By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Chuck Thompson had been occupying Sean Cunningham’s old office at Universal McCann for a little more than a year when he got a call from his old boss inviting him to jump ship and join him at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. A 20-year veteran of media planning, the then-senior VP of client services at UM didn’t take much convincing, he says, because he trusted Mr. Cunningham’s vision and was already a dyed-in-the-wool fan of cable, which he sees as the greatest ad medium since painted cave drawings.
“When I was planning for Sony Electronics and Lowe’s, cable was at the core of everything I did,” said Mr. Thompson. “It did all the heavy lifting of our planning and messaging.”
The strategy that Mr. Thompson joined the CAB to implement was a small-group selling model, taking the “One TV World” message personally to as many media planners and clients as possible, with small teams of media-savvy representatives who could speak the language of Madison Avenue. His is one of two or three teams out on the road at all times. The CAB’s nine-person sales force is working toward giving close to 250 presentations this year to agencies and advertisers of all sizes.
The core pitch remains the same: that 85 percent of TV homes subscribe to multichannel services and that cable shouldn’t be viewed any differently from broadcast in terms of its reach and effectiveness. If anything, it offers advantages because of its ability to target by interest, demographic and brand. It’s a message Mr. Thompson continues to bring to even the most skeptical planners.
“We’re not batting 1,000 but we’re going to keep going until we get them to understand what they’re losing and missing out with this,” he said. “When I was a planner I always liked the tough clients-they’re the biggest challenge.”
In the two-plus years he’s been crisscrossing the country, Mr. Thompson has learned to take what he has learned from talking to planners and clients and incorporate it into his presentations. He said that presenting under the auspices of sharing knowledge rather than selling spots means planners are more likely to let down their guard and share what they know.
Joint case studies and market analysis reports, such as a new ratings analysis that tries to debunk the perception that cable’s gains over broadcast have been only seasonal, have added heft to what ratings trends were already demonstrating-that cable is no longer niche. The CAB’s public Web site, Onetvworld.org, has also become a valuable resource for clients, climbing from 200 hits a day when Mr. Cunningham joined CAB to more than 1,100 hits per day today.
“We share insights with them on how we make connections and build relationships through cable,” Mr. Thompson said. “We draw from a toolbox of things based on who we are talking to, which has continued to evolve over time. They’ve given us information [in the form of research and white papers] that has helped build our story.”
Different facts resonate with different clients. Some markets are more on-demand-friendly, so the presentation is tailored to educate on usage and sponsorship opportunities. Help from Nielsen on this front is on the way with the introduction of a VOD measurement service Dec. 11.
Others have issues with how samples are changing due to Local People Meter installations. LPMs are now in the top 10 markets and tend to reflect increased viewership of cable at the expense of lower-ranked broadcast offerings in that market.
A recent trip to Dallas meant addressing a long-held perception that weaker cable penetration than the national average made the market a questionable buy for some planners. Mr. Thompson drilled down deeper to find numbers that showed this was a misconception, revealing that cable penetration in the more affluent areas was on par with the rest of the country.
Intimate meetings have helped build trust with advertisers and media planners, Mr. Thompson said. The bureau’s neutral stance vis-a-vis operators or individual networks has put it in a position to act as intermediary on issues that its programming or MSO members may be unaware of.
“I’m here to report good and bad. We’ll go back to our members and say this is something that is going on and speak to senior group members or presidents and work with them to correct the problem,” said Mr. Thompson.
The old gripes that cable’s reach is limited or that its back rooms are a mess aren’t heard as much, he said, evidence that the messaging is working. If anything, local advertisers want the opportunity to buy more spots across a wider variety of networks.
The perception that cable is much more difficult to buy is also changing. This complaint, he said, is now only heard from the very largest agencies.
Mr. Thompson remembers working under recently retired Jean Poole at UM, who wouldn’t let her buyers purchase spot cable because of the time involved. “If it’s right for the client, why wouldn’t you?” he asked.
Despite steady gains in ad share for cable Mr. Thompson doesn’t see his small group selling work slowing down anytime soon. Technology is forcing media planners to take a hard look at how they place their dollars and the CAB must convince them cable’s brands are rolling with the changes.
The explosion of multiple video screens, and the race to measure how consumers are using them, is something Mr. Thompson and his teams will be focusing on increasingly in 2007.
At the same time, the CAB will try to remind the ad community not to neglect the most important screen of all. It released the results of a new study conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates in October that found consumers were far less tolerant of and less receptive to video advertising on screens smaller than those of a television set.
Sometimes the simplest tidbit of information has the most impact, Mr. Thompson said. One of his most compelling slides shows the overall growth of television viewing, which despite the proliferation of competing platforms is at its highest level in history.
“For years we’ve been hearing about the death of the 30-second spot. When they see this they say, `Wow! I had no idea,”‘ he said.