Like many things in this country, one of cable’s newest trends—combining local ad sales and marketing divisions—may have had its start in Southern California. Cox’s Joe Rooney had planned a whiz-bang local marketing event in Orange County, Calif. A marketing veteran, Rooney dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s as he prepared for his big bash. It wasn’t until his event started that Rooney realized that Cox’s ad sales unit was staging a competing promotional event at a car dealership across the street. Rooney’s frustration at competing against his own company caused Cox to rethink how its different divisions communicate with each other. "Sometimes, it’s just a matter of educating each other," says Nancy Heffernan, director of video product marketing for Cox. "The hardest part is the early stage of getting it formed, that first two-hour brainstorming session." Cox responded to that Orange County situation by organizing group "love fests," where ad sales, marketing and public relations executives get together to create joint promotions with various cable networks. These promotions can pitch the MSO’s digital cable, HDTV, high-speed Internet access and other products to consumers. They also can hawk its local cable spots to advertisers. More importantly, they help firm up Cox’s bottom line. Take the MSO’s recent promotional events with ESPN in Pensacola, Fla., for example. In conjunction with ESPN’s Sports Memorabilia Tour road show, Cox’s local ad sales team recruited local sponsors in each market; the MSO’s marketing team demonstrated HDTV and high-speed data products and conducted a consumer sweepstakes contest; and Cox’s PR team drummed up public support for the MSO’s favorite national charity, the Boys & Girls Club of America, by soliciting donations of old sporting equipment. "Sometimes it’s more of a marketing angle, sometimes it’s more of a PR angle and sometimes it’s more of an ad sales angle," says Mallard Holliday, director of community relations for Cox. "But there’s a piece of each angle at each event." All three Cox units also have helped promote AMC’s annual MonsterFest campaign around Halloween for the last couple of years. In the most recent case, the three divisions promoted high-speed data service, Halloween safety and the Boys & Girls Club by giving away free wireless computer mice and trick-or-treat bags with safety tips printed on them. Sponsors helped subsidize the cost of the 60,000 trick-or-treat bags that Cox handed out. Although Cox executives may be more aggressive than many of their MSO counterparts in collaborating, they are certainly not alone. Throughout industry, leaders of the traditionally separate fiefdoms of ad sales, marketing and sometimes even public relations are joining forces more often to foster greater awareness of their companies’ products, services and overall brands. Since the end of 2003, cable network executives say they’ve also seen greater ad sales/marketing collaboration by such other leading MSOs as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Insight and Mediacom. Why Now? The concept of making sure that ad sales and marketing units talk to each other isn’t a new one. But it was dismissed as too idealistic for many years. These efforts haven’t taken off in the past because of the traditionally firm separation between the two departments, which frequently operate out of different buildings with distinct budgets and specific goals. In many cases, the two divisions competed against each other. "There’s been an attempt for years to increase collaboration between departments," says Ellen Schned, Court TV’s SVP, affiliate ad sales and marketing. "But it’s often easier said than done." The collaboration finally is gaining steam, cauing promotional events to grow in size, MSO and network officials say. All of the cable operator’s business units benefit when promotional events get bigger. The ad sales division gains more attention for its clients, the marketing department gains greater promotion of its products and the public relations division gains more favorable publicity for its parent company. MSOs also are starting to realize that closer ties between marketing and local ad sales makes financial sense, too. Each division can sell more goods and services to its clients by piggybacking on the events of the other instead of just staging its own, more limited campaigns. "Selfishly, what really started it was ad sales greed," says Insight Media SVP Kevin Dowell, only half-jokingly. "If we don’t find a way to align ourselves with our own company, then how do we align ourselves with advertisers? There’s money to be made by riding on the coattails of our own company." Dowell is the "Great Collaborator" of Insight Media, heading up Insight’s local ad sales efforts. For the last two years, he coordinated Insight’s ad sales campaigns with the MSO’s marketing division to promote the company’s burgeoning bundle of cable offerings, not just its smattering of local ad avails on regional and national cable networks. In Louisville, Ky., for instance, Dowell’s unit teams with Insight’s marketing department to take advantage of the MSO’s strong involvement with the Kentucky Derby. The two Insight divisions jointly hold fancy balls before the race and stage hospitality events at Churchill Downs on race day, enabling them to sell sponsorships to local companies, demonstrate and market new MSO products and services, bring in cable network promotions and celebrities and generally wine and dine local advertisers, government officials and consumers. "We get phenomenal support from our marketing folks," he says. "We have been very aggressive in eliminating the chasm between marketing and ad sales… There’s no gap at all between marketing and us." The Programmers’ View Responding to this MSO trend, more cable programmers are combining their local ad sales and affiliate marketing efforts, too. Court TV, for example, is using summer tour promotions of its "Seriously Entertaining" tag line to help cable operators’ local ad sales and marketing efforts. As part of its tour of summer state fairs, the network sets up five tents to push its prime-time programming. It then allots two more tents for affiliate use: one for the cable system’s local ad sales unit and the other for its marketing division. "You’ve got a trifecta—marketing opportunities for Court TV, pushing local ad sales and selling other products," Schned says. "Why wouldn’t we include as many partners from the system as possible?" Rainbow Network Sales centralized affiliate sales and marketing for each of the Rainbow programming services into one unified department back in February. Then in May, it created a new affiliate advertising unit to help cable operators with marketing and local ad sales and, ultimately, to customize promotional campaigns for each MSO. "We’re combining resources to make a stronger, more cohesive unit," says Kurt Greves, Rainbow’s VP, affiliate advertising. "We’re working with national ad sales and affiliate ad sales to garner more revenue." As might be expected, though, such collaboration doesn’t come easily. It takes much more coordination and strategy to organize multi-unit promotions, starting months before the event. The biggest challenge can simply be getting everybody from each department in the same room at the same time. "We’ve just learned that it requires a significant amount of advance planning," says Mary Blythe Kane, marketing manager of Cox Media.

The Daily


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Public Knowledge is the latest public interest group to mount a campaign to push for the confirmation of Gigi Sohn as the FCC’s fifth commissioner.

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