Plenty of marketers take circuitous routes to their jobs. Not many do it like our Independent Marketer of the Year, Cynthia Boles.
In an earlier life, she was a television news reporter and was the first female anchor in the state of Kansas. "I want you to be suitably impressed," she laughs. Later, "after more years than I will confess to," she moved to the "dark side," public relations, becoming an SVP at a huge firm, Edelman Public Relations.
One of her Edelman posts was heading PR and community marketing for automated trash collection and curbside recycling for the City of Los Angeles. "I know a great deal about solid waste," she muses. That knowledge has informed her marketing work at Avenue Broadband in Tyler, Texas. She’s only half joking.
From her solid waste days "I learned a great deal about grassroots, door-to-door marketing…talking to individual customers," which she feels is crucial. "There is no such thing as too much information about our customers," she says. "I’m a bit of a pest to our CSRs and field techs. I’m always asking them what they’re hearing from our customers." Avenue has 40,000 subs in southern Indiana and southeastern Illinois.
But back to Boles’ path along the Avenue. Her cable roots began about 5 years ago, when she worked with Kay Monigold at Buford Media. When Monigold created Avenue, largely by acquiring 23 Charter systems in Dec. ’07, Boles joined Avenue as employee number three. "We’ve invented a company in 18 months. It’s just been fascinating."
Being present at the creation of a small, 100-person company must be an adjustment for Boles, right? "It’s more than that…Each and every day, you are absolutely challenged. How can we do this better? How can we do this smarter? How can I help our staff do a better job?" But with a corporate staff of eight, "when you get an idea you just go down the hall and talk to Kay. We figure it out and we go do it."
And there have been hurdles. Some of Boles’ customers lack an Internet connection. Others live in towns without daily newspapers. "We have one little town where they have strict rules about signage and they don’t allow door-to-door or door tagging…and Indiana has strict telemarketing rules. So, if they are on a Do-Not-Call list you have to scrub against it and the federal list…you have to be very careful…sometimes I wonder what to do. I have threatened to put on a sandwich board and walk down main street selling Internet." (We’re pretty sure she’s joking.)
Instead, the resourceful Boles, who’s VP of marketing and programming, has gotten Avenue active in sponsorships. It sponsors county fairs, community events, festivals and July 4th fireworks. "We’ve also put up Wi-Fi hot spots in parks, where we can display discreet signage…so we’re getting a whole lot smarter about ways to talk to our people besides the traditional venues." That’s solid thinking.
Of the 23 Charter systems Kay Monigold acquired to create Avenue Broadband, just 2 offered broadband, 6 had digital cable.
A $14 million upgrade that will be completed August 1 allows 90% of Avenue subs to access Internet, HD and phone.
Boles is “very optimistic” about collecting email addresses and launching “relationship marketing-based activities…in small communities this is where the action will be.”