One Comcastic Exec

Operations Ace Watson Keeps the Titan Ahead of the Curve
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Dave Watson, Executive VP Of Operations, Comcast Cable

Vanguard Award for Marketing

A constant reminder of the competitive challenges facing cable marketing executives can be found right outside the office of Dave Watson, executive VP of operations at Comcast Cable. Near his door, a digital sign flashes information about the company’s operations: subscriber counts, stock price and so forth.

“People kid me about the sign, but when you get into a truly competitive business, you have to keep track of how you’re doing,” Watson says. “Decisions can’t be made just once a year—or even once a month—when you’re putting together an annual business plan. You have to react all the time and maintain a sense of urgency.”

Watson and his marketing team’s success in navigating that ultra-competitive landscape has played a key role in Comcast’s success in rolling out services. It also explains the NCTA’s decision to give Watson a Vanguard Award at this year’s National Show.

One recent example of that success can be found in the “Comcastic” rebranding effort, which won Adweek’s award for the best campaign of 2005.

The campaign grew out of a basic marketing problem facing cable operators as they roll out an abundance of services. “Our challenge is to get customers to think about us as a multi-product company,” he says. “Consumers are really delighted with these products. But we have to make sure our existing and potential consumers connect those products directly to our brand.”

The Comcastic campaign, which was created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in conjunction with Senior VP of Marketing Marvin Davis and the company’s marketing team, relied heavily on humor to achieve that goal. One spot combines original footage from ’70s game show $20,000 Pyramid showing Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H with new lines that she dubbed: “High-definition TV, amazing picture quality,” she says, and the contestant answers, “things that are good.” But when she says, “warts, satellite dishes,” her partner says, “things that should be removed.”

Then the final clue: “HDTV, high-speed Internet, free on-demand movies.” The correct answer is, of course, “things that are Comcastic.”

The campaign’s humor, Watson admits, could have easily backfired. But the cable company wanted something “that would break through the clutter,” he says, and the marketing crew believed their efforts had already laid the foundation for the Comcastic campaign.

WILLINGNESS TO TAKE RISKS

The previous campaign, “That Was Then, This Is Comcast,” also used humor to highlight the cable giant’s new services and improved consumer experience, Watson adds: “We had progressed to the point where we felt we could go out on a limb and take a bigger risk.”

Watson’s willingness to take risks can be traced back to his career in the highly competitive wireless industry. An avid soccer fan, he landed at a sporting-goods company after getting a B.A. in political science from the University of Richmond, Va., in 1980. He began his telecommunications career by taking a job with Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems in 1984 and moved two years later to cellphone operator Metrophone as VP of sales and marketing.

ACQUIRED BY COMCAST

Watson’s work won the praise of his bosses, but when Comcast announced plans to acquire Metrophone in 1991, he feared he’d soon be out of a job. Only a few weeks before the deal was announced, he had turned down a marketing job with Comcast.

“When [Comcast founder] Ralph Roberts made his first visit to Metrophone, he asked me to meet with him privately before an executive meeting,” Watson recalls. “I figured he was going to fire me, and I thought to myself it was pretty classy that the chairman would take the time to do this personally. I was very surprised when he asked me to stay on.”

By the time Comcast sold the wireless operations to SBC in 1999, Watson was the division’s president, and his success in marketing the cell services got him a job with Comcast Cable as executive VP of sales and marketing.

After a companywide reorganization in July 2004, Watson was promoted to executive VP of operations. He now oversees the operations for all of the company’s products, including video, Internet and phone, as well as marketing and ad sales.

“My experience in the very competitive wireless industry was very helpful in dealing with the marketing challenges of rolling out new services and facing new competition,” he says.

He shares much of the credit with his team: “I’m honored to receive the Vanguard Award because it’s a reflection of the great work that’s being done by the great team of people.”

Watson has been very active in Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, serving on the board of directors. “In a world where there has never been more competitive pressure, CTAM has been a great asset for the industry,” he says. “It allows us to work together to accomplish things that we couldn’t do on our own.”

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