The Player: Thurston leaves sunny L.A. for cooler climes, ad sales

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As a Los Angeles-based local cable sales executive who just accepted a job in Philadelphia, Charles Thurston needed a little rest and relaxation before his big move. So he drove cross-country and visited his new company's regional offices.

Maybe not everyone's idea of an ideal vacation, but Mr. Thurston, 43, thought the local-level view was the right approach to his new gig as president of advertising sales for cable operator Comcast Cable Communications. So he drove to Alburqueque, N.M., and then worked his way through Denver, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Detroit, and other cities. "It was pretty relaxing. I saw every weather pattern," he said. "It was even 75 [degrees] in Pittsburgh in January one day, just like Los Angeles."

Leaving sunny L.A. for the colder Northeast might not sound like a good deal. But Mr. Thurston, who was president-CEO of Adlink, the Los Angeles area cable sales group, will now run local ad sales for the third largest U.S. cable operator with some 8.5 million subscribers. Soon Comcast's pending acquisition of AT&T Broadband will make it the largest-and most powerful-cable-system operator in the country, with 22 million subscribers.

Mr. Thurston believes he can do for Comcast what he has done for Adlink -spur local cable ad sales through great strategy and even better technological improvements.

He cites TV advertising figures that show national cable network ad revenue of $8.5 billion in 2000 while cable spot sales only grabbed $3.3 billion.

"The difficult thing for agencies buying spot cable has been the fragmentation in each major market," Mr. Thurston said. "What interconnects like Adlink and Comcast's Marketlink do is give advertisers the ease of one-stop shopping." During Mr. Thurston's reign at Adlink-a consortium of Adelphia Media Services, AOL Time Warner, AT&T Media Services, Charter Communications and Cox Cable Communications-Adlink's revenues increased from $40 million in 1997 to $138 million in 2001.

"Adlink has been way ahead of anyone in the cable industry," said David Robinson, exec-VP-media director of T&O Group, Irvine, Calif. "They simplified what is a complicated process."

With Adlink's technology, Adcopy, an advertiser can segment different zip codes in a market with different creative messages; Adtag allows an advertiser to tag a single commercial with different telephone numbers of local dealers. "Too often, we have been confronted with solutions where they were no problems," said Jim Porcarelli, exec VP-client services of Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York. "With Charlie, he would listen."

None of the Comcast's 16 major cable advertising interconnect markets have any of Adlink's new technologies-yet. Mr. Thurston hopes his experience "developing these geographical targeting products will be helpful in rolling out this in [Comcast] markets."

Fast Facts

Name: Charles Thurston

Age: 43

Now: President-advertising sales, Comcast Cable Communications

Challenge: Spur local cable ad sales through strategy and technological improvements

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