From the March 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

While in Atlanta recently, I met a terrific entrepreneur. (Let's call him Steve.) The owner of a chain of pet stores with 30 employees and sales exceeding $4 million per year, Steve has added a variety of products and services through the years, from boarding cats and dogs to dog obedience classes. But the problem is, this year his business has stopped growing-in fact, when we last spoke, it was $40,000 in the red. Steve will have to do something beyond his usual Yellow Pages ad to bring in new business. But what?

Viewer Appeal

Cable TV advertising is the answer for a good number of entrepreneurs. It's an ideal mar-keting vehicle for businesses like Steve's-those with one or more locations in one region and a customer base that has identifiable characteristics. (In Steve's case, they're pet owners.) Advertising via cable TV is affordable, too-rates are based on audience size, and because cable TV can be bought in small geographic areas, it's cheaper than local network affiliate programming. Plus, cable TV allows you to pinpoint a specific target audience by selecting cable networks that offer specialized programming for viewers with particular interests.

Suppose you own a retail store that sells communications equipment for businesses and you're selecting from several local TV advertising opportunities. Many shows on the major networks draw huge audiences that reflect a representative sample of the general population, while a cable network such as CNBC attracts smaller audiences of more adult, business-oriented viewers by nature of its content. So local cable advertising on CNBC and other select networks could provide an effective, affordable way to reach qualified prospects who are interested in what your store has to offer.

Regarding Steve's pet store, buying advertising on local cable systems to run on networks such as Animal Planet and Discovery Channel might yield audiences that have a strong interest in animal-related programming. But to find pet owners who fit the profile of his best clients, Steve would have to check out the latest specialized research pinpointing the best way to reach specific target audiences. Fortunately, broadcast outlets subscribe to Nielsen Media Research for ratings and quantitative data, as well as Scarborough Research for qualitative audience reports, and they crunch the data at no cost. So not only can Steve determine what percentage of the viewing audience watching each cable channel during a particular time period, such as from noon to 4 p.m., fits his client profile, but he can also find out how many of those viewers own pets. The depth of qualitative data available varies by market.

What To Watch For

When you give a description of your budget and audience to the cable sys-tem's advertising sales representatives, you should receive proposals outlining the reach (the percentage of your audience the proposed programming will attract) and frequency (the average number of times your audience will be exposed to your message) they'll deliver. Cable TV spots are usually sold in broad "rotators," such as from 7 p.m. to midnight, which makes it more affordable than buying time on a specific hit show. But you may have to police the channel to make sure you're getting even distribution during the allotted time-you definitely don't want all your spots to air one minute before midnight, when viewership is considerably decreased. And if you're a retailer using cable TV to promote a special sale, for example, you'll want to call and check your air times daily. Then monitor your results and adjust your air time schedules as necessary.

If you're considering adding cable TV advertising to your marketing mix, contact your local cable franchise. To advertise on multiple cable systems, look for an "interconnect" company in your local telephone directory or in the Standard Rate and Data Service Directory, located at many major public libraries. To place national cable advertising, you or your agency should contact each network directly.

For more information and to access profiles of more than 60 cable networks, visit the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau at www.cabletvadbureau.com or call (212) 508-1200.