Around the Water Cooler With C-Span's CEOs

Co-CEOs Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy share tips for expanding your audience and staying relevant.

Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy

Most Americans don't come home after work and flip on C-Span though. What can businesses with a niche target audience like yours do to expand their consumer base?

Swain: We've done some things I think we pioneered in. For example, 20 years ago we bought a million-dollar big bus that travels around the country as a mobile billboard, but it goes into cities, to history events and schools, so that's right in people's faces and hands-on marketing demonstrating what C-Span does.

There's another thing we love here, which is a contest called StudentCam. We ask high school and middle school students to do short documentaries about Washington using C-Span content. We give away $100,000 in prizes and get thousands of student entries every year. It's a really innovative and exciting way to introduce C-Span at an early age when they probably wouldn't be thinking of watching C-Span.

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Kennedy: I think it goes back to something Susan said earlier about your father's C-Span and grandson's C-Span, which is that consumer tastes are changing, media consumption habits are changing and it's important to keep abreast of those and to experiment with some of the new tools that are out there. Years ago we couldn't have done the StudentCam contest because it was very difficult to produce documentaries. Now anybody with a laptop or even a smartphone can produce a documentary, so we were able to use that change to promote C-Span in a different way.

What's the best career advice you've each received?

Kennedy: I've had a lot of good bosses over the years, and I think something I've always tried to do is learn from them. One thing I've learned from Brian Lamb is always to consider your audience and who you're talking to, and to respect your audience whether it's a large group, a one-on-one meeting or a small group meeting you're conducting. Listen more; talk less; try to understand things from their perspective; don't waste their time. Remember all these conversations are a two-way business, and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes.

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Swain: Mine also comes from watching Brian Lamb over the years. He's an incredible listener, and he's much more about receive than transmit. He gets a lot of really valuable information from that. He always comes back to us with things from listening and asking good follow-up questions. So I'd say the best advice is always be a good listener.