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Cox Ad Sales Unit is Ready to 'GO'

Cox Communications Inc., which launched its MSO-wide "Growth Opportunities" initiative in February, has already been successful at selling deeper network advertising schedules, according to executives at its Cox Media ad-sales division.

Under the principles of GO, account executives are convincing clients to buy more than the MSO's highest-rated networks, said Cox Media director of research and sales education Nicole Buie — and generating more ad dollars in the process.

Maximizing inventory

Buie, who was charged by vice president of ad sales Billy Farina with spearheading the effort, said the increased volume comes because Cox sales staffers have held firm on ad rates for the operator's most sought-after channels and shows.

"GO is truly a key to our future growth," Buie said. "Selling effective schedules is our mantra."

To cite one example, Cox Media of Oklahoma City general sales manager Doug Yoder said, "By standing firm [on rates], we ended up collecting $27,000 for fewer 'premium' spots than we had previously been offered $20,000 for."

The San Diego system also reported that its average rate rose sharply as a result of the GO strategy, according to Buie.

The GO initiative — which trades on effective avails management and the ability of sales personnel to maximize those units — divides inventory in several ways (though Buie declined to identify networks in all categories, in part because different networks may be ranked differently in each Cox market):

  • Top Programs for Top Clients — The highest-rated shows like MTV: Music Television's Video Music Awards, ESPN's National Football League games, TLC's Trading Spaces, USA Network original movies or FX's The Shield. Cox Media Hampton Roads, Va., vice president and general manager Sharon Frazier said these marquee shows appeal most to clients accustomed to reaching the large audiences amassed by broadcast fare.
  • Premium Networks
    — The services in greatest demand among advertisers, such as Discovery Channel and ESPN. These networks and their top programs are best sold to larger clients that can afford their high-end pricing, Buie indicated, and should be packaged with lower-profile networks.
  • Core Networks
    — These channels are also in high demand, but they're priced more affordably for smaller advertisers, Buie noted. Small and midsized accounts tend to use these to build reach, while larger clients use them to create frequency.
  • Select Networks
    — The services that rank lowest in terms billings, but are attractive to certain clients because they can be highly targeted, such as The Golf Channel for a golfing-equipment store.

In training materials for its more than 600 sales staffers, Cox likens its inventory supply to airline seats. Under GO, Buie said, "passengers" can choose to buy seats in first class, business class or coach.

The aim is to "grow advertising on all networks, not just the top ones that are the easiest to sell," Buie said. Another objective is to eventually move the select networks up to core status and the core networks up to premium, Cox executives added.

Goals analysis

Frazier said her system generated higher sales in core and select networks as a result of the initiative.

GO training sessions also advise Cox sales staffers to develop a goals analysis before any client's major media buy, and to use that document's findings to convince prospects that by opting for a lower-priced network than the one they think they need, they can generate greater frequency, for instance.

Clients should be asked, "Is it the network you want – or the audience that network delivers?" said Buie.

Cox has also extended the principles of GO into other departments, most notably traffic and billing. For example, T&B personnel can suggest other similarly skewed networks that could be offered as alternatives to clients whose desired networks are sold out, Buie said.

Farina, who calls GO "our major initiative," said he first came up with the concept nearly two years ago and decided to forge ahead despite the ad downturn caused by the Sept. 11 attacks and slumping economy.

Prior to its February rollout, Cox tested the GO principles in such markets as San Diego, Omaha, Oklahoma City and Hampton Roads.