ESPN takes agnostic tack in ad-sales reorganization

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ESPN retooled its ad-sales organization last week so every salesperson is responsible for selling every platform, a media-agnostic approach that breaks from its traditional structure of TV guys selling airtime and magazine guys selling pages.

Five years ago, Walt Disney Co. sibling channels ABC and ESPN combined their sports sales and marketing divisions into one to better leverage the assets of both networks. The move recognized that marketers interested in sports programming would like to know about opportunities on the ESPN cable channels as well as the sports events being shown on broadcast. This move takes that thinking one step further.

Starting today, the ESPN ABC Sports customer marketing and sales division will charge its representatives with managing all activity across the spectrum of ESPN and ABC Sports media assets, including TV, Web site, radio, print, wireless, broadband, video games and other businesses.

Thus, sales reps who formerly specialized in TV will now sell for ESPN.com, ESPN radio, ABC's college-football package and more.

The idea was the brainchild of Ed Erhardt, president, ESPN ABC sports customer marketing and sales, and John Skipper, exec VP-ESPN advertising sales, new media and consumer products.

following customers

"We were very good at doing integrated deals and having the other properties collaborate on deals when an advertiser wanted one," Mr. Erhardt said, which ultimately led to the idea of the re-org. "We wanted to attack the marketplace the same way our customers were getting organized."

Said Mr. Skipper: "Lots of people have an overlay, lots of people have a separate group. We're saying that because of our unique assets we can take the further step. We can make our people as agnostic as possible in terms of what they sell."

Messrs. Erhardt and Skipper unveiled the plan last week during an internal sales conference in Florida. Several key players outside of ABC and ESPN who were briefed attended the conference, including David Verklin, CEO of media-buying giant Carat Americas, and John Costello, exec VP-merchandising and marketing, Home Depot, which advertises on ESPN in several areas, including sponsorship of the weekly show College Football Gameday Built by Home Depot. "It responds to client needs for distinctive, integrated marketing solutions. I can see other media organizations looking at similar approaches," Mr. Costello said.

"We've gone out and had off-the-record conversations with [marketers and media buyers]. You don't do something like this in a vacuum," Mr. Erhardt said. "We've been pleased with the response we've gotten from all parts of the buying and planning and clients operation."

Media buyers seemed to cautiously endorse the change. Harry Keeshan, media buyer, Omnicom Group's PHD, New York, said, "They're going in the right direction. What agencies want these days is to break down silos. It seems to make sense; now we'll see if we can make sense of it."

"You have to wait and see how they structure it and how user-friendly they make it. Maintaining the day-to-day contacts is the biggest concern," said Steve Kalb, media buyer, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, Wenham, Mass.

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