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Local and lovin' it.

"SUPPORT LOCAL" MOVEMENTS HAVE BEEN EMBRACED NATIONWIDE by consumers who recognize that money spent on local businesses generates economic value by creating jobs and putting money back into the community. But for small, independent telecom service providers, local public relations and marketing play an even more crucial role. Such messaging builds brand awareness, establishes and maintains customer relationships, and attracts and retains businesses. Localism extends as well to accountability for delivering great services to telecom customers who often are neighbors rather than people who only interact with the telco and its employees over the phone.

Telecom service providers are enhancing their local connections by employing local public relations and marketing tactics--customized direct mail, targeted ads, dedicated local TV content, participation in community events and sponsorship of local sports teams--that allow telcos to be top-of-mind with their customers and community.

Local Attraction

Providers know that to attract locals, you have to be local, know local and talk local. Investing time and effort to promote localism can attract customers who might otherwise look elsewhere for a telecom provider.

Providers like Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative (Missoula, Mont.) know the key role a local connection continues to play with customers. Images used on the telco's website reflect the beauty of Montana--something the state's residents know, love and appreciate.

"Folks who live here chose to live here," said Joel Block, vice president of customer operations, product management and marketing for Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative. "Our customers have a strong commitment to place, and it is reflected in our messaging. We put people first. We're reliable, accessible and accountable. And we weave those messages with our customers into our overall messaging in our campaigns."

Santel Communications Cooperative (Woonsocket, S.D.) competes with cellular, satellite, wireless and cable providers, some of which are large national chains. The telco also competes with a small, local company on monitoring/security services. Santel knows having headquarters and employees in the area is a critical piece to its local public relations and marketing strategy.

"It is difficult to be price competitive with the national chains, but we [Santel Communications] are part of the community and are the go-to resource for customers' communications service needs," said Pam Kopfmann, customer service manager at Santel.

Santel's marketing campaign featuring a local technician assisting community members states, "trusted like a neighbor because he is one," while another campaign for installation services showcases its employees, who are local residents.

A Good Neighbor

ComSouth Telecommunications (Hawkinsville, Ga.) competes with large companies and has rolled out a "neighbors serving neighbors" campaign directly targeting apartment complexes where they compete with a national cable provider. ComSouth also places ads strategically in its competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) markets. The campaign highlights that quality services and state-of-the-art technology enhance a community's growth and success, and that ComSouth keeps its neighbors in mind because, in the words of Michael R. Penn, vice president of sales and marketing at ComSouth, "Community is our biggest investment."

Being a good neighbor isn't just a widely embraced attitude--it's a local public relations strategy and an important part of a company's success in attracting and retaining customers. Local providers know that they are an essential part of helping to build a better future for their communities.

ComSouth has been serving its community for 100 years. The recent marketing tagline underscores the company's commitment and involvement in the community it serves. The telco has found that the local community is supportive and appreciative of the company's efforts and generosity.

"We hire local residents and purchase products and services locally whenever possible," Penn said. "We are involved in many civic and community organizations and the chamber of commerce. ComSouth encourages all employees to get involved in community events."

The company is also actively involved in giving back to the community. It sponsors and supports a variety of local events, schools and nonprofits. "We are giving back right here where we live, work and play," Penn said.

Santel's newsletter highlights its employees' different types of community involvement. "Our employees are involved in local organizations such as churches, town councils, school communities and coaching local teams, to name a few," Kopfmann said. The telco also promotes its local scholarship, which is not provided by its competitors.

A good neighbor also knows when to help and collaborate with area businesses to help them flourish and extend services to the community Blackfoot rolled out its campaign, "Breakthroughs Made to Order," to help solve technology challenges that local businesses face. "With this campaign, we wanted to feature our business customers and how we worked with them to solve their challenges," Block said. The campaign shared the story of a local health care provider, an insurance company and the Missoula International Airport.

Benefit of Others

Finding solutions to allow locals to access health care and connect with educational resources reaps great rewards beyond business, public relations and marketing strategies. It gives your customers a chance to identify with your values and your impact on their community. It keeps local telecom providers top-of-mind as consumers make their purchasing decisions.

Helping local businesses and area anchor institutions thrive with the technology they need to deliver products and services to local, national and international customers positively affects the local economy.

In its campaign and quest to serve its neighbors, ComSouth provided a dedicated broadband path to Taylor Regional Hospital to use for its telemedicine services. "The hospital realized a tenfold increase in bandwidth, improved reliability and immediate annual savings," Penn said. He added that the technology has helped the hospital's productivity and patient care by enabling the hospital to decrease turnaround times; increase the amount of services provided and the availability of expert diagnoses and second opinions; and facilitate compliance with physicians' orders.

The broadband provided to Taylor Regional Hospital also aids in recruitment and education efforts. "Business customers are a relatively small portion of our total customer base, but are definitely an area where we see potential growth," Penn said.

ComSouth also serves innovative anchor institutions like Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC), which partnered with ComSouth to build a fiber-based 1 Gbps backbone to meet the growing needs of the college. The partnership and technology have allowed CGTC to expand its distance-based learning programs globally and have provided local, rural students with the opportunity to take classes from their home, office, at CGTC sites or anywhere there is Internet access.

The Local Video Rdvanbage

In an effort to reach the younger generation and impress upon them the importance of the company's local roots and long-standing dedication to the community, Santel provides a local TV channel for every school in its territory. The TV channel promotes the schools' concerts, ball games, media clubs and more.

"Our number one local solution is our efforts with the schools," Kopfmann said. "No one else has the content or has committed to that level of support like we have."

Keeping the community even more connected has brought Santel many new TV customers, including the local hospital, nursing home and assisted living centers.

By leveraging their knowledge and passion to serve and connect locals, rural telcos can develop strategies for brand and product awareness, and thereby build and maintain customer relationships while attracting and retaining business. They compete for customer attention by meeting community needs.

In short, independent telcos support local--and it shows.

Jonah Arellano is NTCA's communications specialist. Contact her at jarellano@ntca.org.
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Title Annotation:Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative
Author:Arellano, Jonah
Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:1230
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