Charlie Ergen: Satellite cowboy, TV viewer, pitchman

Charlie Ergen is best known in media business circles as the straight talking homely founder of satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. He’s often been disarmingly honest on quarterly conference calls with Wall Street analysts by admitting that he had personally taken his eye off the ball when the company was losing customers a few years ago or putting his annual family vacation ahead of being present on the quarterly call.

Well Dish Network’s marketing team is hoping that Ergen’s southern gentleman charm can win over new customers or at least keep old ones in the pay-TV wars versus DirecTV Group and the various US cable operators.

Ergen appears in a new in-house produced campaign below talking about his pride in the company he founded, his “embarrassing” picture from his early days, and its recent success in customer service etc.

Dish Chief Marketing Officer Ira Bahr said that his boss is a “plain-speaking, easy-to-understand American TV viewer” just like the kinds of people the company is trying to win over in a business sector where there is so much “yelling and price competition” between the various players (Dish has been as guilty as anyone in that respect as you can see here and here).

But outside of crisis management does recruiting the boss as your top pitchman really work for a major national brand campaign? The closest most recent example would be mobile phone company Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who first hit our screens in a black & white stylish campaignsoon after he joined in 2008.  Sprint’s fortunes haven’t exactly improved since the end of 2007 the last quarter before he joined the company. Sprint has lost more than 5 million customers, though the rate of those losses appear to have narrowed in recent quarters.  Bahr argues that a professional CEO as pitchman doesn’t have quite the same marketing resonance as that of a founder CEO like Ergen and Dish is currently on the up having already added 700,000 customers in the last year or so.

Picture gets darker for 8,000 Sprint workers

Employees of embattled wireless service Sprint had yet another reason to complain on Monday after the company, which has been losing customers for years, announced 8,000 job cuts.

However, even after they’ve been booted out in the cold, these workers will likely still be reminded of their previous job by the sight of their old boss Dan Hesse, when he moonlights as lead actor in Sprint’s sepia-toned TV commercials on top of his day job as CEO of a struggling wireless company. 
    While Hesse’s dual lead man/CEO role may be saving the company some money, a few experts have wondered whether the commercials are doing more harm than good to Sprint, which has been roundly criticized for its marketing message. 
    Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the company has continued to report steep customer losses since the ads started to run soon after Hesse took on the job just over a year ago.

(Photo: Still shot of Dan Hesse in Sprint ad)