By Lee Hall
Special to TelevisionWeek
At the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, it’s all for one and one for all.
From time to time TelevisionWeek honors an individual within the cable industry as its Executive of the Year. This year for the first time, the magazine recognizes a group of people: the entire CTAM executive team, for its efforts to focus the attention of cable operators and programmers on the tasks they must tackle in an increasingly competitive industry.
The Executive Team of the Year honorees include Char Beales, CTAM president and CEO; CTAM Chairman Len Fogge, executive VP of creative and marketing for Showtime Networks; Vice Chair David Watson, executive VP of operations for Comcast Cable; Secretary Douglas Holloway, president of cable investments for NBC Universal; and Treasurer Joe Rooney, senior VP of marketing for Cox Communications.
“These are really smart, savvy business people who are working hard to make our business better,” Ms. Beales said of her colleagues. “CTAM’s strength is in its members. We have a terrific staff and we’re knowledgeable about the industry, but the people who really drive the train are our members.”
Mr. Fogge is quick to return the compliment. It is Ms. Beales, he said, who “provides the grease” that helps CTAM run like a well-oiled machine.
“She and her staff deserve all the credit for the magnificent job they have done, but it’s Char who really keeps things on track,” he said.
Ms. Beales has forged a leadership role for CTAM in the cable industry. Since she took over a struggling organization in 1992, membership has more than doubled and today approaches 6,000, a remarkable fact given that the gains occurred during a period of intensive industry consolidation.
More recently, CTAM has assumed the point for a number of industry initiatives, including those related to marketing new products, improving customer service and promoting cable’s advantages over its competitors.
“There was an abundance of good marketing ideas that people recognized they could not execute on their own on an MSO basis. CTAM became the glue to help operators work together to make these programs more effective,” Mr. Rooney said.
CTAM almost came unglued before Ms. Beales’ arrival. Nearly bankrupt in the early 1990s, the organization was paying salaries by using dedicated funds that technically belonged to its local chapters. Many in the industry questioned the organization’s relevance and viability.
“It was a mess. People said we were a mile wide and an inch deep,” Ms. Beales recalled. Upon accepting the job in 1992, she immediately began to seek counsel from industry leaders and determined that CTAM needed to concentrate on fewer projects that would have more direct impact on companies’ bottom lines.
“CTAM led the way in getting our member companies to really focus on improving customer service, and in concert with that we wanted to do a better job at marketing our products and services,” said Jim O’Brien, former president of The Cable Center and Jones Intercable and a former CTAM chairman.
Ms. Beales also sought to raise the profile of cable marketers, who Mr. O’Brien acknowledged were not always held in the highest regard in the early 1990s. Marketing education became a key ingredient of CTAM conferences.
As the industry evolved, so did CTAM. The organization’s recent focus has been as much on companies as on individual members. CTAM took a lead role in shepherding the industry’s On Time Guarantee initiative and the Cable Mover’s Hotline, a system whereby cable customers can disconnect from one service and set up new service with one phone call.
“That has really benefited the cable operator in that as people move, you don’t lose those customers,” Mr. Holloway said.
Ms. Beales got an early indoctrination into the cable business. The native of North Bend, Ore., lived in community that had a community cable system in the early 1950s.
“My aunts always rotated all the family holidays, but after we got cable, all the holiday gatherings were held in our house,” she said. She visited the nation’s capital as a teenager and fell in love with the area, later attending George Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communications.
After graduation she took at job at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and later worked for network television affiliates in Chicago and Washington. But she wanted to be in the cable business. She applied for a low-level research job with the National Cable Television Association in 1979 and got an interview with then-NCTA Chairman Tom Wheeler.
“Char was a bright young individual, anxious to learn. We gave her more and more responsibility not only in research, but in programming. She just blossomed in that job,” said Mr. Wheeler, who today works for a Washington venture capital firm.
Ms. Beales remained at NCTA for a decade before taking a job as VP of program development for satellite company COMSAT. In early 1992, when CTAM was looking for a new leader, she applied for the job, a move that did not sit well with some cable industry insiders at the time. Several were quoted in trade reports as questioning her marketing skills and leadership abilities. She got the job anyway, and quickly dispelled any doubts.
“It was clear to me that cable marketing was going to need to change and that the industry needed an organization to take the lead on that. I knew that the industry would support CTAM if we were doing the things that helped them with their business. That’s what we set out to do, and I think we’ve been fairly successful at it,” she said.
CTAM must continue to evolve, she added, and must work to become even more relevant to the cable industry and its members. Mr. O’Brien said Ms. Beales possesses the perfect set of skills to lead the organization into the future.
“She’s the type of leader who doesn’t dictate. She helps to stimulate thought for the team and helps the team decide how to focus on projects, challenges and opportunities. She’s very personable and fun to be around, and when you generate that kind of aura, people want to work with you,” he said.
Such traits would be in great demand by any organization, whether corporate or nonprofit. But Ms. Beales said she’s not looking to move on anytime soon.
“I like this kind of work, especially being around the leadership of an industry of really smart people,” she said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
Title: President and CEO of CTAM since 1992
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications, George Washington University
Family: Husband Howard is a professor of public policy and strategic management at GWU; son Jeremy is studying government and international politics at Oxford University; daughter Kristen, a high school senior, is a competitive swimmer.
Hobbies: Cooking (“I don’t do desserts!”), gardening and announcing events at her daughter’s swim meets
Who knew? Her husband was a chief architect of the federal Do Not Call list while at the Federal Trade Commission.