Get a group of old-school affiliate marketing people together and invariably someone will bemoan the death of cable’s collegial ways. A marketer of r a programmer will say how much he or she misses the old days when deals got done on a handshake and often took little more than showing up at the affiliate’s office with a handful of tee-shirts and an expense account. And while we all appreciate that things were simpler then, the fact is those days are gone. What we have now in this industry is a new world order, one steeped in competition. And while there is competition on the programming side to gain distribution, secure content and drive ad revenue, that’s not news. That dynamic has been around since cable networks started rolling off the assembly line. What’s different is the competition on the operator’s side. This competition is miles wide and fathoms deep. It’s intense and growing, and carries greater stakes than the MSOs have ever known. And it’s not just ‘the competition,’ but also the drive to sell more products into more homes faster to gain the share of revenue that has become revenue per household. And because of that, selling to operators has become an all-consuming exercise. Those programmers that do it best are those that have been able to step beyond their self-interest and see the world through the eyes of their affiliates. They have been able to wrap their minds around the fact that the affiliates are under incredible pressure to produce numbers in three vital areas: increase revenue, manage expenses and grow units – and I mean all kinds of units, from DVR to HSD, to VoIP. Every programmer will tell you he or she sells content; but only the best and the brightest will tell you what they sell are solutions. Only those who truly get it will tell you that what they deliver are content-based strategies and tactics that help affiliates drive revenue, reduce costs and increase RGUs. What’s more, the most brilliant of them understand their affiliates’ environment so well that, in addition to providing solutions, they are also able to, in the process of rolling them out, make their affiliate contacts look good to their bosses and peers by partnering with them on materially successful programs that drive results for the MSO partner and the programmer-a win/win for all. Another common complaint among old-school affiliate people is that consolidation has taken away the decision-making power from those in the field. Don’t kid yourself. There may be fewer managers today, but there are far greater people who influence any one decision. As systems and divisions grow, so does the influence of those on the front lines. When you hear, "That sort of decision is made at corporate," don’t always believe it. In the best MSOs, if someone at a system wants something and believes in it, they’ll get it. After all, they are accountable for driving their results and best serving their markets with products the market demands. So, what’s my advice to programmers? Understand that affiliate marketing is not just about relationships anymore. In fact, sad to say, very little of it has to do with relationships. Today, affiliate relations is more about developing solutions that help your clients meet their challenges. To that end, I strongly suggest you regularly talk to them about their challenges. Learn what’s foremost on their minds and help them find ways to help battle declining revenue, increasing costs and eroding units. Work with them on pricing and packaging strategies, and be flexible enough to accommodate innovative ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. Read local newspapers online and become conversant with the issues dominating your affiliates’ key markets. And finally, understand that by doing all these things you will become a trusted partner and a person your affiliate will often turn to for advice, suggestions and support. For programmers looking to sell to operators, keep in mind that while your breezy, carefree salad days may have passed, your days of true partnership have arrived. Make the most of them. Maggie Bellville is a partner in the Atlanta-based executive search firm CarterBaldwin. She can be reached at mbellville@carterbaldwin.com

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