Building a Winning Franchise

Diehard Red Sox fan Julio Marenghi has much to celebrate. His team won the World Series just after he nabbed a new title: president and GM of Viacom’s CBS owned-and-operated WBZ Boston and UPN O&Os WSBK Boston and WLWC Providence, R.I. The promotion brings Marenghi’s Boston odyssey full circle.

A native of Watertown, Mass., he attended Northeastern University and started his TV career in WBZ’s mail room. Now, 27 years later, he returns triumphant.

“I couldn’t have keyed it up any better,” says Marenghi. “I learned all my instincts in Boston. It is the Horatio Alger story coming to life. People at WBZ remember me as a young kid running down the halls.”

His new goal: build Viacom’s stations in Nielsen’s No. 5 market into a winning franchise. It’s a sizeable challenge.

In recent years, the stations have hit a plateau. The prize, WBZ, is often the second- or third-place finisher in local ratings, despite CBS’s potent prime time programming and solid syndicated fare. To reverse course, Station Group President Fred Reynolds and COO Dennis Swanson have dispatched Marenghi, most recently the group’s ad-sales chief. “We have the assets,” says Swanson. “We simply haven’t maximized the circumstances in Boston.”

Swanson has good reason to trust Marenghi. The two execs have worked together for the better part of a decade. They first met in 1996 when Swanson joined WNBC New York, where Marenghi was as an account executive. Both men are early risers, usually at their desks by 6:30 a.m., and Swanson liked to stop by Marenghi’s office to get updates on ad sales.

He was impressed by the young man’s drive and determination. When a national sales manager position opened up, Swanson urged Marenghi to apply, and he got the job. “He is highly intelligent and as good at sales as anyone I know,” Swanson says.

At WNBC, Swanson demanded interplay between all the departments, from ad sales to promotions to news. “We worked together to put the best product out,” says Marenghi. “I wasn’t just the sales guy. I understood promotion was investing in a product I was going to sell to an advertiser.” The collaboration worked; WNBC’s ratings and revenue soared. He says, “It formed my opinions of how a television station should operate.”

In Boston, he hopes to execute a similar plan. “All the moving parts need to run like one wheel,” he says. Marenghi also intends to ratchet up promotions and dive into community affairs. “I don’t want to be some station that just throws on a signal. We want to make a difference.”

To do that, he’ll rely on his schooling in big-market TV. His first sales job was for KPIX San Francisco. As a rookie sales rep, Marenghi staked out the Bay Area, trying to build a client roster.

He solicited car dealers and furniture stores and tried to pry local advertisers away from radio. “The Yellow Pages were my list,” he says. “I had to prove myself.” And he’s especially proud of his first sale: a $5,000 buy from an art and framing store north of San Jose.

After several years with KPIX and then KGO, Marenghi returned East in 1986 to join the nascent Fox Broadcasting Corp.’s New York affiliate WNYW. Although the station had a long history as an independent, Fox was still a tough sell. The network was just starting up, and Marenghi was pitching advertisers on one night of network programming, including 21 Jump Street and Married With Children. “We didn’t know if it would ever be more,” he recalls. “We were convincing people that a fourth broadcast platform could exist.”

New York, he says, was a TV salesman’s dream: a lucrative combination of local and national clients.

Since joining WNBC, his career ascent has closely mirrored his mentor Swanson’s journey. Shortly after retiring from WNBC in 2002, Swanson jumped to rival Viacom to be Reynolds’ right hand, running the 39-station group. Reynolds was already courting Marenghi to be senior vice president of local sales. “The circumstances and the timing were great,” Marenghi says. By late 2002, he was managing national and local sales for the station group.

But his new post is a first: overseeing all operations for three stations, a mammoth task. Not that Marenghi is fazed; he’s juiced. “This is a world-class city with people from diverse backgrounds,” he says. “We need to get the stations to the next level.”