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The Power of Public Affairs

Now more than ever, public affairs is a crucial part of cable-television marketing and differentiation. That fact was reflected throughout the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s recent Forum 2004, titled “Communicating Cable’s Value.” There, sessions focused on such topics as “Selling Through Public Relations,” “Effective Education Partnerships,” “Expanding Cable’s Success In Ethnic Markets,” and “Generate Value Utilizing Ad Sales and Public Affairs.”

The increasing recognition of the value of public affairs from a marketing perspective stems in part from growing evidence that consumers prefer to do business with companies that exhibit corporate social responsibility, aligning the company’s business interests with the values of the communities served.

A recent Harris Interactive Poll showed that 79% of Americans take corporate citizenship into account when deciding whether to buy a particular company’s products.

Corporate social responsibility influences the consumer’s decision to purchase and the ongoing retention and loyalty of that consumer. Public affairs, the steward of a company’s commitment to social responsibility, assembles the wide range of company resources into a force that can make that commitment a defined reality. And the ability to localize its impact — through public affairs — is one of cable’s great advantages over its competitors.

Public-affairs initiatives offer companies powerful tools for connecting to the communities that they serve, and work equally well for networks and cable operators. A company’s commitment to public affairs is optimized when it is integrated into all disciplines. Further, when carefully strategized and executed over a sustained period, such initiatives reap very positive results in good times and in times of challenge.

The introduction of new services, franchise renewals, rate increases, and competitive marketing are all routine in our industry. Government leaders and the public — the critical arbiters of our business — are more open to embracing us during change when they consider us true partners in their communities. Public-affairs initiatives, if designed well, can provide serious substantive benefits to the community, while extending the company’s mission. Among other things, they can enhance public education, help address community issues, increase community pride, and create valuable civic partnerships.

For Court TV, the 50th anniversary in May of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education is a case in point. On May 17, Court TV will partner with national leaders, education associations, and cable operators to produce a special live Webcast to commemorate this historic decision.

President Bush has agreed to provide live remarks to open the Webcast, which will highlight commemorative activities at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan.

The Webcast will provide an extraordinary opportunity for the cable television industry to reach out to communities across the country and demonstrate the capabilities of broadband for educational purposes. It will be available to more than 100,000 schools nationwide. Cable partners, including Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable, are developing ways to take these multimedia resources, customize them and present them in their respective communities.

What makes such public-affairs initiatives as this one a sound investment for the sponsoring network is the fact that they can be tightly aligned with the network’s mission — in Court TV’s case, by bringing to life in a meaningful and captivating way the nation’s extraordinary system of justice and its impact on society. In that way, public-affairs promotes the network’s image, underscores its commitment to the public good, enhances its government relations, provides media opportunities and creates valuable partnerships — all while providing substantial additional benefits to cable’s image and emphasizing its connection to the communities it serves.

Public affairs is increasingly and rightly being embraced as an important element of marketing. When well-designed and executed, public affairs initiatives can both do good and contribute significantly to a company’s core mission.