Thirteen years ago Susan Christian was an account executive at an advertising agency in Jonesboro, Arkansas, preparing a pitch for her new client—local telecommunications company Ritter Communications.
Her concept, centered on the tag line Ritter Right by You, remains an integral mantra of the company’s business ethic today. And Christian, who took an in-house role at Ritter soon after, remains an integral part of the executive team, currently serving as vp, marketing with the recently added role of vp, federal advocacy.
“I guess that’s why I got hired,” Christian says of her vision for the company’s customer-facing identity. “They were looking for a tag line that would embody customer service. It was introduced as a tag line, but what I didn’t see coming but was hopeful would be the result… the employees really held on to it, and it’s become less of a tag line and more of a mission.”
The timing of Christian’s hire was auspicious. Ritter was transitioning from being solely a small rural telephone company with the purchase of its first cable properties, a move that doubled its number of customers. “Overnight, they became a cable TV and broadband company,” Christian says, “And the clincher was it was a retransmission year. It was quite the learning experience.”
Agile and a consummate team player, Christian rolled up her sleeves and got busy. Looking back, “the way we’ve evolved and adapted not only to company changes but to industry changes and consumer changes—to me, that’s extraordinary,” she says. “The way consumers make choices and form opinions is 180 degrees different from when I started.”
Whereas in 2005 most companies weren’t even using social media and digital marketing amounted to a banner ad here and there, “now it’s a huge part of what we do,” notes Christian. So much so that three years ago the company adopted a digital marketing automation platform from HubSpot that Ritter uses to help develop, drive and measure its efforts. “It’s a powerful tool that helps us make better decisions. It allows us to help understand the consumers’ buying process, and push out educational information.”
All digital marketing outreach drives the consumer back to its website, Christian says, noting that “it’s not just about pushing the latest products, but informing the customer.” A central element is the monthly educational blog, on topics such as its most-read entry, “What’s the difference between data usage and data speed?” “As a result, we get 2,000 views of our blog each month; that’s a real success story of what the automation platform has allowed us to do,” she says.
As well as evolutions in the consumer sector, Christian’s team has made a business of serving the commercial sector. After a successful fiber overbuild in its HQ town of Jonesboro in 2008, Ritter in 2014 began launching enterprise services to major business corridors across Arkansas, and created a monthly recurring revenue scoring tool that guides marketing data-driven decisions.
“Ritter Communications has been extremely successful in serving enterprise customers in Tier 3 and Tier 4 communities around Arkansas into which we have expanded our fiber optic network,” says John Strode, retired Ritter vp, external affairs and now a consultant to the company. “Once we enter a new market, Susan and her team have identified key target customers and developed and implemented strategic marketing materials that have enabled our company to gain 15 percent market share per year from incumbent competitors.”
Christian and her team have also helped launch a new hosted solutions business with targeted sales collateral materials that address two tiers of customers: those less sophisticated in information technologies, who require education to understand the value of cloud services (or hosted solutions); and those more familiar, who require more information about the specific products and services, Strode says.
It’s her embrace of partnership and her willingness to assist others that makes Christian a leader not only at Ritter but across the industry, says Rob Shema, evp, member services and finance, at the American Cable Association. “Susan is also an expert of time usage, as a small company marketer she wears many hats and is extremely busy and has the ability to make sure things get done.”
One new hat is federal advocacy, a role Christian says dovetails nicely with her marketing function. “Being able to advocate for our company in DC or with other industry organizations and say this is what’s important to our customers, on topics like net neutrality, is important and also helps me see what [developments] will impact our customers,” she says.
– Cathy Applefeld Olson
- 45,000-plus: Number of Ritter customers across Arkansas and parts of Missouri and Tennessee.
- Lucky 13: How many years Christian has been with Ritter as of this August.
- Four: Number of full-time marketing employees under Christian’s purview. She also supervises a two-person video production team.
- Eight: Number of communities where Ritter has launched business services in the past five years.