NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- You can't say Geri Wang isn't willing to take a few lumps in her quest to sell advertisers on ABC. In a segment taped for ABC's recent upfront presentation, Ms. Wang took a trip to the set of "Wipeout," the network's reality program that sends contestants through a particularly nasty obstacle course in which hits to the face and falls into mud are quite common. While Ms. Wang did use a stunt double for some parts of the vignette, she said she still endured her fair share of grueling activity.
Being able to absorb a few body blows is par for the course these days in TV ad sales. Ms. Wang, who was named ABC's president of sales and marketing in February, has taken the ad-sales reins at ABC just as the broadcast-TV model is being reworked into something new. In the past, the major TV outlets could rest assured their ad time would sell like hotcakes. Yes, many marketers still put the bulk of their ad spending into broadcast TV, but this isn't as foregone a conclusion as it once was, what with streaming video, iTunes downloads and much, much more available in more abundance with what seems like every passing day.
As such, the philosophy behind selling at ABC has changed over time, said Ms. Wang. "Our salesmanship is not just about recognizing a price and programming. It's about finding really good ideas, doing something great and really breaking through."
Where ABC once had a reputation for being fussy about letting advertisers try to work their way into its programs, the network seems to have rethought its stance. In the past year, ABC has allowed Sprint to work with "Desperate Housewives" producer Marc Cherry, resulting in customized promotional vignettes for the telecom that looked a lot like the program in which it wanted to advertise. And the network allowed Nestle's Stouffer's to use characters from "The Middle" and "Ugly Betty" in ads during its Wednesday-night lineup (when those shows aired this past season).
"The doors have opened up more" at ABC, said Ms. Wang. "I absolutely think we're willing to be more experimental," so long as a proposed idea makes sense for all parties involved. "It's not as if you're going to see a brand-integration opportunity in every episode of every show," she added. "That would be silly."
Ms. Wang is well-suited to run ABC's ad sales. After all, she has been at the network since 1990, starting out as an associate director in daytime sales after serving a stint in media at Grey Advertising in New York. She has worked her way through prime time, early morning and late-night sales, reaching senior VP-prime-time sales for the network in 1999 before taking her current post.
One of her new challenges, she said, is to get more involved with bigger thinking about where the TV business is headed and how to keep advertisers engaged with those directions, as well as keeping her eye on day-to-day operations and the nuts-and-bolts of the business. ABC took in approximately $5.16 billion in 2009, according to Kantar Media.
"Sometimes you're in the thick of doing, and now I have the distinct advantage of having more time for thinking," she said. At a time when consumers are increasing the attention they pay to new methods of watching video, she expects to be "working very hard to pull that next rabbit out of a hat."