There’s an old adage about marketing that says if the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign about it, that’s advertising. If you put the sign on an elephant and parade it through town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. If you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If you get people to come to the circus and spend money, that’s sales. And if you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing.

Cable clearly is more than a dog and pony show. With technology innovations such as HD and new opportunities like wireless — not to mention daunting competition at every juncture — it takes exceptional marketing talent to clearly present cable’s case. Fortunately, the industry is loaded with excellent marketers. Following are profiles of just four of them.

Today’s cable marketing heroes, CTAM head Char Beales says, are those "who can look at problems and opportunities through new lenses and collaborate with other departments and colleagues" to develop a complete solution. Executives, she notes, who "put the consumer first, second and third, and have the guts to be willing to fail to get success."

As we spoke with peers across cable, four names were mentioned repeatedly in relation to these criteria, in anecdotes and in simply stated praise. It’s in that spirit that we present insight and inspiration from Comcast’s Barb Gee, Charter’s Barb Hedges, Time Warner Cable’s Lauren LoFrisco and Bright House Networks’ Steve Stiger.

The Name Dropper

BARB GEE

VP, STRATEGIC SALES ALLIANCES

COMCAST CORP.

Accomplishments:

  • Developed Comcast’s Movers Edge program to snag movers at the beginning of the relocation process.

  • Brought Movers Edge online with a highly targeted Internet campaign.

  • Adapted the Movers Edge model to reach additional lifestyle segments — like newlyweds and new parents — online.

If you’ve moved into or within the Comcast footprint recently, chances are Barb Gee has knocked at your door. Of course, Gee doesn’t materialize at the homes of the 7.6 million people Comcast estimates move in its territory each year. She works a different kind of magic, ensuring the Comcast name — and the ability to order service — is highly visible to consumers at the critical point when they begin the relocation process. Not only has her Internet marketing revolutionized the way Comcast reaches movers, it’s guiding the MSO’s move into other online campaigns.

The Movers Edge program Gee fostered comprises physical partnerships with realtors, builders and developers across the country, but focuses on flagging movers where many of them live — online. The veteran marketer, whose career has taken her from then-Bell Atlantic to Exelon/PECO to Comcast but never outside the Philadelphia city limits, says movers "had really been hit or miss for us" a few years back because Comcast lacked Internet marketing to target them. "They’re already right there on the Internet, and there is a convenience factor we hadn’t been taking advantage of," she admits.

Seeing the vulnerability, Gee sprang into action last spring.

She created a system for new customers and those vulnerable to switching providers to connect with a Comcast site where they can order service online in minutes. Today 8%-10% of those who view a Comcast ad online click through, Gee says proudly. "In comparison, a 1% response to a direct mail piece would be phenomenal," she says.

But any marketer worth her salt knows that merely announcing yourself in cyberspace is not enough. Gee’s talent is in determining the best places to drop Comcast’s name. "Barb is really an expert not only for Comcast, but the industry as a whole, in terms of developing national partnerships and recognizing how to reach movers," says her colleague, Comcast SVP of marketing Marvin Davis.

"We would sit at lunch and brainstorm about Internet search terms, then go on Google and see how many times they came up, and where," Gee says of the Internet strategy’s nascence. This grassroots effort and assistance from outside agencies helped them whittle down to key sites like realtor.com, move.com and apartments.com. After that, Gee got to work negotiating.

Most of the Internet deals don’t single out Comcast as the exclusive communications company. Gee learned early that exclusivity is not necessarily the endgame on the Internet. "A lot of what we do is negotiate for better positioning," she says. "We want to be listed among the top results, as close to the very top as we can be." Comcast has a prominent ad for digital cable service on a page at realtor.com designated for movers. A deal with AllConnect, a company that links customers with potential utility, phone and pay-television services, has Comcast "higher up on their list because we got there early and negotiated a good deal," Gee says. "We ultimately believe they’re going to sell what’s best for their individual customers, but there’s a clause in our contract that they lead with us."

Gee pores over results every two weeks and tends to opt for deep advertising on select sites that deliver big results. "The great thing about online advertising is you can flip up the activity at the click of a button, or you can turn it down."

So potent is her formula for snagging movers online that Comcast has allowed her to develop similar strategies for other customer segments. Davis says Gee has an uncanny ability to see how the MSO can reach out. "I’ll be on my proverbial soapbox about what problems we need to solve, what we need to focus on," he says. "And after Barb’s sat there very professionally listening to all I have to say, she’ll politely let me know that not only has she thought about the [issues] but has specific recommendations to make."

This time Gee’s targeting those undergoing a lifestyle change, if not a change in address: teens heading off to college, couples about to get married, first-time parents.

Her team launched a campaign on newlywed site TheKnot.com in the spring. In June they added an effort on TheNest.com. Education Edge, a program that markets to the college bound, launches online this summer, and Babyzone.com, a site for new parents, will contain highly targeted Comcast ads later this year. "If you have a new baby," she says, "you might be interested in getting access to Sprout, for example." Comcast is a stakeholder in Sprout, a diginet for kids. "We want to hook them with information like that."

Gee’s home life is far from virtual. Her 10- and 12-year-old sons have sold her on a different kind of triple play — soccer, basketball and football mom — which she embraces with trademark gusto. When not on the field or courtside, Gee volunteers for organizations that support women’s and minority causes. It surprised none of her peers that she picked up a NAMIC Next Generation Leader award at The Cable Show this year.

Gee also gives back at Comcast, coaching in the MSO’s Executive Leadership Forum, of which she herself is a graduate. The quality she most hopes to pass on to future marketing executives? "I derive greatest satisfaction in taking a concept and putting legs on it and making it work," she says. "I love to be able to generate excitement." No doubt, Barb, you do.

Charter’s Central Intelligence Agent

BARB HEDGES

SVP, CONSUMER MARKETING

CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS

Accomplishments:

  • Developed an internal system for tracking Charter’s marketing efforts; the result is a centralized approach with better-targeted trials and greater marketing intelligence for the MSO.

  • Worked with field reps to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.

  • Assisted in increasing Charter’s corporate marketing team eightfold.

Sometimes a hero is not an inventor, but rather one who applies a known entity in a new way. Charter’s Barb Hedges realized disparate, regional promotions weren’t working. She had the foresight to see that a more centralized, coordinated marketing effort would do better. She then customized a system to track and quantify such marketing across all regions.

As a result, Charter has wiped out the type of marketing and sales events Hedges likens to a department store white sale. "You put something on sale for a week or month, advertise it, and then it’s finished," she says. Today the MSO conducts more targeted trials more often, and recycles the intelligence gained to generate new promotions and launches.

Instilling a centralized, transparent system is not unusual in many direct marketing-based industries, but it’s an uncommon sight in the highly decentralized world of cable MSOs. Not only has Hedges corralled the personnel, software and fundamental operations changes necessary to bring the tracking system to life, but she’s done so with the blessing of CEO Neil Smit and without alienating field operations.

"What Barb is doing here is very unique to cable," says Bob Quigley, Charter’s chief marketing officer. "The magic of the system is not due to the fact that we’ve uncovered a single silver bullet, but that it gives us knowledge about the cause and effect of our entire marketing investment. We knew what the expense of sending marketing out was. Now we know with scientific precision the benefits of what comes back in."

Eighteen months ago Hedges was one of only three marketing executives at Charter’s St. Louis headquarters. Today she is at the nexus of a 24-person staff that includes specialists in analytics and data management. Her team — many specifically hired from outside cable — work in tandem to generate marketing based on behaviors rather than specific markets, as is common among MSOs.

"We knew bringing in people from outside the industry would challenge our cable marketing truisms," says Hedges. "In some cases we’ve needed completely different skill sets." Hedges herself joined Charter the day before it went public in 1999. She learned of the opportunity while working for an investment bank that was an underwriter on the IPO.

With staff in place, Hedges took a hard look at the threads of data the company gleaned from trials, promotions, launches and day-to-day operations. "We started with a concept," she says, for a system that would be "predictable" and "repeatable" — words she uses often. "Today, we have a customer contact strategy by channel, based on analytics. The system ultimately creates intellectual property in the form of marketing intelligence."

Direct mail seemed an obvious channel to start. "We consolidated direct mail in one place for the first time. Now our direct mail is coming out of one print shop, everything from one vendor. We can do a higher velocity of pieces and we get them out faster," she says. Results are tracked, analyzed and recycled throughout the company and, as was Hedges’ vision, the system quickly spiraled to other channels.

Hedges noticed, for example, that there had been a number of people calling Charter, unsolicited, who did not end up ordering services. They were promptly forgotten. "I thought, it seems like there might be an opportunity here. We can use what information we know about them to reach out to them," she says. "We now have a trigger campaign for people who call into a sales center but don’t order."

As her peers will attest, the system has taken the MSO from "a reactionary culture based on intuition to one that’s proactive and data driven," Hedges says without a hint of braggadocio. In fact, she’s quick to note, "It’s been a long, hard road" instituting this kind of cultural change.

But Hedges — a USTA-ranked tennis player who plays on local teams when not spending time with her husband and two young children — is clearly up to the challenge. Further proof of Charter’s support for her work lies in the 28% increase in marketing spending the MSO absorbed from 2005-2006. The investment seems to be paying off. Just how much Hedges’ system contributed to the company’s recent financial turnaround can’t be quantified, but it can’t be ignored. To determine the causal relationship, "we’d have to go back and track it," she jokes.

While Hedges enjoys crunching numbers, the system she created sometimes finds her in unknown territory. "A [colleague] recently came to me and said something about rejecting the null hypothesis of a test because there was a change in the value of P," she says. "And I thought, we’re not in Kansas anymore."

The Image Maker

STEVE STIGER

GROUP VP, MARKETING AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

BRIGHT HOUSE NETWORKS FLORIDA NETWORKS

Accomplishments:

  • Masterminded Bright House’s image as a customer-centric company.

  • Extended the MSO’s brand through a campaign that speaks to specific consumer segments via highly targeted promotions.

  • Developed a grassroots campaign to fight off a FiOS launch in Tampa.

Most cable marketing executives hawk products and services. Steve Stiger markets likability. Sure, the triple play, VOD and digital cable are at the forefront of his mind. But we’re profiling Stiger because he built Bright House’s marketing strategy from the ground up on the premise that customers would flock to a company they enjoyed doing business with. Turns out, he was right.

Stiger’s image-making has paid off for Bright House in many ways. While the company is well-run enough to snowball from zero to 1.9 million customers in four years and merit two recent J.D. Power Associates awards, his talent for perpetuating the MSO’s positivity is equally important in these competitive times. "We wouldn’t be where we are today without Steve," says John Rigsby, outgoing Bright House Florida Group president. Stiger’s steadfast commitment to image has "allowed us to play offense in this intensely competitive environment where it’s so easy to get distracted," Rigsby says.

To stay focused, Stiger employs a mantra: "We’re one company, one brand, one message." This adage, Stiger explains, is an "integrated message crossing all customer touch points. It all goes back to portraying Bright House as a likable company that does everything we can, every day, to be better."

That emphasis on a clear, focused and friendly message was critical when the partnership between Advance/Newhouse and Time Warner dissolved and gave rise to Bright House in 2003. Stiger, who began his cable career in 1982 at Warner-Amex’s Qube, plunged into an intensive consumer research effort. He found cable customers in his regions were disgruntled at worst, skeptical at best.

"They had frustrations about cable in general, and what they saw as some coercive packaging and pricing," he says. "We decided it was time to break down barriers between people and the entertainment and information they wanted. We knew we had to execute well at the introduction, because the overbuilders and satellite folks would be making their case as they do when they see vulnerability. We had one chance to get it right."

From lobbying for a company name that would distance Bright House from "off-putting" words like "cable" and "communications" to myriad individual campaigns, Stiger leads a marketing strategy based on value and customer service rather than price. "This is less about marketing a particular product than understanding the customers’ hearts and minds," he says. "We see this as a game where lots of folks can deliver more or less the same products and services…The brand is the underpinning for everything we do."

To support that brand, Stiger is fond of developing focused campaigns and infusing them with catchy names. His recently launched "Muscle Plan" includes a one-two punch of creating more marketing inventory to run on linear and digital channels, and optimizing those assets by matching the correct message with the right targeted segments. "Certain networks deliver more effectively with, say, early adopters, so there we talk to them about phone service," he says. "Others match well with different sorts of messaging, and we’re trying to get smarter about how we reach out."

Under Stiger’s stewardship, Bright House’s image also reaches far into the MSO’s surrounding community. Last summer, after learning of a local teen who saved a policeman shot while on duty, Stiger got the idea that Bright House could honor local heroes while perpetuating its positive brand. A few meetings with the MSO’s public affairs department, and the "Making Life Easier" campaign was born. The monthly event bestows free service for one year on a local do-gooder.

But don’t equate Stiger’s positive attitude and easygoing style with a lack of desire for the battle. His favorite part about working in cable? "I love the competition and what it brings out in all of us — the passion, the commitment, the perpetual reinventing of ourselves," he says. "The most enjoyable thing, really, is winning." To Verizon, which is breathing heavily down Bright House’s neck in Tampa, Stiger says, "Bring it on."

His confidence is grounded in careful preparation. "Steve is a visionary," Rigsby says. "He’s able to see tomorrow’s issues today."

A case in point, about a year ago when Verizon launched FiOS in Florida Stiger saw the battle was not going to be over price but value. His knee-jerk reaction was not to invent a new bundle but to send a team on foot, door to door, to assess customers’ satisfaction level. The team is still pounding the pavement. Among questions asked: Do you understand the picture quality you’re getting? Are you familiar with Bright House’s HD lineup? Are you happy?

"It’s very apparent that as our landscape becomes more competitive, we want to do everything we can with our current customers to make sure we are living the brand experience," Stiger says. "Do they see the company as one they want to work with?" Apparently, for many, the answer is yes.

The Human Touch

LAUREN LoFRISCO

GROUP VP, MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

TIME WARNER CABLE

Accomplishments:

  • Has led Time Warner Cable to embrace marketing that has an emotional connection with consumers.

  • Helped develop the "Power of You" campaign and its next iteration, which bows in August.

  • Is guiding the redesign of Time Warner Cable’s website to strike a more dynamic chord with consumers.

Today’s heady competition over the delivery of voice, video and data services finds many marketers mired in technological details rather than in thinking about how technology will touch people’s lives. Then there’s Lauren LoFrisco, that rare executive who excels not only at striking an emotional chord with consumers — most notably in the Power of You campaign she’s helped shepherd — but who embodies those personal connections every day in the way she manages her staff as the head of brand marketing, bundle and product acquisition for Time Warner Cable. Simply put, she has the human touch in spades.

LoFrisco was coming up in cable when the industry was morphing from a business based on product offerings in distinct silos into an integrated distributor of voice, video and data. "There was a very exciting opportunity for us to take and relate what Time Warner Cable represents now — the empowerment of the products you have in your home," she says, sounding as jazzed about this as we imagine she did two years ago when she returned to corporate from Herndon, Va., where she oversaw the launch of high-speed service Road Runner.

Soon after settling back in New York, LoFrisco worked with ad agency Ogilvy & Mather to develop the broad-sweeping Power of You campaign, whose underlying strategy is based on effectively hitting consumer touch points. The next incarnation of the Power campaign starts in late August, again guided by LoFrisco.

"This campaign addresses the notion that we think like you think. We know what’s on your mind, and we are delivering against those needs. We do a lot of driving the bundle," she says. But does the average consumer know that the triple play has significance off the baseball diamond? "Customers understand much more than they used to that these things are coming packaged together and, yes, they can get multiple services from us at a savings."

LoFrisco’s marketing prowess isn’t rooted merely in upselling. She wants customers to really grasp the ways Time Warner Cable can better their lives. "So often the connection between a creative message and the real human experience is lost, but Lauren always has her thumb on what is that consumer experience," Time Warner Cable EVP and chief marketing officer Sam Howe says. "Call it intuition or discipline or both. They come together in Lauren to create consumer messages that are real."

A big part of LoFrisco’s job is to help consumers wrap their minds around what the MSO can do for them. "We need to make all these services seem reachable for people. You don’t need a PhD in technology to understand this. We’re going to make it very easy for you to use." The concept of simplification is guiding LoFrisco this summer as she steers the overhaul of her company’s consumer website to become more interactive and user-friendly. "We’re all about entertainment, and here we have a huge opportunity to showcase that entertainment factor," she says.

The collective "we" she so often references is not only the corporate monolith but the 25-person staff she manages. Get her talking about her team and she effuses like a proud parent on report card day.

"Lauren has an incredible core of humanness. Her first thought is always about her team, and each individual’s development and success as a marketer," says Howe. "One of her biggest strengths in promotional messaging is figuring out how it connects with local marketing managers, and does each manager have the assets to make a difference in growing the business."

LoFrisco gathers her team quarterly to assess key points of alignment across regions, and which competitive pressures each might be facing. Of late, conversations have turned to the wireless realm, an area that will be wrapped more integrally into branding should the MSO decide to extend past the trial phase. Having just gotten the Pivot campaign "out the door" in tandem with Sprint and other MSOs, LoFrisco is keen to begin looking at how to link Time Warner with consumer benefits in the wireless space. As usual, she’s encouraging staff to think big. "I want them to take risks. The company wants them to take risks.

LoFrisco’s ability to juggle common business sense with calculated risk-taking is a boon at home, where she and her husband are raising their 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter to be independent thinkers. "We like to give them good exposure to things and let them begin to make their own decisions," she says. Sounds like expert managerial skills to us.

The Daily

Subscribe

Charter Names Spectrum Scholars

Charter announced 20 college juniors who will make up its inaugural class of Spectrum Scholars, the company’s two-year educational and mentorship initiative for

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up