When Cablefax was debating who to induct into this year’s Sales Hall of Fame, we vetted a lot of candidates. But there was no debate over Lisa Delligatti, VP, Distribution and Partnerships at Al Jazeera America. In fact, we all kind of wondered how this cable affiliate sales veteran had eluded our Hall of Fame for so long. Her innovative mind and creative spirit are well known throughout the industry. So as we prepare for the official induction of our 2014 Sales Hall of Fame on June 10 in NYC, we asked Delligatti to give us her take on sales and how to succeed in such a competitive cable environment.
Al Jazeera America has faced many hurdles as both an emerging net and a brand that evokes certain perceptions in the US. How have you worked through that as you approach distributors?
Like any new channel, Al Jazeera America needs to focus on proving its value proposition to distributors. We have been in the marketplace for only nine months, and we are already in over 52 million households. We think we’re doing pretty well so far. Our name does provide some brand perception challenges, but we are confident that over time and as more and more people sample Al Jazeera America, they will come to appreciate the in-depth, unbiased news coverage and investigative journalism we offer. We are very proud of the news coverage on Al Jazeera America, which has access to over 80 Al Jazeera Media Network bureaus across the globe. We have already been recognized with some of journalism’s most prestigious awards, including two Peabody Awards and the RFK Freedom Award .
What is the top component that distributors demand from emerging and independent cable nets in the current environment?
A fair and competitive deal with programming that offers a unique value proposition—the ability to provide content that others simply cannot. In an overly saturated market, distributors place a premium on programming that not only meets the needs of its current customer base, but also will fulfill the its needs in the future as market dynamics continue to change. That includes supporting platforms like VOD and TVE, which we’re rolling out monthly with our partners. We are committed to the long term success of the channel.
You have worked at a number of cable networks overs the years. How has Al Jazeera America differed from your other experiences, and what’s the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting part of my job is the “aha moment”, when the distributor/partner gets what we are doing and agrees that “this channel is really good, it is different than what I thought, and isn’t biased.” It’s just good programming with a unique value. Selling Al Jazeera America isn’t really all that different from Si TV or UpTV (independent networks looking for distribution)—you need to find ways to build on relationships and connect your brand with the consumer. As an independent, you have to work hard, be creative and realize you don’t have the leverage you did when working for a big network group. So you have to find ways to build value, through marketing, advertising and relationships.
Cable affiliate sales has never been tougher or more competitive—especially with all of the industry consolidation. How do you stay positive, and more importantly, how do you stay creative in your approach to get affiliates attention in such a cluttered environment?
The industry has gotten tougher, but many of the people are still the same—just in different roles. Knowing the clients well is key, but really knowing the decision making landscape within their company and how to navigate the waters of a particular partner’s business is critical. Who is making the decisions? What is important to them? In terms of creativity, you need to look at market data and your channel’s unique positioning and then apply that information to maximize opportunities for clients, such as public affairs, community relations, pro-social and multicultural programs. Of course, you also need to brainstorm with people both in the company and out. Sometimes, it is just asking “what can we do for you?” On staying positive, I am a very positive and happy person. I try to see the good in people and situations. I also have a lot of energy and pretty thick skin.
What would you tell a junior sales executive looking to achieve success in affiliate sales? What’s the most important quality they need to hone and perfect?
The most important quality is to be genuine and sincere. Under-promise and over-deliver. Sincerely like your clients, listen and when making decisions, do what is best for your company, your department, your client and then yourself. You will make better decisions when you put the needs of others first.