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Marketing Maestro

Patricia Gottesman and her product marketing team spend their days dreaming up new ways to entice consumers to take the services offered by Cablevision Systems Corp. Her marketing skills have their roots in her side gig in college — she sold soft drinks, light bulbs, even shampoo as an on-camera pitchwoman in commercials. Those were all jobs she was sent on as part of the talent in the TV group at Ford Models Inc.

“See, it all links together,” she says, laughing about her undergraduate job.

That job is about the only thing in her work history that diverted from cable. Now executive vice president of product management and marketing, Gottesman has spent her entire career at Cablevision, a rarity in the industry. “Whenever I get involved in recruitment, that’s when I realize how rare it really is [to stay with one company],” she says.

Gottesman earned a degree in communications from Hofstra University, which like Cablevision is based on Long Island. Twenty-seven years ago, as a 20-year-old, she saw a precursor to what would become News 12, the MSO’s award-winning local news service. Recognizing the potential, she thought the news outlet would be a good starting point for a career she thought would be spent behind the camera as a producer.

An “up from the bottom” type, Gottesman began in the operator’s local origination department, but over the years she took positions in public affairs, then franchising. Her career path led her into operations, then general management, and eventually to product marketing.

“I thought TV production was what I really wanted to do. But I got an invitation from Sheila Mahony [former Cablevision executive vice president of government, media and community relations, now retired] to come over and be exposed to the business side during a time of explosive growth,” she says. “I saw the enormous potential in working to build the business.”

Though Cablevision now focuses its operations in the New York tri-state area, Gottesman was climbing the company ladder at a time when it owned systems around the country. Her resume includes a stint as area manager for the then U.S. Cable division, which comprised 200 small rural systems in the Midwest and southeast, and as the general manager for the system in Hauppauge, N.Y.

As a result of the career-related relocations, one of her children was born in Chicago, while another calls Manhattan, N.Y., his birthplace. Gottesman and her husband Sam now have four children and step-children: Aaron, 21; Elizabeth, 20; Christian, 18; and Benjamin, 15.

Along the path, Gottesman, who says she learns from her fellow executives every day, notes she’s been most inspired by: “brilliant, entrepreneurial” chairman Charles and president and CEO James Dolan; chief operating officer Tom Rutledge, whom she describes as “one of the most talented leaders in the cable industry”; president of cable and communications John Bickham; and executive vice president of operations Kip Mayo.

Gottesman and her team develop new products and product extensions. Cablevision has enjoyed great success with its “triple play” offering of video, voice and data products. This bundle, which the MSO initially began offering for a combined $89.95 per month in 2004 raised eyebrows as industry observers anticipated price wars.

Instead, the bundle has helped push Cablevision to the head of the sector relative to penetration rates for the three products. As of Sept. 30, 2005, Cablevision had 216,000 customers taking the $90 triple-play package.

They also analyze possible product alliances with other products and providers, deals that are driven by research into what Cablevision customers want, she says. One such partnership recently was forged with Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind preschool favorite Sesame Street.

The partners have created games on iO: Interactive Optimum, Cablevision’s video-on-demand service. Aimed at 2- to 5-year-olds, the package is priced at $4.95 a month. Young users can tickle muppet Elmo or help him make a leaf collage, or learn letters with Zoe and other Sesame Street characters.

The efforts of the product managers appear to be on the money. In a November PC Magazine survey of high-tech users, Cablevision’s Optimum Online offering and Optimum Voice, its voice-over-Internet protocol service, were ranked as the top high-speed data and voice product in the country. They were chosen based on speed of connection, reliability and the likelihood that the users would recommend the product to their friends.

Optimum Online received an 8.3 score, compared to the 7.7 average for cable. It was the second year in row that Cablevision’s data service topped the poll. Optimum Voice was ranked for the first time by the magazine.

Each day, the team focuses on creative that will promote the best mix of Internet, video and phone services.

Gottesman’s greatest challenge has been keeping up with the industry’s evolution. “There are new products, new challenges every day,” she says. “That’s what’s good about teamwork. If one member loses focus, the rest of the team reels him or her back in: That structure really helps us execute.”

In retrospect, would she think of changing anything.

“No, because you can’t,” she says and because dwelling on what might have been would just make one unhappy.

And laughter and joy are an important part of every workday, according to Gottesman. “I have a loud laugh,” she confesses, which she indulges even if it causes co-workers to close their doors.