Weapons of Mass Education

Our industry is facing some tough policy and competitive battles, and cable’s public-affairs professionals are on the front lines. Today, the front line is Washington, D.C., as we engage the newest battle: the legislative and cultural fallout from a televised “wardrobe malfunction.”

The timing, then, couldn’t be any better for Cable Television Public Affairs Association members to gather this week in Washington, D.C., for our annual educational conference, Forum 2004. Around 400 people will gather in D.C. to strategize and build our arsenal for “Communicating Cable’s Value” in support of our industry’s marketing, business, and policy objectives.

“It’s been said before, but it’s important to say again: public affairs is a critical part of our business. … A strong public affairs program goes hand-in-hand with effective public policy advocacy. In the increasingly competitive environment in which cable operates, these activities are all the more important,” said National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs.

Clearly, the importance of public affairs to the cable industry has been confirmed here in Washington for the past two months.

The outcry resulting from the infamous Super Bowl halftime show launched a wholesale societal critique of TV content — including, in some quarters, calls for regulation of cable content.

Responding to this debate, the NCTA announced a nationwide consumer outreach initiative to increase awareness about cable’s parental-control tools and media literacy resources, so families can make responsible decisions about their television viewing. Elements of the campaign — titled “Cable Puts You in Control” — rely on commonly used public-affairs tools including public service announcements, launch of a new Web site, and various customer communication materials.

The industry’s ongoing efforts to broaden awareness on both the national and local levels about parental-control tools, and the quality of cable programming, will be critical in fighting cable’s battles in Congress for years to come.

At Forum 2004 this week, we’ll salute several of the projects that are best addressing significant business and policy challenges. I call these projects the industry’s WMEs: Weapons of Mass Education. The big three WMEs — finalists for CTPAA’s Golden Beacon Award — have local impact, leave a lasting national impression, and drive awareness of cable’s multiple platforms.

Lifetime Television’s campaign, “Our Lifetime Commitment: Stop Violence Against Women,” is dedicated to using the power of the media to raise awareness of the problems of domestic abuse and sexual assault — and to change laws and lives for the better.

Court TV is nominated for “Forensics in the Classroom,” the nation’s first comprehensive, standards-based forensic science curriculum, made available through Court TV’s Web site (www.courttv.com). Court TV is helping more than 8,500 teachers ignite an interest in science in more than a million students nationwide.

Comcast teamed with C-SPAN in the spring of 2003 to create a unique educational experience for students at 40 Washington, D.C. area high schools. National journalists and leaders from the administration, Congress, federal courts, and federal agencies were invited by C-SPAN to “return to the classroom” at schools in Comcast’s service area to discuss their lives, insights on leadership, and their commitment to public service.

C-SPAN aired each of the sessions for students across the country and C-SPAN’s national viewing audience. Its Web site (www.studentsandleaders.org) offers lesson plans and streaming video of the sessions.

Of course these Weapons of Mass Education address key societal or educational needs and get the attention of policy makers, the media, and customers. These programs positively align local cable systems and the industry at large with community concerns and issues before the Congress.

Also, note that each of these “public affairs” projects is available via multiple platforms, driving awareness, sales, and support for digital cable, ITV, and broadband. They are more than image campaigns.

Ultimately, cable’s public affairs battles are fought locally. Portraying the right image with a local face on it can be the added value driving customer decisions.

Cable’s local efforts can affect the sales process as much as the franchising process. Cable does more and spends more locally than its competitors.

CTPAA members are in the trenches listening to customers, the media, and policy makers. And CTPAA members are fighting for cable’s policy and business objectives, building an image of our industry that consumers respect and with whom they want to do business.

CTPAA hosts Forum 2004 to bring its members and industry colleagues together to share information and learn about new industry trends, as well as the latest technological advances and network initiatives.

At Forum 2004, CTPAA members will work to develop new WMEs. When your colleagues return to the office later this week from Forum 2004, please ask them to meet with you and strategize about how public affairs can enhance your battle plan and successfully contribute to your company’s business and policy goals.