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Intrepid Upfront PlanFor NBCU’s Cable Portfolio

Linda Yaccarino, the new president of ad sales for NBCUniversal’s cable entertainment networks and digital properties, gathered her troops recently on the deck of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier moored off the West Side of Manhattan.

Her message to the 500 people who sell USA, Bravo, Fandango and other NBCU cable entities: Even powerful media brands need to work together when that’s what clients want.

The venue was both appropriate and inspiring to Yaccarino. Before World War II, aircraft carriers took about three years to build. The Intrepid, begun slightly before the attack on Pearl Harbor, was completed in 18 months, “because it had to be built and it was a priority,” she notes.

Yaccarino joined NBCU Cable from Turner Broadcasting last November and is moving quickly to make big changes in the organization in time for the upfront selling season. “If you think about how fast [building the Intrepid] got done and how fast our marketplace is moving and how quickly it changes, that’s why we were there.”

While maintaining sales teams dedicated to each of its cable networks and Web properties, Yaccarino wants NBCU structured to be able to offer clients access to its entire portfolio because of the huge reach and demographic diversity it offers. She says that mandate comes in response to customer demand. “They know our entertainment and digital portfolio has this massive reach, and they’re looking for ideas they can access across the platform to reach the consumer,” she says. “Clients are in this unique position to leverage multiple brands and tie them together with TV and digital and an idea, and NBC is absolutely and uniquely in a position across the entire marketplace to deliver on that.”

Yaccarino says she has had a number of conversations about those types of deals with clients in which she represents the entire portfolio. “Each individual network brand has such a unique and distinct value,” and her job is to get them to work together. “We’re strategically positioned and quite frankly, I can talk to our advertiser and look them in the eye and say we are organized to be nimble and react to you and deliver on the creative ideas.”

The idea is to take the individual networks’ strengths and stitch them together across the portfolio, Yaccarino says. To do that, “you need a big team of people that are all educated with the same data, and they’re able to talk across the portfolio.”

Company insiders say Yaccarino should be able to pull the sprawling NBCU Cable sales force together because she has the backing of both Lauren Zalaznick and Bonnie Hammer, who run the cable networks and were aboard the Intrepid last week. As importantly, Yaccarino was also anointed by NBCU CEO Steve Burke, who places a premium on teamwork.

“She is getting a lot of support from Bonnie and Lauren and a lot of support from Steve Burke,” says one NBC executive.

And working together is crucial to have credibility with media buyers looking for multiplatform campaigns. “It has to be offered as a cohesive plan,” says a veteran ad sales executive. “It’s important to the client because you can’t put together a smart offering if people are not working together. And if people aren’t working together, it’s not a smart offering.”

Yaccarino replaced David Cassaro, a well-respected sales executive who had to put together the separate sales teams for the NBCU and Comcast cable networks. Despite that, Cassaro was able to oversee a very successful upfront last year, with volume increasing by 25%.

Yaccarino says she expects this spring’s upfront to be at least as good last year’s.

On the demand side, analysts’ expectations have been creeping up, with strength coming from autos, retail, finance and entertainment. “At a minimum, it will be as good as last year, but likely will be better,” Yaccarino says. “Our challenge is to manage the overwhelming demand with a supply that is finite. And the strategic discussions we’re having now are just how to manage that limited supply.”

The supply will be further cut down if Yaccarino is able to sell multiplatform packages, because those deals usually get done before the transaction phase of the upfront.

“When we’re able to smartly and creatively activate the TV and digital, we’ll be able to deliver to clients what they need. But we have a limitation of supply issue that we’re working through right now,” she says.

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