Aggressive, Active Agenda Laid Out for ASCENT

Speaking for the first time in front of the Association of Communication Enterprises (ASCENT) membership, the group’s newly appointed president Walter Blackwell announced Tuesday an aggressive, three-prong approach intended to increase the trade organization’s influence and prestige.

Blackwell’s setting, the ASCENT 2002 Spring Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, comes at a time when the telecom industry seems to be idling as the economy continues to be stuck in neutral. But an optimistic Blackwell emphasized that under his leadership ASCENT’s focus with members is that if they start and stay with the association, they will succeed.

On the job officially since the first of May, Blackwell told a modest audience of near 300 people that his top priorities will be to listen, to learn and "to build with you." He thanked members who already have welcomed him, and he provided his email address,, for those who want to contact him.

Speaking before the keynote address, presented by National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach, Blackwell launched three initiatives, on which he hopes to build and reinvigorate ASCENT. The first – a shift of focus for the group’s scheduled Nov. 10-13 conference in Orlando — may catch companies’ marketing people by surprise.

Rather than emphasizing a tradeshow floor of exhibits, Blackwell’s plan is to institute what he calls a "network center," which he described as a "redesigned exhibit floor," which will be "better for doing business.”

The second project will be the introduction of the ASCENT Business Academy, a certificate program designed around issues that face the association’s membership, with an emphasis on business and the industry.

ASCENT’s Business Academy, scheduled to begin June 12, and will then occur the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, entails Web or audio call-ins education seminars. For example, the opening session will focus on compliance issues with state, third-party verification and letter of agency rules. VoiceLog LLC’s Larry Leiken will present the event.

The second scheduled session will feature Sue Platner of the Northridge Group, who will present a lesson on marketing strategies and alternate channels.

Blackwell said each session is scheduled to be one hour in length, with 25 minutes of presentation and 35 minutes of questions and answers. For members who cannot attend each call-in seminar, the meetings will be recorded digitally and posted on a special page on ASCENT’s Web page,, so members can review it for one week. After that, the meeting will be placed in an archive.

Nonmembers of ASCENT will be welcomed to listen to the conferences, although they will not be able to participate in the Q&A. He said they would be welcomed, because he believes the program can become a "wonderful sharing and recruitment tool for our industry.”

The final session of each academy term will be presented at the ASCENT’s spring and fall conferences.

ASCENT’s third new program will be the Visiting Industry Professional (VIP) Program, in which members are given opportunities to visit and work with ASCENT’s staff on projects, or vice versa.

"This is a way for me to get to know you and our staff to get to know you," Blackwell explained. He called the program a "shortcut to better understanding members’ issues and creating new programs, projects and services to better serve the membership at large.”

The VIP Program is scheduled to launch in late summer or early fall.

Blackwell replaced long-time ASCENT president Ernest B. Kelly III, who retired. A tribute for Kelly had been planned, said ASCENT vice chairwoman Gail Jones, but because the conference dates coincided with his 20th wedding anniversary, he decided against attending.

Jones encouraged those in attendance to return for ASCENT’s November conference in Orlando, "where we can pay the tribute to Ernie that he so richly deserves." She also tipped ASCENT’s hat to outgoing chairman Dan Lazarek, who is recuperating from a leg injury. Lazarek chose not to seek reelection during today’s election for three board positions. Jones and Ron Harden, currently on the board, are hoping to retain their seats.

Although ASCENT still was accepting walk-up registration, the overall attendance for the show appeared at midday Tuesday to be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

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