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A Return to Sales, and Great Success

NAME: Marianne Gambelli
TITLE: President, Ad Sales
COMPANY: Fox News Channel

CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Prior to joining Fox News in 2017, Gambelli was investment officer for Horizon Media. Before that, she had spent more than 20 years with NBC, where she was named president of sales in 2016.

QUOTABLE: “There’s a core group that has been here since the beginning and I think they’re really energized around all this change. … The new people, like me, have been accepted. Everybody’s on the same page which is really exciting.”

After ousting founder Roger Ailes and top-rated on-air host Bill O’Reilly in response to sexual harassment charges, Fox News Channel filled several top posts with senior women executives, including Marianne Gambelli, who became president of advertising sales last April.

The changes at Fox News were at the beginning of a wave in the media business, politics and other industries that saw high-profile executives and performers lose jobs because of inappropriate dealing with their female co-workers.

“I think that my whole career has been about making sure that the culture is friendly to women and mentoring women and giving them a role model, so I don’t feel that that’s changed in any way, shape or form,” Gambelli said.

“I feel like there should be a fair environment for everybody. That as a leader is what you’re supposed to do. So that has not changed,” she said.

Breaking Into a Macho Culture
TV advertising sales, once a very macho culture, has seen several women rise to the very top at media companies, including NBCUniversal, CBS, Disney-ABC and Turner.

“It’s sort of been coming,” Gambelli said. “I hope that it’s just that there are qualified executives in the role, regardless of what their gender is.”

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You can’t argue with success. It looks like Fox News had a record year in terms of ratings and ad revenue in 2017 and Gambelli continues to make adjustments to the sales department.

“Given her past accomplishments, it is no surprise that Marianne has hit the ground running and is taking Fox News to the next level,” said Jack Abernethy, co-president, Fox News and CEO, Fox Television Stations.

Gambelli began her career as an assistant buyer at Grey Advertising in 1980 and moved to Backer Spielvogel Bates as the first woman to work on the Miller Brewing account. She then went to NBC as an account executive in sports sales in 1990, rising to president of sales for NBC broadcasting in 2010.

After leaving the network, she returned to the agency business as chief investment officer of Horizon Media in 2013.

“It was incredibly valuable to have someone who’d been on the sales side for so long running a major sales organization,” said Dave Campanelli, executive vice president, managing partner, Video Investment at Horizon.

As a manager, Gambelli was able to quickly get to the heart of a matter. “She has a really good ability to cut the BS, cut right to the heart of what an issue was and be able to tackle it and solve it,” Campanelli said.

During her tenure at the agency, media buyers and sellers were gearing up to deal with data. With Gambelli’s background, “I think she was really valuable in explaining back to the networks, this is why this is important to our advertisers. These data optimization tools are what our advertisers are looking for now,” Campanelli said.

Gambelli also got a refresher course on how tough business has become for some clients. “The requests and challenges that we pose to the networks, we don’t pull them out of the sky. They’re usually founded in very real client challenges,” Campanelli said. He expects Gambelli to focus more on being collaborative in terms of maximizing revenue and “solving our clients’ business issues.”

Gambelli agrees her time at Horizon helped her better understand how clients think. “You realize the media mix and the strategy is so much greater than a TV buy or a news buy. You tend to get caught up.”

At the agency, she gained some perspective on how TV fits into the bigger picture. “If I can help solve their problems or speak their language versus just trying to sell them something, I think that makes our messaging more powerful. I’m not making a proposal that makes no sense,” she said.

But Gambelli said she eventually missed being in sales. “I wouldn’t have gone back anywhere, but I felt this was the right place to come to.”

During her time at the agency, the TV sales business had changed.

“Google and Facebook have become more powerful” as competitors for ad dollars, she said. “Four or five years ago, you didn’t know how it was all going to play out.”

As a result, she said, “it’s funny, it’s kind of come full circle because the traditional product, like sports, news, entertainment, the linear products, are still pretty powerful” in terms of the impact they have in helping to generate sales for brands.

Adjusting to the Digital Era
Under Gambelli, Fox News is one of a handful of networks testing a platform by Data Plus Math aimed at attributing the impact of commercials to a product’s sales.

She made a number of other changes at Fox News, promoting some of her top lieutenants and bringing TV and digital sales closer together.

Gambelli is also nearly done with a different, more personal project, rehabilitating a knee she had surgically replaced last year.

While she was up and about on her new joint quickly, “my level of activity and my expectations were completely different,” she said. Now, Gambelli said she’s playing golf and biking, but it took longer than she expected. “It’s been a process, but I’m getting there.”