By Shelley Gabert
Special to TelevisionWeek
With only one cable company serving the St. Louis marketplace, Charter Advertising Saint Louis is the only game in town when it comes to local cable ad sales.
It’s also one of Charter Communications’ top ad sales operations. The city and its 500,000 analog video customers represent the largest designated market area for Charter, which services 25 markets as the nation’s fourth-largest multiple system operator. Los Angeles and the nearby Inland Empire ranks as its second-biggest market, with more than 440,000 customers.
As the largest in-house ad sales operation for Charter Media’s Midwest Division, CASL employs 98 people, including 38 in sales, and operates in 20 zones-10 in Missouri and 10 in Illinois.
Charter Communications, which is headquartered in St. Louis, recently reported a 9 percent increase in total ad sales over 2003. CASL topped that significantly, reporting 14 percent growth in the first half of 2004 over last year.
“What’s striking about our growth is that it’s a true apples-to-apples comparison,” said Paul Sly, VP of advertising sales for CASL, a part of Charter Media. “Even though Missouri is considered a swing state for the November election, we’re not receiving a major share of political advertising, which would account for a spike in sales,” he said.
Without a big infusion of political ads, CASL found a way to profit from the campaign season by reserving 33 of Charter’s 48 local networks as “political-free zones.”
“For clients who want to stand out amid the glut of political ads on the network news affiliates, we encouraged them to buy on the reserved networks,” Mr. Sly said. As a result, CASL experienced a lift in ad placements.
Charter has also benefited from the city’s pro baseball team’s winning season. “When the Cardinals are hot, we see that reflected in the advertising community,” Mr. Sly said.
Overall, automotive advertising is the biggest advertising category for Charter in St. Louis. Furniture, independent appliance stores and fast food are strong market segments, as is broadcast television.
Mr. Sly and his staff have built solid relationships with broadcasters as well as with other clients, and he’s constantly recruiting talent into his organization. Earlier this year he hired an automotive sales manager who previously worked as an account executive on the Ford dealer group account at J. Walter Thompson in Kansas City, Mo.
CASL doesn’t insert on digital, but the operation is headed that way. Historically, the company has sold ads by network and by daypart, but it’s moving into more program and fixed-position sales.
“The broadcasters sell programming, so we’re trying to talk less about TBS the network and more about specific programs,” Mr. Sly said. “More clients are buying program or break-specific schedules, but our core still chooses networks.”
A lot of competitors still don’t understand what we do and think of us as a fragmented medium with lots of small ratings,” he said. “We’re perfectly content to fly below their radar. All we know is that we have thousands of very loyal customers.”
Mr. Sly said he’s always looking for new ways to help the company move forward. “With video-on-demand advertising and other tricks up our sleeves for next year, I believe we have an incredibly bright future,” he said.