Lawrence, Kan.: Sunflower Blossoming Through Innovation

May 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Compared with behemoths such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable, Sunflower Broadband is a small fish.

Based in Lawrence, Kan., virtually equidistant from Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka, the cable operator has 30,000 subscribers in the historic city that is home to the University of Kansas.

But Sunflower’s relatively small size belies the work it’s doing in the area of local cable advertising sales. Sunflower has been aggressive in capturing advertising dollars in Lawrence-and it’s using some uncommon strategies to snag revenue from sources that have often been less inclined to run ads on television.

Part of the company’s success rests in its focus on localism and its roots in the community. Patrick Knorr, Sunflower’s general manager, said advertisers are lured to the Lawrence market because of its demographics. Because Lawrence is a college town, the market includes a high concentration of younger viewers and a highly educated work force.

Another benefit: Sunflower runs the town’s sole local cable and broadband channel, Channel 6, which has its own local news operation as well as other programming, such as cooking shows and local sports.

Further, the operator is owned by the same family that owns the local newspaper, which has created opportunities for advertisers to buy media packages that include newspaper space and time on the cable system.

“Our sports and our news are our anchors, and because we’re owned by the local newspaper it presents opportunities for bundled media ad buys,” Mr. Knorr said.

He said the approach Sunflower has taken wouldn’t work for all small-market cable operators. His firm already had a sales force in place selling time on Channel 6, which made it easier to begin exploring new ways to obtain ad revenue.

If a smaller operator doesn’t want the expense of having an ad sales team on staff, it can either hook into an existing cable interconnect nearby or form one on its own by joining forces with other small operators in the area. A number of small-market cable operators are choosing either of these routes to capture national advertising dollars.

Mr. Knorr said he considered this option but chose to go it alone after he was unable to reach an agreement with a larger cable operator near Kansas City. He said hooking up with the larger operator would have diluted Sunflower’s revenue.

Instead, he and his advertising sales team look for ways uncover untapped revenue streams.

One such strategy is Sunflower’s effort to tie in advertising sales with the creation of wi-fi hot spots, or locations that permit wireless access to the Internet, all over Lawrence. Under these arrangements, Sunflower installs the equipment needed to create a hot spot at a particular location, such as a coffee shop or tire store, in exchange for advertising dollars. Sunflower also promotes the fact that the business is a wi-fi hot spot.

“It’s a win-win that brings in a nontraditional advertiser,” Mr. Knorr said.