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Q&A: Charter Media’s Jeff Schultz

Jeff Schultz joined Charter Media’s Southern Wisconsin division in 2001 as general sales manager. Based in Madison, Wis., the division serves more than 200,000 customers primarily in the Madison and outer Milwaukee DMA’s. Charter Media - Southern Wisconsin is part of a four-state Great Lakes area interconnected operations center also headquartered in Madison.

Before joining Charter, Schultz spent 20 years in the radio ad sales business working in every facet of the business from on-air to sales to management, operation and ownership. But with the eventual consolidation of the radio business, Schultz knew it was time to find a new career challenge. Cable fit the bill perfectly, he said. He joined TCI’s local ad sales department in Madison in 1997. That system, which became a Bresnan Communications operation in 1999, was eventually purchased by Charter in 2000.

He’s been there ever since. Schultz recently spoke with K.C. Neel about the local ad sales market in Wisconsin. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How has the 2008 local ad sales market shaped up so far?

A: There has certainly been a shifting environment from a local ad sales standpoint this year. The marketplace has plenty of money but it’s not always in the same place or at the same time that it’s been in the past. The market is evolving and we must evolve with it and stay ahead of the curve. It’s been a tough year but there has been plenty of opportunity, too.

Q: Where have you seen shifts in the market?

A: We’ve seen dramatic changes in the automotive segment here in Madison and throughout the entire state of Wisconsin. We’ve had to ask ourselves: ‘Will dealers be around next year?’ ‘Do we need to find new dealers to work with?’ The category will likely look very different going forward. Auto dealers are becoming more sophisticated with many using the Internet more. And some are beginning to use on demand to sell cars.

Q: Are you offering advanced advertising services to clients?

A: Yes. Advertisers are becoming more aware of our advanced offerings. And in many cases, parent companies and vendors are offering their dealers long-form video they can use to sell cars. We’re seeing long-form video previously used in training or as internal sales tools are now being used as external sales tools. On demand advertising, especially for auto dealers, is becoming a more common language.

Q: Who do you consider your chief competitors?

A: If you’re talking about bulk dollars, broadcasters remain our biggest competitors. But advertisers are increasingly saying they don’t need a whole DMA to sell their goods or services and benefits our ability to zone or target audiences. Our biggest opportunity lies with print. The money is naturally bleeding out of the category and we are trying to grab as much of it as possible.

Q: Where else are you mining for dollars these days?

A: We are going after some new segments. We are examining where consumers are spending their dollars and where their dollars are shifting. For instance, the health care category is changing dramatically. The development of specialization and the competition among health care providers is providing new opportunities for us. Hospitals are competing with each other and specialty practices like plastic surgery are growing rapidly.

Boomers are willing to put money into health care like never before and there are a lot of interactive and on demand opportunities for us as well as the providers and end customers.

For instance, cosmetic surgery practices have long used seminars and clinics to introduce customers to their practices and businesses. But it’s a very personal topic and group environments can be intimidating. If you can view what cosmetic surgery can do for you in the privacy of your home via an on demand channel and then take action via an interactive element, that can be very powerful and we can offer that. That’s a powerful message for clients and viewers.

Q: How is the political season shaping up?

A: Every election cycle, business for us evolves and grows and this election season is no different. This year political dollars came earlier with national dollars during the primary season. On the local level, we’re more plugged into issue opportunities, which is great because issues have longer shelf lives than elected official elections. Once issues-oriented campaigns realize they can plug into our networks with long-form opinion programming via on demand, they are enthusiastic about the possibilities we can offer.

Political machines in general are more educated about what cable an offer and that is translating to more dollars.

Wisconsin has turned out to be a swing state in this election so political dollars began flowing to us earlier than in years past. It remains to be seen how it will all turn out in the end just yet.

We thought our on demand options would appeal more to political candidates than it has but 30-second ads are so easy to do quickly and long-form programming is harder and takes longer to produce. It lends itself better to issues-oriented campaigns right now. But we can be an advantage to candidates who want to better reach the population groups they want to appeal to and political campaigns have become sophisticated enough to realize the benefits that local cable offer.