Initiative Has Its Rewards

Jul 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

An estimated 2,400 people are expected to turn out for CTAM Summit 04, set for July 18-21 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston-an increase of about 100 from last year.

Executives from the diverse worlds of programming, technology, sales and marketing will convene for the three-day meeting under the banner “Full Throttle” to listen to speakers, learn about effective and innovative marketing programs and renew relationships. It will also be a time to celebrate those who have demonstrated distinguished leadership and delivered meritorious service in various CTAM initiatives.

New on the agenda are the Rainmaker Awards, which will spotlight members who have devoted time to industrywide initiatives the association has undertaken during the past two years. Those include educational and public relations efforts to promote on-demand services, a program to help customers sign up for cable services when they relocate and OnlyCableCan, a marketing effort designed to tout cable’s capabilities and superiority over the competition.

Michael Willner, co-founder, president and chief executive of Insight Communications-one of the rare executives who started in a marketing slot at a cable system and rose to the top executive post at a major multiple system operator-will receive the organization’s highest accolade, the Grand Tam, for industry leadership. Mr. Willner is a longtime CTAM supporter.

Cable elder statesman and Comcast Corp. co-founder Julian Brodsky will receive the Chairman’s Award, an honor bestowed intermittently for specific contributions to CTAM. Mr. Brodsky is being celebrated for his support and involvement in creating a one-week executive education course for cable executives, known as “CTAM U,” at Harvard University.

Promotional Mileage

The organization will also dispense the TAMI Awards. These are handed out annually to members who have given extraordinary volunteer service to CTAM, particularly those who lead the organization’s conferences and chapters.

In celebrating the marketing accomplishments of some of the key players, the cable and telecom industries will in turn gain some promotional mileage of their own. Cable in particular has embraced the tools of modern marketing in recent years as the once-monopolistic industry has faced the fires of competition from satellite services and has struggled to become a player in the broader field of telecommunications.

That CTAM’s yearly gathering is still chugging along and even gaining momentum speaks well for the organization and its convention. Other cable industry trade shows, including regional confabs in California and Texas and on the East Coast, have folded in recent years due to recession. Corporations continue to closely scrutinize travel and entertainment expenses in spite of a slightly improving economy.

“We’ve been remarkably stable,” said Char Beales, CTAM’s president and CEO, who cites the importance and challenge of marketing in an increasingly competitive world as a factor in the organization’s success in attracting attendees.

Said Ms. Beales of the honorees, “These people put in an enormous amount of time, effort and strategic thinking, and we want to recognize them.”

CTAM, which now boasts about 5,000 members, has come a long way from its start. It began in 1976 when two cable industry marketing executives, Greg Liptak and Gail Sermersheim, surmised that the industry was largely unschooled in the art of marketing and needed help.

That in itself wasn’t surprising. The cable industry started as a collection of local companies selling monthly subscriptions to technology that aided television reception. The entrepreneurial cable pioneers had little expertise in the finer points of direct mailings, market research, pricing and advertising, and with no competition in those days, there was little incentive to learn. But as new pay and basic cable networks came into being, cable evolved into a national business, and operators began to see the value in marketing premium and basic programming services to potential customers.

The first CTAM meeting took place in a hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport during the summer of 1976. Only 26 people showed up. Mr. Liptak said it took $4,000 to mount that event, and he wrote a personal check to cover the tab-a big deal for the then-struggling executive.

“I was very poor,” said Mr. Liptak, now managing member of Denver-based Western Media Group. Happily, the event made a small profit or CTAM might have died right on the spot. Attendees walked away with enough useful information that the group agreed to make the get-together an annual undertaking.

For its first 19 years CTAM was known as the Cable Television Administration & Marketing Society. (It has always been a nonprofit educational organization.) In the mid-’90s, it changed its name to the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing to reflect the cable industry’s evolution.

After a wave of consolidation, there are far fewer cable operators today than in the past. Those that remain are large, sophisticated enterprises-some are arms of multinational media and communications giants. They sell analog and digital subscription television service and, in some areas, telephone service, in addition to telecommunications services such as high-speed Internet access. Cable operators now face fierce direct competition in the subscription television business from satellite services DirecTV and DISH Network.

Today the cable industry envisions a future in which the digital set-top box is the preferred gateway through which consumers can access an array of services-everything from ordering movies or television shows on demand to shopping for goods of all kinds to monitoring home security. In such a world, viewers will even see commercials tailored especially to their interests.

Achieving that goal is going to take a lot of selling. That’s where the marketing mavens of CTAM make their contribution.