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Local TV's New Pitchman

Steve Lanzano, the incoming president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB), has a tall task in front of him, but many in both his present and future worlds say the advertising bigwig has just the right skills to get local television moving in the proper direction. Those tasked with hiring a replacement for Chris Rohrs wanted a fresh perspective atop the local-television trade organization, and they have one in Lanzano, who has spent almost three decades on the agency side.

“In the pitch he made, we saw that he has the ability to sell,” says Frank Comerford, the TVB's executive committee chairman and president of platform development at NBC Local Media. “People think the agency side is only the buy side, but Steve can sell.”

Lanzano, 50, is COO at ad agency MPG US. He steps into the TVB president's role on Jan. 1, and those selling skills will be put to the test. “I thought the job needed someone who understands the entire media landscape and how TV fits in,” he says. “It's also someone who understands the benefits of local broadcast and all the multiple platforms it brings—and who can sell it to advertisers and agencies, which is what I do every day.”

TVB's members include most major broadcast groups, representing more than 600 stations. Wrapping up a 10-year run as president, Rohrs declined to be interviewed. Among the accomplishments he leaves behind are launching the paperless transaction platform ePort, expanding the TVB's research offerings, and bringing a higher level of strategic thinking to the organization. “Chris has done a spectacular job,” says Hearst VP of Sales Kathleen Keefe, who was on the search committee.

Rohrs, who put in a long career at TV stations, including managerial stints at WFSB Hartford and WDIV Detroit, announced his plans to step down in March. A search firm narrowed the applicants to 20, and the TVB committee pared it to five. Committee members say all five came from different ends of the business: a station person, one from the network affiliate side, one from network sales, an internal candidate, and Lanzano.

TVB management and its members were interested in a less traditional skill set to tackle the myriad challenges of the modern local media business. Whereas the business was once about stations selling spots in their newscasts and syndicated programming, it's increasingly about stations transforming themselves into 24/7 local media outlets, connecting with viewers on the Web and mobile devices.

“These guys needed strategic leadership, not station leadership,” says a high-ranking ad agency executive who asked not to be named. “They needed somebody to talk up local media—not television stations.”

Indeed, the word “station” hardly came up when Lanzano talked with B&C about his new role. He comes on board at a particularly brutal time in local television. Last November, the TVB revised the forecast it had released two months earlier to better depict just how miserable business looked for 2009. The bureau's annual marketing conference had been held in the expansive halls of the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, in conjunction with the New York Auto Show. The 2009 show was canceled when the TVB predicted that not enough people would have the budgets to attend.

Things look a bit rosier in 2010: TVB forecasts call for total spot revenue rising 3.6%-6.1% compared to 2009. Local spot is expected to tick up a modest 1%-3%, and national spot 6%-12%.

Lanzano isn't ready to share strategy quite yet. Still on the job at MPG, the New York native will spend the next three months meeting with members and his board, getting a feel for their needs and concerns and formulating a game plan. He'll work out Year 1 goals with the TVB board. Comerford says he wants the TVB run more like a business and less like a trade association; Keefe adds that the TVB has to better communicate the message that local broadcast is a more effective buy than national cable.

Lanzano says he'll be out and about, learning the nuances of local television from members and selling it to clients. “I want to show them the opportunities that exist in local broadcast across the entire media spectrum,” he says, “and really sell the value of local broadcast—television and all the legs it brings.”

He leaves behind a sterling reputation in the advertising world; past colleagues describe Lanzano as a strong and personable leader, and future ones are eager to get to know him better. “He's exactly what we need at this point in time,” says TVB board member/LIN TV Executive VP Scott Blumenthal. “He's the best representative for our industry in the multi-platform world.”

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