Wonder Women of New York 2022: Katrina Cukaj

Katrina Cukaj
Katrina Cukaj (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

In an evolving industry, Katrina Cukaj, executive VP of ad sales and client partnerships at WarnerMedia, has been a constant, building relationships and businesses.

Those who’ve worked with Cukaj over the course of her career praise her for being authentic, empathetic and eager to solve problems selflessly.

After AT&T acquired Time Warner, JP Colaco was named head of ad sales for WarnerMedia and became Cukaj’s boss. “My first impressions were that she was incredibly smart and very strategic about the business,” Colaco said. “She was also very warm. She’s the kind of person that everyone gravitates towards and she has a lot of charisma.”

In 2021, Cukaj was promoted to head up ad sales and client partnerships under Colaco. She had been putting together WarnerMedia’s upfront presentation, so she had to manage negotiations with agencies and advertisers while also running a major theatrical event in the middle of a pandemic. “She was juggling multiple balls and did them all flawlessly,” Colaco said.

The AT&T acquisition also brought Cukaj together with AT&T’s advanced advertising company Xandr (recently sold to Microsoft). Kirk McDonald was chief business officer at Xandr and said Cukaj was one of the WarnerMedia execs who helped find ways for the two units to collaborate. “She understood there was a lot of strength we could bring to the market,” he said.

McDonald is now CEO at media buyer GroupM and one of Cukaj’s clients. Beyond the upfront, GroupM worked with Cukaj on Ally Bank’s sponsorship of The Milestone Initiative, a program aimed at supporting diverse writers and artists in the comic book industry.

A Creative Collaborator

“She has an intimate understanding for the Warner business, its moving parts, and that allows us to get very creative around clients’ needs and building those together,” McDonald said. “We look forward to doing more interesting projects with her.”

She’s been doing that throughout her career, said Dani Benowitz, president of Magna Global U.S., who remembers arranging for her client Johnson & Johnson to sponsor a CNN program encouraging people to go into nursing 20 years ago. 

“She’s approachable,” Benowitz said. “This isn’t used cars. She truly looks to partner in the most innovative way possible to get what you need done.”

Probably one of my best qualities is being able to adjust and manage through change.”

— Katrina Cukaj

Having Cukaj as a constant has helped WarnerMedia in a relationship business. “You trust that she has our clients’ best interests at heart,” she said.

AT&T wasn’t Cukaj’s first merger. She joined Time Warner’s Turner unit back in 1999. The company was promptly bought by AOL. “Probably one of my best qualities is being able to adjust and manage through change,” Cukaj said.

Former CNN chief operating officer Greg D’Alba put Cukaj in charge of the news network’s upfront after another exec moved to Turner Sports. “She rolls up her sleeves and people relate to her at all levels,” D’Alba said. “Her leadership comes from her ability to have empathy. That’s not something you learn. That’s something you grow up with.”

Cukaj grew up in the Bronx and planned to be a teacher. But after watching her immigrant parents — dad was a dishwasher; mom worked in the Stella D’Oro cookie factory right off the Major Deegan Expressway — she decided to pursue a more lucrative career.

Grew Up a TV Fan

She loved TV and was drawn to the people and energy of the advertising business. She got jobs working for legends like Peggy Green at Saatchi & Saatchi and Lou LaTorre at FX before getting an offer from Turner, where her husband already worked.

She told him she didn’t think she should take it. “My husband said, ‘Are you out of your mind? What a great opportunity,’ ” Cukaj said. “So we made it work and it worked out pretty well.”

Cukaj and her husband have two sons in college. One plans to be a teacher, the other will likely get into the business, she said. In her spare time, she likes being outdoors and hiking near Lake George, New York, where they have a house. She also makes the most of her vacations. “I live for that next adventure,” she said.

With WarnerMedia about to merge with Discovery, what’s next at work is a tough question to answer. “Back in the day your path was very clear,” Cukaj said. “Now this crazy business we all love has opened up so much that I don’t know. I could be anything is the answer. That’s the exciting part of what’s going on right now.” ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.