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Competitive Communications
An ACC Online Chat – May 26, 2010
Download .PDF version of the transcript


Michelle_Butler Welcome to ACC’s latest online chat – Competitive Communications! During the next hour, we will discuss how you can enhance your company’s position relative to its competition and use effective communications practices to bolster the company’s sales and bottom line. All are welcome to participate. We only ask that you remember that this is a professional forum and act accordingly.

ACC has lined up three experts to help us dig deeper during this discussion. They are:
Shawn Beqaj – vice president, public affairs, Bresnan Communications
Bill Jasso – vice president, public affairs, Time Warner Cable, Northeast Ohio
Jim Maiella – vice president of media relations, Cable and Communications, Cablevision Systems Corporation

Bill_Jasso Hi, I’m Bill Jasso…VP of Communications for Time Warner Cable’s Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania Division. We serve one million customers and are the third largest division in Time Warner Cable. I am responsible for internal and external communications and local programming. We know quite a bit about competition. We are overbuilt by AT&T and four smaller operators including one municipal operator
Shawn_Beqaj Hello all: Pleasure to be here. Bresnan’s systems are almost entirely in Qwest’s footprint so we don’t have the sweeping competitive issues that other MSO’s face, particularly where the ILEC’s are rolling out FTTP products. So, while I can’t pretend to have developed the competitive credentials that my co-panelists have, Michelle asked me to join in based on a unique situation where we have in Powell WY. This small, rural city that is a gateway community to Yellowstone Park constructed a municipal FTTP system with a local regional LEC as an exclusive tenant.
Jim_Maiella Jim Maiella here, happy to participate in this, we're obviously in a very competitive market with satellite providers and phone companies all vying for customers across multiple products/services.

Goals for Competitive Communications Efforts

Michelle_Butler What are your goals for your competitive communications efforts?
Bill_Jasso Our competitive public relations strategy is more along the lines of communicating our advantages rather than bad-mouth the other guy. One of the most fun times I and my staff had was when the Dish Network folks erected this huge inflatable pig next door to one of our customer service offices. The sign plastered on the side of the pig read “Don’t Feed the Cable Pig.” Management wanted to call the cops and have them removed from the property. That would have resulted in a bad story for us. Instead, we went and bought the Dish folks some hot coffee (it was a cold day) and a bag of pork rinds! We also went to the local Honey Baked Ham store and bought several trays of ham sandwiches, and served them to our customers who came in to pay bills or exchange equipment. Dish had called the local media to cover their story, and when the reporters got there, they all seized on the cute story about how the local cable company treated their competition and their customers. Dish had rented the property next door for three days, but they pulled up stakes after the one day.
Michelle_Butler That's great, Bill!
Jim_Maiella Forgive me for taking the next 15 to 20 minutes to read Bill's opener.
ebecker Great story Bill. DISH tried something in our/their backyard as well. Not as clever but killed them kindness to diffuse a chunk of the "story."
Michelle_Butler Bill, had you planned beforehand how you would react if DISH did that? I recall that was happening at various systems for awhile.
Bill_Jasso No. I just felt that Dish was looking for a fight...and they were disappointed when we didn’t give them one.
Michelle_Butler Shawn, can you tell us more about the situation in Powell, WY?
Shawn_Beqaj PowelLink and TCT West are the entities and they began rolling out a triple play offering priced just above ours, banking on the community pride angle to drive adoption. We launched a coordinated marketing and public affairs campaign based on a side by side comparison of services and focused on our investment and involvement in local community life.
Michelle_Butler One of your PR rules, right, Bill? Choose the fights you want to fight?
Bill_Jasso Otherwise it’s no fun!!!
Shawn_Beqaj The marketing creative based on a tagline Apples to Apples Bresnan offers more for less.
Michelle_Butler How did the campaign work, Shawn?
Michelle_Butler Everyone, please feel free to ask any questions you wish of Shawn, Bill or Jim.
Michelle_Butler Please feel free as well to share any stories about your own competitive communications efforts.
Shawn_Beqaj So I was sitting in a meeting with Bill Bresnan and he asked what community affairs was doing on this and half jokingly I said we were going to buy all the apples in Powell and give them away over thanksgiving weekend at all the grocery stores... he said great, do it.
Shawn_Beqaj Obviously this would be difficult to scale in larger cities
Michelle_Butler That's great, Shawn. What about the dancing apples?
Jim_Maiella Great start so far... apples and pigs.
Michelle_Butler Bill, after you turned the story so much on them, did Dish try anything else? What other competitive communication efforts have you used?

Employee Involvement in Competitive Communications

Robyn_Watson So do you think the "apples to apples" concept works for employee competitive readiness too? Do you think employees need to know more about how to fight the fight, rather than just being informed?
Shawn_Beqaj But I convinced my girlfriend and a CSR to put on apple mascot suits and we had a week long apple giveaway at markets the two grocery markets in Powell
Robyn_Watson I think from a PR standpoint, it's easy to say pick your battles, but with employees, I think they want to know how we are "fighting" the competition.
Jim_Maiella I do think it's important for front-line employees to have a good understanding of competitive issues, product superiority, etc. They are the ones who are out and talking to people in the community, backyard BBQs, etc.
Shawn_Beqaj Absolutely Robyn, aside from enhancing our hyper-localism community approach, this effort really engaged our field folks
Robyn_Watson And was the message the same...have the same tone?
Shawn_Beqaj It was light hearted and really had the rest of the company chuckling at the FLIP videos circulating of dancing apples
Bill_Jasso Robin, I am surprised at how little our employees know about our competitive advantages. If we don't know how we stack up against the competition...our employees are always going to lose the battle in speaking with neighbors and such. We try to provide updated talking points and facts/figures to our employees and tell them that this is ammo to use when talking with friends and neighbors.
Jim_Maiella Early on in our fight against one particular competitor (red logo, can you hear me now?) we distributed a "top 10 facts" we thought employees should know about this competing video service. No spin, just factual information on why we were a better choice and downsides to this competitor's service.
ebecker Shawn, Going back to Powell, might your tactics/messaging have been different if the triple play competitors undercut you on price?
Shawn_Beqaj Underneath that light hearted message was the competitive tools that our folks needed to address the community as they "kicked the tires" on our competitor
Shawn_Beqaj clearly
Michelle_Butler Jim, do you mind sharing any of those facts?
Shawn_Beqaj We would have been hard pressed to say "apples to apples" if Bresnan is more expensive than TCT :)
Jim_Maiella We felt like this was very helpful, particularly when the media was covering this "new arrival" and employees were likely to get "so, what about this other thing" questions out in the world... it was important for them to have answers. Facts on contracts, hidden fees, additional charges for phone services, HD, etc. All the things we would aggressively market.
Robyn_Watson So to your point Bill, we recently launched a competitive readiness employee engagement initiative that does nothing but package information for our emps...comparing apples to apples.
Robyn_Watson Right...apples to apples is tough.
Michelle_Butler How has the response been to that, Robyn?
Robyn_Watson Well, we just launched it last Friday...but this was the same initiative I did when I was at Verizon so I know it works.
Bill_Jasso Robyn, we have a similar program going called "See the Difference." It is totally an internal campaign, and it’s working beautifully.
Robyn_Watson TWC isn’t diff than most companies in the industry where some emps just don't know where we stand with the competition.

Success Tactics for Competitive Communications such as Local Programming and Events

Michelle_Butler Robyn and Bill - and everyone else - what other tactics are you using to engage employees in your competitive communication efforts?
Bill_Jasso Right. We just assume they know. We're wrong in assuming that.
Shawn_Beqaj More than a year after launch we can identify only less than one half of one percent of subs switching... so It clearly worked.
Michelle_Butler That's so impressive, Shawn! Did you tell the dancing apples? (Yes, I love that aspect of the campaign.)
Bill_Jasso Michelle, To differentiate ourselves from AT&T, we have promoted the heck out of our local programming efforts. We hosted a high school rock off featuring local rock bands from areas schools. We staged a Band and Cheer competition where schools submitted with a band or cheer routine, and the video with the most views won a cash prize and a trophy.
Jim_Maiella One of the benefits to entering a new market (I know this firsthand from my experience at RCN) is that you get to present yourself as this great new thing... so it's important for incumbents to get underneath the reality and make sure people get the full story, as opposed to the new box or the fresh coat of paint.
Robyn_Watson Right...and one of the things I noticed was that there's a lot of information out there but if packaged correctly, under one umbrella, it can help tell the competitive story.
Shawn_Beqaj Yes, I can ship you the suits so you can have them at Forum if you wish!
Michelle_Butler That would be great, Shawn!
Jim_Maiella Totally agree with Bill on local programming... we have really pushed News 12 and News 12 Traffic & Weather as unique local resources our competitors don't offer...
Michelle_Butler Local On Demand seems to be such a strong differentiating service. Are the concerts the most popular programming?
Bill_Jasso Actually, children's books are the consistent favorite on-demand. We have local celebrities read children’s books and we show the pictures. We had former astronaut John Glenn read "Oh the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss.
Robyn_Watson yes, NY1 helped a lot with the launch of FiOS in NYC.
Jim_Maiella Love that... is Goodnight Moon in the rotation?
Michelle_Butler Wow! I've not heard of anyone else doing that kind of local programming.
Jim_Maiella The Giving Tree?
Shawn_Beqaj Great concept
Bill_Jasso Yeah Jim, it is. Also one about butterflies, but I don’t remember the title?
Michelle_Butler In addition to local programming and employees, what other kinds of tactics or tools have you used in your competitive communications efforts?
Bill_Jasso Hungry caterpillar
Bill_Jasso One other tactic that has worked well is weekend Cable Fairs in highly competitive areas. Bring in the programmers and have a fun weekend.
Robyn_Watson Marketing events in competitive areas works well.
Michelle_Butler Can you tell us more about a specific cable fair, Bill?
Jim_Maiella I think it's helpful to think of "competitive" communications as an overlay on everything you do. Product announcements, promotion, tactics that are clearly competitive, monitoring, etc. It's not like a switch that gets turned off and on from time to time, it's always on.
Robyn_Watson haha...great minds think alike!
Shawn_Beqaj We redoubled our corporate-wide community programs, executing at least one event per quarter
Robyn_Watson And competitive ad spots...

Working with Marketing on Competitive Communications Efforts

Michelle_Butler So, how closely do you work with marketing on your competitive communications efforts?
Shawn_Beqaj We have a child safety initiative with a local children’s theater. They do a live internet safety play based on our material that is popular
Jim_Maiella Very much a campaign-style operation... some of our key "competitive" communications and initiatives are actually wrapped up around our own value and enhancements, our WiFi rollout, 101 Mbps broadband service, technological enhancements. We're promoting our own products and services and value in the marketplace, but also making our competitive case. Marketing integration is key, Michelle.
Robyn_Watson They are/will be very instrumental in what things we communicate on the competitive readiness site.
Bill_Jasso Hey everybody...don't forget to register for Forum 2010. The theme is "Competition Everywhere" and it plays right into this topic!!
Jim_Maiella Even more timely... how about attending the Cable Communications Institute June 13-16 in NYC...
Bill_Jasso Talk about competition!!!
Jim_Maiella Great information available on the ACC Web site...
Robyn_Watson Jim, isn’t that the seminar we attended last march?
Jim_Maiella Yes, exactly... even better program this year, stronger sessions, Richard Edelman keynoting the opening session, Michael Willner.
Shawn_Beqaj Michelle- we were completely synced with Marketing on this. Mail, cross channel, outdoor advertising, radio and Broadcast TV.
Jim_Maiella Social media focus, storytelling, really excited about this year's Institute, I think Shawn is attending, yes?
Shawn_Beqaj all coordinated with the 4 events we have executed since they launched

Social Media and Competitive Communications

Michelle_Butler Have you used social media for competitive communications? If so, why and how? How did they help?
Bill_Jasso Everybody wants to talk about social media these days. In both of the programs I described above, we created Facebook entries on our page, and used YouTube extensively to get the visuals out to folks.
Robyn_Watson There were 3 TWC in attendance last year but I will push my other colleagues to attend.
Shawn_Beqaj I just opened my invoice for the institute... good timing
Michelle_Butler So, Shawn, all 4 events were in Powell, Wy? One was Apples to Apples, 2nd was the play, etc.
Robyn_Watson I think social media for comp comm is great.
Jim_Maiella Social media is key... we use YouTube as well to make it easy to move spots/video around, post to Twitter, etc.
Steve_Jones Bill did you use high quality video for the YouTube or video with more of a consumer feel to it?
Robyn_Watson I think you can sweeten the pot if you make videos using employees and post them to fb and youtube...
Shawn_Beqaj yes and we also did a bresnan Business Incubator event which is an economic development program we have in partnership with the State
Jim_Maiella Our Optimum Rewards customer loyalty program for three-product customers has dipped a toe into the social media water as well by creating a Facebook fan page.
Robyn_Watson we have flip cam footage that we are going to use on our internal comp comms..
Michelle_Butler Shawn, can you tell us a little bit more about the Bresnan Incubator event? I remember it from the Beacons last year, and it really stood out.
Bill_Jasso Steve, we recently purchased a couple of FLIP cameras for $200 each. They shoot HD quality video that is fantastic for YouTube or our local web sites. Terrific!!
Robyn_Watson and I think using customers/customer testimonials is a great idea also for fb and youtube.
Michelle_Butler Are you seeing any results from your facebook and youtube efforts?
Steve_Jones Yes, ACC has an HD Flip and you are correct the quality is great.
Shawn_Beqaj We were cautious in integrating social media into our communications pallet but are doing so on Twitter and FB now
Bill_Jasso Best $400 we spent. It’s great for taping customer testimonials...they don't mind talking to that little thing.
Michelle_Butler It sounds like the Flip camera is capturing its market.
Bill_Jasso I for one still can't figure out Twitter as a tool.
Jim_Maiella I think Twitter is great, but really having a company presence on there almost requires a customer service commitment as well.
Michelle_Butler I love Twitter! Great listening tool.
ebecker With all the plugs for Flip, we need to get Cisco Systems involved in Fall forum and the Institute
Bill_Jasso'll have to teach me sometime.
Michelle_Butler I will.
Jim_Maiella It is a great listening tool and if you follow media types/outlets it can be a terrific customized wire service almost, it has become an alternate RSS feed for me and in many ways preferable.
Jim_Maiella Agree.
Shawn_Beqaj We use it as both a listening tool and as a way to push traffic to online content
Jim_Maiella Absolutely agree.
Bill_Jasso We need just a Twitter session at Forum. Preferably in the bar.
Robyn_Watson so true...
Jim_Maiella Are you on there? Let's get some Twitter screen names floating around here.
Prasana ACC is Cabletweets
Michelle_Butler I know you have a lot of followers, Jim. What is your screen name? Cabletweets is ACC's.
Jim_Maiella So what do people think of Lindsay Lohan having to wear that ankle bracelet? Oh, sorry, wrong chat window.
Jim_Maiella I'm on Twitter at "jimmaiella"
Michelle_Butler I think the whole "losing her passport thing" was one big publicity ploy!
Robyn_Watson I’m robynwatsontwc
Robyn_Watson ploy or not...she gets press!
Shawn_Beqaj I'm sure there will be a company knocking off her ankle bracelet and selling them as a must have accessory to teens
Robyn_Watson maybe not the kind she would like but hey....
Robyn_Watson haha...that sounds about right Shawn.

Measuring the Results of Competitive Communications

Michelle_Butler We touched on measurement in social media. Are there any unique challenges to measurement in competitive communications? Or, is it easier in some ways to measure ROI with the ability to improve the bottom line?
Bill_Jasso The great thing about competitive PR is that Marketing usually has your back. They can spend more money on research to show if you really moved the needle. Also, if they dig your tactics, they may also pry some money loose.
Bill_Jasso Anyone figure out LOST?
Jim_Maiella How long is this chat?
Robyn_Watson and that is what's happening here...
Jim_Maiella Bill let's you and I stay on after it's over and spend the next six hours on Lost.
Robyn_Watson Oh no...please let's not have the LOST convo..
Shawn_Beqaj no... Pat Bresnan says I've been lost since he met me.
Robyn_Watson that's all I have been hearing about for 2 days...and since I haven't watched it...
Robyn_Watson I’m lost! :)
Jim_Maiella Not to fade back into the Institute commercial, but I can honestly say one of the things I picked up last year was the existence of Google Insights for Search, which allows you to track search activity in specific areas.
Michelle_Butler So, competitive communications are integrated on lots of levels with marketing. Have you been able to prove some great ROI/bottom line results, Bill - or anyone else?
Jim_Maiella We've continually gone back in and seen how we were doing on raising WiFi awareness as we rolled out Optimum WiFi over the last 18 months or so and have actually been able to see the impact of announcements, activations, etc.
Shawn_Beqaj Since we have gained basic subs in Powell 7 of the last 8 quarters... yes
Michelle_Butler Jim, can you explain a little bit more about google insights for search, Jim?
Bill_Jasso We targeted specific competitive areas, and working with Marketing, we stopped the flow of customers out the back door. Marketing did the paid media thing, while we focused on reputation and local programming.
Shawn_Beqaj hard to qualify what part of those basic ads are marketing and what part are event driven however
Jim_Maiella I tried to include a hyperlink just now, wouldn't let me do it... "Google" it and you will see it. The way it was presented at the Institute last year was a way to help people "find" your press releases and announcements by finding out what people were searching for to begin with in your area, what words they were using, and sort of optimize what you are saying based on that.
Shawn_Beqaj We just decided to share the credit for the win
Jim_Maiella But we've found it to be much more useful to track the impact our announcements and activations have had based on how search activity around terms like WiFi, Optimum WiFi, etc. have increased in specific areas as our deployment continued.
Michelle_Butler Shawn, isn't there a famous quote about being able to do anything if you are not concerned who gets the credit?

Media Outreach in Competitive Communications

Michelle_Butler Jim mentioned that the idea of "competitive communications" should touch everything you do. Has it influenced your outreach to reporters?
Jim_Maiella Absolutely has.
Shawn_Beqaj ditto
Jim_Maiella Because it's how they see you and cover you as well.
Bill_Jasso Sarah...Colleen...Brandy...Jessie...I'd like to hear from you.
Jessie_Hlad enjoying the conversation and busy taking notes
Bill_Jasso Cool.
Brandy_J taking notes and learning as well
Steve_Jones Edited transcript will go up in a few days!
Jessie_Hlad I would love more AT&T comp ideas.
Jim_Maiella They're smart and they are aware of the broader environment, you can't treat your own announcements as stand-alones anymore because they are seen against the comprehensive backdrop. "Oh, so Cablevision is announcing a new DOCSIS 3.0 broadband service at 101 Mbps... that's faster than VZ, right?" "Well, yes, it's actually more than twice as fast, now that you asked..."
Bill_Jasso Reporters love competition because they think they'll see a fight. If you attack competition with something creative, you'll surprise them and get an even better story.
Shawn_Beqaj This was touchy with reporters because, as a small town, they were inclined to support the municipal project.
Michelle_Butler Since, as Bill said reporters love competition, does it actually help you get stories?
Shawn_Beqaj I sent them a bushel of fresh apples with our release though and that worked
Michelle_Butler Were they local apples?
Bill_Jasso You would be shocked at how many things cable does better than AT&T. Their EAS sucks, their local access channels suck, their mini-nuclear power plants in every neighborhood suck...
Jim_Maiella Hopefully that link works.
Shawn_Beqaj No, they grow Sugar Beets in Powell
Michelle_Butler Beets to Beets?
Shawn_Beqaj these were Washington organic apples
Michelle_Butler Do you compete with AT&T, Bill? Verizon seems to be so big in the northeast.
Michelle_Butler There's about 15 minutes left to the chat, Please feel free to ask any questions or suggest any topics you'd like addressed.
Shawn_Beqaj And they still haven’t figured out the latency issues completely on that Bonded DSL U-Verse system
Jim_Maiella Hold on, I'm getting Bill's AT&T critique to our marketing folks, I smell an ad.
Bill_Jasso AT&T selected Ohio as a major target. Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Akron. They're all over -- but only in the better neighborhoods. We serve everybody.
Bill_Jasso AT&T is also known to cause cancer in lab rats.

Senior Management and Other Possible Complications

Michelle_Butler Have you had any challenges getting buy-in from your senior management for your competitive communications efforts?
Bill_Jasso Every Monday morning I have a revolver pointed to my head with a guy asking me what I've done lately to frustrate the competition...
Jim_Maiella Loaded?
Michelle_Butler What are some of the other challenges inherent to competitive communications efforts?
Jim_Maiella No challenge... it's the world we're living in and goes back a long way. Actually it's our world, delivered.
Bill_Jasso Never had the guts to check. No fast moves, you know.
Michelle_Butler For example, does it complicate government relations or public affairs efforts?
Shawn_Beqaj Since Bill Bresnan approved the idea... management pretty much fell in behind our plan
Shawn_Beqaj Success has a thousand fathers though.
Shawn_Beqaj If we lost 30% of our subs I would be getting apples thrown at my head
Bill_Jasso No. The government folks LOVE competition. They've been screaming for it for decades. They're just a little surprised that it hasn't cut prices in half. But we've been explaining that for decades, too.
Michelle_Butler So, it sounds like competitive communications is the way to go. Any other successful tactics or tools you'd like to share? Advice?
Bill_Jasso If Maiella makes that server-based DVR'll crush the competition.
Jim_Maiella No worries, Bill.
Bill_Jasso We have to fill ten more minutes. Somebody ask something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Localism Is Key to Success of Competitive Communications

Shawn_Beqaj I think the governing factor to ALL these efforts is LOCALISM
Jim_Maiella Agree with that... it's a big advantage.
Michelle_Butler How so, Shawn?
Shawn_Beqaj whether it’s events, programming etc. it’s what sets us apart
Jim_Maiella Especially when competing with large national companies... and that applies to DBS and phone companies.
Jim_Maiella Local programming, local customer service, local presence, etc.
Michelle_Butler How do you incorporate Localism into regional or national campaigns? Or, are they almost always local campaigns?
Bill_Jasso Yup. LOCAL is the mother-ship for battling competition.
Shawn_Beqaj Either in that situation but even we were able to communicate that we are just as much a part of Powell WY as the municipal project

Monitoring the Competition and Final Thoughts

Claytin We have heard quite a bit about different programs and tactics, I am interested to know how you are all monitoring the competition and staying on top of advancements, activities, etc. to ensure you do not miss a beat and can act quickly -- when needed.
Bill_Jasso We offer members deals with local businesses that we have worked with or who buy on air ads. We work with the local pro sports teams on discounted tickets...we have the Indians and the Cavaliers...AT&T has the Browns. That's why we try to partner with as many major organizations as we can...before AT&T gets there to write a check.
Robyn_Watson we have an employee blog where emps serve as our eyes and ears.
Bill_Jasso Marketing uses a service called Competitive Eye as their bible.
Robyn_Watson We are hoping that will keep us up to speed with what the competitors are well on relying on our competitive intelligence marketing team.
Michelle_Butler Any final thoughts, questions or advice? We just have a few minutes remaining.
Jim_Maiella Google Alerts has become an absolutely essential tool for me.
Robyn_Watson yes, Google alerts are another great tool.
Claytin TY
Jessie_Hlad TY everyone
Bill_Jasso Amen. Great to be with you all. This was a gas.
Shawn_Beqaj There was a speaker at an NCTA show a while back who suggested that Cable Companies start using a "frequent flyer" style approach offering "Comcast points." Don’t think it has been tried yet but I find it interesting in concept.
Jim_Maiella I think in general just staying focused on the customer, who is making buying decisions in a competitive market, and what drives those decisions - value, reliability, no surprises.
Shawn_Beqaj Thanks all.
Robyn_Watson Thanks everyone for your comments!
SarahChaikin Very interesting. Thank you.

It will be interesting if "Cable Points" are offered.

Thank you for participating in ACC’s latest online chat. ACC offers an e-learning opportunity every month. The next event is: June 24, 2010: Using PR and Community Relations to Improve the Bottom Line – an ACC Webinar Check for more details. Please feel free to contact me at or 202-222-2372 if you have any suggestions for future topics, feedback on this chat, questions, etc.
Jim_Maiella Think about the Institute.
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