The Five Spot: David Lawenda

Bonus Five

Shows on your DVR?Billions. Also a new show on HBO, Succession. It’s so inside. I feel like I know these people.

All-time top TV show?60 Minutes, Homeland, The Sopranos.

Favorite app? The streaming app Tidal. It has curated and on-demand music in what they call lossless audio, incredibly high fidelity.

What book is on your nightstand?Frenemies by Ken Auletta

Bucket-List vacation: The one place Kevin and I are dying to go to, and we want to bring my niece and nephew, are the Galapagos Islands.

It’s been nearly a year since David Lawenda joined CBS as executive VP, digital sales and sales strategy from Facebook. In some ways, Lawenda said, the time has flown by. But in other ways, he feels like he’s been there forever. Lawenda spent 14 years with Viacom, parent of CBS for much of that time. He sat near Jo Ann Ross, now CBS’ chief advertising revenue officer — and his boss — and many of her lieutenants, again his colleagues. “I was part of the family and I know all the players,” he said.

Lawenda and Kevin Menard were the first same-sex couple to be married in Southampton, N.Y., he said. “We’ve been together for 28 years,” he said. “The minute it became legalized, we quickly bought our rings. We registered and three weeks later we were getting married. It was amazing.” The couple recently adopted two puppies abandoned in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. “That’s our family of four.” He spoke with B&C senior content producer, business Jon Lafayette.

What do you feel you accomplished this year?
I was brought in under Jo Ann Ross to not only lead digital sales, but also drive the integration between linear and digital, and historically we had been pretty siloed as sales organizations. That manifested in some interesting crossplatform deals throughout the scatter marketplace. More specifically, having just completed our upfront, we went to market together as one team, and we’re doing a victory lap right now. We feel very good about the way we all came together and the strong demand we’ve seen across all of our platforms.

What did you learn about competing with digital at Facebook?
Culturally, Facebook and Google are product and engineering cultures. They built some of the most powerful and useful utilities in the world, but they have put too much faith in people adapting to their system rather than the system adapting to people. They don’t embrace their role as media and I think that has created a little bit of this head-on collision that they’re experiencing.

Do you think that helps you compete with them?
I do, actually. I see all the strengths of Facebook, and by all means, they have them. But I also see where they’re vulnerable. There has been a flight back to brand safety in this marketplace. One of the things that attracted me to CBS is we take our responsibility very seriously as a media company. For 70-plus years, we have been making products that inform, entertain and inspire massive audiences, which is really hard to do. Now that we’re getting into the data game, we can work with marketers any way they want to work with us. That gives us a competitive advantage.

How did you get into the business?
My father [Jeff Lawenda] was a general manager at CBS Radio and moved to cable as one of the first people hired at USA Network. I used to go to Black Rock as an 8-year-old visiting my dad, learning the business. It was dinner conversation for us. I went to work at [ad agency] DDB Needham and was recruited within nine months by Turner to join the prestigious CNN sales training program. And that launched my sales career.

What do you do for fun?
My husband Kevin and I just built a new house [in the Hamptons]. Every single thing was hand-selected by us. It’s our dream house. We’ve had this vision for 28 years and we were finally able to make it happen. We had our first big dinner party at the house this summer. We had 35 people for dinner and we sat outside under the stars and it was the first time I really appreciated the fruits of our labor.