Oddly enough, one tool that helps generate local ad sales in a down economy is a business seminar. Yep, an apparently bland if not outright boring device has put extra gold in at least two cable operators’ pockets this year. While others explore tactics such as new research to dispel cable advertising naysayers, Mediacom Communications and Charter Communications have been offering seminars to give local companies new ideas to grow their businesses. More importantly, these seminars succeed in signing new clients and bringing in cold cash. Seminars held by OnMedia, the advertising arm of Mediacom, consistently produce new advertising deals from 25-40% of the companies that attend, says Steve Litwer, VP of sales development. In turn, these new deals bring in about six figures for an annual advertising schedule, or between $4 and $5 per subscriber within a given system, Litwer explains. Pretty sweet, given that most of these advertisers never so much as sniffed at cable advertising before. One undisclosed business that had never advertised on cable before walked into OnMedia’s offices in the Gulf Coast two weeks after a seminar was held there and handed the account exec a $95,000 contract to advertise locally for a year. So how does OnMedia achieve this? Litwer and his colleagues will target small- to medium-size businesses in any given community by going to the respective chamber of commerce, sending letters and running ads for the seminars. OnMedia pitches the seminars as a way to help small and local businesses grow. Rather than focus on selling cable advertising from the start, seminars address how to find better ways for local companies to market their products on limited budgets. OnMedia gives advice about how to create a competitive strategy, essentially showing businesses how to find and exploit their particular niche. The seminars also offer local businesspeople an opportunity to commiserate with one another. “We have found that the businesses that come together have similar issues, and we serve as a facilitator so they can discuss issues among themselves,” Litwer says. Dave Wittman, regional sales manager for Charter Media’s national systems, uses seminars a bit differently. Charter’s seminars present companies with advertising’s advantages, specifically showing how consumers are shifting their attention from broadcast TV to cable. Charter includes an inexpensive annual advertising schedule to show local businesses how they can easily access TV advertising. “We tend to forget that the local business owner is not aware that they can get onto television as inexpensively as they can,” Wittman says. Since 2001, about half the companies that attend seminars sign up for advertising deals, he says. Charter has generated $1.5 million in new advertising from the seminars in the past two and a half years, Wittman says. While Jack Olson, SVP of Adelphia Media Services, sees business seminars as a good idea, he is trying to kick the weak-economy blues another way — through research. Adelphia’s ad arm has increased the amount of research spending in an attempt to show companies that the economy is not as bad as perceived in some markets. “I’m sitting here scratching my head about what advertisers are doing for the fall and Christmas season,” Olson says. Backed by research data, Adelphia hopes to kick-start spending. “We are intensely focusing on new business offers,” Olson says. So perhaps Adelphia, too, may soon embrace the business seminar platform. If so, it may not only lift local companies out of hard times but also the bankrupt cable operator out of its own financial troubles as well. Andrea Figler’s column on local ad sales appears monthly. Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (323) 644-0445.