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She’s Looked at Sales From Both Sides Now

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The difference between being one of the biggest buyers of television advertising time and a sales executive at one of the largest cable network groups is simple.

“The agency side wants it cheaper, and now I want them to pay a higher price,” said Donna Speciale, president, Turner Entertainment & Animation Ad Sales.

A popular market mover as president of MediaVest, Speciale decided to join Turner during the Christmas holidays and arrived at her new post in March. Instead of being in the audience, she will be onstage for Turner’s upfront presentation this week.

“She’s only been here for two short months, but she’s already making tremendous contributions,” said her new boss, David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting, who restructured his ad sales operation after executive VP Linda Yaccarino left for NBCUnversal.

Levy had dealt with Speciale for years and figured her agency experience would help Turner’s sales teams be better prepared to give clients what they are looking for.

“You have to be more flexible in this marketplace,” Levy said. “Advertisers are demanding more, clients want more bang for their buck, and at the same time we need to grow our business.”

Speciale “certainly can be one of the great negotiators, but we also need strategic thinking. And I think what she brings to us is new eyes to look at how we address the marketplace,” Levy added.

In addition to the networks’ new shows, “we’re talking to clients about how we’re now structured and how Turner is now changing,” Speciale said.

The changes involve greater collaboration between networks and divisions, with sales and marketing teams meeting and working together. “That was never happening before at Turner,” said Speciale, who describes the new approach as more of a behavioral change than a structural one.

“We’re also looking at our own inventory on all the networks and looking at the commonalities of audiences and creating audience-based networks if clients choose to buy us that way,” she said. “And that’s huge, because that’s what marketers want. That is where the future is going. They want to talk to companies as a holistic company, not just the parts. They want to come to a Turner organization and talk to them and become bigger partners in helping drive their business, not just buying units.”

Speciale sees Turner competing against ESPN for clients, seeking male viewers by combining its own sports with male-skewing programming on truTV, Adult Swim, some Conan O’Brien and certain programs on TNT and TBS.

“We literally are pulling our inventory apart and looking at all the composition,” she said.

Speciale also sees Turner as a late-night player, by selling packages that include Conan and Adult Swim in the daypart.

“We’re going to be able to now create different audiences so clients can feel they’re really honing in on what their targets are for their brands, versus just buying a broad demographic,” Speciale said. “You’re now going to see a lot more collaboration from a content end, not just from a sales organization.”

The collaboration extends to digital and social applications as well, such as the timeline that was created for Dallas on Facebook to bridge the gap between the old series and Turner’s upcoming one.

“We are now a multi-screen video company,” Speciale said. “Linear will always be at our forefront, that’s what we do. That’s what our revenue is driven by. But the multiscreen now is here.”

Speciale’s former colleagues are not surprised by what she is bringing to the table. “Donna is an incredible innovator, negotiator and collaborator, no matter what side of the table she sits on,” said Christine Merrifield, who was promoted to president, video investment and activation at MediaVest when Speciale left. “She looks at opportunities from a big-picture, strategic vantage that pulls in how to best aggregate audiences across a portfolio, not just a program, and with an eye to delivering impact for all partners.”

Speciale said that while she knew, and was known by, the key people at Turner, she was still pleased by her warm welcome. And given how many executives have spent decades at Turner, “I am so pleasantly surprised how much passion and innovation each individual has here, and how they just want to keep pushing the envelope and learning and growing,” she said.

For Speciale, the adjustment has been mostly smooth. She sometimes gets her “we’s” and “they’s” mixed up when talking about Turner and other buyers. And those other buyers ribbed her at a recent panel discussion where she talked about how strong she thought the market would be. “You’ve changed! I thought I knew you, but who are you?!” said Mike Rosen, president for activation at Starcom.

In Speciale’s analysis as a Turner executive, second-quarter options were normal. She said she is currently writing scatter business for both the second and third quarters with significant price increases. Both signs point to a healthy upfront.

“So I really believe the upfront will be up from last year,” Speciale said. “I can’t tell you how much it will be up. I think cable is definitely going to see its stronger share than broadcast will. It’s just what the trend is, and I think that will continue. And pricing is going to be up as well.”

Spoken like a salesperson.