Joann Ross

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Joann ross' secret is out about how CBS handles the upfront ad season.

Office water fights.

"I instigate them," says Ms. Ross, exec VP-advertising sales at the Viacom network. "We usually have one or two water fights toward the end [of the upfront]. I always lose. I'm not as strong as some of these guys. You get punchy; you are happy it's over."

No doubt Ms. Ross, as well as many other network executives, needs some release after multiple days of late and overnight work sessions during the frantic June upfront buying and selling period. Large national TV advertisers buy a majority of their commercial time for the upcoming broadcast season during the upfront period.

While she may lose in the water battles, Ms. Ross, 49, has lost little else recently as the No. 2 CBS ad sales executive to Joe Abruzzese, president of advertising sales. The Viacom-owned network tallied $1.9 billion in this past upfront, second only to General Electric Co.'s NBC.

But that was probably not one of her biggest accomplishments. A year before, CBS entered the scatter market, the quarter-by-quarter selling of TV commercial time, with perhaps the most inventory it ever had to sell-all under the direction of Viacom President-Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin.

His strategy was to sell less airtime in the upfront to keep prices higher-which gave CBS an inordinate amount of inventory for the scatter market that follows the upfront period. But CBS succeeded as the market proved to be a strong one.

"It was tough being in the upfront because your natural instinct was to sell," Ms. Ross says. "But we ended up being in great shape. People did have scatter money. We lucked out-but we also had a strategy."

With all the variety of styles in negotiating with network executives, Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, says, "she's a good counterpoint to Joe [Abruzzese]." She helps to get deals done, he says.

Ms. Ross has been at CBS for 10 years. Before that, she was with ABC for four years. Previously, she was on the buying side, mostly with Bozell, New York, in the 1980s, except for one upfront stay in 1984 with Young & Rubicam.

Ms. Ross' longevity at CBS has given her a nickname, one that is a two-edged sword. "My nickname is momma," she says. "That's good and bad. What's good is I make sure they stay out of trouble. What's bad is I yell at them."

But CBS ad executives shouldn't worry. "Just like a mother, I don't have any favorites," Ms. Ross confides. "All my children are beautiful."

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