Ferro Seeks Innovation From New Disney-ABC Sales Structure

Rita Ferro, who has been given the big assignment of heading up ad sales for Disney-ABC Television, will be looking for innovation across the three pillars on which her new organization will be built.

With ratings eroding across the TV landscape, growing ad revenue has become an increasingly difficult job. At the same time, traditional TV is fighting for viewers with more and more commercial-free services and battling for ad dollars with digital media that promises more precise targeting and better evidence it's working.

Ferro, named Wednesday as president of advertising sales at Disney-ABC, said she plans to push ahead using data and is considering setting up an in-house creative agency as part of its integrated marketing team.

Rivals including NBCUniversal, Fox, Turner and Viacom have consolidated their ad sales teams across broadcast, cable and digital and focused on providing clients with new solutions. Ferro has been tasked with leading that kind of change at Disney-ABC, with a portfolio that includes ABC, Freeform and the Disney channels.

“I think it’s the right move," said Catherine Sullivan, president of U.S. investment at Omnicom Media Group and former head of sales for ABC News. “I think Disney needs to get into the game with everyone else and this is a good first step.”

Sullivan said she worked with Ferro on a number of projects at Disney-ABC. “She’s a very good leader. She’s a really good strategic thinker, and she thinks across Disney, not just in her own business unit, but she collaborates with everyone. She shares information and thinks about what’s best for the bigger Disney.”

Ferro has support within the company, having worked at ESPN, International, and Disney channels, Sullivan said, and was helpful to colleagues.

“If I was looking at something from a best-practice perspective, I would pick up the phone and call her. I always found her to be incredibly collaborative,” she said. “In my new role, I’m looking forward to being able to do some really fun stuff across Disney.”

Under Ferro, the ad sales structure is built on three pillars of core team, and she sees a couple of homes for innovation. “This is an exciting opportunity for us, when you think about where the business is going and how the marketplace is evolving,” Ferro said.

The client & audience solution team under executive VP Laura Nathanson will be using marketplace and audience intelligence to develop sales offerings that will bring enhanced opportunities to clients. “We’ll be thinking about measurement and how we present ourselves to the marketplace, with our tech stack, what we’re doing around data and with our insights and our digital team,” Ferro said.

The sales and marketing team under executive VP Debra O’Connell will “drive the opportunity to create different commercial formats and different content formats, different solutions on how we think about how we integrate across the brands,” Ferro said. “We’re thinking about having a full in-house creative agency as part of our integrated marketing team that will work hand-in-hand with sales."

The brand, revenue & yield management group under executive VP Debbie Richman will look to provide scale through multiplatform opportunities with dedicated daypart, programmatic and digital revenue teams.

“It’s about how do we take advantage of all those audiences, how do we make sure they’re all part of the solution we’re bringing to the market,” Ferro said. “It’s important in terms of how we’re going to the market.”

Ferro said she’s also planning to work more closely with ESPN. “Having us all together as one team will allow us to do that more effectively with clients,” she said. “That continues to be an ask from the marketplace and [ESPN ad sales chief Ed Erhardt] and I are totally committed to making sure we’re both successful in doing that.”

Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, said that last year after former ABC Television ad sales president Geri Wang told him she intended to retire this year, the company did not look at external candidates for the top sales position.

“We have a terrific team internally. We’ve got very strong leaders,” Sherwood said.

“One of the things that feels great about these changes is we’ve got a very strong team. We’ve made it a better organization with superb leaders in key areas to take us forward,” he said. “We’re really excited about this moment and very excited about Rita who is a dynamic forward thinking leader perfectly suited for this moment and the future of multiplatform ad sales and the integration of all our offerings into one combined sales organization.”

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.