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Long CBS Career Adds Up for Kaplan

Dean Kaplan, executive VP, sales strategy, planning and administration at CBS, is a numbers guy.

“He’s probably one of the few guys I can say that’s better in math than I am,” says Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at GroupM, who was a buyer when Kaplan called on him as an account exec for CBS.

“That’s probably one of the hardest jobs at any network,” Scanzoni says. It involves forecasting the marketplace, assessing the network’s position relative to the competition and devising a pricing strategy that optimizes the value of its inventory. It’s even harder at CBS, which has been a leader in the marketplace. “If the lead horse pushes price too hard, he feeds money to his competitors and ultimately winds up being the guy that holds the bag,” Scanzoni says. “It’s a tough job and I think he’s done a wonderful job at it.”

To Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, Kaplan is more than a numbers guy. “He’s extremely loyal. He has your back. You know when you ask him to do something, when it comes back it’s going to be correct and it’s going to be more than you asked for.”

In staff meetings, Kaplan is Ross’ straight man, dryly agreeing with whatever she says. But when preparing for presentations, Kaplan comes up with the hardest questions, questions that frequently get asked.

Growing up, Kaplan knew he didn’t want be a doctor like his father who made house calls in Great Neck, Long Island. Now he’s proud of his own son, who is in Pittsburgh University Medical School. Kaplan did the morning show at the college radio station at Bucknell University (another renowned Bucknell alum: CBS CEO Leslie Moonves) and decided he probably couldn’t make it as a DJ, but could go into advertising. He landed a job in the media department at Foote Cone & Belding, where one guy, Walter Bowe bought network television. “All Walter did all day was negotiate with the three networks, watch TV and estimate shares. I would spend all my time in Walter’s office and do extra work for him,” Kaplan says. “I just decided I wanted to do what Walter does.”

After several years as a broadcast buyer, Kaplan decided he wanted to sell television. He admired the way CBS did business, found an opening there and got a job as an account executive in 1981.

Ross joined CBS in 1992 as head of Olympics sales and she says Kaplan was the first to greet her. He also had the gumption to pitch himself as her director of Olympics sales, and he got the job despite his quiet nature. “My career took a different direction from there and I haven’t looked back since,” he says. When CBS lost the Olympics, Kaplan moved into sales planning.

The move made sense. “For a sales guy, his grasp of the numbers was always impressive,” says Fox News exec VP for ad sales Paul Rittenberg, who claims the distinction of having worked for Kaplan and having Ross work for him. “He always took time to teach people. It isn’t rocket science, but there are things sales people should know.”

Kaplan thinks his background as a buyer and seller of TV gives him an edge in planning. The job has changed as cable, the DVR and digital have altered the media landscape and Kaplan says he’s proud to have helped usher in C3 and C7 as ad sales currencies. “It is always change and crazy-challenging, which is good. You really wouldn’t want to do the same thing year after year,” he says. “I’m not sure what it will look like five years from now, but it won’t look like today.”

He’s also proud of the people who started in planning that have moved into sales jobs. “I made a difference in these people’s lives,” he says.

Kaplan likes to travel with his wife Marilyn, who comes from Lyon, France, but even that’s getting harder. “I can’t remember the last time I took two weeks off,” he says.