BY ANDREA FIGLER Steve Drysdale walks into the Iowa Eye Center in Cedar Rapids, meanders over to the front desk and asks for Jennifer. “Jennifer who?” the not altogether unkind receptionist replies. “Jennifer Scha —, Scha —.” He rolls his eyes. “I don’t even want to try. I’ll butcher it.” Drysdale, 32 years old and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, isn’t here to have his eyes checked. He’s here on this cold January morning to see the vision center’s marketing guru, one Jennifer Schultschik. He’s never met Schultschik (pronounced Sholt-sik), and so butchering her name would be a bad way to start things off. After all, he’s hoping to sell her something she’s never once seen reason to buy: advertising time on the local cable system. As an account executive for OnMedia, Mediacom Communications’ ad sales arm, that’s what Drysdale spends his days doing. And it isn’t always easy. All over, in fact, account execs just like Drysdale are out plugging away, fighting hard for cable’s rightful share of local ad budgets. And they do have to fight, particularly in small markets. Even though the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau reports that cable ratings continue to show gains while the audience for broadcast television keeps falling, local account execs still find themselves trying to convince mom-and-pop businesses that cable deserves more of their ad dollars. Trouble is, Drysdale says, a lot of these business owners don’t really get the ratings game. What’s more, they see cable as the “clicking” medium, where viewers just flip through channels when commercials air. But when ads run on broadcast, for some reason, these same businesspeople believe that these very same viewers will watch a show all the way through. This sentiment, although changing slightly, keeps Drysdale and his colleagues battling with local newspapers and radio stations for ad dollars — even though cable can be cheaper. Drysdale can’t do much more than shake his head over this. The Iowa Eye Center in Cedar Rapids (pop. 120,000), for example, has never advertised on cable before or even on television for that matter. And Schultschik seemed stuck on print ads. A thin woman with shoulder-length brown hair, Schultschik greets Drysdale and takes him to a bland, corporate and totally impersonal conference room. It’s a difficult canvas for Drysdale to work with. No character, no family photos, no personal knickknacks, nothing to give Drysdale the opening he needs to start forming a relationship. Relationships matter in Cedar Rapids, home to large cereal-making plants such as General Mills and Quaker Oats. Locals refer to the City of Five Seasons (four, plus the time to enjoy them all) as the City of Five Smells. Downtown tends to reek of whichever cereal is being made that day, including the sweet aroma of Boo Berry, which happened to be the flavor of the day. Inside the eye center, however, Schultschik’s first skeptical glance at Drysdale would take the sweetness out of any childhood pleasure, even Boo Berry. Drysdale gets a whiff of her negativity but goes on with his pitch regardless. “The reason I’m here today is to see if advertising on Mediacom is a good fit for the eye center.” Schultschik nods with indifference. “In order to do that, I would like to know a little bit about how your business works, what your competition is and your marketing plan.” Drysdale explains that while he did a little research on the vision center, he wants to get the information from her directly. He doesn’t want to start their first meeting with any “preconceived notions.” (People in the Midwest tend to dislike presumptuous salesmen, he notes.) Schultschik nods once again. Clearly she’s in the driver’s seat. Business is booming, she explains. Word-of-mouth referrals and newspaper ads have been working wonderfully. In fact, she really doesn’t see any need for advertising on TV. Period. Things are fine as is. Drysdale compliments the center on its success. “That’s a good problem to have,” he says. But, he points out, business could be even better. And cable could be the key. Not only does cable help target different demographics, it nails down psychographics as well. Newspapers can’t do that. “Take Murphy Brown, for instance,” he explains. “She’s a 36-year-old woman with a high income level. Murphy Brown would watch networks such as CNN, Discovery and A&E. Roseanne Barr, however, who is also a 36-year-old woman, would watch much different networks. She’s got an entirely different income level and different interests. Brown and Barr are both 36-year-old women, but their interests are different. Cable can help you reach those differences.” Schultschik lifts her chin leftward, her curiosity piqued. “Oh,” she says. “I see.” “And for your younger demographic, there’s networks like MTV. The kids that watch MTV don’t even read the newspaper. And you’ve seen the statistics about how circulation keeps dropping.” She nods, smiling this time. “I don’t read the newspaper either. I hate to pick up the paper or even turn on the local news because it’s so depressing.” Now Drysdale’s the one who’s smiling. He’s found an opening. “Oh, I didn’t even think about that. Thanks, you’re giving me one more selling point. You’re right. It’s not just young folks. It’s families with children that don’t have a lot of time to read the newspaper.” “Yes, my munchkins take so much….” Schultschik starts to talk about how her two children are a handful, preventing her from reading the paper. Bingo, a personal connection. He’s got two boys of his own. “Munchkins?” “Yes, I have two boys.” “I do too.” At the end of the ten-minute spew about boys and their vagaries, they are both smiling parents. It is only after this connection’s been made that Drysdale asks Schultschik what size newspaper ad she runs. She traces a shape that fits about a 3-by-5-inch newspaper ad. “You know, there’ve been studies done that show that you still get the same number of hits, or about the same, if you just reduce an ad slightly,” he offers. Now Schultschik is starting to think. “If we held back on a couple of our newspaper ads a month and see how it balances out, maybe….” Drysdale lets her ponder then asks how much money she spends on print. He jots down the answer, between $387 and $600 a week, on a pad inside his organizer, a pad which now contains not only the print ad price but also the names of Schultschik’s children. He tells her he’ll go back to his office and come up with some ideas for the vision center given her price range. The two shake hands and leave it at that. Drysdale walks outside, where he’s met by a bracing 10 degrees, and quickly slips into his silver Dodge Stratus. While the few hundred bucks a month may be a small ad budget, every little bit counts, he says. It’s an attitude that helped him more than double his original sales projections in 2002, his first full year as an OnMedia account exec. In his car, he checks his schedule. Every evening he writes down his appointments for the following day, including his goals for each meeting. Next up today is Sybil Merfeld, the owner of Positively Plus, a full-figured women’s clothing store. His goal? To win Merfeld back. Last year, she advertised for the first time on cable. But then she switched to broadcast. Now she’s debating where to spend the few hundred dollars a month she has to spend — if she decides to spend any of it on advertising at all. With long gray hair, an energetic face and a little belly herself, Merfeld likes to talk and not necessarily about women’s clothes. Drysdale listens intently to her talk about the calf that was born last week on her 150-acre ranch and the threat a potential dump presents to the ranch’s “crick” (that’s “creek” outside the Midwest). After a while, he launches his pitch. “You know, I’m here because I’m trying to win back your business, and I’m not leaving until you sign.” Merfeld smiles wryly, shaking her head. “Well, you’ll probably be here until I go home.” Drysdale explains that Mediacom now has new networks on which to advertise. This would open up more demographics for Merfeld, giving her better frequency and consistency. He offers the family-oriented Hallmark Channel as a good fit for Positively Plus. “I haven’t seen it,” she says. “We don’t have cable. I just found out what Trading Spaces was. We don’t watch world news. It’s all doom and gloom. We turn on Channel 12 and watch Lawrence Welk. Doesn’t that just trip your trigger?” As for advertising on broadcast TV, Merfeld tells Drysdale she got good results from her KCRG commercials. But, she adds, the broadcast price is too expensive, and the channel’s sales team neglected their relationship with her after she signed up. That definitely bothers her. She likes to have good relationships with the people she works with. Drysdale tells her he’ll come up with a new proposal for her. If he creates a nice personalized package, he may be able to grow the store’s $200-a-month advertising budget. Back in the car, he brings out the latest commercial created by his production department for Fin & Feather, an outdoor store in Cedar Rapids and neighboring Iowa City. Tim Messinger, sales manager, and owner Roger Mildenstein need to approve the ad before it runs. In the Iowa City store, Messinger watches the commercial, approving some spots, shunning others. Mildenstein, however, overrides Messinger on some calls shortly thereafter. Drysdale sighs. A key part of his job is knowing who ultimately makes the decision and having the patience to make sure they are involved at the right times. For Fin & Feather, timing is key. The company needs a commercial done by next week so it can go on the air before its big winter sale. Drysdale dials up his production department. “Car — rie?” he inquires in a soft, sweet tone. “Whaddaya want?” “Can I ask you one more favor?” He begs for a quick turnaround for the new commercial, she acquiesces and he owes her lunch or dinner — actually both by the end of the day. Drysdale also knows to keep his opinions to himself. He’ll only say something about a commercial if a client has a downright horrible idea or asks for his honest opinion. While Drysdale relies heavily on his production staff, he’s been known to pick a novel idea out of his own hat. His claim to fame? A vacuum cleaner ad. Well, at least a portion of one. His client, Paul Curtis, owner of Foraker Vacuum and Sewing, came up with the idea to film his top-selling vacuum doing what it does best, vacuuming. No words, no graphics, not even any music. Just a vacuum sweeping up a blue rug with the brand name Royal on it. The store name, address and phone number would be tagged onto the commercial’s end. But Drysdale came up with another wrinkle. What if the rug was covered in sand and the vacuum had to suck it up in order to reveal the Royal brand name? Good deal, Curtis said. They made and ran the ad. And the following Saturday was the store’s busiest ever. The ad worked so well that Curtis wants to do more with Drysdale. He may even consider using OnMedia to create a jingle, an idea Drysdale threw at him as he spied one of his competitors lurking the floor that afternoon. A sales rep for a local radio station was waiting for Drysdale to leave in order to pitch a jingle to Foraker. Drysdale, however, tries to stop the competition before they start. “Why go with them when you can have us create one for you that you can use with all your mediums?” he asks Curtis on the way out the door. Drysdale gets back in the Stratus and heads to Siegle’s Jewelry. Once again the owner, who has run ads on Mediacom before, isn’t there. Some local store owners are difficult to pin down. But Drysdale knows that persistence will win in the end. With a little extra time on his hands, he drives through Cedar Rapids, a town of 53,600 cable subscribers. He checks out the stores to see if any haven’t advertised with Mediacom. Oftentimes, he’ll stop by a store at random and get a decent lead. Other ways to pick up new business come from — yep, you guessed it — relationships. His wife Amanda helped him locate an opportunity with Guaranty Bank &Trust. And his fanatical passion for the Detroit Lions helped him warm even the coldest of potential clients. After coaching soccer one afternoon, Drysdale and another coach went into Leonardo’s, a restaurant and bar, for a drink. The owner, Thad Naso, approached Drysdale after noting his Detroit Lions jersey. The two chatted about the poor performance of their favorite football team this season, sharing a sense of camaraderie only two isolated fans can. (Most Cedar Rapidians cheer for the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers or even the St. Louis Rams — any team but the Lions.) After commiserating over their team awhile, Naso asked Drysdale what he did. He told him, adding that his attempts to contact Leonardo’s about advertising had consistently been thwarted. Next time, Naso said, he’d take a call from his fellow Lions fan. Now on the other side of town, Drysdale realizes he’s near another client, Capri College, a cosmetology school. He calls to see if he can stop by. Aleka Kelleher, Capri’s corporate marketing director, greets Drysdale warmly and walks him through a maze of hair dryers, mannequin heads and dyed braids. Kelleher loves Mediacom — she’s been advertising on cable for three and a half years — even more so since Drysdale took over her account a little over a year ago. “He helped identify where we need to be, trimming off the excess and targeting where our clients are, such as MTV,” she says. It paid off. “We saw a direct link between when we were running on MTV and when our phones started to ring.” Kelleher doesn’t even think of advertising in the newspaper or on broadcast. Broadcast stations don’t have the programs targeting her demographic of young women and “our 17-year-olds don’t care about the news or the newspaper.” Capri now spends double the amount it spent on Mediacom before Drysdale came aboard. And, after his unexpected visit that day, Kelleher says she might increase spending once again this year. How did Drysdale grow that revenue? He selected some fixed spots on targeted programs, such as The Osbournes and Road Rules on MTV, rather than the broad rotations. Educating some clients about a particular network and the mix of fixed versus rotating spots is trickier than it appears in Cedar Rapids. Many clients in the small city want to advertise on networks or shows they watch, even if doing so doesn’t necessarily meet their demographic. Fin & Feather’s Messinger, for example, wanted to advertise on E! Entertainment because he watches it with his wife. “Do you want to be associated with Howard Stern, though?” Drysdale warned. “No,” Messinger quickly responded. The two narrowed the program selection process throughout the next few days. Drysdale must simultaneously appease his clients’ tastes and make sure to choose the right networks and shows to produce good returns — for his client and for OnMedia. “I’m a relationship person. I utilize my relationships to gain credibility and better position cable television advertising,” he says, after stepping out of Capri College onto the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids. The sweet smell of Boo Berry still fills the air. “It’s one of the better smells,” he says. “My kids eat it.” Now it’s off to the next stop. There are plenty more relationships to build.