Walter Cade

Sr. Vice President, Ad Sales at NBC Regional Networks

As Senior Vice President of NBC Sports Regional Networks, Walter is responsible for managing multi-platform revenue across six regional sports networks. He also oversees group efforts in collaboration with NBCUniversal’s 29 NBC and Telemundo-owned local stations on multi-market and individual cross-platform sales. With more than 25 years of experience leading sports advertising and sales organizations, Cade's background extends beyond ad sales including research, marketing, and organizational strategy. NBC Sports Regional Networks is NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of nine regional networks that deliver more than 2,200 live sporting events and original content to more than 43 million homes. Aligned within Eastern and Western Divisions, the NBC Sports Regional Networks are NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, TCN, NBC Sports Washington, and SNY; and NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago, and NBC Sports Northwest.

How Media, Content Marketing, and Brand Building Have Revolutionized Ad Sales

What major changes have you witnessed in marketing since the beginning of your career?

When I started my career, there were less than 50 television stations, no internet, and audio was synonymous with radio. Now, we have unlimited channels, which includes YouTube and anything that people stop and watch. This has changed viewership habits. When I first started the business, your mobile device was something you made a phone call on. Now, studies show a phone call is only 1/12th of a mobile device’s use among the average consumer. There was no social network that we know now, and in terms of marketing to people, there is more fragmentation. But there is also a greater ability to understand consumers’ individual passion points.

Brands feel they need to be on every platform, all the time, when marketing to Millennials and Generation Z. How can brands leverage both relevancy and targeted messaging?

We need to remember the way we go about things may change, but in a lot of ways, regardless of if you’re a Boomer or a Millennial, as you start to go through life cycles, there are still commonalities. Most of the recent studies on mature Millennials say, “Wow! They are much like the generation before them.” The one thing I think marketers don’t realize is that the habits are the same, but the means to go about those habits are different.

One common mistake that I’ve seen is that marketers don’t look at the life habits of the age groups that they target; they go after the buzz. They dive in on Instagram without understanding what habits are there.

So, what happens is that without connecting to the habits they don’t connect their message. They go after Instagram as a silo and don’t understand that Instagram, Facebook, TV, and podcasts are really part of a person’s daily habits when you look at them in totality. Most marketers miss the relevancy and become saturated or redundant because instead of following the habits, they plan for platforms. That’s not how the consumer thinks! To this day, marketers have separate digital teams that don’t talk to their mass market, radio, or local market buying teams. I think this is a huge failure.

Technology has quickly evolved, changing the digital landscape. Furthermore, consumers are increasingly impatient. Has this affected your business? How has this changed your strategy?

I think NBC Sports Regional Networks has a greater understanding of the business. Those that are doing it right understand that there has to be a reward along with the branding message. Yes, consumers are able to skip through advertisements, but regardless of the platform, there has to be a reward. Data shows that consumers are willing to sit through a 15- to 30-second ad commercial as long as the reward on the other side is worth it. For example, you are running 8:1 in terms of content to ads, and it should really be closer to 22:1. I think that has changed.

Furthermore, I think our strategy has changed drastically. We are more of a consultant with our clients and not just sellers. We are working to give them better scenarios as they go forward. Over the last three years, I’ve seen an improvement in the understanding of joint success. If you asked me 10 years ago, it was really about the ratings on the television side and a sprinkle of creative digital. Now, it’s really about collaborating with the client and getting to a point where you can talk to various teams.

Where do you see advertisement sales and marketing going within the next five years due to the constant innovation of digital and virtual marketing?

Marketing is going to primarily focus on habits, or what I call passion points. Also, there is going to be an increase in the selling of brands. For example, ESPN is a company that does a great job of communicating its brand image. Whether it’s a digital, social, or broadcasting entity, its brand is consistent. We are going to see marketers really push the value of their brand and align themselves with brand identities. Successful companies will start to build out their brand image across multiple platforms and the entire field of communication.

Speaking on personal and professional evolution, what are some challenges you had to overcome in building your personal brand?

I think that the one thing I have learned is that you have to set your goals and recognize opportunities when they come. I think the biggest challenge for me was up until the professional part of my life, I had a plan. What I have learned is that there are two keys: follow your passion, and if you are willing to do more and learn more, it only benefits you. You will be able to foresee and overcome challenges and be a greater value to your team and yourself because you keep challenging yourself.

For people who see a strong future in this field, what would be your best words of advice?

Be open to change! If you are going into marketing, know that it’s going to be fun, frustrating, and challenging because there is always change. That’s the beauty of it. Marketing to me is about making businesses relevant to consumers and building a link to a passion or need. You can do that from so many diverse angles, so companies have to have a diverse pool of mindsets. Your intellectual diversity is going to be your capital. Mine it, grow it, stretch it, and know that it is going to bode well for you over time.

Interview by Jazz Jenkins, Medill IMC Class Of 2018

© 2019 Northwestern University

MEDILL SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM, MEDIA,
INTEGRATED MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
1845 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208-2101