHRA’s Compensation Survey,” exploring what it will take to get some of cable’s groove back when it comes to competing for high-tech talent. It found some the disparity is rooted in financial considerations like offering all employees long-term incentives, such as stock options, shares and long-term cash awards.
The Cablefax report also focused on another area that’s critical for attracting talent: corporate culture. Characteristics of that culture include offering employees access to top management, transparency about information, engagement with the products they offer, and making them feel connected to the companies, according to Hali Croner, president/CEO of The Croner Company, which CTHRA commissioned for the survey.
Carlsen Resources Founder and CEO, Ann Carlsen, has also found that digital media companies sell themselves differently to prospects. She told Cablefax, “They present an alluring and compelling vision of their organizations that is futuristic, and the feeling is that if you don’t jump on board you will miss something big.”
Offer Perks That Matter
The CTHRA study also identified several perks that can be found inside digital organizations that are less common among cable MSOs and TV networks, including “fully stocked free pantries or basketball and ping pong tables.” However Carlsen cautioned against thinking those trappings can seal the deal. It’s much more important to “start by identifying what kind of dynamics will lead to the results you’re trying to achieve, clearly articulate them, and then work to cultivate them.”
Echoing CTHRA’s findings is a piece published earlier this month by the Harvard Business Review. Written by Tracy Benson, founder and CEO of On the Same Page business consultancy firm, the article says offering Millennials a flexible schedule for achieving work-lifestyle balance is just the starting point.
Agreeing with the advice from Ann Carlsen and Hali Croner, Benson says companies must offer “a deeply compelling vision of what the company or team is contributing to society.” They must also ensure their managers communicate “openly, effectively, and frequently” and allow these “digital natives” to use tools like social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, blogs, and wikis in the workplace.
It’s also important to create an entrepreneurial environment that encourages employees to develop their own ideas and loosens up the notion of the career ladder. In Benson’s words, “Fewer management layers, matrix structures, shared services, and outsourcing have reduced opportunities for steady promotion as a key aspect of career development.”
Hunt Where the Ducks Are
For decades, locating corporate offices the suburbs and eliminating commutes into the city was the best way to attract talent. But millennials are turning that principle on its head by preferring city living and “walkable” places over cars. In Denver, where MFM will be holding the Media Finance Focus 2016 conference this spring, former Tech Center stalwarts like Comcast, Liberty Global and Dish Networks number among the high tech companies that have moved downtown in order to attract high tech talent.
As Ann Carlsen observed, cable possesses the entrepreneurial roots and rich history of pioneering technological innovations that millennials seek. By following the advice laid out in CTHRA’s report, the industry that was the best place to work for the “The MTV Generation” can get its recruiting groove back.