By Brian Steinberg
Less than a year after being named head of digital and cable ad sales at NBCUniversal, Linda Yaccarino has been elevated to supervise all of the company’s ad sales and marketing efforts, including those of its flagship broadcast network.
The hard-charging Ms. Yaccarino, known for making a range of aggressive ad plays over the years, will now report directly to Steve Burke, NBCUniversal’s CEO. Her promotion is not entirely unexpected. When she arrived at NBCUniversal in 2011, speculation at the time suggested that the even bigger role was in the cards. One prominent ad-sales exec, former cable ad-sales chief and Comcast veteran Dave Cassaro, left the company after it became known he would be reporting to a new supervisor.
The move may be telling. After all, NBCUniversal once had a single ad-sales overseer: Mike Pilot, a General Electric executive with a talent for analyzing sales patterns and using past client behavior to determine future sales efforts. He left the company, however, as the Comcast purchase was finalized. Now Comcast may have discovered some virtue in the company’s old sales structure.
Why? Advertisers these days think less about discrete categories like "cable," "broadcast" and "digital" and more about aligning their brands with pieces of content that appeals to their particular customers. Consumers, too, are shifting around from TV to digital to mobile as their needs dictate. Having a person at the top to who can help craft deals that move across various NBCUniversal assets — which range from movie-ticketing outlet Fandango to the USA cable network to Universal Studios — may have broader appeal for sponsors.
"As a unified sales team, our goal is to collaboratively develop the most creative solutions to move our clients’ businesses forward," Ms. Yaccarino said in a statement.
Her fearlessness may have also served as a factor in her elevation. Ms. Yaccarino has no qualms about pressing customers for a higher price. In the most recent upfront — the annual marketplace where TV networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season — she initially pressed advertisers for price hikes in the low double-digit-percentage range, according to ad buyers, a maneuver that generated some pushback.
And she’s not afraid to turn adversity into a reason for a new sales pitch. When ratings for the then-new "Conan" show on Time Warner’s TBS fell short in September 2011, Ms. Yaccarino, then exec VP-chief operating officer for Turner Entertainment ad sales, went out touting host Conan O’Brien’s digital presence.
However, Ms. Yaccarino is likely to experience some pressure from the top. Since taking a controlling interest in NBCUniversal in 2011, Comcast has invested heavily in sports programming, including future broadcasts of Olympics Games. It has also given its assent to the development of a higher caliber of program for the NBC broadcast network, which has seen some signs of life from shows like "The Voice" and "Revolution" after several seasons of trailing rival networks in ratings. Advertising revenue will be one important pillar supporting all of these efforts.
Internally, senior members of NBC’s ad-sales team — including Marianne Gambelli, who has overseen ad sales at the NBC broadcast network; Ed Swindler, exec-VP and chief operating officer of NBCUniversal ad sales; and Peter Naylor, who supervises digital sales — are expected at present to stay under the new structure.