There’s been lots of fascinating and very informative talk at the CTAM conference this week. Once again, the CTAM folks have put together a conference that truly serves the needs of the cable community-especially those who are trying to figure out what we are, what we sell, and how to get those messages across to the buying public. That may sound easy, but as was noted in several reports of the various sessions, it is not as easy as it seems, especially when we have an industry that is so dynamic the various key marketing folks in the largest companies don’t always agree on what "the next" product should be that we roll out, or how to integrate the product offerings we have already introduced to the public. Look, this is a nice problem to have-an abundance of riches, but it still is a problem. And I’d like to extend the discussion of that problem a little bit to include the government relations, PR folks and others who are not directly connected to the marketers. I think more attention needs to be paid to the growing necessity of communications between the marketing and the public affairs sides of our industry. Let me give you an example. A letter in the Washington Post the other day responded to a column complaining about the woeful state of "customer service." Yes, cable was specifically mentioned in that column, but so were cell phones, banks, computers, and lots of other things. Not the point. The letter writer was fuming that his satellite service had cut off the national PBS feed he had been getting as part of his basic service package and then offered it back to him in a broadcast package that cost an extra $6.50. No notice, no explanation, although he finally got someone on the phone who blamed Congress. A really bad customer experience. Happily, he was a satellite customer. But let’s assume for a moment that a similar thing happened with a cable customer. Is it a marketing issue? A PR issue? A government affairs issue? What do you say and how do you say it? I would suggest that it is a combination. The same thing is true when trying to explain VOD and DVR when it comes to copying restrictions, or why our customer can record and watch the network news whenever he or she wants, but we can’t offer them the same capability through VOD. What about DTV, HDTV, multicasting and the rest? They are all combinations of marketing and public affairs issues. The PA folks work on explaining things to the local reporter while the marketers buy ads in the local paper. Unfortunately, we have in many cases failed to get our internal communications well enough linked so that the message is both accurate and the same in both settings. This requires some not so new thinking: the marketers and the public affairs folks have got to be far more closely linked. They have got to understand each other’s language and messages and they have to vastly improve the communications between them, and the CSR’s, who ultimately communicate with our customers. There was unanimity in Boston about the need for improved customer service. It’s a never-ending challenge. But I think it starts with a concerted effort to improve our internal communications so that we do, indeed, know and agree on what we are, who we are, and what we are offering to the public. CTAM, as usual, has given us a good start.

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