CBS Sales Chief Sells Steady as Virtue

An Upfront Q&A With Jo Ann Ross

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NEW YORK ( -- Next week, the ad sales presidents at the broadcast networks will begin the race to lock down advertisers' dollars for next season. What's the prize? The biggest piece they can grab of the $18 billion marketers are prepared to spend on TV. Advertising Age's Claire Atkinson had a chance to speak with each of the key players. Here, she talks to Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales, CBS, about Katie Couric, selling the Super Bowl and the leadership of CBS Corp.'s President-CEO Leslie Moonves.
Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales, CBS
Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales, CBS Credit: Darryl Estrine

MediaWorks: Could the upfront lose its importance as digital media grows, as Starcom CEO John Muszynski suggested?

Jo Ann Ross: I'm not one to disagree with John Muszynski. But the upfront is not the entire ballgame. It is an important piece and we are in sales 24/7 -- we are constantly out there. It gives clients flexibility and gives them a leg up on sponsorship opportunities. John also said we are no longer a TV upfront, but a video upfront. I would take the position that the essence of what goes on in the digital platform comes from broadcast programming. We are developing original content -- it still starts with broadcast TV.

To a further point, he talked about the fact that we need to break down silos -- may I remind him that CBS Plus was formed in 1998 and Viacom Plus still exists today? We have been and will continue to sell across all of our assets. It's not a new thought. What's exciting is that CBS has more assets to dive into. We have video-on-demand and broadband opportunities.

MW: Is it a frustration that everyone wants to talk digital and it's still such a small piece of revenue?

Ross: I don't find it frustrating. It's interesting. We've talked about what they can do in that space. A lot of times clients don't know precisely what their brands want or need at this time. To make it less frustrating it has to be collaborative -- we have to go to them with as many opportunities as possible, instead of doing cut and paste.

MW: Is it scalable?

Ross: It will be eventually. You have to try different things and different avenues. It has to make sense for the clients' corporate message. It is time well-spent.

MW: What economic factors do you look at to help you predict the upfront?

Ross: We look at all the factors. Oil prices have impacted clients' business, those making packaging, using plastics. Again, it's just something that we're conscious of. The auto industry we'll be looking at carefully. Packaging goods, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of what's being rolled out. If there's a new razor, are they spending in broadcast, or viral marketing? Are they taking a deeper dive into a particular category? Pharmaceutical is one of our strong suits. We look at what's in the pipeline with the FDA. We take a real broad look at the banking category; we do try to get a view of the market.

MW: Will the upfront be up or down?

Ross: We are doing our due diligence. Clients don't have budgets yet. They [the agencies] usually stay flat to slightly down. This is for us to figure out. A lot of people have budgets to work with but they're not set in stone. There is a lot of competition for dollars -- everybody's out there with other networks and cable and I really believe broadcast TV, specifically CBS, is the best, most effective way to get fast reach. To do it effectively you have to be smart and know what's on the horizon, be ahead of the game.

MW: How are you positioned this year?

Ross: In terms of the overall market, we are positioned very well for all of our clients right now. People believe in our network and Leslie Moonves. We hear that every place we go. We have less holes to fill, there's more upside on programming on our network. It's not long in the tooth: We have loyal viewers, the two best reality shows, "Amazing Race" and "Survivor," and we provide a tremendous amount of value. On Friday nights, we created something people want to buy; other people said it's a throw-away night. I believe we are well positioned.

MW: How much will your CPM rates be up?

Ross: It depends on the marketplace -- they'll dictate it.

MW: Super Bowl will be a big selling point this year. Tell us about it.

Ross: It's in Miami, so we're very excited to have Super Bowl in our portfolio. We're actively selling it as we speak. We did our presentation right after this year's Super Bowl, before the NCAA's Final Four, and we're in the marketplace. We're having meetings with clients to talk about our package.

MW: And Katie Couric?

Ross: I'm very excited about that, the marketplace has been very positive with our news and we're looking at some innovative things from a sales perspective, some exciting opportunities that involve news. I hope to be able to talk more once she's on board.

MW: How will the DVR debate be resolved?

Ross: Everybody wants to write business and negotiate towards a resolution.

MW: Do you have a DVR?

Ross: I don't. I'm planning on getting one.

MW: This is your opportunity to sell CBS to your clients. What do you want them to know?

Ross: When you look at the choices out there in broadcast, our consistency in delivering valuable audiences; that we have shows that are popular every night of the week, shows that are huge hits. Leslie Moonves and Nina Tassler [entertainment president] both have great track records.
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