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CBS looks inside for ad sales chief

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

JoAnn Ross has been named president of network sales at CBS. Her responsibilities include ad sales for UPN, CBS’s sister Viacom broadcast network.
Her predecessor, the well-regarded Joe Abruzzese, is by any measure a tough act to follow, but Ms. Ross’ appointment was greeted with cheers inside the Eye Network last week and, perhaps more important, with bravas from Madison Avenue as well.
“I think it’s a solid internal transition; they’re not going to lose a step,” said Mel Berning, president U.S. Broadcast, MediaVest.
“The Viacom networks have handed the responsibility of the [CBS and UPN] sales organization to someone who not only is a pleasure to do business with but is an incredibly capable sales manager,” said Donna Salvatore, CEO, MediaVest USA.
When the ad sales troops were told she was moving up from executive VP of sales they reacted to the news by giving her a standing ovation, Leslie Moonves, CBS president and CEO, told Electronic Media. “She’s gotten the job by earning the job,” he said. “She’s the one there at 11 o’clock, burning the midnight oil. … It’s about energizing the troops.”
It’s also about growing the CBS and UPN slices of the ad sales pie, Mr. Moonves said, and about reaching out to the advertising community, which is looking for new ways to reach viewers.
From the moment that Mr. Abruzzese announced his intention to leave CBS to take the top sales spot at the Discovery Networks, insiders have pointed to Ms. Ross as one of the most logical candidates to take over the crucial CBS ad sales post. And by all indications, the advertising community thinks that CBS has chosen wisely.
“A lot of sales people just care about getting it sold,” said Jon Mandel, MediaCom co-CEO and chief negotiating officer. “JoAnn actually cares that it works to move the client’s product.”
That, too, was a unanimous view. “In the upfront a couple years ago, in a down market where a lot of sellers were out writing business, CBS took a different strategy, and Joann did a great job [protecting CBS] without really alienating any of the buying community,” Mr. Berning said.
As he left CBS, Mr. Abruzzese saluted Viacom’s Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin, comparing him with a tough football coach. “After practice you’re beaten up,” he said, “but at the end of the day you’re a better football player.” How will Ms. Ross do working for a tough field general like Mr. Karmazin?
The consensus on the avenue is that she’ll do just fine. “She’s a tough cookie,” said Rino Scanzoni, president, broadcast division, Mediaedge:cia, North America. “She can stand up to the best of them.”
Ms. Ross is known for, among other things, arranging the influential product placements for “Survivor.” “She can do all sorts of deals,” Mr. Mandel said. “She’s even fixed me up on dates.”
For the past four years Ms. Ross has been executive VP of sales at CBS. She joined CBS in 1992 as VP of Olympic sales, in charge of network sales for the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994 and the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998.