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Marketing as 'Psychology'

Where Dena Kaplan is concerned, the psychology profession's loss has been the cable industry's gain.

Kaplan, now senior vice president of marketing at Game Show Network had earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in counseling psychology at Boston University. She was looking toward her doctorate, but needed a few dollars. At Spotwise Productions and Ringel Associates Advertising, she worked as a copywriter, media planner and forecaster. Along the way, she met reps for Boston radio, TV broadcast stations and cable.

"I thought, 'This looks like it would really be fun.' I'd get to sell a different medium, take a different approach," she said.

CABLE'S WILD WEST

She inquired about an ad sales position at then Warner Cable. After a year there, she moved to the West Coast and began selling ads for Los Angeles-area operator Choice TV. Living with a high school friend, she found out that Cablevision Systems Corp. was looking to establish a West Coast ad sales base for its Rainbow Advertising Sales Co/Cable Net Inc. unit.

She started as an account executive. "It was truly a startup with just a handful of us," she said. "It was the Wild West of cable ad sales, building the company with clients and the operators in the Los Angeles DMA."

By the time she was done seven years later as director of sales, she had put her master's training to the test.

"Psychological thinking is key for any manager," she said. "As a sales person, you need to assess a clients' thinking and position. It's a natural for getting an edge in negotiations."

In 1996, she joined Game Show Network as vice president of sales strategy and communications, but turned her attention a year later to affiliate marketing. Kaplan's marketing and promotional efforts helped boosted distribution from 2 million to 15 million subs.

WHAT'S IN A NAME

Today, Game Show Network is in some 53 million homes and in March will begin touting its new GSN moniker, flanked by the tag line, "the network for games" (GSN.com already sports the new name).

Kaplan, 43, said the name change has been a long time coming. "[President] Rich Cronin initiated discussions when he arrived here two-and-half years ago," she said. "We have taken steps to make our brand more evolutionary and inclusive of what we see our network becoming."

She recognizes there is risk inherent to any change. "We need to make sure we reach our consistently loyal viewers (50% of the overall lineup remains off-network shows like Family Feud and Match Game). But the category is very broad, not just traditional games," she said. "We want to cast our net as wide as possible, reflective of our new lineup."

The name change will be accompanied by a new weeknight 10 p.m. programming block, showcasing original and acquired reality fare, the World Series of Blackjack, original series Fake-A-Date, hosted by Joe Millionaire's Evan Marriot, and original documentaries.

Kaplan said the effort would be gradual — pushing out over the course of 2004: "It's not something where you flick a switch. We want to market creatively and effectively."

Kaplan's charge, now and down the road, is complicated by the network's view of TV. For instance, the brand already offers 84 hours of interactive play-along games on the Web per week.

"We don't just consider content in terms of the TV, but on the Web, on portable devices, cell phones and ultimately voice activation," she said. "In terms of brand messaging, that is the contemporary world of clutter you must break through."

INTEGRATED INCENTIVES

In guiding the network's marketing directions, Kaplan has and will continue to rely on an old friend: "Marketing is psychology and psychological thinking is great for problem solving," she said. "By listening and communicating, you can really make things happen with your team."

Last spring, the net's "Get Schooled Tour" traveled to 14 major markets, delivering $150,000 in college tuition to students and some $3 million in promotional value to sponsors Bank of America, CompUSA, Spencer Gifts, Comcast Corp. (which used it to help tout its transformation from AT&T Broadband), and Charter Communications Corp.

Kaplan expects the program to be bigger this year, with 10 markets locked in thus far and Bank of America returning with an even larger commitment.

GSN also provides an ongoing "Watch and Play" and "Instant Win" sweepstakes offering online viewers increased chances to win the more they play.

That initiative may pave the way for a more inclusive viewer incentive program this fall.

"It would be the equivalent of what supermarkets and airlines offer: rewards for being loyal to our shows and services," she explained, noting that Sony, one of the net's owners, would supply the retail rewards. "There is no institution like this in cable."

WORLD TRAVELER

A ranked tennis player growing up, Kaplan still plays on some weekends. Describing her father as a "foodie," she also shares an enthusiasm for enjoying fine meals. And Kaplan loves to travel.

"Having grown up on the East Coast, my family took many trips from Maine to Florida," she said, expressing a fondness for Martha's Vineyard. She has explored the northwest and southwest parts of the nation and has enjoyed excursions to Hong Kong and Japan. Europe is on tap for this summer.

Asked about other ports she'd like to add to her lifetime itinerary, she names Thailand and China.

And in what some might view as laying a piece of psychological groundwork, Kaplan added that she would be more than happy to help oversee the start of GSN in that land. "Absolutely. I would have to be involved in any debut there," she said.