A PRIMO Event – A Good Idea for Independent Telcos

Playing Telecom Jeopardy at the PRIMO Conference

A grassroots marketing organization; something the cable industry has done a great job with through their organization, CTAM, but it something that has not taken root in the independent telco industry in the same way. Thus, I was excited to learn more about and to be able to participate in the PRIMO (Public Relations Independent Marketing Organization) marketing event last week.

PRIMO is a group of independent telco marketers from the Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma area who meet twice a year to teach each other marketing and customer service best practices. I came away impressed with the camaraderie of this group and what an effective way this forum is for generating and understanding best marketing practices.

A very interactive day and a half, their winter meeting included a keynote speaker who provided sage advice and interactive exercises as to how to handle difficult situations and difficult people; very useful skills for marketing people who are the drivers of a telco’s approach to interacting with customers. It was an honor to speak at this event on the topic of TV advertising, especially as it related to independent telcos.

As part of my research on the topic, I perused the web sites of all of the telco attendees. Each site gave me an idea or two as to new ways to communicate with a telco’s customers. Better communication was one of the themes of a session led by Jackie Petersen of Rainbow Telephone. She split the attendees into groups and they competed to find new channels of communication to their respective communities.

Taylor Summers gave a very detailed and practical presentation of his experience with a relatively new communications provider. Amber Eggleston of TCA gave the success story of a net book promotion (almost 10% penetration in 4 months) by an independent telco. Troy Stickels of Glenwood Telephone/Telecommunications explained how they got into the computer repair business almost by accident and now they have multiple offices across 12 counties and do everything from computer sales and repair to IT consulting; essentially becoming the IT department for area small businesses. It was pointed out that a lucrative moneymaker is performing FDIC, mandated IT audit for local banks.

Steve Miller of Golden Belt Telephone demonstrated an online application whereby a farmer can monitor his irrigation network. If there is a failure of some sort, the farmer can get a text message on their blackberry. Miller anticipates this will drive demand for smart phones on their wireless network. He reported that rising rural crime rates are also driving their residential and business security monitoring business. He entertained the crowd by showing the real time capability of their online security access by calling a friend at the friend’s liquor store and putting him on “camera” for the audience to see and hear how this system is making this establishment more secure.

Finally, Christine Phelps of Sunflower Broadband explained their strategy for selling broadband usage and how they have tiered broadband not only by speed, but by megabytes per month. A key part of her message was education, education, education of the customer when dealing with this sensitive topic.

She also gave some great tips on producing local content. They have been doing this for 25 years and this experience has given them some great ideas and has made them the news leader (measured by set-top views thanks to software from Navic, a Microsoft company) in their market. With their relationship with the Lawrence World Journal, they truly have transformed themselves into an integrated media company that crosses print, online and television, which, was the central thesis of my talk as to what an independent telco has to do if they are to be successful in local content and local advertising. 

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