Jo Ann Ross is marking her 25th year at CBS and her 15th year as head of sales for CBS in a new role. In August, she was named president and chief advertising revenue officer as the network realigned and unified its sales organization, with new executive VP of digital sales David Lawenda reporting directly to her.
Ross is known for her colorful appearances at CBS’s annual upfront presentations, dressing up as everyone from trapeze-swinging singer Pink to a twin of The Big Bang Theory star Mayam Bialik.
Married to Dr. Michael Zelman, she’s also known for being among the leaders of a strong women’s network both at CBS and in the industry. She has spearheaded a new partnership with the Association of National Advertisers to boost #SeeHer, an initiative designed to boost women’s image in media at a time when sexual harassment in the entertainment industry is front-page news. She spoke with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette.
How has your job changed since the reorganization?
I’m a lot busier. We have the broadcast side of the house working with the digital side and vice versa. It helps us do one-stop shopping for our clients and it makes us smarter in the marketplace.
Will you still make your star turn during the upfront?
I’ll be wearing two crowns instead of one. The first year, we did a film. It was The Godfather genre and I killed my predecessor, so it was an easy entry onto the stage at Carnegie Hall. Now I love being on stage, walking out [and] seeing some clients and a full house. What I don’t like about it is preparation the day of, because basically I’m not a beauty queen and they do all that hair and makeup. I hate that part of it.
How is the new TV season going?
We’re very, very happy with the delivery of the shows. The scatter marketplace has been good. We have good increases versus the upfront. Look, I’m a big CBS viewer and I think the product that we put on is outstanding.
The TV ad business seems to be getting together on initiatives like Open AP and Project Thor. Do you think competitors should be cooperating?
We are looking at a lot of companies that are out there pitching they can show real return on investment. There’s a lot of noise out there and we have to find our way through the noise to what’s going to work best to move the industry forward. Overarching all of this is Nielsen is promising that we will have total audience ratings by next year’s upfront. That’s what we really need in order to move all these conversations forward.
This summer you took part in the Defense Department’s Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. How was that?
It was amazing. I took a week off and we became embedded with all five branches of the military for a day and a night. You have to be in good shape. I guess my doctor has different standards of good shape than most doctors. I got to go Quantico and we went to Groton, Conn., and spent three hours on a nuclear sub the same day as Kim Jong Un was starting ICBM tests. It was an interesting time to be with the military. We rode in a Chinook, flew in an Osprey and I sat in the cockpit when we landed at Fort Dix in a C-130. I got to meet with Defense Secretary Mattis. Just talking to the young men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day was really inspiring.
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